PH companies not interested in sustainability?

by Cathy Rose A. Garcia,

Posted at Sep 19 2011 03:57 PM | Updated as of Sep 20 2011 12:08 AM

BANGKOK, Thailand - If Philippine companies’ non-participation in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is any indication, then it seems like sustainable development is not a priority.

Bjorn Stigson, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, delivers a speech at the Thailand Sustainable Development Symposium 2011, Bangkok, Thailand, September 19.

WBCSD president Bjorn Stigson said the CEO-led organization of some 200 top global companies is happy to invite Philippine companies to join.

“We have no member from the Philippines. Only the Philippine Business for the Environment is part of our regional network… It seems to be an indication (of their lack of interest). We would be very happy to invite the Philippine companies,” Stigson told reporters on the sidelines of the Thailand Sustainable Development Symposium 2011.

Organizers had invited some 10 CEOs of top Philippine companies to participate but not one agreed to come. The symposium, which was attended by 500 CEOs from around Asia, discussed the importance of sustainable development policies as the world prepares for the future.

Stigson said the world is in transition to sustainability, and companies can no longer say it is “business as usual.” The world population is expected to increase to 9.2 billion by 2050, the majority of which will come from emerging markets, from the 6.9 billion in 2010. This will mean increased competition for resources, and immense pressure on ecosystems.

Stigson said many countries are now competing in a “Green Race,” where they will be fighting it out to become a leading supplier of resource-efficient and low-polluting technologies and solutions. 

China is poised to become a leader in the green race, since sustainable development is a key part of the government’s 5-year plan. Renewable energy investments have already reached $49 billion, already outpacing the United States.

South Korea is also a strong contender, having the largest share of government-led economic stimulus for the “green” sector. Japan is known as one of the most energy efficient countries. India is also interested in becoming a supplier of low-cost solutions based on domestic demand for its large poor population.

“This is the biggest business opportunity. There is a need for new solutions, new products, etc… There is a lot of growth. It’s a different kind of growth but it will have to be resource-efficient, low-polluting, otherwise we won’t have a functioning world,” Stigson said.

Asked how the Philippines is faring in green race, Stigson bluntly replied: “I’m not sure you’re in the green race yet.”
Not an option

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries should make sustainable development a priority, said ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan.

“Sustainable development is not an option. Sustainable development is just the one and only way that all of ASEAN society and economy need to grow successfully… It can become a brand for Thailand and ASEAN,” Pitsuwan said.

Businesses in Thailand are just realizing the importance of sustainable development, but the government appears keen to help them.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gives a speech at the Thailand Sustainable Development Symposium 2011, Bangkok, Thailand, September 19.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the Thai government considers sustainable development as a core idea to increase the country’s global competitiveness. “To be ready to compete effectively in an international arena, we therefore must build the strong foundation for our country to achieve sustainable economic, social and environmental balance under a transparent process,” she said in a speech at the event.

Kan Trakulhoon, SCG president and CEO, said it is important to have the government determine the framework and direction for the country through appropriate laws and regulations.

“Adhering to sustainable development practices, therefore, helps immune entities by building trust among society and stakeholders,” Trakulhoon said.

SCG, which has businesses in cement, paper, chemicals, building materials and distribution, is only one of two Thai companies in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Business needs to work with government to address the problems of poverty, climate change, population explosion, urbanization, among others. WBCSD’s Stigson said public-private partnerships are needed to be able to achieve sustainability.

“Business has the majority of the resources for technology, finance, and management, but even if we develop all of the solutions, just relying on market forces alone to grow these solutions will not be sufficient. We need to work together between governments and business to have the right combination of technology solutions and policy frameworks,” he said.

No suits, no ties

This year’s Sustainable Development Symposium is designed to be environmentally-friendly and carbon neutral. Guests were asked to use public transportation and to ditch their neckties and suits, since the room temperature at the event hall was supposed to be set at 25 degrees.

Unlike most business events where suits are required, the symposium was filled with people in polo shirts, long-sleeved tops and pants. However, some were still spotted in suits and jackets. It also seemed that the centralized air-conditioning was still set at a low temperature.

Organizers said it will be implementing carbon offsetting practices to lower the level of carbon dioxide emitted by the symposium. These will be calculated into a sum of monetary donation that SCG will give to a social and environmental organization.