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Corporate Social Responsibility not enough to save the planet warns global report

06 May 2014

New Nature of Business

An international team of experts backed by the United States National Science Foundation has devised an eight point plan designed to halt unsustainable levels of environmental degradation wrought by the private sector.

The plan is contained in a report titled New Nature of Business, which has been endorsed by a wide range of environmental agencies, academic institutions, government utilities and firms including the oil giant BP, Dow Chemicals and the India based multinational Wipro.

The report, the first international cross disciplinary project of its kind to be funded by the National Science Foundation, "aims to address the lack of awareness, review the challenges businesses face and present a persuasive case for action".

Highlighting the urgent need for action, the report's executive summary says that the degradation of the natural world is impacting dangerously on the availability of everything from clear air to food, water and natural resources that were once abundant.

The executive summary continues by saying that the destruction of habitats is leading to a decline in species and, increasingly, to extinctions and that climate change is now a major contributor to the forces that threaten ecosystems and biodiversity world-wide.

In a forward, Director of the Board of the United Nation's Global Compact, Matthew Tukaki, says that "distracted by global transformations and local crises, business has overlooked environmental degradation and the consequent destruction of biodiversity".

Authored by the University of Sydney Business School's Professor Steve Elliot, Oregon State University's Sally Duncan, and consultant Nigel Malone, the report goes on to provide firms with a "decision-making framework" for an environmentally sustainable future.

The step-by-step framework begins with an examination of environmental awareness levels within a firm and of relevant environmental issues and continues on to the formulation and implementation of appropriate responses.

The framework also covers the identification of sustainable business opportunities.

In a section of the report, "Nature is part of everything we do", Wipro's Chief Sustainability Officer, Anurag Behar, talks of the importance of engaging employees in the transition to sustainable operations.

"We had regular communications to build awareness, employee eco-chapters at our sites and employees proposing improvements in their areas and taking responsibility for them," Mr Behar said. "In isolation, these may not seem significant but employee engagement and ownership are critical, they create the corporate environment and build the culture."

In another chapter titled, "Risk versus rewards", BP's Group Ecology Expert, Mark Johnson, says that his company identifies its key environmental challenges through its risk processes.

These processes "cover both current risks (issues which occur now and may affect our business operations now) and strategic risks (issues which are being talked about and may affect our business operations in 5 to 10 plus years)," he said.

Co-author Professor Steve Elliot says that many firms have not responded to existing environmental challenges because they are unaware of them, are uncertain of their relevance or are uncertain as to how to deal with them.

"Some firms, particularly in the services sector, do not see that they are at least in part responsible for the degradation that we see all around us," Professor Elliot said.

"Irrespective of their sector, it's no longer good enough for firms to adopt CSR policies that focus only on their employees or the local community," he added. "To be good corporate citizens they must also act to protect the environment."

Sounding a financial warning to firms that fail to act, the New Nature of Business report quotes the founder of Singapore's Siloso Beach Resort, Ng Swee Hwa, as saying that "consumer awareness will lead to less profitability in the long run for those who do not practice sustainability".

New Nature of Business: how business pioneers support biodiversity and ecosystem services, is available at www.newnatureofbusiness.org.

The report encourages the use of www.newnatureofbusiness.org as an "ongoing source of information and a place to collaborate, contribute and share experiences" with biodiversity and ecosystem services (BES) which are defined as the benefits that nature provides.

The report also invites companies to participate in developing and testing the "Decision-making framework" and to register with the website to stay abreast of BES news.