Donnerstag, 21. Juni 2012

Greenwash+20? The role of corporations in sustainable development

This is joint piece with Kaisa Kosonen for OUTREACH. Walking around the Riocentro, greenwash advertisements from corporate polluters are very visible. At the entrance, there is a huge banner declaring that Petrobas, Brazil´s state-owned oil company, is a sponsor of the Summit – the very company that wants to drill off the coast of New Zealand and make Brazil into a major oil producer. If Brazil goes ahead with its planned oil development, it will be among the five largest oil producers in the world by 2020. That is not the Future We Want nor the one we need. The corporate billboards represent the power and influence corporations hold over global politics today. Corporations can be bigger than entire nations – or many nations combined. Of the world’s 100 largest economic entities in 2009, 44 were corporations, when revenues are compared to GDPs. Way too often the very same companies who claim to be green and socially responsible are making big profits from exploiting and polluting the planet – and blocking others from moving forward. Twenty years ago, we released the Greenpeace Book on Greenwash at the 1992 Earth Summit. Our sequel to that book, the Greenwash+20 report, shows that corporations such as Duke Energy or Asia Pulp and Paper still stand in the way of progress – and that governments still continue to let corporate polluters run the show by shying away from proper regulation, pollution pricing, accountability and liability. Giving corporations a free (or cheap) ride isn’t cheap for us and our children. KPMG has estimated that the external environmental costs of 11 key industry sectors were as much as US$ 846 billion in 2010 – an increase of 50% (!) over the last decade. If companies had to pay for the full environmental costs of their business, on average they would lose 41 cents for every US$1 in earnings. Yet, making polluters pay is not an outcome on the table here at Rio+20. A textbook example of greenwash is Shell, who for more than 20 years has been touting its leadership on sustainability, yet is turning its back on renewable energy and strip mining forests in Canada to access extremely polluting tar sands oil. Worse, Shell is the first 'supermajor‘ oil company to actively pursue a policy of significant oil exploration in the offshore Arctic. But the green economy isn’t about ‘sustainable drilling‘ in the Arctic. It’s about protecting the Arctic from exploitation altogether and instead catalysing a green energy revolution. This is the kind of rule-setting we need from governments. Here at Rio+20, in contrast, governments are serving the interests of the polluters not the people. Even the text on mandatory corportate reporting of social and envirpnmental impacts – present in earlier versions of the outcome text – has been gutted. There will be no positive signal on corporate accountability coming from Rio. A pity, as corporations aren’t even reporting properly. Bloomberg discovered that only about 24% of the 19,641 companies they researched reported any environmental, social and governance (ESG) data at all and what data did exist was almost always of poor quality. Corporations can’t be volunteers. If solutions are to be delivered in time for our children to have a green and peaceful future, we need regulations to enforce and deliver them. Global corporations need global rules – and governments admitted as much at the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002. There are companies who are showing signs of walking the talk. For example, Google is investing big time in renewable energy, Nike and H&M are eliminating toxic chemicals from their supply chains, supermarket giant Sainsbury‘s is sourcing sustainable seafood and backing marine reserves, and a growing number of corporations including Unilever and Nestle are refusing to buy from APP as long as it continues to clear rainforests and destroy peatlands in Indonesia. Twenty years ago, the renewable energy industry, which has seen a tremendous breakthrough in the last decade, didn’t have a strong presence at UN meetings. Now they do. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have over 100 major corporations in the EU calling for a stronger, binding climate target for themselves, publicly challenging the official position of their main business federation, Business Europe. Now, we do. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have large investors challenging corporate self-regulation and s voluntary approach to sustainability reporting. Now, we do. There is not enough of them and the voices of the forward-looking businesses are not as loud as they deserve to be. But they are the future of a truly green and just economy.

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