Björn Stigson

  • Björn Stigson is President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the world’s leading business organization focused on business and sustainable development.

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Can society still afford to focus on sustainable development?

My view is that now is precisely the time it should be. Right now it should be clear to everyone that we cannot go on as we have been.

What we have now is a rare chance to re-shape our world. I believe that we are living in a moment of history, that all around us a new industrial revolution is beginning.

This will be the “lean, mean, clean” revolution. It will be clean because we know we cannot go on polluting as we have been and maintain functioning ecosystems; it will be lean because a growing population and the need to alleviate poverty will leave us with a resource-constrained world with higher prices for food, oil and gas; and it will be mean because the transformation this revolution will bring will create winners and losers.


It is true that for some countries and some businesses there will be difficulties ahead as economic recession bites. The same is true for individuals, some of whom will struggle after they lose their jobs. We should not lose sight of this.

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A vision for our low-carbon future

Earlier this month I was in India for the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit. This is an interesting event that each year brings together opinion leaders from around the world for an exchange of views.

This year, hardly surprisingly, there was much discussion about the global economic downturn, stimulus packages, the future of sustainable development, and fairness for developing countries in climate negotiations.


But there was talk, too, about how we all suffered from a lack of vision for a better future, that our discussions were based on fear, not desire for something better. A positive vision, it was felt, would encourage humans to “stop surviving and start living”.

I think this is how we should think about sustainable development, as an opportunity to do something better in future. I am often asked whether companies can still afford to invest in sustainable development. Of course they can. They are.

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China and the US hold the key to climate success

It is only January, but already it is clear that 2009 will be an important year for those of us working to stabilize our climate and put the world on a more sustainable path.

We do not know yet whether the international community will be able to reach an agreement on a post-Kyoto global climate accord at the United Nations COP 15 climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, though we continue to hope that it will. But one thing is certain, there will be no chance of an agreement in Copenhagen unless China and the United States agree between them that they need to address climate change in a coordinated manner.


These are the world's two biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, and though they may be poles apart politically, their “climate profiles” are similar. The US and China are the biggest users of coal and biggest polluters. As consumers of vast amounts of energy, both have an interest – economically and environmentally – in working for the development of clean energy and energy-efficient technologies.

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Global Business Day at Poznan climate talks

Poznań is a city with an interesting heart. Its cobbled streets and historic market square rest at its core, deflecting with quiet dignity the bustle around it.

In the 10 th century the city was Poland's capital; today, it is Poland's fifth largest city and fourth largest industrial centre and a fitting place for the WBCSD to hold its Poznań Global Business Day.


The United Nations Climate Change Conference was in town, bringing with it some 11,000 participants, all adding to the bustle, and all there to try to help the world reach an agreement about how to fight climate change after 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol expires.

Under the umbrella of the conference and along with the International Chamber of Commerce, we held the Business Day to bring together more than 200 business leaders, governments, negotiators and representatives from civil society and other groups for face-to-face talks about the way forward.

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Sustainable development, the financial crisis and Barack Obama

When I woke up in Johannesburg on November 5th it was to the news that Barack Obama had been elected president of the United States.

We were in South Africa for the WBCSD's Council meeting, and at the opening plenary session later in the day, the talk among delegates was about the historic win and the difficult task ahead of Obama as leader of the world's biggest economy as it struggles with recession.

Obama outlined the challenges ahead in his victory speech: " … two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century."


Around us, the financial sector is being re-shaped after a dramatic collapse in some parts of it, trust in the market has been eroded, and governments have been making a comeback as regulators and overseers.

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What gets measured, gets done – WBCSD launches Framework to measure the business contribution to society

Business knows that what gets measured - gets done. As more and more companies embed sustainable development into their core business strategy, it is becoming increasingly important that we be able to measure progress towards building a more sustainable and inclusive world. Only by measuring and assessing the impact of our actions can we understand what works and what doesn't work and begin to change the way we do business to enhance our positive impact.

