January 2012

Date Archive

Paul HohnenOriginally published in The Guardian Sustainable Business Blog.

The unseasonably wet and mild Christmas and new year period in Amsterdam was an especially reflective one for me this year. Along with the traditional Christmas pudding, I decided it was time to add humble pie to the menu. As this year marks the 20th anniversary of my resignation from the Australian diplomatic service to work full time on global environmental issues, I felt it was time my thoughts went beyond the typical annual agonisings of exercise and alcohol consumption.

My last few blogs have sought to identify some of the sustainability trends I have witnessed over the last two decades and offer some thoughts on what these may mean for action that should be taken at the Rio+20 conference in six months time. In a twist on this formula, in this piece I’d like to share a more personally challenging assessment. Specifically, what did I get right, and wrong, during this time? And what might that might mean for the coming year?

Some argue that socially responsible investment began in Philadelphia in 1758 when the Quaker community prohibited members from participating in the slave trade. This integration of ethics in trade signaled a revolutionary innovation, putting the country at the forefront of responsible business at the time.

Another innovation more than 250 years later is putting Pennsylvania among other states in the focus of (CSR) attention lately (more than 1,000 tweets for an article on CSR by The Economist is quite remarkable!): the Benefit Corporations’ (B Corp) legal framework. This scheme (already adopted by Maryland, California, Hawaii, Virginia, Vermont, New Jersey and New York, and partially passed in Colorado, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan) provides a space “to change the DNA of business by expanding the responsibilities of the corporation to take into consideration the interests of all stakeholders, not just shareholders”.

Paul HohnenOriginally published in The Guardian Sustainable Business Blog.

Two recent developments in the Rio+20 context will help prompt welcome – and overdue – attention to the crucial role that corporate reporting can play in promoting progress towards sustainable development.

The first of these was a call for “a global policy framework requiring all listed and large private companies to consider sustainability issues and to integrate sustainability information within the reporting cycle.” Contained in the Rio+20 negotiating text known as the “Zero Draft”, the call echoes language that emerged from both the 1992 Rio de Janeiro and 2002 Johannesburg sustainability summits encouraging voluntary environmental and sustainability reporting by companies.