I spent two weeks tracking Rio+20 as a student reporter seeking to make sense of the sustainable development talks, listening to ministers, CEOs and scientists who opened up trail-blazing perspectives on changing economic and societal paradigms.
Most media judged it as meaningless, mainly due to its lack of political commitment, but to only focus on this would be wrong. As important was the momentum and narratives it created, which are seeding ideas among the younger generation that may actually change the way they will lead society and the economy in years to come.
Rio+20 was a great platform for networking, conversations and knowledge exchange, bringing together experts from all over world to discuss specific topics such as climate change mitigation, social inclusion and ethical finance.
The major ongoing impact from the conference will probably come from the world of business. There appears to have been a shift of thinking among corporates towards inclusive growth. The growth paradigm will not vanish, but it will change. This shift is tremendous. Instead of depleting natural resources and deteriorating social capital, companies will start thriving by developing them.
What was also clear is that business is challenging the institutional boundaries of liberal markets and putting pressure on governments to reconfigure pricing mechanisms. In fact, never before has collaboration between business leaders and policy makers been more crucial to initiate and enhance sustainable development.
Getting prices right can be a powerful tool to correct market failures. In a green economy, the right prices are those which reflect the true ecological and social cost of products. This requires new incentive structures, such as environmental fiscal reforms, strategies to price-in environmental and social externalities and the elimination of perverse subsidies. In short, it requires smart political intervention and regulation.
Rio+20 was much more than just about talk. Both the UN Global Compact Corporate Sustainability Forum [changed by the editors] and the International Society for Ecological Economics launched promising new concepts such as alternative metrics to measure progress beyond GDP, inclusive market strategies and environmental fiscal reforms towards inclusive growth and green growth.
We also saw launches from the Natural Capital Declaration and the Standard Economic Environmental Accounting. These concepts show that within the economic realm, decision makers have already started to redesign business strategies and economic concepts towards a more sustainable approach to value creation.
The concepts and strategies towards a green market economy discussed at Rio+20 were promising. They could guide the way towards an economic system that is realigned with its initial purpose: to create human wellbeing and prosperity. Even more important is the growing awareness among business leaders that they have not only the responsibility, but also the capability, to add value to society. In fact, companies may create value beyond simply solving social and economic problems. Therefore, business leaders must go ahead and take action where governments fail and implement the future we need.
Heads of state are leaving the world puzzled on how to move on from here. The younger generation is wondering how to build upon the weak political framework that has been created by the Future We Want declaration.
But overall the conference gave me hope. And from a youth perspective I have a message to business leaders: encourage and empower the younger generation to look forward as optimistic realists, with trust and hope in their abilities to create the future they need. This is the most powerful strategy you can apply.
This article was first published by Guardian Sustainable Business on 2nd July. It is republished in full with permission. The original was published here.