会议的地点是在亚洲协会（the Asia Society）位于香港的新址，靠近太古广场，由历史古建改造而成。那里原是英军的火药库，经过重新设计和改建以后，十分壮观。
当天活动的主题是“聚焦商业及环境”，由美银美林（Bank of America Merrill Lynch）与大自然保护协会（The Nature Conservancy）及亚洲协会共同举办。
在分组讨论开始之前，美银美林亚太区总裁布莱恩•布里尔（Brian Brille） 、恒隆地产主席（兼亚洲协会联合主席）陈启宗作了介绍发言。
参与讨论的嘉宾包括沃尔玛（Walmart）亚洲总裁兼CEO贝思哲、通用电气（GE）全球增长及运营副董事长庄睿思、来宝集团（Noble Group）创始人兼董事长来礼文、中国三峡总公司副总经理林初学、大自然保护协会亚太区执行董事Charles Bedford。
Business and Sustainability in Asia
Recently I had the opportunity to moderate a high-level panel discussion about business and sustainability in Asia.
The venue was the Asia Society’s spectacular new Hong Kong facility, located near Pacific Place, in a beautifully redesigned and renovated historic building which was once a British military storage facility for explosives.
The event, billed “Spotlight on Business and the Environment” was sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy and The Asia Society.
Our panel discussion followed introductory comments by Brian Brille, Chairman, Asia-Pacific Region, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and Ronnie Chan, Chairman of Hang Lung Properties (concurrently co-chair of The Asia Society).
Panelists were Scott Price, President and CEO of Walmart Asia; John Rice, Vice Chairman of Global Growth and Operations of GE International; Richard Elman, Chairman and Founder of Noble Group; Lin Chuxue, Vice President of China Three Gorges Corporation; and Charles Bedford, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific Region, The Nature Conservancy.
This panel comprised the senior Asia-based leaders of global giants ranking #1, #16, and #139 on the current FORTUNE Global 500 list, plus one of the largest energy companies in the world, and the largest non-profit environmental organization in the U.S. — a very select group of opinion leaders.
The audience was composed of roughly 150 invited business, non-profit and government leaders from Hong Kong — a very solid showing for a sustainability event in ultra-busy, profit-oriented Hong Kong.
I hope readers will forgive me for not reporting in detail any of the specific comments which panelists made, because the ground rules for the event were “off the record”.
One clear impression which struck me was the panelists’ sense of urgency and commitment to sustainability in Asia. Many people are skeptical about the motives and tactics of big business. I think participants in this event came away convinced that some leading companies are making serious efforts to change the agenda in a positive way.
One of the powerful advantages which larger organizations like FORTUNE Global 500 companies bring to a dialogue on sustainability is their ability to align strategic goals with well-developed management systems and metrics, with sufficient resources and financial strength to stay the course.
Investors, entrepreneurs, SMEs and consumers also have very important roles to play in making sustainability work, but larger companies play an even more critical role. These companies are like bell cows: they set the pace and provide the leadership example for many others. If they are not “on board”, progress will come at a much slower pace.
Among our panelists, there seemed to be a consensus that for the time being, sustainable strategies and practices are generally not the most profitable approach in the short run. Yet they are the best approach, and before long may well become the only approach in the eyes of government regulators, stakeholders and consumers, all of whom are demanding more.
Interestingly, a number of panelists’ comments suggested that — perhaps because of the severity and urgency of the environmental challenges faced in many parts of Asia — governments, business leaders, and consumers in some parts of Asia are more demanding on sustainable business practices than some of their Western counterparts.
One example I cited was the report we published in FORTUNE China based on The Conference Board’s 2012 CEO Challenge survey, which showed that Asian CEOs ranked sustainability as one of their top 5 priorities, versus only a 9th-place ranking among US and European CEOs.
The same survey showed that Chinese CEOs cited, as 2 of their top 5 critical strategies, the need to incorporate sustainability goals into strategic performance objectives as well as to improve sustainability measurement and reporting.
There was a clear sense among panelists that the ambitious environmental goals embodied in China’s 12th 5 Year Plan are backed by serious resolve among government agencies, from Beijing to the provinces.
One topic discussed at some length was stakeholder engagement, and managing the expectations of investors. Evidence is clear that more and more institutional investors are looking to invest in companies with well-documented and reported sustainability strategies and practices. This includes Chinese companies.
While the view was that businesses generally need to do a better job of telling their story on sustainability, the media came in for criticism for not paying enough attention to reporting it, and for focusing too much on the bad news aspects.
The momentum is clearly growing. Part of the solution, above and beyond strategic commitment, clearly lies in multi-stakeholder partnerships, of the kind The Nature Conservancy forges with businesses and government agencies. Another part, which some leading companies have already embraced, is incentivizing managers and executives not only for revenue and profit-related performance, but sustainability metrics as well.
Hong Kong-based Noble Group, which sources, processes and distributes a diverse range of commodities, has grown to US$39 billion in revenues and #139 on the Fortune Global 500 ranking, since its founding only 25 years ago. A look at the company’s strategy statement suggests that rapid growth and commitment to sustainability can go hand in hand. The first sentence of that statement reads:
“We endeavor to generate yearly returns on equity in excess of 20%, by building a sustainable business focusing on significant and relevant trade flows in bulk commodities.”
That statement of strategy, and Noble’s extraordinary growth, send a strong message.
We need more high-level conversations of this sort. Hats off to the organizers for putting this one together.
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