Jeffrey Hollender on Sustainability

By Nathan M. Walters, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Jeffrey Hollender is a New York-based leading authority on corporate responsibility, sustainability and social equity. The author of six books, renowned speaker and consultant shares his thoughts with The Rio Times about the climate crisis, full cost accounting, and Rio+20.

Hollander addresses an audience at New York University, Rio+20, Brazil News

Hollander addresses an audience at New York University, photo courtesy of Jeffrey Hollander.

What have been the most significant changes you have witnessed in your thirty year career?

On the negative side, too many countries continue to show a blatant disregard for the certainty of science. The U.S. is on the top of the list of countries that remain willfully disconnected from the proof of science of the dangerous outcome of the climate crisis. On the positive side, there has been a dramatic growth in awareness, environmental issues are now mainstream. Still, there is a greater need for aggressive, not incremental, changes in behavior to make a real difference.

What are the main challenges for Rio+20? The opportunities?  

There is a lot of cynicism about the chance for success at Rio +20. After the failure at Copenhagen, expectations have been lowered. It is difficult to create the type of success that is truly needed with lowered expectations. The most important decisions at the Earth Summit may not come from the UN, but there will be thousands of conversations happening during the event. These conversations may lead to minor successes and we need all the successes we can get. Rio+20 is not an all or nothing proposition, there will be successes and failures, is not one or the other.

How significant for Brazil is Rio+20 in terms of the countries’ own efforts to develop sustainable civil programs? 

Brazil, relative to other countries, has made an effort to be more environmentally responsible. The countries’ multi-fuel auto industry is one example of a step in the right direction. The country is now one of the global economic drivers and in line with that role needs to take a leadership position in environmentally responsible decision-making. It cannot maintain a growth at any cost mentality without great costs, not only to the environment, but also to related issues such as health, indigenous rights, etc. Rio+20 is a good forum for Brazil to show that it is ready to take on the necessary leadership role.

Hollander has been consulting on sustainability issues for the past thirty years, Rio+20, Brazil News

Hollander has been consulting on sustainability issues for the past thirty years, photo by Jeffrey Hollander.

In your recent book, Planet Home, you discuss how the average consumer can make more ecologically responsible choices; how do events like Rio+20 reinforce these messages? Do you think the money spent on Rio+20 is better spent on local education programs?

Without an alternative forum, events like Rio+20 remain the best option to put a spotlight on environmental issues. It also puts a spotlight on the failure of leadership. In the future, money spent on events like Rio+20 may be more effectively spent on local training programs, but for now it is the only alternative.

You advise corporate clients on sustainability issues, and the private sector has been invited into Rio+20 in an increased capacity, how has this opportunity changed in the past twenty years?  

I recently interviewed three major companies at the United Nations Social Innovation Summit. In the past the UN wouldn’t have thought it necessary to invite them, and they wouldn’t have see the point in attending. The opportunity for dialogue is the biggest change. All companies are either talking about sustainability or know that they should be. Heavily involving private enterprise in Rio+20 demonstrates how important the dialogue has become to finding solutions to the climate crisis.

What needs to happen at Rio+20 and on daily basis at different levels of society (e.g., governmental, private, public) to make the changes necessary to curb the climate crisis?  

The single biggest problem we now face is how to develop a system, what is known as full cost accounting, that effectively quantifies the cost of damage to the environment. Carbon credits in the European Union are one example of this, but a more complete system needs to be created. Only then, when companies are held financially accountable for negative externalities, will we start to make the real progress needed to curb the climate crisis.

For more information about Jeffrey Hollender, see his website jeffreyhollender.com.

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