2.2 Regulatory initiatives
Box 2 Political will
‘We know the solution: sustainable development. The issue is political will.’
Prime Minister Tony Blair, World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, 2 September 2002
Two aspects of the business and sustainable development debate became abundantly clear at the Johannesburg World Summit. First, there has been enormous progress in the business world since the widespread ignorance and disinterest that reigned ten years ago. Business leaders have grasped the overwhelming importance of sustainable development and are grappling seriously with the implications for their businesses – although a long tail of also-rans also exists. Second, the boundary between business and government responsibilities has blurred and needs to be redefined. Leading businesses understand their responsibilities, but governments have shirked many of theirs, often citing the benefits of voluntary business action over the ‘negative impact’ of government intervention.
(Cowe and Porritt, 2002)
To a large extent the response of business is still at the margins of what is required. Some may be unwilling to adopt certain behaviours for fear that competitors could gain a competitive advantage by not doing likewise. This then becomes the legitimate province of governments; to attempt to achieve the metaphorical ‘level-playing field’ or to judiciously ‘tilt’ the playing field to achieve the desired end.
It has been argued that the business of environmental performance is too important to be relegated to a sidebar in the annual report. By adopting a purely commercial response, couched in terms of the trading of allowed levels of carbon dioxide emissions, an environmentally friendly organisation, it is claimed, can profit by selling its unused allowances on the open market. The actual mechanics of the process are made more complex by the need to consider indirect ‘supply chain’ effects, in effect making organisations responsible for the emissions of their suppliers and customers as part of a total process.
At the time of writing, the system seems to be experiencing a few teething problems, not least in terms of the market price of the tradable allowances. Nevertheless the authors’ major contention seems to be borne out; by bringing explicit consideration of carbon dioxide emissions to the fore, forcing companies to recognise their overall contribution and offering a means to reduce the problem to familiar ‘bottom-line’ considerations, the whole issue is moved healthily up the agenda for both boardrooms and customers.