Making business a driver of sustainability

  • 20 August 2015

Speech by ICC Secretary General John Danilovich at launch of the ICC Business Charter for Sustainable Development at UN headquarters in New York.

Speech by ICC Secretary General John Danilovich at launch of the ICC Business Charter for Sustainable Development at UN headquarters in New York.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s a great pleasure to welcome you to this event to launch the new ICC Business Charter for Sustainable Development.

We are especially grateful to the Mexican government for agreeing to co-host this side event with us and for their ongoing cooperation and dialogue with ICC on sustainability and climate issues.

ICC is the world’s largest business organization with over 6.5 million members in more than 130 countries.

It is a common misconception, however, that as an organization founded to promote international trade and investment, ICC has little-if any-interest in society or the environment. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Since our inception we have played a key role in promoting responsible business conduct the world over. In the 1950 and 60s we were the first organization to set out good practices for businesses investing internationally…Work which played a central role in coining the term “corporate citizenship”.

In the 1970’s ICC developed the first ever environmental guidelines for industry to promote self-regulation by business and spread best practice. Since then we have produced a range of guides to support responsible business practices from our Anti-Corruption rules through to our Business Charter for Sustainable Development, which was first launched in 1991.

The new revision of the Charter, which we are here to launch today, has been designed to support the implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which we expect to see finalized this September.

I will keep my remarks this evening brief, but I would like to pick up on three important points by way of introduction to the ICC Charter.

The first is the need to ensure that sustainability is understood as a key business driver, rather than a “luxury investment” or a public relations tool. A growing body of evidence indicates that sustainability initiatives can help to create profits and business opportunities.

According to research by Deutsche Bank, companies with high ratings for environmental, social, and governance have a lower cost of debt and equity and frequently outperform the market in both the medium and long term.

In short, developing a corporate culture of sustainability should be understood as a source of competitive advantage for companies in the 21st Century.

Our message with the launch of the Charter is that becoming a sustainability leader requires changes in core business practices but that the effort to do so is most certainly worth it-in environmental, social and (above all) economic terms.

My second point is on the need to better engage with small- and medium- sized enterprises on this agenda.

We are seeing real leadership from a broad range of multinational companies in incorporating sustainability goals into their core business operations. And I’m also aware of the work that many of the companies represented here are doing at multiple levels of their supply chains to enable suppliers to adopt practices and technologies that encourage sustainability.

But we still have a long way to go in engaging the global SME community.

Research shows that many SMEs are unaware of sustainability considerations or see it as an expensive luxury rather than a core business function.

There is a major opportunity to unleash potential for SMEs to be drivers of a new suitability revolution.

And that is one of the reasons that we’ve designed the Charter to be as accessible as possible providing a common starting point for companies to develop a business sustainability strategy, regardless of their size, sector or geographical location. And to help build understanding within the SME community of the long-term commercial benefits of sustainable business practices.

Finally, and on a related note, I want to make it clear that today’s launch is the start rather than the end of an important process for ICC.

Just as the finalization of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals in September will mark the start of a long journey for the international community, we see launch of the ICC Charter on Sustainable Development as the start of a process to better engage the private sector in promoting sustainable development.

In the coming months we’ll be rolling out a number of tools including through the newly launched ICC Academy, our new e-learning platform to support implementation of the Charter by companies of all shapes and sizes. We are counting on your full support as we move forward.

While we have made great strides on promoting sustainability in recent years, it will take unprecedented cooperation to achieve unprecedented progress.

We look forward to working with you all businesses, governments and civil society organizations to deliver fully on the promise of the SDGs and a more sustainable and prosperous future for us all.

To guide the discussions today, I’m pleased to introduce Martina Bianchini who is the vice chair of ICC’s Environment and Energy Commission.

Marina is a respected and well-known adviser on complex sustainability issues and previously worked at the Dow Chemical Company as Vice President of EU Government and Public Policy. Martina played a central role in the revision of the ICC Charter and I’m delighted that she has been able to join us to moderate this session.

Martina over to you…