WEF blueprint defines the corporate sustainability spectrum

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released a White Paper on business sustainability to deepen understanding of its breadth and potential impacts.

Sustainable business strategies will help advance a post-2015 development agenda, the White Paper finds.

Sustainable business strategies will help advance a post-2015 development agenda, the White Paper finds.

Within the paper, the WEF's network of global agenda councils - comprising some 1,500 thought leaders from across academia, business, government and society - have published joint statements relating to various aspects of sustainability, from climate change through supply chain logistics to human rights.

Given the context of climate change, the document says business leadership that promotes investment in R&D, innovation and talent is key to commercial success.

"Many companies have embarked on a journey towards net positive impacts, and zero emissions, zero waste, and zero discharge are becoming the norm. By taking this step, companies discover and capture opportunities to reduce costs, minimise risks and increase resilience," the paper states.

It adds that this success may encourage politicians to promote policies that grow the economy in a green, low-carbon and sustainable manner.

"What is required to address climate change is an integrated approach consisting of close public-private partnership, and clear and certain policy direction to drive technology innovation and capital flows and scale up the markets for clean technologies, products and services worldwide."

On the topic of sustainable consumption, the paper points out that "to consume sustainably does not mean to consume less, but to consume differently." Such a model, it argues, will require a complete redesign in the way products and services are supplied.

"This presents a great opportunity for companies to drive growth ... for consumers to recognise and value the new ways in which well-being is supplied, companies will need to play a role in educating consumers to change their behaviour when buying, using and discarding products or services."

The impact of globalisation meanwhile has led to an outsourcing of production by Western manufacturers and the consequent industrialisation of developing countries.

As a result, global retailers and manufacturers have a responsibility not only to their shareholders, but also for the working conditions and the environmental practices that occur throughout the entire supply chain, the paper points out.

"[Companies] have a duty to ensure that they are fully aware of their suppliers' environmental practices and working conditions, and take steps to comply with a globally acceptable standard.

"Their logistics suppliers also have a responsibility to provide services that have a minimal impact on societies and the environment. This is not only a moral responsibility, but it is also in the long-term commercial interests of retailers, manufacturers and logistics suppliers."

The paper can be downloaded in full here.

Maxine Perella


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