Sustainable Development: what it is and objectives

Over time, the concept of sustainability ended up being associated in a limited way by the general public with “ecological actions” or “less polluting”. The good news is that brands that claim to be sustainable are already seen more positively by consumers, even if they don't understand exactly what that means. The bad news is that the limitation of the concept in the collective imagination negatively interferes with the understanding of what “sustainable development” is.

It is important to keep in mind that the essence of the definition of sustainable is to perpetuate the planet, being directly associated with words such as legacy, continuity and balance. For there to be full sustainable development, planning is necessary and, above all, recognizing that natural resources are finite. The permanence of the world as we know it depends on how we manage to manage our impacts in the present and in the near future. Resources are finite and we are all responsible for their conservation. However, it can be difficult to understand what actions are being taken in practice that can guarantee this continuity. 

To clarify this point, we developed this article with the objective of presenting the definition of sustainable development, what movements companies are carrying out and the role of CEBDS (Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development) in this context. Check out!

 

What is sustainable development?

Sustainable development is one capable of meeting the needs of the current generation without jeopardizing the ability to meet future generations. Therefore, as already mentioned in this article, the definition is linked to the terms “legacy” and “continuity”. In summary, sustainable development also concerns the need to rethink consumption and production habits, focusing on quality (how we produce, what, why and for whom) instead of quantity, using raw materials that come from sources clean and green, in addition to adopting mitigation and compensation mechanisms, and increasing reuse and recycling.

Developing sustainably, whether in a small sphere (in the context of a company, for example) or in a large sphere (in the context of a country), presupposes enabling people, now and in the future, to reach a satisfactory level of socioeconomic development and culturally, making reasonable use of natural resources, so as not to deplete them for future generations.

To achieve such results, planning is necessary, as well as the understanding that resources are finite. Therefore, we cannot confuse sustainable development with economic growth, since the latter usually depends on the growing consumption of energy and natural resources. The big difference of this thought is in promoting the balance between the objectives of economic development, social development and environmental conservation.

 

What movements are being made in favor of sustainable development?

The concern of the international community with the limits of the development of the planet is a reality, and within this context there are great actions being carried out such as the Paris Agreement and the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), as well as actions in the daily lives of each one of us and also of companies. 

Understand better:

About the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement, signed at COP 21 (Conference of the Parties, promoted by the UN), came into effect on November 4, 2016, and brings a commitment and action plan to be developed by countries to combat climate change.

For the entry into force of the agreement, which replaced the Kyoto Protocol as of 2020, 55 countries representing 55% of greenhouse gas emissions needed to ratify it. This happened on November 4, 2016. By June 2017, 195 countries had signed the agreement, and 147 of these, including Brazil, had ratified it.

What are SDGs?

ODS is the acronym for Sustainable Development Goals, appeared in 2015 and is part of the document “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” published by the UN. The document comprises, among other items, 17 SDGs aimed at improving people's quality of life, preserving the ecosystem and ensuring economic prosperity. For more information, check out This article.

 

Main movements of companies in relation to sustainable development

Despite the awareness that changes are not optional, but essential, there is still a need for greater adaptation in the business sector. Adhering to sustainable development goes far beyond being good for the planet: changing attitudes ensures business continuity.

In 2022, 70% of Brazilians believed that global warming harms everyone, and 90% of them also believe that over the years the disasters caused by climate change will increase even more. In a survey carried out in Brazil, of the 100 business leaders of the largest corporate groups present in different sectors, 99% believe that sustainability is important or very important for business and that companies play an essential role in enabling the change of model. The research reinforces the thesis that the great economic, environmental and social challenges can and should be transformed into opportunities.

Several companies are already working with the Circular Economy model, however, companies face a growing challenge to expand and create value in the midst of a scenario of instability and scarcity in the supply of resources, with rising costs and uncertainties in business.

The key to managing this challenge lies in the Circular Economy, an alternative model that dissociates growth from the use of scarce resources, as it enables economic development within the limits of natural resources and promotes the opportunity for companies to innovate.

The concept consists of a continuous positive development cycle that preserves and optimizes natural capital, resource production and minimizes systemic risks, managing finite stocks and renewable flows.

More practically, among the circular economy business models is product lifecycle extension, which aims to extend the useful lifecycle of goods and their components through repair, upgrade and resale. To better elucidate the concept and other business models proposed by the circular economy, simply access This one document.

 

Natural Capital: 

Currently, we can count on many actions and tools for the implementation of successful sustainability strategies in companies. An example of this is the valuation of natural capital, which gives the dimension of how much each action against nature and for business costs. Financial institutions began, in several situations, to incorporate this concept when analyzing projects seeking financing, as they understood the repercussions of the risks associated with the intensive use of the planet's natural resources and their eventual impacts on the activity/productivity of corporations.

In this short video, with Portuguese subtitles, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) further explains the importance of measuring and valuing natural capital for companies.

 

The sustainable lifestyle and the Brazilian

According to the study: “Sustainable lifestyle in the Brazilian context”, carried out by CEBDS, in partnership with HAVAS (2015), Brazilians seemed to be aware of the risks of excessive consumption:

  • 84% of respondents believe that progress is not about consuming more, but consuming better;
  • 75% understand that excessive consumption is putting our planet at risk and would like to have a better society that is more sensitive to environmental issues, where people share more and own less.

 

However, in Brazil consumption is strongly associated with success:

  • 67% of people say they respect/admire people who have enough money to buy whatever they want;
  • 57% claim that if people consume less, they will end up with jobs;
  • 50% of people believe that a healthy economy requires a high level of consumer spending.

