Sustainable Business Still Far From Common Practice

Sustainable Business Still Far From Common Practice

There is a growing gap between the efforts of business and industry to reduce their impact on the environment and the worsening state of the planet, according to a new report prepared by the United Nations Environment Program.

According to the report, "10 Years After Rio: The UNEP Assessment," only a small number of companies in most industry sectors are actively striving to integrate social and environmental factors into business decisions. It also argues that improvements to business practices are being overtaken by economic growth and increasing demand for goods and services: a phenomenon known as the rebound effect.

“The new reports clearly show that progress since Rio has been uneven within and amongst industry sectors and countries,” said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's executive director. "Despite many good examples of how industries are reducing waste and emissions, becoming more energy efficient, and helping poor communities to meet their basic needs, we have found that the majority of companies are still doing business as usual."

The report draws on 22 global sustainability reports written by different industry sectors -- including accounting, advertising, chemicals, construction, oil and gas, and waste and water management. This collection of reports is known as the Industry as a Partner for Sustainable Development series, developed as part of a collaboration with the UN, industry representatives, labor, and non-governmental organizations. Each industry reports examines achievements, unfinished business, and future challenges with respect to implementing Agenda 21.

All the sector reports highlight the role of governments -- combining regulatory, economic, and voluntary instruments -- in spurring social and technological innovation, and in ensuring that laggard or negligent companies do not benefit at the expense of those investing in best practices.

"Significant efforts have been made by participating industries in reducing their ecological footprint", said Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel, UNEP's assistant executive director and director of the team that helped produced the reports. "But, it is in industry's own self-interest to do more to spread best practice and raise the performance levels of all its members everywhere. Not enough companies, particularly small and medium-sized ones, are leading the way and there is insufficient monitoring."

In response to the findings in “10 Years After Rio,” UNEP has identified priority areas for business and industry and suggests a number of recommendations. These include: spreading the use of best practices that bring triple dividends - economic, environmental and social; greater integration of environmental and social criteria into mainstream business decision-making; and improving the implementation and monitoring of voluntary initiatives and industry self-regulation.

Other recommendations from UNEP include the development of "sustainable entrepreneurship" in less developed countries as part of the wider goal to combat poverty, and the need to expand and support environmental and sustainability reporting.

The UNEP overview report and the 22 individual sector reports
are available online.