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Vision 2050: Summit Speaker Discusses Business, Individual Roles in Creating a Sustainable Future

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/5/2013

Continuing the run of broad-ranging topics with global reach this morning at the 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Orlando, Christopher Turner discussed how issues of sustainability figure in business planning, particularly alliances, as we look toward the future both as alliance professionals and citizens of the world. In his presentation, “Everybody Get Together: Creating a Sustainable Future,” Turner, director of Rio+20 for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and director of state and local government at PricewaterhouseCoopers, emphasized that the future is approaching rapidly and with it the looming challenges represented by climate change, depletion of natural resources, disposal of waste, and water and energy efficiency, among others.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), based in Geneva, created an initiative called Vision 2050: what would the world look like in 2050 if its 9 billion people were living sustainably? The WBCSD, in a three-year effort, worked with many companies and interest groups to examine the worst and best cases, and to devise a “trajectory” toward that sustainable view. Vision 2050 assumed two goals: high human development (access to health care, clean water, good living conditions, etc.) and low average biocapacity (or consumption) per person. Within that framework, Turner said, the WBCSD asked: “What are the must-haves? What do businesses need to do in partnership with governments and NGOs to make this happen?”

Many of the programs developed by the WBCSD are “essentially alliances,” said Turner, bringing together on average five to 15 companies for discussion, promotion, and research around these issues, engaging industry along with NGOs, academia, and governments. These programs center around such issues as greenhouse gases, water, cement production sustainability, forestry solutions, electric utilities, efficiency in buildings, and sustainability challenges in urban areas, among others.

Another effort in which the WBCSD has been involved is the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20—so named because it took place 20 years after the first Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. The 10-day conference on sustainable development, according to turner, didn’t have a lot of money behind it, and drew up no new treaties or rules, but was the scene of a “tremendous shift, a tipping point, from businesses being seen as pariahs, raping and pillaging, as polluters, to where we’re now seen as a protector. Certainly there’s still a lot of consumption, but the [positive] role of business is unquestioned.”

Turner also highlighted the importance of “people who know how to manage alliances and measure them”—such as, most obviously, the many 2013 ASAP Global Summit attendees in the audience. At Rio+20, Turner said, there were “many groups trying to form alliances to drive real action and investment in sustainability, but very little of it worked” due to too many competing interests, and perhaps an insufficient collaborative mindset. “Very few had the skills and ability to drive that collaboration that you need to drive action and real benefits,” he said.

But times are changing around the world, and businesses are seeing both the risk and the opportunity in sustainability concerns. At the same time, their customers, especially the younger generations, are already clued in to these issues and are demanding more eco-friendly products and services, which has an impact on both the marketing of new products and on the development of those products themselves. And while some products, such as the hybrid Toyota Prius, may not “look cool,” it’s becoming clear that “sustainability is cool—efficiency is cool!” Turner said.

Is there a role in all this for alliance managers? Definitely, said Turner. “Think about the alliances you’re running now and the disruptions you’re facing, and put sustainability on that list.”

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