Possible for a country to reduce pollution and drive growth: Stigson

Updated: Feb 01, 2012, 18:50 PM IST

Rahul Kumar/OneWorld South Asia

Björn Stigson is the former president and now advisor to World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a Geneva-based, CEO-led association of over 200 forward-thinking companies that galvanises the global business community to create a sustainable future for business, society and the environment. Together with its members, the council applies its respected thought leadership and effective advocacy to generate constructive solutions and take shared action. The WBCSD was founded on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to ensure the business voice was heard at the forum.

Björn has extensive experience in developing green technologies. He is visiting India for the 9th World CEO Forum organised by the TERI–Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) in association with the WBCSD. The event, which begins on February 1, is a curtain-raiser to the 12th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) being organised by TERI in New Delhi, India. Björn shares his ideas on the use of technology for a more sustainable future with OneWorld South Asia.

OWSA: WBCSD has been partnering with the DSDS for a long time now, so what kind of value proposition do you see in this partnership?

BS: We have been involved from the very beginning of the Delhi Sustainable Development Summits. TERI and Dr Pachauri thought of this initiative, and we saw this as the leading meeting place to discuss sustainable development, especially in the developing countries and emerging economies and through the years we have realised this as an important valued proposition.

OWSA: Has there been some action on the ground from this partnership?

BS: Yes, definitely. Some years after we established TERI-supported India Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD), a regional network for WBCSD, we now have national organisations in more than six countries. BCSD is organising a CEO Forum as the curtain raiser for DSDS. Each year we are gathering substantial number of CEOs, in particular from India’s leading companies and also international participants for a day, discussing sustainable development to bring the business perspective into the DSDS forum.

OWSA: Have such initiatives helped the business communities change perceptions or moved from being seen as problem creators to solution providers?

BS: Definitely yes. We have managed to change clearly the perception of business by constantly addressing sustainable development. We believe that we have helped Indian business communities to understand the issues, the responsibilities and opportunities that they have to move towards sustainable development.

OWSA: DSDS 2012 is expected to give some inputs to the discourse at Rio+20, this June. What role do you see in such international events that they can galvanise global action to addressing environmental issues?

BS: These international events have the opportunity to create momentum for sustainability issues. Without these events the outcome rates of other big conferences like the Rio+20 meet would be substantially slower. People are sometimes looking to very specific outcomes of each event. But I don’t think one should look at these events as a process where holding an event is creating a momentum in a sub-directional time.

OWSA: Over the years you have closely interacted with lot of Indian leaders, particularly those who have done exemplary work on sustainability issues. Have these works, being done by Indian corporates been seen at the global level?

BS: Yes, increasingly so. We have members from Business Council of India and they take an active role in work. For a long time, there was a hesitation in India on sustainable development issues. It was seen as something that came from the Western world and was rarely in the interest of India and the business communities. This view has now changed, people now see an opportunity.

And also what has happened now is that there is competition - both between countries and companies who are going to be suppliers of resource. If we think about it, the world will have a couple of billion more people in the next forty years. And in countries like India there is a much glorified middle-class and there are government initiatives to reduce poverty and improve the quality of lives. This clearly means that there will be pressure on resource availability. People will look for solutions. And that is an opportunity. India is now trying to develop low cost effective solutions that will help poor people and will help them to reserve some resources for their future.

OWSA: Why do you say that there was an initial hesitation by the Indian Government or companies towards addressing sustainable development issues?

BS: There was a feeling from the government that sustainable development was some kind of conspiracy from the rich world trying to hold back development in the emerging economies. People were saying that we don’t want to preserve the environment; instead we want development and want to reduce poverty. But the WBCSD created a council that created a concept called efficiency and we proved early on that it is possible for a country to drive resource efficiency, reduce pollution and drive economic growth. There was no conflict on being low polluting and efficient than having a good economic development. And I think the mental understanding of this has now shaped in India, in regarding this (idea) as a future opportunity and a lesson for India.

OWSA: When you handed over the presidency after 17 years to Mr Peter Bakker what was your key advice to him?

BS: My first advice is that an organisation like the WBCSD is a member-led and member-driven organisation. The key in leading the organisation is establishing good relations with the council members from around the world, with the Indian business leaders. He is coming to this DSDS to establish the first contact with the members and TERI; India being the key member.

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