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WECF director speaks at UNEP business and environment conference, Singapore

Chances for business – NGO partnerships

02.05.2008 |Chantal van den Bossche

From left to right: Ms Balgis Osman-Elasha, IPCC, Sascha Gabizon WECF, Neil Hawkins, Dow Chemicals, Senator Liz Thomson Barbedos

"Business – NGO partnerships can work when the company has sincerely moved to sustainable production, and is working with local NGOs help them involve local community, prevent abuse and watch that local subcontractors stick to the criteria set for production, as for example in the case of sustainable standards of e.g. the Forest Stewardship programme, the Flower programme or the Clean Clothes Campaign".

WECF director Sascha Gabizon spoke at the 2nd Business for the Environment conference, which took place on April 22-23 2008 in Singapore. This UNEP conference, which also features the UNEP Champions of the Earth Award, is sponsored by business, amongst others Dow Chemicals, Osram, and Siemens. This year the conference focussed on “Business and Markets in a Climate of Change” and hosted over 1000 delegates.

“However, a number of companies who have joined the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, are working in partnership with NGOs on energy efficiency projects, for example, whereas they have not addressed the unsustainability of their core business. Thus their environmental projects remains a ‘playing around in the margins’ instead of really making significant progress”, said Sascha Gabizon.

For WECF the question of partnerships with large companies has not yet been an issue. WECF partnerships focus on sustainable products for poor communities in Eastern Europe, such as for example ecological toilet seats for prices between 5 and 40 euro. The local companies are often better prepared to produce at such low prices than their counterparts from the EU.

WECF is still in the process of defining its own criteria for partnerships with business, and these will probably be based on exclusion criteria, for example, WECF could not partner with companies that are engaged in nuclear industry, synthetic chemicals, pesticides or biotech (GMOs). However, WECF would partner with companies that produce products, which are safe for environment and health, and have decent employment conditions.

WECF Director Sascha Gabizon was invited to take part in a lunch event organised by the Dow Chemicals Company, together with 2 of this years winners of the Earth Champion Awards, Senator Liz Thompson of Barbedos, and Ms. Balgis Osman-Elasha of Sudan, senior scientist at the International Panel on Climate Change.

At the lunch event Sascha Gabizon explained what she would recommend a chemical companies to do, if they are really serious about sustainable development. Chemical companies should - not partly, but fully – apply the cradle-to-cradle principle, that what they produce in form of products which are non biodegradable and toxic to health and environment, should remain in the technosphere, thus, after use the chemical companies should recover them from the end users for full recycling. If this is impossible, chemical companies should have an exit strategy for such products, and develop non-toxic, non-persistant, non-bioaccumulative, non-hormone-disrupting, non-carcenogic nor mutagenic substitutes. Examples of such “green chemistry” have already been developed and should be brought on the market rapidly by either voluntary or mandatory substitution.

“Dioxin levels in our bodies are again on the rise, one of the possible reasons is the increased use of plastics in Eastern Europe, where many households are so poor that they often have to use plastic waste to burn in their home ovens to heat their houses in winter” Sascha Gabizon explained, we see this in all our local implementation projects in the region. “If all hazardous chemicals are taken out of packaging materials, they are easy to recycle, and burning them is less dangerous for children’s health.”