Category Archives: Rio+20

Rio+20 – Commissioner Andy Wales’ perspective

When the Rio+20 text was made public it was immediately clear that civil society is frustrated with its ‘minimum’ level of aspiration, especially the lack of real timelines and targets. Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that negotiations had failed to live up to expectations, admitting that some member states hoped for a bolder ambitious document; and that he himself had hoped for a more ambitious outcome document.

This frustration is also shared by some progressive private sector organisations, so it is important that we work quickly post-Rio to solidify some of these timelines and determine concrete actions.

In that respect, Rio+20 has been useful to demonstrate the number of private sector companies that are taking sustainable development seriously. There are still some initiatives that are philanthropic or would be better characterised as CSR but most do now relate to core business. Increasingly this is because companies see that sustainability presents opportunities to improve competitiveness, and as integral to the way they do business.

The UN Global Compact Summit brought together leaders from all sectors to highlight the role of responsible business and investment in driving more sustainable and inclusive markets; whilst the Business Action for Sustainable Development day showed the range of initiatives that are underway in all business sectors. The UN CEO Water Mandate held dialogues looking at ways to reduce business risk, whilst 45 CEOs signed a special communiqué highlighting the urgency of the global water crisis and calling on governments to step up their efforts and to work more actively with the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders to address it.

But this work needs to be scaled up quickly – civil society is right to ask whether there are enough ‘progressive businesses’ out there, and what the rest of business is doing. This was articulated in a challenge from some NGOs that the ‘green growth’ phrase might be used by governments and business to greenwash ‘business as usual’. Progressive companies need to show that is not the case and SABMiller’s improvements in water and carbon efficiency are a case in point; in 2008 we set ourselves the tough targets to become 25% more water-efficient by 2015 and 50% more carbon-efficient by 2020; and in the last 12 months our breweries reduced their water consumption and fossil fuel emissions per hectolitre of lager produced by 5% and 10% respectively.

The issue of resource depletion and scarcity is nothing new – oil, rainforests, water and minerals have all been the focus of scarcity concerns at various times. But what has changed is the realisation that these issues can no longer be treated individually. They are all connected, and this is where the paradigm shift comes in. Understanding the resource ‘nexus’ – how water, food and energy supplies can be managed in a connected way – is critical to green growth.  The nexus was extensively discussed and recognised throughout the summit, but it needs to be made simple in order to really influence debates. This will be a key test of the process for the new global sustainable development goals.

And the need for clear global Sustainable Development Goals for the post MDG period is one of the three elements in the text which were welcomed; along with the importance of valuing natural capital to reduce resource depletion and the importance of transparent corporate reporting on sustainability impact.

In particular Rio has performed a valuable role in sharpening private sector focus to accelerate the valuation of natural capital, to internalise what are currently externalised environmental costs. The Natural Capital Declaration, launched by a range of banks and financial institutions, and the Natural Capital Leadership Compact, launched by 15 consumer goods companies including SABMiller, seems to have caught the moment here in Rio, with a high profile session led by Nick Clegg, UK Deputy Prime Minister, a range of heads of state and CEOs. The commitments recognise that we do not have 20 more years to debate what needs to be done and the compact is one of the few areas which is showing rapid progress and energy across sectors; it can only be hoped that it proves to be a catalyst for other similarly progressive initiatives. 

Andy Wales is Senior Vice President Sustainable Development for SABMiller plc, and a London Sustainable Development Commissioner, follow him @AndyCWales


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From London to Rio+20… and back. A Green Economy for London?

Between the 20th and the 22nd of June 2012 the world meets in Rio to consider its future. It’s a recap on the first Rio ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992 when the idea of ‘sustainable development’ came of age.

London will be in Rio – as a world city aiming to be a beacon of sustainable urban living London will feed in ideas on how a world city can succeed economically and socially in ways that take account of the environment – that’s what sustainable development means.

After all, Rio also saw the importance of acting at local and city-wide levels, from the bottom up, not just at global levels.

Here we summarise the ideas we’ve gathered to send to Rio. These come from London communities, businesses and local authorities, including at our February 2012 Rio+20 seminar.

Tell us what you think – to help you, here are some of the top issues and ideas emerging from our discussions and a taste of what people told us at our seminar:

How can London become a ‘green economy’?

‘As in finance + other areas, new business models + innovation are needed which reflect society’s needs.’

‘World average bio-capacity per capita is half what it was in 1961 – due to population growth and resource depletion.’

What would a green economy look like beyond some recycling here and cleaner vehicles there?

‘As we come up to environmental limits (and the social consequences), businesses positioned to adapt will thrive.’

‘Since 2000, ALL of the reductions in resource prices of the 20th Century have been wiped out. We’ve had 100 years of falling price of resources but this has been offset in the past 10 years with real term rises.’

‘3 billion more middle class consumers by 2030 – up from 800 million in 1985…and 1.8 billion in 2009 = 4.8 billion.’

What is the role for London’s businesses, local councils and communities and how can they incorporate sustainable development in the way they plan and work?

‘10 years ago we did not have a sustainability or environment practice. I hope it won’t last because I hope sustainability will be integrated, not a separate discipline.’

As a centre for global finance and capital how can London help make the change here and elsewhere?

‘London has the best global cluster of expertise in sustainable finance.’

‘Radical approaches to finance need ‘investment-grade’ public policy from Government.’

What is the role of government and other institutions?

‘What are corporates doing to drive innovation to make up for inaction by government?’

 ‘Governments are setting energy, water and food policies in a disjointed and conflicting way.’

‘A green economy means integrating social equity and sustainability.’

‘The finance community wants robust methods for valuing biodiversity and other good public policies.’

What help do businesses and communities need to make the changes?

‘What made good investments in the past will not be good in future. Mercer’s and other consultants are now advising companies to avoid climate change risks.’

‘Build the new green economy by drawing on the enthusiasm and energy for – and often hidden activity on – new economies and business innovation.’

What are the barriers to London shifting to being a green economy all of the time?

‘We’ve come far, don’t forget that. Now start acting / believing that change will happen especially in London.’

What do you think?

Feedback your ideas and suggestions on the questions above by leaving a comment, emailing us at, or on twitter @LondonSDC

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