Why ‘business as usual’ won’t save the oceans | WWF
Why ‘business as usual’ won’t save the oceans

Posted on 10 February 2017

At the 5th UNDP Responsible Business Forum in Singapore on Sustainable Development, a workshop on SDG 14 highlighted the need for productive, strategic partnerships—and a new way of doing business in the face of declining fish stocks. Here are some messages from the forum and SDG 14 workshop.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an initiative launched in 2015, cover 17 aspirational global goals, providing national governments, the private sector and individuals around the world with an opportunity—as well as a set of guidelines—to work for a better planet. The SDGs provide a clear framework for collaboration not only between business partners but also between governments, the private sector, and increasingly, civil society and investors.

The Responsible Business Forum, held at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore last November 2016, focused on innovation and collaboration to deliver these global goals. WWF Director General, Marco Lambertini, had a seat as one of the plenary speakers at the opening session where he elaborated on what WWF was going to do differently in order to implement the SDGs, focusing on integration and WWF’s new strategy and way of working.

The plenary sessions examined how relevant sectors can achieve sustainable growth and help strengthen SDG implementation through partnerships and circular economy opportunities. The need for integration across the SDGs also emerged as a key theme from the Forum, recognising that they do not exist in isolation and that there is much overlap and interdependence.

These were recurring themes at the SDG 14, “Life Below Water”, workshop facilitated by Dr Geoffrey Muldoon of WWF’s Coral Triangle Coordination Team. It was one of the 17 workshops of the Forum. SDG 14 is directly linked to other goals on responsible production and consumption of food, livelihoods, and climate change. Multi-faceted partnerships that can harness political will and engage various stakeholders—from those on the seafood supply chain to government agencies, the private sector, NGOs, communities, and academia—will be critical, if sustainability is to be achieved.

Creating positive impact beyond the water

Oceans are a key source of food, livelihoods and jobs in the Asian region, underscoring the importance of safeguarding oceans, such as from marine and land-based pollution, and managing marine and coastal ecosystems. Maintaining healthy oceans improves resilience and supports climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

“All of the targets within SDG 14 around reducing marine pollution, enhancing ecosystem protection, improved spatial planning and increasing marine protected areas, policy reform to reduce overfishing, elimination of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, and economic benefits to Small Island Developing States, including market access for small-scale fishers are important,” says Dr Muldoon. “The critical issues to achieving this goal are the need to change the ‘business as usual’ mind-set within companies and to promote and develop partnerships between industry sectors, government, and within civil society to deliver better social, economic, and environmental outcomes.”

Those areas highlighted by the SDG 14 workshop as offering the greatest positive impact potential were better waste management of marine pollutants (e.g. plastics), linking tourism and marine spatial planning to fisheries reform, whole-of-supply chain partnerships across governments and markets, and private sector improvement of fishing practices and reducing IUU.

Examples of such collaborations and partnerships were highlighted during the workshop by panelists, among them were: David Clark, Vice President, Environment and Sustainability, Amcor who works with the Ocean Conservancy on a Trash-free Seas Alliance and New Plastics Economy Foundation in creating incentives for plastics recycling and with APEC to elevate waste management and reduction to the level of infrastructure (e.g. roads, energy); Petch Manopawitr, Deputy, Indo-Burma Group and Thailand Program, from IUCN who has fostered the flagship Mangrove for the Future partnerships between countries to improve coastal resiliency. Although new to private sector partnerships, IUCN is also working with the Marriott Hotels and Thai Union in supporting turtle conservation and sustainable seafood; and Lucas Glanville, Executive Chef of the Grand Hyatt Singapore, which has a global partnership with WWF, committing to a 50 per cent responsible sourcing target by 2020, including 15 per cent of all products coming from ASC or MSC certified fisheries or farms. For Chef Lucas, Grand Hyatt Singapore’s seafood journey started in 2010 which has, over the ensuing six years, seen their seafood product line shrink from 600 to 100 ‘more responsibly sourced’ items, with little or no impact on their business bottom line.

Through the workshop, which ran two times on Day 2 of the Forum, it was clear that partnerships will be critical to breaking down silos and to driving innovation, provide market and policy incentives, and developing new finance and business models to achieve SDG targets.

We cannot do it alone

While all spoke about the role and importance of partnerships, it was recognised that each brings its own challenges. “For example, seafood industry partnerships—boat to throat—may on the surface appear straightforward, but they require commitment from different actors, from catcher through to retailers and consumers, often across international supply chains. This includes government buy-in,” says Dr Muldoon.

In contrast, regional or international partnerships focused on advocacy or policy issues (e.g. transboundary protection of species, commodity trading, marine pollution, climate change) face jurisdictional challenges as well as equity, livelihood, and cultural and gender obstacles. Brahmantya Satyamurti Poerwadi, Director General of Marine Spatial Management, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia echoed this in noting that while achieving SDG 14 targets was important to Indonesia, his government cannot do it alone, with help needed from the private sector, including financial, and civil society to help strengthen their work with communities and to demonstrate to them the economic benefit of conservation and sustainable practices.

It was also acknowledged that the issue of scale is critical, both for it to make business sense and to mobilize capital to transition to more responsible practices. “For example, many larger national and global businesses see the economic benefits from doing business smarter as opposed to ‘business as usual,’” notes Dr Muldoon. “In many cases, these new approaches to doing business require partnering with other companies whose expertise can add value to an existing business. There are profit gains to be made, and companies see this. But this is not yet embraced by all businesses.” “The idea of upturning this ‘business as usual’ approach may seem initially daunting, especially in the face of events or circumstances that pose potentially negative short-term outcomes, such as the business bottom line,” adds Dr Muldoon.

But, as noted by both David Clark and Chef Lucas, “it’s the long-game that matters”, and so what is needed are new tools and approaches to help manage that transition, such as positive subsidies, especially for the small and medium enterprises that dominate the Oceans sector. The key message, Dr Muldoon says in conclusion, is that “partnerships must make sense and have shared goals and outcomes—not just partnerships for partnership’s sake.”

And for the last word, we turn to Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance of Singapore, who stated the case clearly in his remarks during the Forum: “A socially responsible and sustainable business model is a smart business decision.”

The Responsible Business Forum, hosted by the UNDP and Global Initiatives, attracted some 700 participants from 10 countries, including 100 speakers who led discussions on the 17 SDGs. For more information on the outcomes of this event, you can download the outcomes report here.
WWF Coral Triangle Business and Industry Senior Manager Dr Geoffrey Muldoon addressing the plenary on the key outcomes of the SDG 14 session
© Global Initiatives
Session moderators of SDGs 12 - 17 share their thoughts on their respective sessions at the plenary discussion.
© Global Initiatives