Newletter November 2022

COP 15: finally time for some proper talks about biodiversity!?

Next week the COP 15 on biodiversity is expected to kick off – after having been postponed 5 times and finally moved from Kunming (China) to Montreal (Canada). The goal is to reach a framework for biodiversity, similar to the Paris Agreement on Climate. Biodiversity is, just like climate, of outmost importance for humans as well as other species. It is, however, more difficult to measure which is one of the reasons that it is more challenging to find and agree on goals and mechanisms for follow-up. Despite all difficulties, many companies have engaged ahead of COP15 (here is an example from the financial sector).

COP 27: what happened?

In the previous newsletter for October (here) we explained some of the challenges and expectations ahead of COP 27. Now it’s over. Expectations were not that high, and the results are generally considered (at best) lukewarm. The most interesting outcome was probably that an agreement was reached to create a mechanism for “loss and damages” but what and how remains to be carved out (read an interesting summary by Rockström et al here). And though few would deny the need for a well-functioning mechanism and many would agree with the principle, there are many things that could go wrong.

Another question that many observers (and some participants) seem to ask themselves is if the current set up of the COP meetings is fit for purpose, or if future COPs should focus primarily on follow-up.

Finally, as I alluded to in the previous newsletter, despite the dubious results at the negotiating table, the private sector did manage to distill some optimism and energy into the negotiations! (you probably haven’t missed it but if you want to read more, here is an example).

Social sustainability

Though there is currently a lot of focus on climate, I find that many companies and many investors are increasingly asking how they should work with social sustainability. Definitions vary but for me social sustainability is about people; it is a proactive means of managing and identifying business impacts on employees, on other stakeholders including employees in the value chain, on customers, and on the communities where the business has an impact.
According to the United Nations Global Compact, social sustainability is about identifying and managing business impacts, both positive and negative, on people:

While it is the primary duty of governments to protect, respect, fulfil and progressively realize human rights, businesses can, and should, do their part. At a minimum, we expect businesses to undertake due diligence to avoid harming human rights and to address any adverse impacts on human rights that may be related to their activities.

The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the European Commission proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD), are both expected to contribute to and give guidance on reporting and thereby on expectations regarding social sustainability. The latter is particularly interesting when it comes to human rights. The proposal is now being negotiated and the proposal is that when approved, it will have to be incorporated into member states national legislation. The legislation is expected to move the entire agenda on due diligence forward, though there are also fears that it will add to bureaucracy and create a burden for many (relatively smaller) companies. Read more in this We-ness newsletter .

Another approach to social sustainability is to look at the 2030 Agenda for Sustainability. The agenda and its 17 Goals create a common framework that can be used by both the public and the private sector. Many of the goals are directly related to social sustainability and how companies can create a lasting impact.

Having read a number of reports, guidelines and frameworks addressing different aspects of social sustainability, I find that there are several valuable frameworks, but I also think that there are quite a few frameworks and reports that are not so helpful. At times I get the impression that they are written by people who don’t understand or appreciate the business of doing business. (I guess that’s occasionally true also for myself…).
One recent report which I actually did find valuable, produced by PwC, gives some good insights to how some real estate companies in Sweden deals with social sustainability. If you speak Swedish and if you are interested in learning more about how companies can work with social sustainability, you can down-load the report here.

For more reading: What Is Social Sustainability? – Network for Business Sustainability (NBS)

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