The business view from Rio, in 3 minutes or less

Where you stand on last week’s Rio+20 conference depends largely on where you sit. You can pretty easily divide the opinion about the United Nations conference into three camps:

  • The policy crowd — the government officials and others from 120 countries who negotiated the "outcome document" (download-PDF) that the United Nations event produced — are largely glum, the realization that, despite putting the best face on it (a “strong step forward”), the product of the negotiations was largely a cold cup of tea. Nobody, it seems, got much of what they wanted.
  • The NGO crowd — the activists who came in droves, variously holding protests, workshops, and other events — are largely angry, condemning the official business variously as “rubber stamping and Greenwashing” (Greenpeace) to “Nothing more than a political charade” (Care International – PDF). From groups representing women’s rights to sustainable agriculture to plastics in oceans, there is a lot of bitterness in the UN process.
  • The corporate crowd — the thousands of executives here in Rio, supported by the business-friendly NGOs like The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International — are largely ebullient, or at least energized. For them, the UN document was, at best, neutral, but the dialogues and information sharing that took place both inside and outside of RioCentre was seen as extremely positive and valuable.

Over five days last week, I had a chance to participate in Rio+20 sessions and meet with dozens of corporate and NGO leaders to get the business-eye view of Rio: why they attended, the opportunities for business they saw coming out of Rio+20, and other observations. I also did 3-minute video interviews with a dozen or so corporate and NGO leaders in Rio, and interviewed another dozen or so off-camera. The consensus, as you can see from this compilation video, produced by my colleague Kristine Wong -- is fairly positive: business leaders have finally become key players in the global sustainability conversation.

This is nontrivial, and a long time coming. At the first Rio summit, in 1992, companies had no voice and were barely present. “This time, there are more businesses, and business events that are really well attended,” Peter Bakker, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Business, told me. “This is the first time that the governmental leaders realize that without the buy-in of business, the solutions they're going to produce are not going to meet the challenges.”

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