Rio + 20

by Terence Jeyaretnam, Director of Net Balance (, one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms. Terence is based in Melbourne.

A businessman would not consider a firm to have solved its problems of production and to have achieved viability if he saw that it was rapidly consuming its capital. How, then, could we overlook this vital fact when it comes to that very big firm, the economy of Spaceship Earth and, in particular, the economies of its rich passengers? E F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, 1973

Erosion of natural capital has continued over the past 50 years, despite the heightened awareness of environmental impact of industrialization and population growth. Over the fifty years, there’s been a multitude of international conventions, giving birth to a large number of new institutions and protocols on sustainable development. They have proved just one thing – that there’s no silver bullet for the environmental predicament. [Read more…]

social investment implications of 7 billion people

social investment implications of 7 billion people

Dusseldorf Mediahafen

At the end of  October 2011 it is estimated that the world population will have reached 7 billion people – an achievement and challenge at the same time.

This article focusses on just three challenges and corresponding opportunities that might stretch the traditional mindset for social investments by corporates, trusts and foundation and governments. All three are interdependent and addressing one can have postive impacts on the other.

1: Addressing [Read more…]

let’s break the population taboo

let’s break the population taboo

Ulaanbaatar Mongolia

Following consultation for a population strategy for Australia, the Australian Government has just released its ‘Sustainable Population, Sustainable Communities’ strategy and ignored the most important factor: the negative unsustainable environmental impact of population growth. How is this possible when submissions pointed these implications out so eloquently and conclusively? What a missed opportunity to engage in a mature debate about population control and pave the path to a sustainable Australia that considers itself part of a global community and wishes to maintain a decent quality of life for all.

Unfortunately, the Australian Government is not alone – although this is by no means to be interpreted as an excuse.  The much loved  and extremely well respected Sir David Attenborough, known for his wonderful nature documentaries, pointed out in his President’s Lecture at London’s Royal Society of Arts: ” … the [UK’s] Government’s ‘Foresight Report on the Future of Food and Farming’….[It] shows how hard it is to feed the seven billion of us who are alive today. It lists the many obstacles that are already making this harder to achieve – soil erosion, salinisation , the depletion of aquifers, over-grazing, the spread of plant diseases as a result of globalisation, the absurd growing of food crops to run into biofuels to feed motor cars instead of people – and so on. … …It recommends the widest possible range of measures across all disciplines to tackle this.. but doesn’t state the obvious fact that it would be much easier to feed 8 then 10 billion people.” [Read more…]

from earth hour to earth day

from earth hour to earth day

Did you know that  2011 to 2020 is the United Nations Decade of Biodiversity, that this year is the International Year of Forests, that 22 April is Earth Day and 5th June World Environment Day, celebrated since 1972? If yes, you belong to a relatively small group of ‘insiders’ and if not, why not?

Earth Hour on the other hand – the one day a year where we are prompted to symbolically turn our lights off for one hour is known by millions around the world. How come the latter has become a global phenomenon and yet directly related, mature environmental awareness raising initiatives lack momentum?

The United Nations has celebrated World Environment Day on the 5th June since 1972. So how can we focus the millions of people who symbolically turn their lights off on rapid action for the environment, including forests and biodiversity?

Apart from collaborating with Earth Hour organisers to ensure it is more than a feel good exercise (more about this here), we can learn and transfer those social marketing lessons.  Any social campaign that moves us to change our habits needs to: [Read more…]

confessions of an Earth Hour sceptic

Saturday the 26th of March was Earth Hour – a social marketing phenomenon that started in Australia in 2007  and is now known around the world. The high visibility of switching off lights makes Earth Hour  a corporate responsibility dream.  In just 5 short years it has captured the imagination of a global audience with its initial intend to

” make a bold symbolic statement about the critical issue of climate change and to engage Australians in taking action”.

This rapid growth must make it one of the most successful social marketing campaigns globally.

I have been an Earth Hour sceptic since its inception, wondering how on earth switching the lights off for one hour could possibly assist in moving us towards a sustainable lifestyle – although I did switch off our lights on Saturday at 8.30pm.  I do, however, recognise Earth Hour’s potential to build on its success and speed up positive social change.

