WBCSD in collaboration with UNEP, it has been a roar- ing success, estimatedly reaching over a million students. More importantly, it has enabled the WBCSD message to go directly to a whole generation of future business lead- ers. In ‘preparing’ for the exam by reading through the site, they have been exposed to WBCSD’s version of what sus- tainable development is and how it is most likely to be achieved; it is this version that they are most likely to ac- cept and absorb.26
The success of the initiative was largely instrumental in WBCSD deciding to form, in 1996, the Foundation for Business and Sustainable Development (FBSD), whose goal is to ‘promote the business understanding of sustain- able development and to encourage education and com- petence building, research, and demonstration projects in the field of sustainable development.’ In 1998 FBSD pro- duced a 180-page book, The Sustainable Business Chal- lenge: A Briefing for Tomorrow’s Business Leaders, which it hopes will be widely used as a textbook in university-level business courses. Plans are underway to produce a televi- sion series on the same theme. Other programmes of the Foundation include an Internet-based ‘Eco-Efficiency Kit’, a multilingual ‘Global Sustainable Development Diction- ary’, the use of global scenarios as a management learning tool, and support for various research and demonstration projects. Capping all of these is the ‘WBCSD Virtual Uni- versity’, which is a joint project with the University of Cambridge and the Norwegian School of Management. Its aim is to ‘bring knowledge and appreciation of sustainable development, the way WBCSD members understand it, to a global audience through combining the latest distant learning and data technology with proven training tradi- tions’ (emphasis added). The outreach potential of such a programme is daunting, and if successful it could ultimately make WBCSD’s definition of sustainable development as well known as the Brundtland Commission’s.27
The practice of consistently focusing on best practice within industry on environmental issues has been of stra- tegic as well as substantive importance to WBCSD. Just about every report and book to have come out from WBCSD or its predecessor organizations focuses much of its attention on highlighting case-studies of how specific businesses, mostly member companies, have taken deci- sions that benefit the environment while maintaining or increasing their long-term profits. This is obviously a heart- warming message, but also has deeper strategic value. For big business in general, which is much more used to being depicted as an environmental rogue, this provides not just good publicity but vindication. In an era when environmen- tal sensibilities among consumers can cause major dents in corporate profits, this alone can justify the US$30,000 annual membership fee. In effect, WBCSD provides big
business with the exact antidote to the many environmen- tal NGOs that have, for years, been highlighting ‘worst practice’. In this regard, however, WBCSD is as guilty of focusing on only one side of the coin as those NGOs have been for focusing only on the other.
Having said the above, the reason for focusing on best practice most often cited by the WBCSD relates to the aspiration (and self-perception) of its member companies to ‘be among the leaders in good environmental practice’. WBCSD offers them the ability to ‘share their experience and expertise with others and keep abreast of best practice in fields to which they might not otherwise have access’. The promise, to the business executive, is of advance in- formation; the attraction, for the environmental policy maker, is of the potential for early dissemination of win– win solutions. The most attractive of these win–win con- cepts is eco-efficiency, which is ‘at the heart of the WBCSD’s philosophy’. After having introduced the con- cept the organization has spent much effort in propagat- ing it, and to its credit it is now, indeed, ‘firmly entrenched in the business lexicon’.28
Box 3: Eco-Efficiency
In introducing the concept in Changing Course, BCSD had not provided an exact definition of eco-efficiency beyond stating that ‘corporations that achieve ever more efficiency while preventing pollution through good housekeeping, materials substitution, cleaner technologies, and cleaner products and that strive for more efficient use and recovery of resources can be called “eco-efficient”.’1 By 1993 BCSD had a formal definition: ‘Eco-efficiency is reached by the delivery of competitively priced goods and services that satisfy human needs and bring quality of life, while progres- sively reducing ecological impacts and resource inten- sity throughout the life cycle, to a level at least in line with the earth’s estimated carrying capacity.’2 By 1997 WBCSD was ready to publish a major book on the sub- ject which promoted the concept as a ‘marketing phi- losophy’ that has been ‘developed by business for busi- ness’ and highlights the fact that ‘the first word of the concept encompasses both ecological and economic resources—the second says we have to make optimal use of both.’3 It went on to specify seven guidelines for operationalizing the concept: a) reduce the material in- tensity of goods and services; b) reduce the energy in- tensity of goods and services; c) reduce toxic dispersion; d) enhance material recyclability; e) maximize sustain- able use of renewable resources; f) extend product du- rability; and g) increase the service intensity of prod- ucts.
YEARBOOK OF INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATION ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT 1999/2000