19/6/2012: Río+20 and Social Businesses

Río+20 and Social Businesses


Stakeholder Forum’s 2nd edition of the Pocket Guide to Sustainable Development Governance (SDG) and the Principles for the Green Economy reflect the high complexity of the issues under negotiation among governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to Rio+20, following the recognition that development is by nature a systemic issue that regards every single aspect of our common future as well as the inter-linkages between them.

The Pocket Guide reviews the global institutions involved in SDG, collects the related concepts and, most important now, analyzes a number of proposals to enhance SDG, including  the strengthening or upgrading UNEP; the creation of a World Environmental Organisation, an International Court for the Environment, a High Commissioner for Future Generations, a Convention on Corporate Social Responsibility, a Global Parliament for the Environment, an Environmental Security Council or a Sustainable Development Council; the reform of the ECOSOC or the WTO; clustering  MEAs; an enhancement in coordination; a greening of IFIs; and the establishment of currency transaction taxes. Finally, it analyzes different processes that contemplated a reform of SDG from Rio 1992 tothe UN SG’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability Report (2012).

As per the green economy, the current debate is around its guiding principles. Stakeholder Forum’s document identifies fifteen principles that consolidate existing international agreements and other proposals, cutting across the StockholmRio and Johannesburg declarations, the Earth Charterdeclaration, the One Planet Living principles, and the Green Economy Coalition and New Economics Foundation views. The principles are: equitable distribution of wealth; economic equity and fairness; intergenerational equity; precautionary approach; right to development; internalization of externalities; international cooperation; international liability; information, participation and accountability; sustainable consumption and production; strategic, co-ordinated and integrated planning; just transition; redefinition of well-being; gender equality;  and safeguard of biodiversity and pollution prevention.

Arguably, these principles can be seen as the social and environmental profiles required in the economy. If the economy was able to internalize the positive and negative, environmental and social externalities above listed, then seeking profits would carry not only financial, but also social and environmental returns – is it likely now? While this does not happen, the principles might only be applied to social business.

Following Prof. Yunus, a social business is “a non-loss, non-dividend company created to address and solve a social problem”. EU’s Social Business Initiative definition of social businesses social business accords to Yunus’, but it seems to restrict its application to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, when a social business can positively affect to the entire social group.  In a time when the EU is losing position in global markets, precisely due in part to a lack of internalization of externalities, a repositioning of the EU beyond financial returns might provide it with the first mover’s advantage in the trend to a new, green economy, without the imperative need for global governance agreements; and so contribute to implementing an imperatively needed global change toward a re-localization of the economies.

The Transition Towns or Post Carbon Cities movements, among many others that remain non-associated, might be the dawn of a generation of social businesses initiated by responsible citizens that embrace alternative ways of development, empowered through their living communities and fuelled by motivations of responsibility, justice, or food, energy, water or climate security rather than by institutional support. These socially innovative initiatives are proposing a different way of thinking in order to solve the problems caused by prevailing paradigms of obsessive economic growth, cheap energy, wealth accumulation and individualism. They rely on the assets that exist within communities, reorienting them to resilience-building and to serve the common well-being, while meeting the basic principles of sustainable development. They are happening worldwidethrough bottom-up driving forces, but they still need to be promoted with top-down incentives if they are to be globally adopted. These incentives should not only spread the voice for the case but also, critically, focus on building the economic viability of community approaches that are socially and environmentally desirable – thus completing, and fundamentally rebalancing, the three pillars of sustainability. A reading of some pre-Rio documents (‘Resilient People, Resilient Planet (…)’, the original Draft Zero and Lalonde’s Coordination Notes) with this vision in mind, shows how they align with it.

Alejo Etchart

Independent Advisor to Stakeholder Forum

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