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70th Couchiching Conference
August 9 to 12

In The Name Of Sustainability
Friday, August 10, 2001

Michael Harcourt, Senior Associate with the Sustainable Development Research Institute at the University of British Columbia, and former Premier of British Columbia
David J. McGuinty, President, National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy
Patricia McCunn-Miller, Managing Director, Environment and Regulatory Affairs,PanCanadian Petroleum Limited
MODERATOR: Jon K. Grant, Chairman, Canada Lands Company Limited

Synopsis by Melanie Martin

The Friday afternoon panel discussion provided Couchiching conference participants with a frank, critical assessment of the current state of the sustainable development movement, environmental regulation and Canada's role in global environmental governance. Each of the speakers touched upon the difficulties faced by government, corporations and civil society in integrating environmental, economic and social considerations.

In his opening remarks, moderator Mr. Jon Grant, challenged both the panel and the audience to think of what they have been teaching the next generation and what their environmental legacy will be. As was later witnessed in the question period, the general sentiment in the room was that the current generation is not doing enough to protect natural resources. Delegates expressed their disappointment over Canada's lack of implementation of many of its international environmental agreements. The general consensus was that without fundamental changes, the world is in great danger as our current levels of consumption and pollution are unsustainable. The challenge put before the panel was to identify the necessary changes as well as to suggest how best to create and implement a new, more ecologically stable business model.

Like most issues with globalization, those relating to the environment know no boundaries as pollution, climate change, and scarcity do not respect the lines drawn on maps. Because of this, governments must adopt a multi-stakeholder approach in order to combat this transnational problem. This inclusive approach should be used to help persuade corporations to adopt the triple bottom line in which all decisions reflect a win fiscally, socially and environmentally. Consequently, the issue for business and government alike becomes: how to select the proper fiscal instruments to obtain their goals; and, how to mitigate business and social interests and concerns.

From a business perspective, the private sector generates the leadership needed to confront issues of sustainability. In the businesses viewpoint, creativity is the essential problem-solving tool, not increases in taxation. Ms. Patricia McCunn-Miller stated that, slowly, businesses are self-regulating and adapting to meet social and environmental responsibility while maintaining their profitability. This adaptation is due in part to the increase in consumer influence. With the dramatic rise in information and the ability that individuals have to examine the global production chain, licenses to operate businesses are granted by the public. Maintaining brand loyalty in the face of increases in openness and transparency has become a major preoccupation for firms as individuals become more active and informed. It is in the self-interest of corporations to place themselves in a position to be perceived as innovative and competitive. According to Ms. McCunn-Miller, the adherence of businesses to the triple bottom line can be achieved without government regulation and taxation. She asserts that corporations should follow a four-phased approach to creating sustainable business practices and models. Phase one is understanding the scope of the problem. In phase two the corporations define their goals. The third phase is implementation and the fourth is reporting progress made.

However, globalization and the attempt to create environmental regulations that reflect the complexity of the issue raise questions and concerns over who holds the power. Mr. David McGuinty proposes that globalization is the reflection of three concerted, non-mutually exclusive shifts of power. First, power is shifting upwards, into the hands of relatively few actors. Second, power is moving downward as local government and civil society increase in relevance. Finally, there is a lateral movement of power as people become more connected and, through technology, gain more influence on decision-making processes.

Once goals and standards have been established, whether by government or individual corporations, the challenge becomes how best to measure whether the goals are being met. Currently, there are no generally agreed upon sustainability/environmental indices for companies to use to measure their progress. The challenge faced by organizations, such as the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, is to attempt to harmonize measurement standards in order to obtain an efficient measurement tool that can be used for both goal setting and comparison purposes.

Proceedings of the conference will be posted in due course. Audiotapes are available from Audio Archives & Duplicators Inc. at 905.889.6555 ext. 22, archives@idirect.com.

Synopsis by: Melanie Martin

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