Uchita de Zoysa is the Chairman of Global Sustainability Solutions (GLOSS), the Executive Director of the Centre for Environment and Development, and Initiator of the People's Sustainability Treaties. He is the author of several books and international reports, and has played a leading role in the formulation of global independent sector collective agreements such as The NGO Alternative Treaties and the Oslo Declaration on Sustainable Consumption. Prior to these roles, Mr de Zoysa created and led the largest environment and development NGO in Sri Lanka, the Public Campaign on Environment & Development. In addition, he has also held numerous international posts including Advisory Board Member and Head of the Asian Review on Sustainable Consumption for SC.Asia.
To what extent has the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since 2000, promoted the issues of sustainability and responsibility amongst corporations within global production and consumption practices?
The MDG's had no doubt helped create awareness on sustainability and responsibility amongst all critical stakeholders including business and industry.
However, whether this awareness has lead to corporations to adopt sustainable consumption and production practices is seriously doubtful. While Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities have increased, unsustainable consumption and production practices seem to continue and greed based profit motivated business as usual has been the dominant discourse on earth. The crumbling of the capitalist economic system at the end of the last decade provides evidence of socially irresponsible behaviour of global corporations. The rise of the Occupy Wall Street Movement on the other hand showcases the growing frustrations and limits to tolerance by civil society and the general public. While the MDGs have not been able to achieve its first and primary goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, they have tremendously failed in achieving MDG-7 on ensuring environmental sustainably. The world is facing serious multiple crises from poverty to climate change while corporations continue to promote enormous profit-based growth models.
Would it be accurate to presume that corporations are becoming increasingly receptive to bettering their scopes for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities?
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has unfortunately become mostly a green washing strategy for corporations and has not become a strong path towards corporate sustainability. CSR is clearly used by corporations as a smart marketing and public relations tactic to create better imaging for themselves while offering the end of the stick to the communities. CSR has also become an ideal trickle-down strategy where corporations spend minimum and generate maximum publicity. However, it's also true that some corporations have used CSR as an opportunity to streamline and improve their internal environmental practices and external social relationships. The concept of sustainability had been more accepted during the past years through the notion of a Triple-Bottom-Line (TBL). Whether corporations are more receptive to bettering their scopes for CSR, or not, may not be adequate to face the multiple global challenges and evolving a new economic system. The ability of corporations to champion a new economic system now becomes the more central question.
The transition to a new sustainable economic system envisions profound transformations in the fundamental values and organizing principles of society. Any new economic model should adopt sustainable development paradigms that emphasize quality of life and material sufficiency for all, human solidarity and enhanced global equity, affinity with nature and ecological sustainability. To achieve this profound purpose, deep system-wide change to existing economic institutions is urgently needed to reverse conditions typical of contemporary global, regional, national and local economies that are unsustainable, unfair, unstable and undemocratic. This would mean that corporations will need to radically reform to support such an economic system for a sustainable world order.
What does a sustainable CSR programme look like, and what issues should be included within a Post-2015 Agenda, in order to promote that?
CSR should have a focus of Corporate Sustainability – making corporations sustainable in their systems, processes and practices. From resource procurement to resource consumption and from production to distribution, corporations need to first look at making their core business activities sustainable. The idea that large multinational corporations continue to pollute the environment, exploiting natural resources, violate human rights and then try to seek redress by giving a minimum back to the community or environment does not equate to any sense of sustainable CSR. The fundamental responsibility of business towards society is to limit their exploitation and disruption of environmental resources, act to protect all human rights and rights of communities, and to be able to create social wellbeing through distributed economic prosperity. Within a Post-2015 Agenda, CSR needs to evolve into a more mature and meaningful stage and be able to support global sustainable development goals. For this CSR should resonate with broader global principles such as equity and wellbeing of all, the earth's integrity and planetary boundaries, sufficiency and beyond GDP, resilience by localization, human rights and dignity, etc.
How can larger corporations play a role to boost the effectiveness of small local enterprises and/ or local business in Sri Lanka and globally?
The relationship between large corporations and local business has not been very harmonious during the past in smaller countries like Sri Lanka. While small business suffers in the market competitiveness, many medium to large sized local businesses challenging the market share of corporations have also suffered elimination through buy-offs and other tactics. Small business is primarily seen as part of the supply chain of large corporations and has mixed impact. How can future corporations act in a new world order where localizing our systems of economies, decentralizing governance, and advancing sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods become the new social order of sustainable societies? Localism is the theme emerging across the board which is linked to the principles of devolution, decentralization and subsidiarity. Turning localism into a worldwide movement becomes the key to unpacking many of the complexities we face in globalization, whether in the case of sustainable consumption and production or in the case of ecological democracy. Protecting the rights of earth and of humans, transforming our governance systems through radical ecological democracy, respecting cultural diversity, and strengthening sustainable economies is the way towards sustainable futures for all societies. It is thus essential that we create a more effective, responsible and democratic system of businesses systems where corporations can coexist and flourish along with small local business.
How has GLOSS engaged with the Rio +20 and how is it doing so with the Post- 2015 Agenda?
GLOSS was a secretariat partner of the Peoples Sustainability Treaties at Rio+20. The fourteen Peoples' Sustainability Treaties (PST) evolved through a consultative process with over three hundred civil society organizations that converged at the Rio+20 to launch a common Manifesto on the final day of the summit declared that another world is possible after Rio+20 and pledged commitment to a transition toward increasingly sustainable futures on earth. This process now is evolving with a series of new treaties being formulated by new circles of organizations. All treaties will include sustainable development goals (SDG) and a clear action plan besides their defined organising principles. Moving forward towards the Post-2015 Agenda, PST plans to evolve a common narrative for sustainable futures on earth. This process and the common narrative will provide a common platform for civil society to unite and to enforce a proactive global sustainable development agenda post 2015.
**This interview was conducted via email on 9 February 2013