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Making business sense of sustainable development

Making business sense of sustainable development

Public and private sector collaboration is key for a sustainable future

Sustainable business is big news. Long gone are the days where sustainability was only a concern for environmentalists, charities, governments and free-spirited bohemians. It is an accepted truth that preserving the planet is a global responsibility that requires collective action. Alarming rates of natural resource depletion and increasingly informed governments and civil societies have highlighted the opportunity for the private sector to produce goods and services in an ethical, equitable and sustainable way.

But incorporating sustainability into business does not need to be complicated. The solution, in fact, is something that businesses already have and use on a daily basis. The answer? Data, and lots of it.

Analysing, evaluating and acting on data has been an integral part of running a successful business for as long as can be recorded; it provides the critical information and insight that businesses need to develop, grow and progress in a rapidly changing world. Yet it is now more than ever that we are grasping its full potential.

IBM estimates that 90 per cent of the data in the world has only been created over the last two years – that’s 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created every day. It is this kind of data that will drive the necessary institutional changes that can lead to smarter consumption choices and a shift towards resource-efficient products and services.

With the advent of key technologies, the private sector can tap into the global market instantly. The feedback loops are in place to collect, filter, and reconfigure masses of data and information on millions of individuals, communities, sectors and industries. The compilation of this data, in some cases over decades, can add a great deal of richness to the global social, economic and environmental knowledge pool. While also enhancing the socio-political decision-making process.

As we find ourselves, inadvertently or not, in the middle of the data revolution, we are beginning to realise it could not have come sooner.

Thankfully, 2015 is a big year for sustainable development. Numerous initiatives, such as the post-2015 development agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals and COP 21, are a collective driving force for change. This October alone will see Abu Dhabi host two major international sustainable development events, Eye on Earth Summit 2015, followed by Ecocity World Summit 2015. The former will be the world’s foremost event dedicated to identifying solutions for greater access to and sharing of environmental, social and economic data and information for sustainable development. The summit will offer an opportunity to engage the private sector to close the information and data gap currently inhibiting our ability to make the right decisions at the right time.

Expanding on the Community Sustainability and Resiliency Special Initiative, Ecocity World Summit 2015 aims to unite people through a new way of living. This means providing the best possible cities while enhancing, not destroying, the biosphere. Both events underscore the commitment of Abu Dhabi to achieving sustainable development in the UAE, and to fostering a culture of international collaboration that safeguards the interests of our planet and people for generations to come.

These initiatives can, and do, benefit hugely from ideas, strategies and technologies cultivated through private sector channels. But there is a shared value that can be derived from sustainable development. This includes the market potential for businesses to profit in light of the SDGs. The private sector is sitting on a gold mine of vital environmental, social and economic data and information, which once harvested, offers benefits both manifold and far-reaching. Increasing knowledge and understanding is imperative to supporting informed decision-making for sustainable development

The private sector by its very nature is both demand-driven and society’s core demand driver. The information age has sculpted this dynamic where the private sector can and does influence attitudes, behaviours and preferences. Equally, it is exceptionally well-placed to respond to such changes. Institutions understand that consumers are more informed, up-to-date, and conscious of their impact on the world than ever before.

Globally, private sector organisations are mobilising corporate social responsibility programmes and encouraging new ways of working that tend towards eco-business principles and a greener economy. It is time now to focus on building bridges that link these efforts to the work of the public sector, non-governmental organisations and scientific and academic communities – groups that continue to develop sustainable development initiatives for the benefit of humanity. More importantly, it is time to take notice of those bridges already being built to connect ideas and actions toward the same end goal; ensuring a better world for current and future generations.

This year’s initiatives aim to underscore the crucial role the private sector plays in the post-2015 development agenda. However, there is still work to be done. The reformation of the private sector must be supported, and the opportunity to foster a culture of collaboration embraced, creating a platform for the birth of new ideas and the alignment of interests. By using the talents, experiences, resources and deep wells of data available from within the private sector to drive sustainable development, we can succeed in altering the course of our future. And we are exceptionally well placed to do so.

Ahmed Abdulmuttaleb Baharoon is executive director, environmental information, science & outreach management and acting director at Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative

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