By Laura Clise
Director, Sustainable Development and Continuous Improvement
In an increasingly resource-constrained world and at a time when society at large is grappling with the critical challenges of economic recovery, energy security, and climate change, business leaders are considering the bold actions required to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy. In the globally integrated world in which we live, what happens in one economy does not stay in one economy. Therefore, business, government, and civil society need to establish models of collaboration that address these common issues, which are not limited by national boundaries.
This theme was at the heart of two recent gatherings of the world’s business leaders: a meeting of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in Washington, D.C., and the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) conference in San Francisco. As a member of both the WBCSD and BSR, AREVA is fully engaged in this dynamic dialogue about the role business must play in adapting existing business and economic models to support systemic sustainability.
In a panel discussion, incoming WBCSD Chair Jorma Ollila, also Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell and Nokia, emphasized the need to act now in the interest of the long term, managing and addressing the challenges of transition to a low-carbon economy, which will be neither cheap, nor easy, nor quick. In response to the question of the role of climate policy, World Resources Institute President Jonathan Lash and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers stressed the importance of a framework that makes it profitable to transition away from old technologies and the need for the U.S. to step up and lead on the issue of climate change.
At the BSR Conference, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) CEO Ernst Ligteringen argued for the need for strong leadership and a change of mindset that will push companies to balance the pressure to act on short-term targets with a longer-term, sustainable vision. Zhang Yue, Chainman and CEO of BROAD Air Conditioning, raised the question of whether growth (increased production, consumption, etc.) is necessarily development. He encourages his employees to consider why they are selling products to their customers and emphasizes the value of creating products for society using a business model that contributes to a more sustainable economic trajectory.
In a conference breakout session, When Good Intentions Collide, business leaders discussed the challenge of balancing the benefits and drawbacks to various competing technology solutions to economic, energy, and climate change issues. Despite competing policy priorities, the reality is that transformational progress in any of these areas will require a portfolio of solutions and multi-stakeholder collaboration.
To realize the vision of systemic sustainability articulated by both WBCSD President Bjorn Stigson and BSR CEO Aron Cramer, the pursuit of profit must be rooted in sustainable innovation that addresses the critical issues confronting us as a society. Extrapolating from the WBCSD and BSR discussions, more and more, the pathway to profitability will be one that recognizes and respects the limits of the planet while generating both economic and social value – for that is what makes sustainable development both good for business and simply good business.
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