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For 1998, therefore, membership dues would have amounted to US$3.78 million. The total resources made available by the members would, however, be significantly higher, since they would include in-kind and personnel contributions to various working groups as well as experts seconded to the WBCSD Secretariat. For example, in 1998 as many as six staff members working on various projects at the WBCSD Secretariat were on secondment from mem- ber companies. In short, it would be fair to say that, un- like even the biggest environmental NGOs, fund-raising and financial concerns have not been major worries for the WBCSD.

The Greening of Big Business . . .

Although sometimes viewed and described by others as an environmental NGO, WBCSD views itself very much as a business organization: a coalition of and advocate for big business on issues pertaining to sustainable development (see Box 2).

While the thrust of the organization’s goals pertains to ‘participating in policy development in order to secure a regulatory framework for business to operate profitably while preserving the environment and contributing to a sustainablefuture’,17 it also seeks to ‘encourage high stand- ards of environmental management in business itself’.18 In essence, while much of WBCSD’s focus is on projecting the green face of big business, part of its mandate is also to make business greener. This flows directly from the second half of its mission statement, which requires it to ‘promote the attainment of eco-efficiency through high standards of

Box 2: WBCSD—Merchant or Citizen?

Is WBCSD an NGO? This question may first seem to be of little more than academic value, but is of signifi- cant strategic importance to the organization’s ultimate influence. Like many others, this Yearbook classifies WBCSD as an Environmental NGO.1 In fact, one of the biggest measures of the organization’s success is that it is seen by many within the environmental commu- nity as an environmental NGO focusing on business concerns. This is very different from how the main- stream environmental community tends to view other similarly structured business coalitions—such as, for example, the Chlorine Chemistry Council (CCC)— which is seen as a mere ‘lobbyist’ and therefore some- how inferior. WBCSD has strategically used this per- ception of its identity, particularly its image as a ‘non- lobby group’, to forge closer ties with mainstream en- vironmental groups on the one hand while marketing its ability to do so as a major advantage to its mem- bers on the other.2

Interestingly, within the bounds of carefully cultivated ambiguity, WBCSD tends to define itself as a business group. The standard line is that it is a ‘coalition of in- ternational companies united by a shared commitment to the environment and to sustainable development’. In material directed specifically at its corporate mem- bers the thrust becomes more direct, and the organiza- tion talks with pride of its increasing recognition as ‘the leading business advocate on environmental and sus- tainable development’ and how its ‘views are being sought by a growing number of stakeholders’, such as governments, international organizations, and environ- mental NGOs.3

In the familiar tripartite map of institutional sectors— the prince, the merchant, and the citizen, signifying the institutions of state, business, and civil society respec- tively—WBCSD would identify itself very much as the voice of the merchant.4 While it is the merchant speak- ing, not just to the market but to the citizen, it remains nonetheless a manifestation of the merchant rather than the citizen. Technically, therefore, WBCSD is a lobby- ing organization for big business no different from the CCC and others. Moreover, it accepts that status with- out qualms or camouflage. As the WBCSD President, Björn Stigson, put it in a 1998 speech, the world since UNCED has changed in that environmental discussions are no longer bi-polar (governments and NGOs) but are now tri-polar, between ‘governments, business and civil society’.5 Material prepared for its corporate mem- bers makes it clear what the organization views itself to be, and not to be: ‘Five years ago, it is unlikely that NGOs in particular would have forged links with a business organization like ours.’6 In short, however else others might choose to classify it, for WBCSD itself, the goal is to make sure that, in all discussions of interna- tional environmental policy, big business gets a ‘seat at the table’ and then to occupy that seat on behalf of big business.7


  • 1.

    See section on non-governmental organizations in this Yearbook.

  • 2.

    Ted Button (1998), ‘The Work of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’, speech by WBCSD Director External Co-operation, 16 June 1998 (available at: <http:// www.wbcsd.ch/Speech/s39.htm>).

  • 3.

    WBCSD (1997), The Value of Membership (Geneva: WBCSD).

  • 4.

    For the conceptual distinctions between the three, see Adil Najam (1996), ‘Understanding the Third Sector: Revisiting the Prince, the Merchant, and the Citizen’, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 7: 2, 203–19.

  • 5.

    Björn Stigson (1998) ‘How much can be left to the Private Sector and the Market’, speech by WBCSD President, 11 March 1998 (available at: <http://www.wbcsd.ch/Speech/ s32.htm>).

  • 6.

    WBCSD (1997), The Value of Membership.

  • 7.

    WBCSD (undated), Information and Publications (Geneva, WBCSD).



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