Is the green economy the new status quo?

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USUALLY the story goes like this: businesses are taking advantage of loopholes to increase profits at the expense of the environment and local communities, and the policy makers are scrambling to close these loopholes. However, more and more, we’re seeing evidence of the opposite: businesses are taking advantage of the market demand for sustainable and ethical products, and policy makers are trying to regulate to incentivize and replicate these behaviors.

Business-as-usual is still the usual, of course. But policy makers in some countries are working to redesign their whole economic system to weed out perverse incentives in the economy, and design in desired catalysts for greener and fairer workplaces, products and lifestyles.

“The SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] represent an entire agenda around development that presupposes the transition to the green economy,” said Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UN Development Programme.

His words came during an address last night on the side lines of the UN’s High Level Political Forum, at which world leaders gather to assess their progress against the agreed-upon Sustainable Development Goals.

The event, entitled “Transforming our economies and lifestyles: greener and fairer for future generations,” homed in on finance and lifestyles as key drivers for inclusive, green economies. The Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) — a UN program that helps governments go through precisely this process of reorienting their economies to value sustainability and social equity — hosted the event.

Lena Hök, from construction and development group Skanska remarked on the role that financial institutions could play in reorienting market incentives. “When financial institutions raise environmental or social demands on their investments, it gets a real leverage in the business world,” she said. “Green bonds and investments signal to companies the need to integrate sustainability processes into their core business, measure their work and be transparent with the performance. By doing so business gets a better understanding of their risks and business opportunities as well as a clearer pathway on how to contribute to the sustainability agenda.”

Some organizations may already be ahead of the pack. “We’re currently witnessing a zeitgeist moment, where consumers want companies to define who they are and what they stand for,” said Lance Gould, cofounder of Silicon Valley Story Lab. This is also reflected in the priorities of job applicants, according to CEO of BNP Paribas USA, Jean-Yves Fillion. “They are not so much focused anymore on ‘How much am I going to make? What is my career path?’ They ask about ‘what are your values? What are your sustainability goals?’” he said.

While the mood in the room was upbeat and optimistic, some of the speakers acknowledged that it won’t all be plain sailing ahead. “We have to be honest that there won’t be only ‘win-win situations,’” said Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, State Secretary for the Environment from Germany. “We must therefore ensure the success of structural transformation without causing harsh structural breaks.”

Since 2013, The Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) has grown into an increasingly prominent alliance of UN Agencies, international partner organizations and governments. The partnership is recognized as an innovative and efficient model of excellence for delivering on the 2030 Agenda. Drawing on the expertise of five UN Agencies — UN Environment, the International Labour Organization, the UN Development Programme, the UN Industrial Development Organization, and the UN Institute for Training and Research — PAGE challenges business-as-usual growth and business models, and places sustainability at the heart of economic systems. At the global level, PAGE partners with the donor community, the wider UN system, governments, civil society and the private sector to amplify and accelerate transitions to greener, more inclusive development, and to support future generations and sustainable development pathways. — The Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE)/Reuters.


“We have an entire agenda around development that presupposes that the transition in the green economy context is actually something that’s going to happen. Because without it, the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals or the 2030 Agenda is purely a theoretical exercise.”

— Mr. Achim Steiner
UN Development Programme

“This issue of sustainability is clearly on the table of discussions within companies. The question isn’t anymore ‘should we do something?’ the question is ‘how can we focus on things that matter? How can we focus on things that align with priorities that were developed by the UN?’”

— Mr. Jean-Pierre Clamadieu
CEO, Solvay

“It’s what we do, but as well it’s what we decide not to do anymore; we have to be consistent…We decided to stop financing companies which principal activity is connected to exploring, producing, and distributing oil and gas from shale and from oil sands.”

— Mr. Jean-Yves Fillion
Chief Executive Officer, BNP Paribas USA; Chairman, BNP Paribas CIB Americas

“We have an imperative need to change the model. We will not be able to continue developing with just one planet because the resources are simply not enough. This is why we have to change dramatically and we have to do it fast.”

— Mr. Daniel Calleja-Crespo
Director General for the Environment, European Commission

“I don’t believe in frightening people into shifting their lives. I believe in making sustainable lifestyles attractive and reachable for all.”

“I propose to the politicians to dare to be a bit bold when talking to the financing market: and to push them. It doesn’t necessarily mean to regulate them, but to push them, and don’t be afraid.”

— Ms. Karolina Skog
Minister for Environment and Energy Sweden

“Let’s be clear: the benefits of a green economy go beyond the strictly environmental. Those whose livelihoods are threatened the most by environmental degradation and climate change are often amongst the poorest and most affected by fragility. The shift to a green economy therefore is not just imperative to safeguard our planet, it is also a key piece to address the puzzle of inequalities, create quality jobs and strengthen the resilience of individuals, communities and societies”

— Mr. Neven Mimica
Commissioner for International
Cooperation and Development
European Commission

“To capitalize on the momentum of people’s interest in sustainable consumption and production, we need to make sustainable choices easily available and attractive to consumers… We need economic revolution to do that: we need a transformation from a fossil-fuel based, single-use economy into a circular economy which is based on renewable materials and maximal lifecycles for different products and materials.”

— Mr. Kimmo Tiilikainen
Minister for the Environment,
Energy and Housing, Finland

“The defining feature of the world today is inequality within countries and between countries. And inequality, of course, excludes a lot of people, particularly indigenous peoples, who are the ones who still maintain a lot of the world’s biodiversity and protect a lot of the world’s remaining tropical forests.”

— Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

“An inclusive green growth economic model is one of the sure ways to achieve sustainable development, as it turns environmental limitations and constraints into opportunities by transforming current economic systems.”

— Ms. Patricia Appiagyei
Deputy Minister for the Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation

“If construction corporations take the aim to build for a better society, including counting on their carbon footprint, the energy efficiency, the water efficiency, etc., then we have a large step we are taking forward just by doing that.”

— Lena Hök
Senior Vice-President
Sustainability, Skanska AB

“We should remind ourselves the banking is socially useful when it’s done right: it’s about channeling money to socially useful products. We all need to work on making baking beautiful.”

— Mr. Jens Frølich-Holte
State Secretary
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway

“Given our enormous challenges in our countries of poverty, inequality and under-development; it is imperative that we as leaders share our experiences and more importantly strengthen existing partnerships in order to build economies that are both inclusive and sustainable — with the SDG’s at their center. In doing this we must ensure we leave no one behind.”

— Ms. Edna Molewa
Minister of Environmental Affairs
South Africa

“For the first time in human history, a new model is possible… There is no choice to be made between the green and the gold – between the economy and the environmental opportunity – we can do it all at the same time.”

— Mr. Erik Solheim
Executive Director
UN Environment

“Green bonds differ from conventional bonds in that the proceeds are used specifically for projects with tangible environmental benefits. Although the green bond market is still only a small fraction of the global bond market, development of standards and taxonomies continues to encourage growth. Particularly, the expansion of the Green Bond Principles in 2017 opened up additional qualifying categories and introduced new opportunities for green bond issuance.”

— Ms. Anna Zubets-Anderson
Vice-President, Senior Credit Analyst
Moody’s Investor’s Service