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Date: 2024-07-20 Page is: DBtxt003.php txt00008931

We need more Paul Polmans. But a new generation of leaders is emerging, says Bakker

Burgess COMMENTARY

Peter Burgess

We need more Paul Polmans. But a new generation of leaders is emerging, says Bakker

Sustainability was firmly on the agenda in Davos, WBCSD president Peter Bakker tells Tom Idle. And with climate change-related impacts in the news, business leaders have no choice but to take action.

Peter Bakker ... Did something change at Davos this year? Did we really see sustainable development issues on the agenda?

While Davos has always provided a platform for the world’s most influential business and political players to thrash out political, economic and social issues, this year we really did see a key shift in the agenda. We hadh Professor Klaus Schwab putting more emphasis than ever on addressing climate change.

And for the first time we saw an entire day dedicated to conversations around climate at the annual meeting - following a collaborative partnership by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the UN Secretary-General’s office, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the World Economic Forum and the World Bank.

During this full-day event in the World Food Programme tent, more than 20 sessions took place devoted to issues such as green financing, stranded assets, energy and power plant efficiency, and and ending deforestation.

So, what key messages emerged from the meeting?

Firstly, businesses simply cannot afford to ignore climate change any longer.

Speaking to fellow delegates, there is a growing realization among corporations that being green makes good business sense and companies are already beginning to experience how climate change can significantly affect revenue.

Secondly, businesses should capitalize on the position they are in to initiate change.

Business holds many of the technologies and solutions that can create the transformation the world needs and they are aptly placed to take actions to scale. Now more than ever this renewed focus on climate change in the global agenda provides a real opportunity for businesses to engage in tackling climate change issues.

Business holds the technologies and solutions that can create the transformation the world needs

Thirdly, as the Edelman Trust barometer indicated this year, society now expects business to take the lead.

After year’s of declining trust levels, this was the first sign of change in perception. We believe the Action2020 set of Business Solutions will provide just that platform for business to start implementing at scale.

But was anybody listening? Will those messages emanate with the masses - consumers or businesses?

The risk report found that climate change and related impacts such as extreme weather events, food crises and water crises are four of the top ten global economic risks.

These were provocative talking points at Davos and due to the significant consequences to entire countries and industries of ignoring these risks, business leaders had no choice but to take note.

I look at Davos as one in a series of events that will build up towards Paris 2015. I am getting more optimistic that we will agree messages in this journey and initiatives will appear along the way that will reach the masses.

Now that this year’s annual meeting has concluded, the focus on climate will continue through to the UNFCCC Conferences of the Parties in Lima, Peru in late 2014 and then in Paris in late 2015 when a new climate agreement is due, and beyond.

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever was a prominent figure in Davos. But the business community still lacks more Paul Polmans – those that are really leading the charge? Why is this?

In the past, the responsibility has been passed to governments and international bodies to develop frameworks to ensure we live sustainably within the bounds of the planet. This was previously not seen as a role for the business community and its leaders.

Only recently are we starting to see increasing recognition that political and government action is not enough.

For example at the UN COP 19 talks in Warsaw there was a lack of political will to tackle the clear and present urgencies that climate change is posing across the globe.


IMAGE Paul Polman ... Paul Polman, in his role WBCSD chairman, will act as a role model to member companies says Bakker.

A new generation of CEOs is entering the space that understands the need to redefine the role of business

But as we enter a world of nine billion, businesses are beginning to recognize that they must take action if politicians refuse to do so. Although, it's fair to say, this has been gradual shift.

With Paul Polman acting as the WBCSD’s new chairman, he will act as a role model to our member companies and across businesses more broadly to ensure we recruit more leaders of the sustainable business movement.

But more people are stepping up to the challenge. A new generation of CEOs is entering the space - a generation that understands we need to redefine the role of business, and re-look at the definition of performance and valuation.

What did you personally hope to achieve during your time in Davos? And did you achieve it?

With the renewed focus on climate change, we have achieved more at Davos this year than ever before.

Under the theme 'The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business' business leaders were able to think beyond short-term, crisis-driven decision-making, and focus on addressing the underlining trends driving global transformation.

For me, it’s all about the creation of a movement. Of sharing ideas and giving each other courage to do more. Our role as WBCSD is to bring business together around these themes and create practical solutions like we have done in Action2020.

Pretty much everyone at Davos has, or can have, a role to play in supporting or delivering our Action2020 initiative.

We will give business the opportunity to play a leading role in addressing the biggest environmental challenges. The launch of Action2020, our new global initiative for sustainable development, enabled us to do just that.

So, how will Action2020 work?

This sustainability roadmap, which includes climate change targets and actions, is led by the WBCSD and co-chaired by 16 companies from a range of industries. So far, 44 companies representing 15 million employees and US$7 trillion of revenues have already signed on and, following its launch in Davos, more companies are joining as we speak.

We also wanted to further strengthen our relationship with the World Economic Forum (WEF). Indeed the WEF Global Agenda Council on Governance for Sustainability dedicated its January 2014 edition of the Green Light publication to profiling the Action2020 plan. This is a sign of increasing collaboration with WEF which we hope to see more of in the future.

What else do you have planned for 2014?

We will continue to roll out Action2020 across member companies and beyond, setting the agenda for businesses to take action.

And to ensure Action2020 members can have a real impact on global challenges, we will be shaping our activities around Action2020’s nine priority areas, including climate change and water, and will be providing support for local implementation of the business solutions. We will actively seek collaboration to ensure that the message pro-change is heard at every platform that matters.

Our second priority this year is to get our teeth into redefining value. There are too many initiatives underway that address the topic of measuring, valuation and reporting of non-financial performance. It is time to build some aggregation in the approaches. We will position WBCSD as the go-to authority for businesses interested in this space and help all existing initiatives connect into it.

What other emerging trends are you seeing?

We are seeing increased recognition of the value of natural and social capital, as businesses realize that resource constraints represent a significant business risk - not only from the potential inability to source the necessary inputs for products, but also from the threat of political intervention into operations.

Economic invisibility has been a major reason for the neglect of natural and social capital. However this is now changing as we are starting to see an increased uptake of non-financial reporting.

Last November, in partnership with Radley Yeldar, the WBCSD released one of the largest independent research projects on corporate non-financial reporting, entitled 'Reporting Matters – WBCSD 2013 Baseline Report' . This is why, as one of our two priorities, we will be leading the Redefining Value work.

For more information about the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and its Action2020 work, click here.

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