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
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
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
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,
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.