BY SAM KIMBERLEY
The curtain closes on our WBCSD Montreux Experience; we’ve had an eye opening time that’s challenged my perceptions of the boundaries of sustainability. Now an appropriate time for reflection is called upon.
As I came into the course I was anxious to see what the world’s leading companies were doing about the environmental problems of the world. Did the businesses even see it as their responsibility to fix the mess that they had created for the consumer? Would they nod solemnly about how their ‘hands were tied’ or that it was ‘too late’ for meaningful change? Would they talk about the dire statistics to urge the other or the public to action? As I entered the conference on that Monday morning, I prepared myself for the dreadlocked hippies that were all about Fairtrade.
Shockingly that is not what I faced. An evaluation during the first coffee break found that the formally dressed representatives were personable, insightful and really rather interesting.
The course of the week greatly challenged my pre-conceived ideas of cooperate responsibility. As a delegate said to me:
“If businesses provide what consumers demand, the surely the consumers have responsibilities too?”
At the end of the day, it is not of much use if a company transfers to completely sustainable practices if then it goes bankrupt as no-longer demanded by customers.
The paper “Shared Producer and Consumer Responsibility” allows an insight into how to proportionately incorporate both business and consumer environmental responsibility in terms of calculating ecological footprint. In between some rather complicated calculations, the paper identifies how suppliers (i.e. businesses) are vulnerable to derived demand i.e. what consumers are asking for) yet can sacrifice some of their profit by increasing their costs to incorporate more sustainable behaviours and practices into producing.
And this is the message that I walked away from WBCSD with: we can play a blame game, spending time and money into investigating exactly who did what. Or we (both consumers and businesses) can acknowledge that we have a problem that we all are somewhat responsible, and work together to tackle the environmental problems that our world is facing.