Bonn, December 4th, 2012. More than 450 participants from 37 countries brought the issue of a Green Economy into the centre of the former Bundestag in Bonn from November 27th-28th. The motto of the International Conference on Sustainable Business and Consumption (SusCon) was “Green Economy – from intention to action”.
In the plenum of the World Conference Centre and during all 12 thematic sessions, delegates from businesses, non-governmental organisations, the media and science discussed concrete steps towards achieving a sustainable economy and society. Important highlight of SusCon 2012 was the video communique by HRH Prince Charles in which he underlined the value of organic farming and the need for sustainable development. Other high points were the trenchant presentations of Auma Obama, Alain Caparros, Helmy Abouleish, Pavan Sukhdev, as well as Ernst-Ulrich von Weizsäcker and Ulrich Hoffmann.
“We are used to a world full of waste and we call it wealth”, exclaimed physicist Prof Dr Ernst-Ulrich von Weizsäcker in the Plenum of the former German Parliament. “We must change our fundamental way of life”. One way could be to increase energy taxes on a yearly basis. “We have little time left”, seconded Dr Ulrich Hoffmann, Senior Policy Advisor for UNCTAD, in his committed plea. In their speeches, both speakers also stressed the importance of politics and democracy playing greater leadership roles, since markets only ever tell the myth of unlimited growth and unlimited resources.
Alain Caparros, CEO of the REWE Group, emphasized the pioneering role of businesses could take to achieving a Green Economy through the integration of sustainability criteria in all important decisions and strategic goals. As a counterpoint he also mentioned the role of consumers, quoting their high verbal consent and demand for sustainable or organic products. At the same time, Alain Caparros referred to the still very meagre share of sales of this product group, explaining that responsibility cannot be determined unilaterally.
In two discussion groups with participants from business and civil society, high-ranking representatives from the companies Kraft Foods, Interface and Deutsche Post/DHL described their company’s internal sustainability strategies. Not only are these concrete strategies currently being implemented but they are, in part, deeply embedded in the companies’ strategic and economic business planning. The concern about future availability and acquisition of raw materials for food production clearly came up as a recurring topic during the presentations. The openness of the discussions demonstrated the working atmosphere at SusCon.
Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Heinrich-Böll Foundation, concentrated on the Green Economy as a new paradigm and criticised how the Green Economy is often used just a cloak to hide “business as usual”.
The Kenyan development worker, Dr Auma Obama, expressed a critical view of the concept of sustainability. She spoke out for free trade between countries on an equal level, and criticised fair-trade concepts as tending to be paternalistic. According to Obama, women must also be significantly better integrated into a Green Economy.
Marlehn Thieme, Chair of the German Council for Sustainable Development, argued for “a new and cooperative understanding of politics and business”, in order to help sustainability succeed. She continued by stating “an understanding that includes all players and stakeholders” is an essential component.
The founder of the campaign, “Corporation 2020”, Pavan Sukhdev, former Manager of Deutsche Bank, was also clear insofar as the responsibility of sustainability advertisements were concerned: “Advertising reminds me of the law of the jungle, only that it is even worse”. Advertisers cannot shirk their responsibility on the basis that they are only agents that did what their clients wanted of them. He, therefore, called upon SusCon to regulate advertisements that mislead consumers. His book, Corporation 2020, celebrated its premiere in Germany at SusCon.
Florian Haller, CEO of the agency Serviceplan, appealed to the autonomy of the communications branch: “Greenwashing is not smart. If there is nothing to say about the topic of sustainability, one shouldn’t say anything at all”.
As a vehement proponent of ecological, biodynamic agriculture and food production as an inexpensive and effective solution to diverse problems, Helmy Abouleish, Director of the Sekem Group, proposed that this system be given preference worldwide. He argued for the social, economic and environmental benefits it brings, as well as the ethical and cultural dimension – demonstrated through Sekem’s success.
True to the SusCon motto, “Green Economy – from intention to action”, the participants of the 12 thematic sessions sidelined developing a declaration of intent and instead discussed solutions including practical business models and radically new consumption patterns. A large number of highly competent representatives of pivotal societal organizations promoted an open dialogue and facilitated cross-industry partnerships.
“As SusCon organisers our goal was to bring together all those who could contribute something to a sustainable world. Businesses, governments, media and NGOs exchange information with each other – that makes the SusCon unique”, emphasized SusCon organisers. Fritz Lietsch from forum Nachhaltig Wirtschaften, Bernward Geier from Colabora and Gerald A. Herrmann from Organic Services. We are pleased with the results of the plenary meetings, but especially with the thematic workshops. Out of the thematic workshop “Mobility and Transport” there emerged a new project in which representatives of the tourism, automobile and energy industries will make biodiversity and sustainable lifestyles come alive for travellers.
According to a Chinese proverb that Professor Hartmut Vogtmann, first vice-president of the German League for Nature, Animal Protection and Environment (DNR), cited in his wonderful – if also critical – summary analysis of the conference results, “Sustainability is first achieved when mature trees grow in which, not they, but rather their children will sit”.
For the closing of the conference, the organisers Organic Services, COLABORA and forum CSR international, along with eleven network partners published the “SusCon Bonn Declaration”. It includes concrete proposals for, and demands from politicians and business people, to develop a sustainable economic, social and ecological future for the planet and future generations that depends upon a necessary paradigm change.
The SusCon organisers thank all partners, supporters, speakers and participants for a successful Rio+20 follow-up conference. The overwhelming positive responses of participants regarding the content and organisation of the conference, as well as the fulfilment of their expectations highlight the need and success of SusCon. Special thanks are
due to the European Regional Development Fund and the German Minister for Federal Affairs, Europe and the Media of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The fourth SusCon will take place on May 20th-21st 2014 in the World Conference Centre in Bonn.
For more information: www.suscon.net