The United Nation's CSR initiative, the UN Global Compact, is preparing a series of measures designed to encourage both multinationals and governments to do more to tackle climate change.
Speaking exclusively to GBN, Georg Kell (pictured), executive head of the UN Global Compact, said that a recent survey of 150 of the largest companies signed up to the scheme - which asks firms to adopt best practices on human rights, the workplace, the environment and anti-corruption – found environmental issues were now their number one CSR priority.
"Good progress has been made by many firms on the environment," he said. "But now climate change has emerged as the single biggest issue they face and business leaders are telling us to put it top of our list as well."
In response to these calls, the UN Global Compact is considering making the development of a corporate strategy on climate change a condition of membership for firms signed up to the initiative.
Kell said that the UN could also step up its lobbying of national governments to better integrate their environmental regulations. "The firms we work with want regulatory clarity and a level playing field," he said. "There is a call for legislators to get their act together on a global basis. Firms don’t mind [environmental] regulations if they are transparent and predictable."
Kell added that the UN Global Compact would also look to throw its weight behind successful small scale environmental schemes and try and encourage its members to adopt them on a wider scale. "There are a lot of good corporate initiatives, like carbon emission disclosure, that deserve to be scaled up and we want to give our support to," he said.
There is a growing realisation amongst business leaders that coherent CSR and environmental strategies are core to their operations, according to Kell.
"Transparency is now critical to how businesses operate and it is vital to have an environmental and ethical platform," he said. "Failure to develop one is to neglect your strategic responsibilities."
"These 'soft' issues are the same as any economic issue and they play out as either a risk or an opportunity," he added. "Having a proactive policy helps you mitigate those risks or exploit the opportunities. For example, without a clear ethical policy for your supply chain your brand is at constant risk of damage."
This growing support for CSR is evident in the fact that the Global Compact has this year had its best recruitment year since the initiative was launched in 2000, with 1,000 new members signed up.
However, Kell said the body had recently kicked out over 300 members for failing to report on the progress they had made in adhering to the programme. "We need to protect the brand and ensure no one is getting a free ride," he said.
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