My main concern is that this ‘bold symbolic statement’ let’s us off the hook, offers an easy way out. [Read more…]

business and human rights & CSR

There are few if any internationally recognised rights that businesses cannot impact.

Why should business care about human rights?

There are few if any internationally recognised rights business cannot impact – or be perceived to impact – in some manner.  Therefore, companies should consider all such rights.” Professor John Ruggie, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Business and Human Rights. Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights, April 2008.

So now that’s clear, what are we doing about it? And how do much covetted corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives fit into the business and human rights agenda? [Read more…]

“More than you’ll ever need … inside!”

“More than you’ll ever need … inside!”

In keeping with our recent focus on consumption I was struck by the call of a Sri Lankan scientist to assist “rich countries to curb their climate-damaging consumption habits through a set of consumption goals  – in the same way the poor have ‘Millennium Development Goals’   (MDG’s) to get them out of poverty”.

What a brilliant idea!  His reasoning is obvious: 20% of the worlds richest people are responsible for 80% of consumption.

And of course, the always impressive team at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington responded to the call with a first draft: [Read more…]

how to start a movement for sustainability

how to start a movement for sustainability

The beginning of a new year offers an opportunity for a fresh start full of good intentions.

2010 marked the beginning of a new decade with great hopes for sustainable development including biodiversity – BUT it  was not a good year for global sustainable development. It was marked  and marred by an entirely preventable, highly publicised, major environmental disaster and, in the main, a “business as usual” approach.

It was also marked by increased calls for true sustainability versus the rhetoric of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and its various incarnations. So what kind of year will 2011 become and be remembered for? Will it become known as the year where we galavanise into  positive action? Will it be remembered for a substantial swing towards long term planning? 2012 will mark the 25th anniversary of the 1987 Brundtland Commission report, Our Common Future – what do we have to show after 25 years of mainstreaming sustainable development ? Not much I am afraid.

BUT, there is hope yet.

There are many excellent initiatives aiming to  deliver a sustainable lifestyle for all. What can we do to accellerate positive change?  Among many other things we need to highlight and promote the work of  entrepreneurs who drive worldchanging intiatives, small and large, wherever they may be. It has long been a passion of mine to build on existing achievements and I adore Derek Siver’s simple but compelling TED video below on how to start a movement which brings home the importance of courage to go against the tide, team work and puts a smile on ones’ face!

Check out these articles and intiatives for further stimulation and I look forward to your comments!

‘Splashing around in the citizenship shallows‘ by John Elkington

The Transition Decade for a safe climate future 2010 – 2020

i am dreaming of a green christmas

i am dreaming of a green christmas

Christmas and New Year are just around the corner and product advertising is rampant.  Among the many voices competing for our attention is an emerging call for a greener Christmas. For obvious reasons: while Christmas is a time for generosity it is also a time for great excess. The amount of waste that goes to landfill in Australia over the festive season is higher than any other time of the year. So is the amount of energy consumed in households.

BUT: We can have a good time at Christmas and New Year AND do something good for the planet. Here are three of my favorites and a list of hyperlinked resources for further exploration:

1. Go nowhere.  Transport is the 2nd largest contributor to climate change. In addition to saving greenhouse gas emissions you also gain time to relax, and spend less time packing bags, on the road and setting up at the destination. If you absolutely have to go somewhere to join family and friends, take the bike, train or bus.

[Read more…]

medium sized enterprises united through First 5000

medium sized enterprises united through First 5000

First 5000 launch 20 Oct at NSW Parliament House

According to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) SMEs account for about 90 per cent of business worldwide, employing 50 to 60 per cent of the world’s workforce. In Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics data indicate small businesses in Australia comprise up to 89 per cent of all employing enterprises, with medium businesses making up another 10 per cent.

The SME sector is not only huge but also extremely diverse – with  60% of all of these businesses not having any employees – this diversity creates challenges on many levels and  areas including responsible business practices,  corporate sustainability and philanthropy.

[Read more…]