In recent years, the WBCSD and others have helped arm companies with the tools they need to start quantifying their contribution to sustainable development. Tools such as the GHG Protocol, Global Water Tool and Ecosystems Services Review have proven useful for understanding a range of environmental impacts.


Our most recent contribution to the toolbox broadens the scope of measurement to include economic and social impacts. The Measuring Impact Framework, launched by the WBCSD Development Focus Area, aims to help companies understand their contribution to society in the areas where they operate. They can then use this understanding to inform their operational and investment decisions and have better-informed conversations with stakeholders.

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Wanted: A Post-2012 Global Framework ASAP

Over the past few years many influential reports have helped define the scope of today's climate challenge. These reports include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report, the Stern Review, and the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2007, to name a few.

The emerging picture is that it will be no small feat to change our mix of energy sources in a reasonable time frame. I do think that we will overcome this challenge, but it will not be easy.


The latest of these reports, the International Energy Agency's Energy Technology Perspectives 2008, released in June, shows that a low-carbon future is possible, but requires nothing short of a global energy technology revolution.

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The times they are a-changin’

When Bob Dylan penned his iconic song in the early sixties,  he could not possibly have known that over forty years later his words would still  resonate with the listening public.

Yet, that is precisely what is happening. The relevance of  his lyrics is possibly more apt than ever when applied to the current global  situation. The sixties was a time of social upheaval: protest coupled with  hope, the end of an era and the start of a period of renewed anticipation. So  too is the end of the “noughties” as they are fondly dubbed. But the causes of  this upheaval are very different. This change and its global implications are  the subject of this year’s annual review.

Sustainable development has become the defining challenge of  our era. And what a challenge!


The global economy is being bolstered by the  rapid emergence of countries such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and South  Africa with their large appetites for energy and resources. The world is faced  with seemingly competing challenges of meeting ever increasing demands for  energy while not adding to the volume of global GHG emissions.

The growing  global population, much of it in so-called developing countries, and the  attendant imperative of poverty alleviation, is putting added pressure on  already seriously stretched natural resources. The need to balance all these  seemingly contradictory concerns is both a huge and daunting challenge.

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Business stepped up to the plate in Hawaii

Business played a crucial role in efforts to tackle climate change last month, thanks to an invitation to attend the second Major Economies Meeting convened by the Bush Administration in Honolulu.

In my capacity as president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), I was invited to represent the voice of business at the US-sponsored climate change meeting. This event, which took place in Hawaii on 30 and 31 January 2008, brought together delegates from 16 nations plus the European Union and the United Nations. It was aimed at improving understanding of how to develop a detailed contribution to take forward the Bali Action Plan.


This meeting gave me a first hand opportunity to put forward to the leaders of some of the world's largest economies the business case for action to tackle climate change. Increasingly, business in general – and our membership in particular – is aware that it both needs and wants to be part of any package aimed at tackling climate change.

The biggest contribution that business can make is by leveraging its expertise in those areas where it functions best; and business is the major source of innovation, technology and capital needed to achieve a sustainable world.

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Welcome back to a new and exciting year!

Last year was something of a watershed for issues of sustainability. Energy and climate moved to center stage, a shift strengthened by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to former Vice-president Al Gore and the IPCC in recognition of their efforts to raise awareness of the seriousness of the climate change threat.

Similarly, ecosystems and biodiversity began to garner the attention they too deserve. Particularly, there was an increased awareness that the sustainable use of ecosystems – forests, oceans, mountainous regions – could help to alleviate poverty and mitigate the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

UNFCCC Secretary General Yvo de Boer addresses the Bali Global Business Day

By the end of 2007 the message was clear: the presence of climate change was clearly acknowledged by all sectors of society, including business, governments and civil society.

And so to 2008.

This year signals a new phase in the sustainable development journey. There will be more focus on solutions and implementation through technologies that can stimulate development, and policies that can facilitate dissemination of these technologies and influence consumption patterns.

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