Rarely a day goes by without the topic of sustainability hitting the headlines. It’s a subject that generates a huge amount of discussion – and for good reasons: the evidence for the effects of climate change become clearer every day. But sustainability embraces a very broad array of topics and points of view. So to discuss it with any real clarity, it’s important to explain exactly what we mean by the term sustainability. For me, it is really about three things. The first is reducing carbon emissions. The second is about the circular economy and finally, it’s about creating products that are sustainable by design.
The public sector has multiple roles to play here, from raising awareness to green procurement and from regulating to promote sustainability to providing information that can increase trust and transparency.
No single sector solution
But a further key point is that achieving any and all of the above is beyond the scope of any single organisation. Public and private sectors have to work together. And the question is what is the best way for them to do that? Accenture research reveals that while companies are willing to step up and invest in the actions they need to take to get to net zero, they are often uncertain about the optimal path they should pursue.
Governments, on the other hand, are not directly responsible for the majority of emissions, but have the powers to shape and enact regulations that will guide others. But there’s more to their role than simply regulation. And it’s here that perhaps some of the most interesting areas for public and private sector collaboration.
Test, learn, scale
Smart buildings are a case in point. Reducing the carbon emissions of the built environment is a key goal. By encouraging private sector property owners and operators to develop smarter, greener buildings and facilities management, the lessons learned can be introduced into the public sector. This is, in a way, a manifestation of the circular economy in which the good practices developed by one sector can be reused by another.
Measure what matters
Another example of how partnership between public and private could help achieve sustainability goals? Measurement. Leaders have long understood that what’s measured shapes what’s done. A business’s sustainability activities and the risks it faces have a clear bearing on overall financial performance. Partnership between government and business is essential to set the frameworks and establish the metrics that businesses can use to report their sustainability performance.
This could be achieved, for instance, in Singapore through the process of business registration. Companies could be required to add their sustainability data to the other information that already have to provide. And that information could flow into green financing decisions, helping companies that are operating responsibly tap into funds that encourage environmentally responsible businesses. Here again, government action can have positive impacts across the whole ecosystem, spinning the flywheel to create positive outcomes for business and wider society.
Going green together
It’s clear that consumers increasingly expect businesses to ‘walk the sustainability talk’ and that businesses are responding. But no single entity can achieve what’s needed to make decisive progress. Moving collectively towards a more sustainable future is the only feasible route forward. But that does not mean a one-size-fits-all approach. The private sector, government and citizens each have a distinct role to play within an ecosystem of many moving parts. Through influence and active collaboration, all actors can help achieve results that are greater than the sum of their individual parts.
Where do you see your organisation’s greatest impact on sustainability coming from?
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