Old article that is still valid... Especially in relation to the work with Climate Positive and companies as solution providers.
FROM PHILANTHROPY TO CORE BUSINESS| 2007-02-23 11:07
Opening a window of opportunity
By: Dennis Pamlin
Western companies and governments are pushing the world toward a war over natural resources. At the same time rapid development in countries like China and India provides a historically unique opportunity to move the world toward real sustainability.
The world is in a situation where conflict over natural resources, especially oil, minerals and water, is moving up on the international security agenda. Measures to reduce poverty and create greater global equality have become challenges for the industrial societies. It is impossible for the whole world to live like the populations of the US, EU and Japan due to limited resources, and since no developed country has a strategy to increase resource efficiency to provide the same level of welfare to countries like India and China, this creates a precarious situation.
While great progress has been made in some areas, and technology and economic resources are available to solve many of the great challenges, there is very little happening.
Although complex, three main causes can be identified:
A Western perspective dominates.
Companies talk about sustainability, but few act.
There is a focus on simplistic problems, not opportunities.
While not difficult to solve, it requires that new players get involved and that the old generation of reactive environmentalists leave room for those who want to deliver real sustainability.
A major challenge is that there is unwillingness among westerners to realize that their societies are fundamentally unsustainable. It is not enough to reduce pollution and emissions when the total resource usage is far too high and the solution involves sending the emissions abroad.
Another concern is that environmental organizations, which are seen as the “environmental voice”, have become reactive and marginalized. They arrange their own conferences, reports and seminars, and tend to represent environmental issues in a very narrow sense. Instead of challenging and working with the groups that really influence economic development, they work with each other, convincing themselves that protected areas, wastewater treatment and recycling is what the world needs.
Many “environmentalists” are ignoring the great inequity that exists, and the economic and technological challenges that lie ahead. A serious initiative should provide welfare to those who are poor, while reducing the ecological footprint of the rich.
Most western governments have designated their environmental work as reactive, with a focus on those companies creating problems. While this is important to ensure laggards don’t fall behind, it is the proactive work of supported leaders that is needed most.
Defining end-of-pipe technologies as “environmental” is really counterproductive for three reasons. First, it doesn’t help the environment in the long term. Second, it excludes those who have real solutions, such as information and communication technology companies. Third, it communicates the wrong message regarding challenges.
It has been the view of some working in academia that the only role of companies has been to make money. However, most working people realize and acknowledge that companies have some kind of responsibility. The question is what kind of responsibility they have.
For a long time the American method of philanthropy dominated, with surplus given to “good causes.” During the 1970s and 1980s it became clear that many companies were contributing to the destruction of nature and exploiting poor people, rather than helping them. The second generation of CSR was born. This became the breeding ground for PR departments and environmental consultants who tried to engage the companies in damage control, risk management and branding. Some companies started to ask fundamental questions about their existence. Could their business model help solve the challenges humanity faces and allow people to move out of poverty? Thus the third generation of CSR was born.
The result is that some companies today are not only moving beyond current legislation, they are making changes that will allow them to keep making profits, but reduce their resource consumption while helping the poor.
Many global companies have a very reactive approach. They want to portray themselves as progressive companies, but very seldom does this translate into concrete plans. Often these companies have well-developed communication departments, but very little discussion about how to meet the future needs of societies. Interestingly enough we see signs that many companies in emerging economies look like third generation companies, while most “CSR-events” organized by western companies or governments are generation one or two. It is time to listen more to the companies from emerging economies, and separate the companies in the west that belong to the three different generations.
Not only have western companies approached sustainability issues in a reactive manner for a long time, they have also acted as if the western world was the center of the universe. With the emergence of new economic centers, such as those in India and China, this illusion is even harder to uphold.
The relationship between consumption, production and use of natural resources is becoming more complex. Hopefully this, together with limited natural resources will result in companies and governments abandoning the linear approach. Instead of running the economy with no regard to natural resource depletion, long-term sustainability, or equitable use of the planet’s resources, we need a global circular economy.
Progressive companies and governments could set up meetings between representatives from all parts of the global economy – those providing the natural
resources, those producing the goods and services, as well as those consuming them. The companies marketing and developing new products and services should be confronted with the consequences of their choices.
In order to encourage a sustainable business development, innovator zones for a circular economy should be introduced. These innovator zones could be used to explore ways that allow the rich population to enhance their welfare, but reduce their total use of natural resources, and at the same time allow the poor to boost their well-being, while only marginally increasing their use of natural resources. It is important that these innovator zones are not only set up by the companies that currently are experiencing problems, but also by those who can provide solutions, such as architects, city planners and ICT companies. Sectors that have been contributing indirectly to destructive development, such as the financial sector and PR/marketing/branding firms, need to provide new solutions in addition to reducing their destructive behavior.
Before the end of 2007, all major environmental institutions need to move away from the single-minded focus on end-of-pipe technologies. A strategy for supporting real sustainability solutions rather than incremental improvement of inherently unsustainable systems should be developed. All major economic player – major companies, export agencies, members of industry, and organizations promoting innovation – should explore how they can support real sustainable solutions. Leading companies in major western countries should set concrete targets and develop business models for a global circular economy. Leading CEO’s should act together on a global level with those responsible for major investments. Companies and countries should disclose how much they invest in reactive environmental protection compared to proactive solutions. Triangular dialogues are necessary between key players in various geographical areas such as Africa, China and the EU.
Artikeln även publicerad i Sustainability Sweden, 2006