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Nordic Business Leaders and NGOs Adopt Sustainable Development Model

New York, August 9— Well before venerable market indicators showed declining investor confidence in some regions amid a spate of reports of corporate mismanagement, a group of NGOs and CEOs were coming together this April in Copenhagen to figure out how to make sustainable development a part of their core business operations.

The result was that the CEOs of 17 Nordic companies, accounting for about 73 billion euros worth of business a year and which employ more than half a million people, signed a pledge committing their companies to pursuing, as partners with governments and non-governmental organizations, a path toward sustainable development.

In agreeing to the "Nordic Partnership 2002 Manifesto," the companies said they were confirmed in their belief that sustainable development is "imperative for the future development of our business."

The manifesto was signed by the CEOs of diverse companies that ranged from well known global companies such as Volvo, Novo Nordisk, Proctor & Gamble Nordic and ISS-Integrated Service Solutions to regionally well-know companies such as food companies Swedish Meats, Danisco, the forestry company Sveaskog, Nordea in financial services, and Birka Energi, a Swedish energy company.

Specifically, the companies committed themselves to work toward sustainable in partnership with others and called for changes in market regulation so that sustainable business practices would be rewarded. They also committed themselves to raise awareness about sustainable development and to continue to integrate sustainable development into their business models.

"We cannot just sit and wait for governments to do the right thing," according to Lars Rebien Soerensen, CEO and President, Novo Nordisk A/S, a Danish healthcare company. "Nor can we lean back in complacency about our own great achievements. That is why we have signed up to this manifesto, which commits us to continue to work for global sustainable development. And call on governments and global organisations to rethink and change current market regulation to encourage more sustainable business practices."

The project, according to Michael Brinch-Pedersen, Managing Director of the Nordic Partnership at WWF-Denmark, intended to address the paradox that today, while more resources are invested in sustainable development than at any other time, "the whole concept of sustainable is as distant a prospect as ever."

It took a bit of trust and confidence building between the corporations and the NGOs, with NGOs always leery about possible complicity with greenwash, and corporations hesitant about being subjected to criticism. But the group soon realized that the exercise that they were conduction was a learning process, and that every corporation was unique.

"We found that you cannot develop one single business model for sustainable development. Each company must have its own, or maybe several business models for sustainability"

The sad conclusion, according to Brinch-Pedersen, is that if companies were to completely adopt sustainable development at one time, "they would probably go bankrupt." He said that the investment in sustainability is a long term commitment as it is still very difficult to show short term payback.


But there are also sound business reasons for pursuing sustainable development, the partnership found. "There is a feeling that if you just keep on trying to react to the market, and if you don't try to move the agenda forward, you could easily become part of an economic downturn."


A company pursuing sustainable development, he said, could also help build a brand identity, avoid negative press, and attract and retain customers. In the Nordic countries, it can also play a major role in attracting and retaining bright employees.

The work of the partnership is far from over, Brinch-Pedersen said. "There is no such thing as an end goal. There is no red light that comes on and says 'I'm there.'" The next step, he said, is to take the commitments forward in action and to offer the Nordic experiences and ideas to others who might be interested, in the United States, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.

"The question is how do you integrate sustainable development into an business model and still make a profit," he said. But this is not merely a theoretical exercise, he said. "It is only interesting if we can enlighten top management, empower staff and help mobilize behavioural change in the marketplace.


The process is moving well ahead, and in this regard, Brinch-Pedersen says the Johannesburg Summit is already a success, but too often, people miss the point by using the wrong measure of success. The process, he says, is about making people, in the public and private sectors and in academia concentrate on doing things differently.

"What Johannesburg will never do is produce tangible results. The negotiations have to bring about results that are produced by changed behaviour, not only by changing the regulatory framework-that's just one part of the game. It's about walking the talk, and recognizing the needs of developing countries."


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24 August 2006