As the United Nations’ Rio +20 Summit came to a close this past week there was a large disappointment in the solutions, or lack of solutions, accomplished. In 1992, when the Summit was first held, there was a sense of hope that a plan could be created to both develop and stabilize the economy while also protect the environment. This year the final document, titled “The Future We Want,” has been seen as weak because it failed to come closer to conclusions on how the world can deal with the connected problems of economy and environment. Rather than focusing on what was unsuccessful, the Summit did create more of an awareness of the issues and put out good ideas on the table. In order to really achieve the future we want, action taken by businesses is necessary.

At the 1992 Summit, hardly any companies were present, however, this year a substantial number of the world’s largest companies attended and presented positive progress reports. Around 24 companies, including Coca Cola, Kimberly-Clark and Nike, said that they were committed to conservation. Aviva, a British multinational insurance company, made it a goal to lobby governments into pressuring companies to give regular reports on their environmental and social performance. The final agreement in Rio touched on this goal, but was much weaker than Aviva wanted.

Paul Abberly, the boss of Aviva, says that better performing companies are those that take sustainability seriously. This is because well-managed companies typically pay close attention to detail, which is necessary when having a sustainable company. These companies also have a tendency to be more long-term focused and have a better return on investments. 

While this is not a new idea it has resulted in about a third of companies publishing a partial amount of their data on environmental and social performance. Although large businesses have been more socially responsible, the amount of sustainable action they have taken is nowhere close to compensating the amount they pollute. The claims made by firms to commit to conservation is much easier said than done but Aviva’s plan has great potential in pushing them to follow through. Now the question is how can this be implemented.

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