For the past 18 months, Dr. Steve Waygood of Aviva Investors has led a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Coalition (CSRC) representing companies with investment power of 50 trillion US dollars, whose goal was to include a paragraph in the official Rio+20 outcome document mentioning the importance of sustainability reporting to encourage a change in the way companies see sustainable development inside their operations.
Against strong opposition from countries like the United States, Canada and Australia, among others, the paragraph made it into the text:
47. We acknowledge the importance of corporate sustainability reporting and encourage companies, where appropriate, especially publicly listed and large companies, to consider integrating sustainability information into their reporting cycle. We encourage industry, interested governments as well as relevant stakeholders with the support of the UN system, as appropriate, to develop models for best practice and facilitate action for the integration of sustainability reporting, taking into account the experiences of already existing frameworks, and paying particular attention to the needs of developing countries, including for capacity building.
Even if the tone is weak (all of those “to consider” and “where appropriate”), Waygood says he’s pleased and thinks this can actually make a difference.
-What did you do with the UK delegation and the CSRC?
-My focus has always been on corporate sustainability reporting, and saw that over the past 20 years there were few mentions of corporate sustainability in the outcome documents of any of the world summits (there were a few, but very far between). What we’ve managed to do with this event is to get paragraph 47 to make a reasonably positive statement about what companies should be encouraged to do with corporate sustainability reporting: produce integrated reports that embed sustainability with reporting cycles and which show us (us as investors, us as stakeholders) how they’re managing those issues. We started 18 months ago building a coalition that now represents over 50 trillion dollars, worked with 72 different institutions, presented it to the UK government and to the UN General Assembly last year at the private sector forum, and have been working with a number of UN agencies for a long time to get this to happen. I personally spoke in 200 events across four continents. This has been a massive effort by a number of different institutions.
-What did you think of the result?
There were a number of times when I felt it was going to be deleted, a number of countries were pushing back very hard on any mention of corporate sustainability: the US, Kazakhstan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada all at different times were challenging the text, but I’m very pleased they were able to come to an agreement. We can see within paragraph 47 a number of caveats about whether these are appropriate and who wants to work with this or is allowed to work with this and what is required, and that’s fine. The reason why I’m so excited is that it provides us with a mandate to do something with that paragraph, we can make it what we want it to be, and we can work with the UN agencies, who are very keen to work with us, to make what we wanted to happen actually happen, driving it from the market rather than from an international treaty. This would have been our preference, so I’m disappointed we didn’t get a treaty, but I’m very pleased that the UK, the EU delegation, Norway, Mexico and of course Brazil, among other countries, stood behind us for what we were trying to do and lobbied hard to keep it in there.
-How do you think this will make a difference in the way companies manage sustainability?
If a company has never thought about this before and they’re suddenly presented with a requirement to report or explain why they won’t, they’re much more likely to report something. When they do, they are going to want to make it cute, because that’s their shop window. If it’s going to be reported and look good, they will want to have performance measures in there, and those performance measures mean they can start to manage sustainability issues in a way that they may never have done before. So bit by bit, company by company, you start to build an economy at a macro level that’s more sustainable. Companies that are thinking about these issues and embedding them in their strategy. It doesn’t mean that the economy is sustainable overnight, you still need governments to make doing the right thing pay, but it does mean you’ve made progress and that’s why I’m very pleased with the document we’ve got. Or at least with that paragraph.
Dr. Waygood’s excitement is a nice change from the disappointment expressed by some NGOs, who are calling on a press conference to “analyze consequences of the failure governments at Rio+20 are faced with.” (Although let’s face the fact that NGOs are rarely pleased with the outcome of anything.)
Meanwhile, the UN is publishing a list of voluntary commitments governments and organizations have pledged to. The conference ends tomorrow.
I´m in Rio until June 23. If you have any leads or want to point us in the direction of an interesting event, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @paualvarado.