The role of the private sector in addressing sustainable development challenges

Companies should harness the power of partnerships to advocate for a more sustainable future, says Elaine Weidman-Grunewald.

I read with interest Frances Buckingham’s article on Business finding its voice on sustainability advocacy. At Ericsson we have been a leading voice from the private sector for many years on the power of public-private partnership in advocating for a more sustainable future.  Partnerships take many shapes but fill critical roles in driving sustainability advocacy.

The world has changed significantly since 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted, partly through technological advancements and broadband deployment. Ericsson regularly publishes a Mobility Report where this phenomenal growth is detailed.  In the year 2000, very few companies were included in conversations about global development, at least the type of conversations that extend beyond philanthropy.  At that time broadband was in its infancy and few outside of the sector could predict the enormous potential it would have to support access to education, healthcare and even livelihoods.

While strong economic growth in the developing world has helped lift millions out of poverty, global population growth, modern lifestyles and consumption are now stretching the limits of the planet’s resources. During this time technological advances in information and communication technology (ICT) have radically transformed the way people communicate and lead their lives. This has ushered in a service rather than product based economy, and transformed the ways that electricity grids, public transportation, and many other basic services are provided. There is also growing research which shows a connection between broadband penetration and GDP growth, and it is clear that ICT can play a vital transformative role in helping to put the world on a more sustainable path.

By working in public-private partnerships to provide reliable information, innovative and scalable solutions, and multi-stakeholder policy recommendations, companies can help drive sustainability advocacy and make their voice heard in this global conversation.

Equally important has been finding the voice to help realize this enormous potential.  For many years these benefits have been discussed within the ICT sector, but increasingly our  sector is  playing a major role in advocating the need to put the world on a path to a low-carbon economy, and at Ericsson we participate in a number of public-private partnerships which support this aim.

According to SMARTer 2020 from the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, ICT technology could cut the projected 2020 global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 16.5 percent, corresponding to a reduction of 9.1 Gigatonnes CO2 emissions. Through its work streams, GeSI is a reliable source of information for achieving integrated social and environmental sustainability through ICT.

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) is an initiative of the UN which mobilises a truly multi-stakeholder approach and leverages scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society, and the private sector in support of sustainable development problem solving at local, national, and global scales. Its aim is to accelerate joint learning and help to overcome the compartmentalisation of technical and policy work by promoting integrated approaches to the interconnected economic, social, and environmental challenges confronting the world. The focus is on finding real solutions to sustainable development problems, and the SDSN has a UN mandate to work closely with United Nations agencies, academia, multilateral financing institutions, civil society and private sector partners – including Ericsson, where we have played a role on its leadership council since its inception.

Despite many technological and other gains, globally, millions still face extreme poverty, gender inequality and inadequate access to services in areas like health and education – challenges the MDGs set out to tackle in 2000. In shaping the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, it is important to leverage existing technologies, such as mobility, broadband and cloud services, to be real time enablers of sustainable development.

The Broadband Commission for Digital Development was created in 2010 to accelerate efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and unites industry and government leaders with a focus on policy recommendations. Last year, the Commission launched a Task Force, chaired by Ericsson, on Sustainable Development and the Post-2015 Development Agenda to explore how broadband can help achieve future development goals. The report, ‘Transformative Solutions for 2015 and Beyond’, underlined the key role ICT and broadband can play in delivering inclusive economic growth. Many governments are now adopting national broadband plans to accelerate this process and to bridge the digital divide.

These are just a few examples, but by working in public-private partnerships to provide reliable information, innovative and scalable solutions, and multi-stakeholder policy recommendations, companies can help drive sustainability advocacy and make their voice heard in this global conversation, in a way that can have a transformational impact.  The opportunity is there, but the challenge is translating the opportunities and benefits from the business world into a common multi-stakeholder language that matches the language and goals of policy makers.  We hope the post 2015 process will open up and give businesses a greater voice in providing scalable and commercially sustainable solutions to some of the most pressing problems.

Elaine Weidman-Grunewald is Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility (CR) at Ericsson. This post originally appeared on the Corporate Citizenship Briefing Blog.

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