Greening the Corporates:
The Transition, Local business and Sustainable Development
Article by Wayne Visser
The Short History of Sustainable Development
“Sustainable development” hustled its way into the English vocabulary and onto the world’s political agenda in 1987, with the publication of Our Common Future, an official report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by former Norwegian Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland. In terms of this document, sustainable development is defined as:
“Development which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability for future generations to meet their needs.”
This cleverly crafted concept tactfully allied the fears of powerful business lobbies in the developed countries of the North by not being “anti-economic growth”, while at the same time soothing the governments and civic organisations of the developing world in the South by talking “development and equity”. It also befriended and found a guardian-for-life among the environmental pressure groups by putting their “green” issues on the map.
Five years later, in 1992, 178 country leaders paraded on the world stage of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, more endearingly referred to as the “Earth Summit”, and committed their nations to a variety of conventions, agreements and programs aimed at making the now politically acceptable notion of sustainable development a reality.
Global Business and the Environment
The corporate sector is not generally one to be caught napping and the global gearing up on environmental issues proved no exception. In 1991, a group of 50 of the world’s top executives formed the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) and issued its report to the Earth Summit entitled Changing Course: A Global Business Perspective on Development and the Environment. (Pick ‘n Pay’s Raymond Ackerman was one of these contributors). In a parallel initiative, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) launched its 16-principle Business Charter for Sustainable Development in 1991 and contributed a book to the Earth Summit entitled From Ideas to Action: Business and Sustainable Development.
Today, there are more than 2 000 corporate signatories of the ICC Charter for Sustainable Development and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which grew out of a merger between the BCSD and the World Industry Council for the Environment, has more than 120 international member countries.
Other environmentally oriented corporate standards have enjoyed similar growth in world-wide support, for example: the International Council of Chemical Associations’ Responsible Care Programme, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies’ (CERES) Principles, the Keidanren Global Environmental Charter, the British Standard (BS) 7750, the European Eco-management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and the International Standards Organisation (ISO) 14001 standard for Environmental Management Systems.
Environmental Awareness in South Africa
In general, South Africa has tended to lag behind international developments in public policy and corporate responsibility by between 10 and 20 years. For example, while the US enacted their National Environmental Policy Act in 1970, South Africa had to wait two decades for its own comparable legislation in the form of the Environmental Conservation Act 73 of 1989. Similarly, while the ICCA launched its Responsible Care Programme for the international chemicals industry in …
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Cite this article
Visser, W. (1999) Greening the corporates: The transition, local business and sustainable development. Development Update, Special Issue: Election 1999: Where have we come from? A balance sheet of the political transition, Volume 3, No. 1.