Business should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
The Origin of the Environment Principles
Internationally co-ordinated work on the environment has been led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), since its inception in 1973. UNEP has provided leadership and encouraged partnerships to care for the environment, for example, through Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) which have addressed issues such as species loss and the need for conservation at a global and regional level. UNEP has created much of the international environmental law in use today.
The three environmental principles of the Global Compact are drawn from a Declaration of Principles and an International Action Plan (Agenda 21) that emerged from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janerio in 1992. Chapter 30 of Agenda 21, identified that the policies and operations of business and industry can play a major role in reducing impacts on resource use and the environment. In particular, business can contribute through the promotion of cleaner production and responsible entrepreneurship.
- The Rio Declaration – a statement of 27 principles upon which nations agreed to base their actions in dealing with environmental and development issues. The Rio Declaration built on the previous Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment which was adopted in Stockholm in 1972. The Stockholm conference was the first global environmental meeting of governments, which stated that long-term economic progress needs to be linked with environmental protection.
- Agenda 21 – a 40 chapter, action blueprint on specific issues relating to sustainable development that emerged from the Rio Summit. Agenda 21 explained that population, consumption and technology were the primary driving forces of environmental change and for the first time, at an international level, explicitly linked the need for development and poverty eradication with progress towards sustainable development
- The ‘Brundtland Report’, ‘Our Common Future’ which was produced in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development, also laid the foundations for the Environment Principles. This landmark document highlighted that people needed to change the way they lived and did business or face unacceptable levels of human suffering and environmental damage.
The environmental principles of the Global Compact provide an entry point for business to address the key environmental challenges. In particular, the principles direct activity to areas such as research, innovation, co-operation, education, and self-regulation that can positively address the significant environmental degradation, and damage to the planet’s life support systems, brought by human activity.
Key Environmental Challenges
- loss of biodiversity and long-term damage to ecosystems
- pollution of the atmosphere and the consequences of climate change
- damage to aquatic ecosystems
- land degradation
- the impacts of chemicals use and disposal
- waste production
- depletion of non-renewable resources
- The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides one entry point to the UN’s work on the environment – www.unenvironment.org/
- UNEP’s Division of Technology Industry and Economics (DTIE) develops voluntary initiatives and partnerships with business leaders and a range of organisations focused on environmental protections, efficient resources use and innovation – http://www.uneptie.org
- A full text version of Agenda 21 may be viewed at – www.unenvironment.org/
- The Principles of the Rio Declaration are available at – www.unenvironment.org/
- The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is an international business network developing links between business, government and non-governmental organisations on sustainable development issues – www.wbcsd.org/
- Business for Social Responsibility is an international business network, embracing companies of all sizes, working across a broad range of issues that include environmentally sustainable development – www.bsr.org/en/
- The World Resources Institute (WRI) is a think tank that also promotes practical ways to protect the earth – www.wri.org
- The World Conservation Union (IUCN) is a international body founded in 1948 to influence, encourage and assist societies in the goal of nature conservation – www.iucn.org
- The Coalition of Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) is a non-profit membership organisation of investors, and various interest groups that developed 10 principles of environmentally responsible behaviour – www.ceres.org
- The Greening of Industry is an international network of academic research and policy analysis focused on the relationship between industry, society and the environment – http://www.greeningofindustry.org