by Andrew Schwartz
Rio+20 ended up being a roaring failure with only a few successes worth mentioning. Most everyone who didn’t have a direct stake in the UN (delegate or country official) walked away disappointed with how things ended. The text was too weak, the resolutions too few, the binding commitments even fewer –and the lack of government participation just pathetic.
The dozens of presidents and high-ranking politicians didn’t show up until the last few days of the conference. They came in, made a speech, had a meeting, and then flew out. Their presence was largely ceremonial and regarded with contempt and veiled humor by most in attendance. By the time they arrived the document was already decided upon. All that was left to do was sign their names and (maybe) feel good about it.
The real success of the conference was found in civil society and oddly enough, in the private sector. Minus the official delegations, 45,000 people from civil society and the private sector showed up to meet, greet, present, and collaborate on future projects. Coalitions were built, ideas were shared, and the general perceived failure of Rio+20 ended up lighting a fire of desire in participants to take the reins of change into their own hands.
A mantra around the conference was along the lines of, “If the UN isn’t going to lead, then we the people are going to drag them with us as we move forward.” I think it is safe to extend this mantra to states and governments as well. The citizens of the world are ready to move. We are tired of waiting for queues from apathetic leaders.
During a side event, “High-Level Dialogue on Natural Capital Accounting”, Mr. Jochen Zietz, CEO of Sports and Lifestyle at PPR and Chairman of Puma, outlined the initiatives his company were making to make Puma more sustainable. In short: Puma wants to make sustainability “sexy.” His point was that sustainability should not be something apart from the process, but an integral part of it. Corporations such as Puma have the ability to subtly insert a sustainable-consciousness message into the popular narrative by integrating it into their product line. Go Puma!
People are wary to change the status quo. Gradualism typically wins the day but the question of whether we can afford to be gradual looms over the process. Few people at Rio+20, and most anyone who runs in environmental circles, thinks that we have time to loll about. That much is agreed upon. How to get the public moving towards sustainability is the question for which no one seems to have the answer. However, the initiatives by Puma seem to be steps in the right direction.
Global citizens have enough problems to worry themselves with. Environmentalism has had such little purchase in the common narrative because it is yet another overwhelming problem that has no tangible solutions. What good is worrying about the massive methane pockets that are being released from the warming tundra in Siberia to a destitute farmer in India or a single mother trying to feed her kids in Baltimore? Environmental concerns must be second, third, or fourth tier issue for many – not because they don’t care, but simply because they can’t afford to.
That is why I came away with hope from the private business sector. If companies such as Puma are successful in their campaigns, they will allow people to engage in world saving practices without having to think about it. It will become incorporated into their routines and personal style.
If people aren’t yet ready to change their lifestyles to sustainable ones then it is paramount to those seeking change to bring it to the public in a way that appeals to them. Corporations have a tremendous opportunity (and power) to bring sustainable changes to the world – all the while making more than a few dollars by doing so. The question now is whether or not they will do it.
Andrew Schwartz Reporting from Rio+20, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for Good-b.
Category: leading men