With Power to Create, Innovate, ‘Business Can Spur Revolution in Sustainability’, Secretary-General Tells World Business Council for Sustainable Development

1 November 2012

With Power to Create, Innovate, ‘Business Can Spur Revolution in Sustainability’, Secretary-General Tells World Business Council for Sustainable Development

1 November 2012
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

With Power to Create, Innovate, ‘Business Can Spur Revolution in Sustainability’,

Secretary-General Tells World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Following are the remarks of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, on “Scaling-Up Solutions”, in Seoul, 31 October:

I am delighted to be here among this group of prominent business leaders.  As champions of sustainability, you are the wave of the future.

Sustainability is a global imperative, it is my personal top priority as Secretary-General, and the United Nations takes this as a number one top priority in the coming decades, and you are essential partners.

Partnership has become central to meeting our most critical global challenges.  From energy to health, from food security to climate change, we are most effective when we bring all relevant actors together — Governments, international organizations, civil society – and, not least, the private sector.

Rio+20 [United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development] made this point very strongly in the conference outcome document — called “The Future We Want”.

One of the great contrasts between the Earth Summit of 1992 and Rio+20 was the engagement of business.  Business hardly featured at the Earth Summit, but at Rio+20 last June, the corporate world was front and centre.

Our Corporate Sustainability Forum provided the largest ever private sector participation for a United Nations event.  More than 1,000 corporate leaders from all regions delivered a common message:  business as usual no longer works. 

Many of your companies were there.  The Forum brought business and other stakeholders together to discuss how to transform markets for a more sustainable world.  It generated new ideas, commitments and partnerships.

I was deeply impressed by the range of recommendations presented to me following the Forum.  They included corporate innovations and new collaborations designed to achieve progress in areas such as energy, water, climate, agriculture, social development and urbanization.

The corporate world did not just come to Rio with open minds, it brought concrete commitments too.  It is plain that business can spur a revolution in sustainability.  You have the power to create and propagate the ideas and innovations that will drive the changes our world needs.

And that is why I am so pleased you have chosen to focus this meeting on scaling up solutions for sustainability in the aftermath of Rio+20.

It is time to take corporate sustainability to the next level.  We need companies everywhere to deliver value not just financially — but also in social, environmental and ethical terms — to look at the quadruple bottom line — and to report publicly on results and progress.  Such responsible and sustainable business practices can bring about lasting, positive change.  This is your responsibility — and it is your opportunity.

We are far from the transformation we need.  And time is running out for achieving it.  We are at a critical juncture — economically, socially and environmentally.  More than one billion people lack access to food, electricity or safe drinking water.  Most of the world’s ecosystems are in decline.  Gaps between rich and poor are widening.  Climate change and population growth are expected to compound these challenges.  The threat to prosperity, productivity and our very stability is clear.  Market disturbances, social unrest, ecological devastation, and natural and man-made disasters near and far directly affect your business — your supply chains, capital flows, your employees and your profits.

You understand that we live in a time of increasing turmoil and uncertainty.  You see that your ability to innovate and grow depends on collective systems that support peace, prosperity and basic human freedoms.  Indeed, the case for finding solutions to these shared challenges seems obvious.

Yet, despite plain evidence that business for the common good means good business, the case has not yet been thoroughly accepted either by the business community or among Governments.

Rio+20 produced an outcome document — after protracted negotiations — but we do not yet have clear agreements on global trade, where the Doha talks remain deadlocked, or on climate change, to cite just two examples.  Nor have the principles of sustainability penetrated business strategy. 

Organizations such as yours encompass only a small percentage of the world’s estimated 80,000 multinationals and millions of smaller enterprises.

For true sustainable development, we need corporate sustainability to be in the DNA of business culture and operations everywhere.

Going to scale is the priority.

There are countless proven innovations and solutions — from energy efficiency to emissions reductions — but Governments rarely support them with the right incentives.  In fact, incentive structures still tend to encourage unsustainable behaviour.  As a result, too many companies limit their sustainability efforts to pilot programmes that never take off.  Even worse, sustainability is still often more a matter of public relations than how companies operate.

This needs to change.  This must change.  And we are committed to working with you for the change we need.  Our Global Compact initiative now counts 7,000 corporate participants in 140 countries — including many of the companies here today.  All have committed to integrate the Compact’s universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption into their operations.

Through the Caring for Climate initiative, more than 400 business leaders have pledged to advance low-carbon solutions and help make the green economy a reality.  Our “Every woman, every child” initiative is working with business to keep 16 million women and children from dying of preventable diseases.  From malaria to polio, businesses are helping us to do the small things that make a big difference in the lives of millions.

The corporate world is a major player in the Zero Hunger Challenge launched in Rio.  At Rio, businesses and investors pledged tens of billions of dollars for my Sustainable Energy for All initiative.  My newly launched Education First initiative has already attracted commitments from many companies.  The CEO Water Mandate provides a framework for water sustainability policies.  The Women’s Empowerment Principles are helping the private sector advance gender equality.  The UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment have been embraced by more than 900 institutional investors representing more than $30 trillion in assets.  And through the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Management Education, more than 400 business schools and related institutions are integrating sustainability into curriculum and research.

Each of these has innovative work under way to help achieve a better world.  Each provides an opportunity for the business community to enhance the quadruple bottom line.

Of course the United Nations is not alone in advancing corporate sustainability.

I want to applaud and encourage the important efforts by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, and the United Nations Global Compact and other organizations that are working to bring business support to the sustainability agenda.

That is why I am here today with you.  To thank you and to hold out the hand of partnership — to tell you that the UN is open to business.

Rio+20 showed that that there are plenty of companies with vision — businesses that are prepared to lead — to take risks and seize opportunities.

We count on your energy, support and leadership to spread the word — and the action.  Show the world the benefits of sustainable and ethical corporate behaviour.  This is especially important at a time of heightened distrust of corporate practices.  You all understand the high stakes — for jobs, for social justice, for development goals, for the health of the planet — as well as for profits.

You all know that sustainable solutions lie in a different way of thinking — a different way of doing business.  You are already taking steps and I count on you to do even more.

The world needs you to spread the message to your peers, partners and customers — to all those who have yet to act, and to all those who are sitting on the fence or even actually opposing change.

It is time to balance the global economy and build a stronger social compact. It is time for transformation. I count on your leadership and commitment.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.