Anyway, it's now all over until Rio+30 (unless someone decides it's not worth the effort), and this is the Future we Want. The debates about Sustainability Reporting, which were boosted by a proposal from the GRI and the Corporate Sustainability Coalition convened by the Aviva Investor Group, to drive greater mandatory disclosure by business, resulted in the following paragraph in the final document produced by the UN Heads of State and Governments, known as Paragraph 47. This is it:
"We acknowledge the importance of corporate sustainability reporting and encourage companies, where appropriate, especially publicly listed and large companies, to consider integrating sustainability information into their reporting cycle. We encourage industry, interested governments as well as relevant stakeholders with the support of the UN system, as appropriate, to develop models for best practice and facilitate action for the integration of sustainability reporting, taking into account the experiences of already existing frameworks, and paying particular attention to the needs of developing countries, including for capacity building."
This is a rough translation (for optimists)
"We, the Heads of State and Government and high-level representatives, having met at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20 to 22 June 2012, with the full participation of civil society, agree to make a general statement which supports the fact that Sustainability Reporting is worthy of consideration. We know, basically, that sustainability disclosure is the way to go, but frankly, at this time, there are other things that are a little more serious, and also, there are too many pressures from business opposing mandatory Sustainability Reporting for us to be able to make an outright commitment by our various governments to go further than offering a statement of support. But don't be fooled. The fact that we included a whole paragraph about Sustainability Reporting in the "Future we Want" is significant. It paves the way for voluntary actions by governments. Hey, look at Brazil, Denmark, France and South Africa, the Friends of Paragraph 47, who have committed to making Sustainability Reporting a reality. This proves that Paragraph 47 is already having an impact and we are absolutely delighted. If they can do it, every single nation can. Paragraph 47 gives governments legitimacy to mandate Sustainability Reporting and make this our new reality. Long Live Paragraph 47!"
This is a rough translation (for pessimists)
"We, the Heads of State and Government and high-level representatives, having met at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20 to 22 June 2012, with the full participation of civil society, have decided not to decide about Sustainability Reporting because it's just not our most significant priority right now. In order to appease some of the organizations and coalitions who have been, rather irritatingly, pushing for Sustainability Reporting to be the most significant outcome of Rio+20, we agreed to retain Paragraph 47 but heck, what did you expect? That we would suddenly start to require all businesses around the world to start inflating their Annual Reports with sustainability data? Businesses wouldn't be able to cope and governments wouldn't be able to police it. What would we do with all that data, anyway? And let's face it, we want to save the planet, not produce more reports. The frenzy about Sustainability Reporting is misplaced. Reporting will not change the world. Changing the world will change the world. However, we do recognize that there is some value in disclosure and that generally, it is regarded as a positive thing. So, we recommend that governments keep it on their radar, don't reinvent the wheel and keep the focus on China, India and other emerging economies. The fact that four governments have declared unswerving loyalty to Para 47 just shows that we don't need to make any sort of commitment and those who want, will, and those who don't, won't."
This is a rough translation (for activists)
"We, the Heads of State and Government and high-level representatives, having met at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20 to 22 June 2012, with the full participation of civil society, have agreed to make a flimsy statement of support for Sustainability Reporting. This is a good thing, It leaves tremendous scope for all reporting advocates around the world to engage in even more focused activism in order to advance transparency in business. Frankly, NGO's and business coalitions are better than us at driving this type of change. So, it's time for us to up the ante, gather all our resources and launch an all-out effort to make sure that corporations which are not prepared to be open should be prepared to be closed. Soon."
This is a rough translation (for fatalists)
"We, the Heads of State and Government and high-level representatives, having met at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20 to 22 June 2012, with the full participation of civil society, believe in leaving things to decide themselves. What will be, will be. What will not be, will not be. What might be, might be. What should be, should be. What can we, as mere mortals, mere agents of government, mere job-holders, mere insignificant blots on the global landscape with tentative mandates to serve a global order, possibly hope to do to change the script of our shared future? If Sustainability Reporting is right, it will happen. We cannot take ownership for things outside of our control. We are powerless to change our destiny. Sustainability Reporting will, if it is meant to be, create its own destiny"
This is a rough translation (for capitalists)
"We, the Heads of State and Government and high-level representatives, having met at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20 to 22 June 2012, with the full participation of civil society, confirm that the corporate machine is stronger than we are and that we would be foolish to coerce corporations into sustainability disclosure which could result in opening them up to scrutiny and criticism and possibly causing them to make less profit. We all know that, even though it is sexy to talk about the power of business to save the planet, in the end, it's how much profit you make that counts. If you can tick the box of Sustainability Reporting without harming your basic commercial interest, it's worth making the effort as there are are some reputational points to be gained by Sustainability Reporting (and we all know that reputation = money). But if you can't, then please know that the governments of the United Nations are not going to force you. The markets will decide. Voluntary Sustainability Reporting can be a wonderful tool to serve the capitalist movement. Why cause problems and make legislation out of it?"
This is a rough translation (for realists)
"We, the Heads of State and Government and high-level representatives, having met at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20 to 22 June 2012, with the full participation of civil society, see the world as it is. We understand the pressures, risks and opportunities. We know we are heading to a disaster for humanity unless we change our ways. We know that the greed of corporations has the potential to destroy our global well-being. We understand the inequalities in society and the vast abuses of human rights that plague our world in the name of profit and shared value. We see all this for what it is. The natural evolution of human society. As humans, we are subject to imperfections. We are as we are. Sustainability Reporting is what it is. Paragraph 47 is not perfect. What is?"
This is Elaine's translation
"Rio+20 came and went. Now, let's get back to doing what we need to do to ensure business is sustainable and transparent."
elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)