By Richard Anstead, Head of Product Management, Fairtrade Foundation
After three days of intense discussions between business leaders, the RI0+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum comes to a close today. Will it continue to be business as usual?
Talks amongst world leaders will continue to the end of the week as nations look to see how they can work together to create a ‘green economy’. What has become apparent during the discussions at the Corporate Sustainability Forum is that national and international businesses are willing to play a large role in making this happen.
The speakers here have reminded us about the impact trade can have in making our lifestyles more sustainable, and also how driving consumption at all costs does the very opposite. There has been a recognition that there is much to do if we are to reduce the impact we have on our planet to the point where we use the resources of one planet, rather than the current level of 1.6. But where to start?
There were recurring themes in the workshops I attended, which should reinvigorate our work to help businesses play their part. Three clear themes were:
Decoupling. Companies all want to continue to grow and make money – however it is now clear that businesses must decouple growth from impact. If companies want to continue to grow and be successful, they need to do so while using less. Unilever announced over a year ago their ambition to double their sales by 2020 whilst keeping their impact at the levels they were in 2010. A brave ambition and one they are still working on delivering.
Finding new ways of doing business. One speaker from Harvard University presented on the areas where she felt innovation was needed to harness the capability of business. She spoke of the need for new models for business, finance, incentives, and engagement. I really feel Fairtrade and pioneering companies such as Divine and CafeDirect can play a leading role in showing global business what ‘new’ looks like in many of these areas. Their direct engagement with producers and their unique sharing of the value chain through their shareholder structure are leading examples. There were also encouraging signs of a willingness to try something new from mainstream businesses as well – on a number of panels discussing these issues were the likes of Mars, Nestle, SAB Miller and Puma.
Leadership and partnerships. There was a consensus that progress would be slow if it was led by one or two individuals. There are notable individual NGO and business leaders. But sustainability still needs to be embedded into the DNA of most businesses, being adopted by all of an organisation’s board and not just the CEO or CSR team. Perhaps more importantly it must inform the work of the new product development team, the manufacturing team, those responsible for buying raw materials and those communicating to consumers. Only when sustainability is embedded into the core of the business will commitments last longer than the tenure of the current ‘champion’.
It has been really positive for me to make contact with supporters of Fairtrade from across governments, donors and businesses. It is clear that Fairtrade can play a key role in this space. Fairtrade sits in a unique position where it can bring together key players to help make trade fair. Consumers are demanding that businesses as well and government do their part. Fairtrade can help form partnerships that works directly with producers and ensure that international business can do its bit to help those most disadvantaged trade their way out of poverty and in the process become reliable and sustainable suppliers.
Fairtrade must continue to ensure that a ‘green economy’ means a fairer economy that looks after the people and the planet.