It is very telling that one of the popular Twitter hashtags for the Rio+20 Earth Summit is #riofail. Unlike the first Earth Summit 20 years ago, this one did not produce a text that national governments will adopt, or in other words, nothing legally binding came of the Summit held in Brazil last week. However, many corporations did make sustainability commitments. There are so many commitments, including those by the public sector, that it is difficult to keep track of them all. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) created the Cloud of Commitments so people can easily see the different types of commitments, which are valued at $513 billion.
The website for the Cloud of Commitments makes some interesting statements. It describes the reason for its creation as letting people “see that this is a different kind of Earth Summit.” It goes on to state that there are “hundreds of coalitions, networks, partnerships, and other initiatives coming together to take action on energy, water, cities, and other key sustainability challenges.” These coalitions will be the “drivers of the free-market revolution for global sustainability called for by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.”
In order to get a feel for the different types of commitments by the private sector, I typed in several search terms. The first term I typed in was “renewable energy.” A list of commitments popped up. Here are two that illustrate the kinds of commitments made at the Summit:
- D.light Design commits to expanding the production and distribution of its solar powered lamps to 30 million people in over 40 countries by 2015. D.light Design describes itself as an “international social enterprise serving households without access to reliable electricity.” D.Light Design made BusinessWeek’s list of “America’s Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs.” Founded by a pair of Stanford graduates in 2006, the company believes that by providing solar powered lamps to people without electricity, it can change lives.
- Infosys Limited commits to sourcing 100 percent of its electricity needs from renewables. The company also commits to becoming carbon neutral. The company describes itself as a “global leader in consulting, technology and outsourcing with revenues of $6.9 billion.”
When I typed in the search term “water reduction,” only one commitment popped up. Clorox commits to recycle, restore or conserve 100 to 200 million gallons of fresh water resources a year by 2015 through concentrating liquid bleach and cleaning products. Clorox also plans to achieve this goal by reducing the amount of water used in processing.
Typing in “energy efficiency” resulted in a list of commitments. Here is one of them:
- The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development commits $8 billion to energy efficiency projects in Eastern Europe and Central Asia with the goal of completing the projects by 2015. The Bank describes itself as helping the “transition to market economies in countries from central and eastern Europe to central Asia and north Africa.”
Although developed countries refused to pony up funds to help developing countries mitigate climate change, there are many commitments by companies that will work towards that goal, as the commitments I highlighted show. Whether that is enough to keep the global temperature increase to the level (two degrees Celsius) scientists agree needs to be maintained in order to avoid the worst climate change effects remains to be seen.