Metropolis World Congress
A BUSINESS GUY TALKS ABOUT SUSTAINABLE CITIES AT METROPOPLIS CONGRESS IN MONTRÉAL
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By Cori Marshall
In a time when focus is on climate change and finding sustainable solutions to the challenges we face collectively, governments at various levels and businesses are picking up the challenge. Where does business fit in, many believe that the role of business is solely financial gain. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is aiming to rewrite the business rule book and engage with cities to achieve their sustainable visions.
Peter White Chief Operating Officer for the WBCSD explained that the organization is "a [volunteer] coalition of 200 of the world’s largest and most forward-thinking companies brought together around the task of delivering sustainable solutions." The group counts some large global corporations that includes Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Apple.
The role of the group is to "make more sustainable business, we’re not talking about philanthropy, we’re not talking about just social responsibility, we're talking about how do we get to a system where business is more successful and gets rewarded as a result."
The effect of the organization is that "companies [are] coming together to do things that they either couldn’t or wouldn’t do by themselves," White said.
The WBCSD uses a collaborative approach where the member companies collaborate with each other, "with companies outside the organization, with governments, and with cities." White said that the group seeks to "change the way companies are valued and rewarded."
Founded in 1995 the WBCSD tries to "deliver business solutions, and [tries] to change the rules of the game."
White said that they are "working toward a system which will drive toward true cost, true value, and true profit, if you start to include non-financial impacts in the financial balance sheet the more sustainable companies will be more successful."
The group has developed a clear process for businesses and cities to work together called the Sustainable Cities Engagement Model. White described the model as being "a structured approach that aims to bring together cities, businesses, and stakeholders across the board."
How it operates is first "Identify the vision for the city, then look at the different aspects that could be involved in achieving the vision. " The aspects that are looked at are issues that cities have to deal with every day. White said that the sustainable model takes into account "air quality, emissions, waste, water, transport, and safety."
From there the task is to identify the priorities of the city. White added "in many cases we use a range of tools and indicators to see where the city is really performing well, [or not], which allows for a common understanding of where the city is and where it wants to go."
White suggested that it is "important to bring in the private sector, because [it] has access to a lot of the technology, has capacity to finance, [and] it can bring a lot of the solutions which cities may not know about." The city itself has the final word on where it wants to go. White underlined that "business can facilitate, it can enable [a process], business does not decide."
The key to all of this is "to have a neutral convening platform that brings together all of the parts of the city." White explained that in the past "if a company works with a city on a vision for the future, when it comes to the tendering for the work the company is likely to be disqualified because of the procurement rules [and] conflict of interest." The WBCSD is trying to "make sure there is no conflict of interest [while] getting the benefits of the private sector in terms of technological solutions and having a broader vision for the future."
All of this is not to say that the private sector is about to supplant central governments in aiding municipalities achieve sustainable goals. White believes government and business "both have their role." Where the central government can put in place the legislation and policy that guides city operations. White added that business will be one of the key implementation partners for cities on delivery on their sustainability goals."
"It is not the responsibility of business to deliver sustainability goals, without it they will not be met," White said.
White pointed out that there has been a shift in climate negotiations that began in Paris. In this round of negotiations "climate change science was undisputable, and the non-state actors [stepped] up, cities and the private sector [now] had a place in the negotiations." A good example of non-state actors taking action is in the United States where the federal government has pulled out of the Paris Accord yet cities, states, and businesses have continued.
The WBCSD also concentrates on how to bring business into the space for solutions. White said that "it is assumed that [businesses would be a part of the solution], and in other cases there is a distrust of business." He added that "everyone agrees that both sides need to be brought together, it’s just that no one is really good at doing that at the moment."
The WBCSD does not have a specific program that deals with water, though they do look at a range of solutions from "water-smart agriculture to natural infrastructure for water problems for issues such as flooding." the group also aids business to manage their wastewater.
The Metropolis World Congress is demonstrating how collaboration at a municipal level can advance and sustain sustainable development actions in the face of climate change. The space has been created for non-state actors and the WBCSD is bringing business solutions to sustainable development, and defining a role for the private sector in ensuring a sustainable future.