Summary: Working Group on the Private Sector
Private sector and the environment
The session on the private sector and the environment looked at how civil society can be more effective in lobbying industries to develop policies that ensure a sustainable and healthy environment.
Civil society often sees the private sector as an enemy, observed moderator Jeff McNeely of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The focus of NGOs in the past has been to expose facts and to lobby industries and companies to change environmentally harmful ways of doing business.
Another, and increasingly common, approach for tackling environmental issues is for NGOs to work with companies to save the environment. After presenting an overall view of the situation, Mr. Mc Neely introduced the first speaker, Mr. Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud of the World Wildlife Federation.
Mr. Jeanrenaud made a 15-minute presentation on how civil society can use dialogue to persuade companies to be more respectful of the environment. He first gave some figures about the harm some big enterprises are doing to our environment. If land, energy, fish and marine life in general, animals and plants continue to disappear at their current rapid pace, soon we will need three planets to live on, he said, drawing attention to notable examples of environmental degradation in Brazil, Indonesia and the USA.
Mr. Jeanrenaud then highlighted the fact that companies are very interested in maintaining a good corporate reputation and are keen to develop partnerships with NGOs so that they appear in a better light to consumers. He recalled the results of a survey which indicated that two-thirds of the population say they would shift to a brand involved in environmentally friendly causes if price and quality were equal. Therefore, it is in the companies' interest to work and dialogue with civil society organizations. By doing so, they can reduce their environmental risks, raise their competitiveness, and better their brand name. Mr. Jeanrenaud gave some examples of partnerships his organization has developed, notably Lafarge in the construction industry, and talked about progress made.
Ms. Clare Cocault from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) then spoke, describing the background of her organization, which was founded in the 1970s as an outcome of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. She talked about the missions and objectives of the organization, intended to regularly evaluate the state of the global environment, to develop responses to priority problems and to help countries in implementing those responses.
Ms. Cocault then gave examples of UNEP partnerships with industries in many sectors (aluminium, chemical manufacturing, advertising and finance) who have agreed to compile global sustainability reports for their sectors, for the first time integrating the environmental, social and economic aspects of their industries' performance and implementing Agenda 21. As a result of this type of reporting, the chemical industry in the USA has reduced the release of toxic chemicals to air, water and land by 58 per cent. Ms. Cocault said that if it is true that business should do more to reduce pollution and look at the life cycle of its products, it is also true that we are increasingly dependent on the private sector for the innovative and entrepreneurial skills needed to meet complex sustainability problems. She concluded by talking about various recommendations made to business, government and civil society by UNEP, such as integrating sustainability criteria into decision-making at all levels.
The third speaker, Mr. Pierre Hausmann from PI Environmental Consulting began by presenting the background of his organization, which works with the forestry sector and was founded in 1993, gathering representatives from environmental and social groups, government and the private sector. It emerged as a response to government reluctance to lobby industries and has since worked in the area of accreditation and benchmarking for the forestry sector. Mr. Hausmann talked about as premiums, market access, and the social license to operate, which can be used as incentives to industry to change their
Mr. Mc Neely recalled that the aim of the session was to see how civil society could help the private sector to realize that environmentally-friendly operating practices do not have to exclude the possibility of profit-making. He summarized the three speakers' unanimous agreement that this must be achieved through dialogue.
Responding to a question asked by one of the delegates who was not convinced of the success of dialogue with the private sector, Mr. Jenrenaud said that NGOs must take action as governments were failing to act in a timely fashion. Other conclusions were that small- and medium-sized companies should also be involved in dialogue with NGOs because they had the potential to make a difference, and also that it was important to develop a diversity of approaches.
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