Environmental spotlight falls on big business



Posted in: Environment

Environmental spotlight falls on big business

June 01, 1992

International commercial banks made a formal commitment to the United Nations in New York on May 6, to pursue common principles of environmental protection in their operations. 31 banks from 23 countries formally endorsed the Statement by Banks on the Environment and Sustainable Development which commits the banks to move “towards the integration of environmental considerations into internal operations and business decisions”. They promised to include environmental risks on the normal checklist of risk assessment and management.

The Statement was drawn up over the past year by an advisory group of 5 banks working with the UN Environment Programme, including NatWest, Deutsche Bank and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. The Royal Bank of Scotland was among the signatories of the final Statement. Derek Wanless, NatWest’s Group Chief Executive, has commented that the financial services industry has a fundamental role to play in encouraging its customers to improve their environmental performance. Contact Dan Brockbank, NatWest, on 071 726 1081 or Scott Vaughan, UNEP New York, on 010 1 212 963 8094

The Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has issued nine Business Briefs in preparation for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). These cover both a recommended basic approach to business/environment issues and specific topics such as toxic chemicals, energy and biotechnology. The Briefs were drawn up by a Task Force chaired by Torvild Aakvaag from Norsk Hydro.

Five general principles underlie the ICC’s recommendations:

1) environmental concerns must be addressed or else economic growth will decrease the quality of life for the world’s inhabitants;

2) sustainable development is the goal, so that current needs can be met without compromising the ability to meet the needs of future generations;

3) the private sector is the source of resources to improve environmental quality;

4) progress towards sustainable development is best achieved within a market economy;

5) open trade, with liberalised trade and investment, is a key requirement.

Contact ICC UK on 071 823 2811 or Tina Launois ICC HQ on 010 33 1 49 532828

The Swiss-based Business Council for Sustainable Development published on May 7 a business “manifesto” for the Rio Earth Summit. The 350 page book Changing Course and its accompanying Declaration sets out how business can adapt and contribute to the goal of sustainable development. 50 chief executives, co-ordinated by Stephan Schmidheiny, the Swiss industrialist, have committed themselves to partnership in changing course towards sustainable development, very much along the market-orientated free trade approach of the ICC. The Council comprises such major car makers as Volkswagen and Nissan, chemical and oil companies like Chevron, Shell and ENI, and manufacturers like Mitsubishi, 3M and Nippon Steel. Contact Trevor Russel, BCSD, 010 41 22 788 32 02

A group of major hotels have started an International Hotels Environment Initiative and plan to publish and promote a charter for good environmental practice during summer 1992. The tourist trade has long been criticised for having a detrimental impact on developing countries.

The Initiative grew out of work done by Intercontinental Hotels Group and its Chief Executive John van Praag. A working committee supported by other chains – Hilton International, Holiday Inn, Ramada and others – has been working since January with the support of The Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum. Contact Susan Simpson, IBIC, on 071 925 2933

A network of 24 UK-based environmental organisations co-ordinated by CPRE and the Green Alliance has published a statement for the Rio de Janeiro UNCED called Putting Our Own House In Order – the UK’s responsibilities to the earth summit. It advocates a detailed programme of measures for the UK to enact, as well as joining others in international agreement. Their `Eleven Principles for Sustainability’ include: the polluter must pay; precautionary measures to be adopted; resources to be priced to reflect environmental and social criteria; consumption of non-renewable resources, especially energy, must be reduced.

Contact CPRE on 071 976 6433 or The Green Alliance on 071 836 0341

Waste Watch, which became independent from the NCVO on April 1 and is sponsored by Shell UK and the Department of the Environment, held an international conference Recycling in the European Community on April 8/10 in Leicester. The conference looked at recycling practice in The Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Denmark.

John Wybrew, Director of Public affairs at Shell UK, highlighted how much the UK has to learn from continental experience if it is to meet the recycling target of 25% of household waste. Contact Jonathan Wooding, Waste Watch, on 071 383 3320


It is estimated that the world’s 500 largest companies control 70% of international trade, 80% of foreign investment and 30% of global GDP. Hardly surprising then that Maurice Strong, Secretary General to the UNCED, wanted a business input to the deliberations in Rio. So the reports from Stephan Schmidheiny’s Business Council and from the ICC are to be welcomed.

They are remarkable not so much for the radicalism of their proposals, but for the stark admission by the leaders of international business of the scale of the problem. Their emphasis on open trade and free markets will not be welcomed by all.

However some of the worst polluters are industries protected by government, like those seen formerly in Eastern Europe or currently in South America. So trans-national corporations have an essential part to play in bringing high standards of best practice.

Inevitably pressure groups – and increasingly consumers – at home will question UK companies on their practices here and overseas, as the statement by 24 such groups reported above shows. Far sighted companies will concentrate on seeking competitive advantage in meeting the challenge of sustainable development as it affects their businesses – and working in partnership with community groups on environmental questions. The danger is their energies will be diverted into resisting the pressure of change from government and other stakeholders. Indeed government has a vital role – preferably through economic instruments like taxation rather than regulation – to ensure a level playing field on which the free market can drive companies to perform.