Partnerships with the private sector


Partnerships for trust

Jacqueline Coté

Jacqueline Coté
manages Advocacy and Partnerships at the World
Business Council for Sustainable Development.

The Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 was the first major UN meeting with significant business participation. It was there that business began to learn to be a partner in the search for sustainable progress. And it was there that NGOs and governments realized that business, previously seen by many as a force for unsustainable development, could be a powerful partner for sustainability.

Partnerships have long been an integrated way of doing business. Partnerships between companies have existed since the beginning of trade. They are built on a win-win assumption for the parties involved, with gains that can be shared.

Partnerships between business and governments have also a long tradition. They have normally been initiated to deal with issues that neither party could handle on their own. Partnerships between business and NGOs are more recent. Therefore, we have less of a track record on these - but a lot is going on.

All partnerships require substantial investments in time and resources; this is often underestimated. They require common goals and shared values - synergies that can be shared to create a win-win situation. But there is also a limit to how many serious partnerships one organization can have.

The 20 years since the Brundtland report have shown that not only can business be an implementing partner for sustainable development initiatives. It is also ready to contribute ideas and resources to making economies environmentally sustainable.

To meet the future as well as the present needs, the Brundtland report pointed out that «painful choices have to be made. Thus, in the final analysis, sustainable development must rest on political will.»

Political will is necessary but not sufficient. The painful choices will require partnerships to create trust for the necessary political tradeoffs. No part of society can create a sustainable world on its own. We are in this together. Business cannot succeed in a society that fails. Therefore business must actively contribute to the solutions of society's challenges.