An article by Grace Chua,

Six partner organisations of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) have launched a new platform called ‘Action 2020 in Southeast Asia’ to push the sustainable business agenda in the region.

Announcing this on the closing day of the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development on Wednesday, WBCSD chief executive Peter Bakker said that the Action2020 partnership is essential to green fast-growing Southeast Asia, where the number of middle-class households will double in the next decade and energy use is projected to triple.

The partnership will involve WBCSD’s six Asean business councils from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

The group, whose members represent more than 200 firms in total, said it will work with governments, institutions and the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (Asean) secretariat.

They will rally firms in fields from renewable energy to shippping, to address issues such as climate change, pollution, transboundary haze, environmental degradation, social disparities, and food security.

The group has laid out specific science-based steps that businesses should take to achieve sustainability in these areas, as well as a timeline for what needs to get done by 2020, and what they want to accomplish in the longer term by 2050.

For example, at current rates of water consumption, the world will be short of 40 per cent of the water it needs in 2030, it said. Businesses should first assess their water risks across their supply chain, then develop a water strategy involving local action plans, and finally become stewards of water in their local communities, it recommends.

In a live video feed from WBCSD headquarters in Geneva, Bakker also urged greater innovation among the public and private sector. “We need to innovate business solutions,” he said. “We can’t create a more sustainable world by constantly telling ourselves it’s doom and gloom.”

Integrated reporting and transparency

Other speakers presenting at the forum stressed that if businesses are to become genuinely sustainable, sustainability must be treated as a mainstream part of doing business and integrated reporting is an important way to accomplish this.

Integrated reporting treats sustainability not as something separate from an existing financial report, but something that is examined and reported alongside financial performance, risks, and corporate governance, said Paul Druckman, chief executive of the International Integrated Reporting Council, which pioneered the concept.

Firms that carry out integrated reporting look at social capital (their relationships with the surrounding community), natural capital (their impact on natural resources), human capital (labour issues and employee retention) as well as financials.

Already, integrated reporting is embraced by many large firms and stock exchanges. The Johannesburg stock exchange, for example, makes it a requirement for companies seeking to be listed, said Druckman.

In 2012, Singapore’s DBS Bank was the first Southeast Asian firm to sign the Council’s integrated reporting framework. This year, the Singapore Stock Exchange made sustainability reporting mandatory for listed firms.

Integrated reporting, Druckman said, helps firms “build long-term trust with customers, investors, employees, and society to create a sustainable platform for the future”.

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