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History of the WBCSD

The WBCSD was founded on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to involve business in sustainability issues and give it a voice in the forum.

The WBCSD was the brainchild of the Swiss industrialist, Stephan Schmidheiny, who had long had the foresight to realize that business had an inescapable role to play in the search for sustainable development.

He believed that business could act as a catalyst for change toward the achievement of sustainable development; at the same time, business needs sustainable development in order to fulfill its potential.

The Secretary General of the Rio summit, Maurice Strong, invited Mr. Schmidheiny to coordinate the business participation in the meeting. This participation was a success and led to a book, Changing Course: A global business perspective on development and the environment.

Following the summit, Schmidheiny and his fellow business partners concluded that to keep up the momentum that had been created, it was necessary to keep the cooperation alive.

In 1995, the Council merged with the World Industry Council on the Environment and opened its secretariat in Geneva (Switzerland); the WBCSD was born. A second office in Washington DC (United States) was opened in 2007.

Today, the WBCSD has some 200 members drawn from more than 35 countries and 20 major industrial sectors, involving some 1,000 business leaders globally. The Council also comprises a Regional Network of 55+ national and regional partner organizations – called Business Councils for Sustainable Development (BCSDs) – mostly located in developing countries.

President Bjorn Stigson has headed the organization since 1995, which now counts a staff of about 50 professionals.

Looking to the future

During its first decade, the WBCSD was guided by the need to engage with business to highlight the importance of sustainable development and the relationship between business and sustainable development.

Working through its membership, stakeholders, partners and regional networks, the WBCSD has reached out to an extensive network and assisted these diverse groups in articulating a common vision of the business contribution to sustainable development.

The number of members, its outreach and the number of businesses – WBCSD members and others – who have moved to engage with the issue of sustainability attest to the WBCSD’s success. It is also evidenced by the growing number of companies integrating corporate social responsibility and sustainability measures into their business decisions and the number of initiatives responding to sustainability concerns, such as the Global Reporting Initiative.

In 2005, realizing that the momentum for business engagement with sustainability issues had been created, the WBCSD decided that the time was ripe to look to the future and move towards advocacy. At its meeting in Nagoya, Japan, the WBCSD adopted its strategy to 2015.

This strategy acknowledges that the world is shifting towards partnerships between government, business and civil society to address the major challenges. In order to respond adequately to this shift, the WBCSD has recognized that there is a need to more clearly articulate the business case for sustainable development; to encourage members to take a more active leadership role in sustainable development efforts; and to increase its outreach to those regions where the WBCSD’s representation is presently weak.

The WBCSD is therefore concentrating its efforts on four major focus areas: Energy and Climate, Development, The Business Role and Ecosystems. In order to fulfill this new mandate, the WBCSD work program includes projects and initiatives mixing both on-the-ground action and advocacy, business experiences in implementation and activities challenging sustainability thinking within companies, and the strengthening of its regional network.

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Béatrice Otto
Director, Member Relations
Tel: +41 (22) 839 3128
Fax: +41 (22) 839 3131
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