In 2021, FORBES launched a study on the perception of Brazilians about sustainability, and it is possible to see advances in this topic:

  • 82% of Brazilians consider sustainability a relevant topic;
  • 37% stopped consuming products from companies that do not meet the sustainability agenda;
  • more than 60% adopt sustainable measures and practices such as the conscientious use of water and electricity;
  • 49% seek to reuse packaging and separate waste for recycling;
  • 62% take into account the brand's attitude towards the environment at the time of purchase;
  • 62% prefer to pay more for products that are less harmful to the environment;
  • 81% is happy to buy sustainable items;
  • only 2% claim not to have put into practice any sustainable action.

The study launched in 2023 (TEADS) brings even more changes in the Brazilian perception of sustainability:

  • nine out of 10 Brazilians declare that sustainability plays an important role in their lives;
  • 87% seek to make rational use of water;
  • 76% make rational use of electricity;
  • 68% reuse packaging;
  • 67% has a custom to separate garbage for recycling;
  • eight out of 10 Brazilians consume and look for products and information about the sustainable practices of the companies from which they buy products and services.

In general, the current consumption paradigm of Brazilians must be changed, as they have good intentions, but still buy a lot.

Regarding the corporate field, Brazilians believe that companies should improve their production chain, considering, in addition to earnings in revenue and dividends, better social and environmental impact, which includes everything from ways of disposing of products and packaging to reducing social inequality. (Source: https://projetocolabora.com.br/ods12/brasileiros-acham-que-e-caro-manter-uma-vida-sustentavel/) 

 

What is the role of CEBDS for sustainable development?

CEBDS is dedicated to promoting sustainable solutions and innovations in the business sector, in addition to training and knowledge dissemination.

There are several important themes and areas that are worked on by the organization through the Thematic Chambers (forums that bring together representatives of companies associated with CEBDS for the construction and development of projects related to the major sustainability themes), which cover seven priority areas:

 

Climate, Energy and Sustainable Finance

Many national and international companies have already started to manage the impact of their activities on the climate, recognizing, communicating and establishing targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Some of them also explore market-oriented strategies. Even with the uncertainties regarding the future of regulations and market pressures, the current moment is enough for companies to obtain benefits by managing their impacts on the climate.

In addition, the business sector, in large part, already recognizes the need for a transformation in the way we produce and consume and is already adopting mitigation measures, such as offsetting carbon emissions, for example, or investing in energy transition to clean sources and renewables or the adoption of a green taxonomy nationwide.

Within the scope of Sustainable Finance, pro-climate financing consists of resources from public institutions, such as the BNDES. However, there is a growing participation of other banks and development agencies. Banco do Nordeste and the development agency Develop SP are some examples.

This increase in participation takes place both through the transfer of BNDES lines, as well as through the investment of own resources and participation in bank consortia. Much of the country's climate finance is directed towards investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and technologies.

A study by the Carbon Trust indicated an offer of R$400 million in exclusive financing lines and financial instruments for this area in the country.

 

Communication and Education

The dynamics of sustainable development applied to the businesses of the companies materializes the concept of sustainability, aiming at the maintenance, continuity and survival of the businesses.

This dynamic affects the company's reputation and, consequently, performance, acceptance or rejection by its stakeholders. There are companies that make a commitment to the world and not only rethink their processes to make them future-friendly, but also disseminate this idea.

In this context, communication and education are strategic for companies to communicate effectively and productively with their stakeholders, in addition to government institutions and civil society, and inspire changes in behavior towards a more sustainable development model.

Companies can be agents of local, regional and even planetary change, correctly informing their actions, attitudes and postures in pursuit of sustainability. The company needs to focus on itself and value the multiplication of learning, stimulating processes that educate others to help build a more sustainable reality.

 

Water

There is a symbiotic relationship between the use of water resources and business. In addition to the direct and indirect dependence on this essential natural resource, some issues are points on which the business sector needs to discuss and act proactively, such as:

  • multiple use of water;
  • relationship between business users and their counterparts in the same basin;
  • adaptation to weather conditions;
  • concerns related to the level of sanitation in the country.

A greater understanding of the role of the business sector in the dynamics of water resources is an important factor for better allocation of resources, gains in eco-efficiency, cost reduction, increase in profits and, mainly, the advancement of sustainability from a decisive movement of this sector.

See examples of technology investments in nine high-consumption sectors:

Biodiversity and Biotechnology

Biodiversity underpins the functioning of the ecosystems we depend on to:

  • food;
  • potable water;
  • health;
  • leisure;
  • climate regulation;
  • protection against natural disasters.

Their degradation, therefore, affects the ability of ecosystems to provide essential services for human well-being and for business.

Companies that already realized in advance the need to measure their impact, their dependence on environmental services and have clear strategies to use them in the best possible way, have a competitive advantage in relation to the others.

The Thematic Chamber of Biodiversity and Biotechnology (CTBio) is formed by large Brazilian companies and aims to help the sector to take advantage of new market opportunities and minimize the risks arising from the use of:

  • biodiversity;
  • access to genetic heritage;
  • use and conservation of ecosystem services;
  • natural capital tools.

CTBio monitors and participates in the Conferences of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and in forums of the Federal Government and civil society, such as PanelBio and the Brazilian Business and Biodiversity Initiative – IBNBio.

 

Logistics and Transport

Logistics is a fundamental part of any company's process, from the available infrastructure to the dynamics of contact with suppliers and the final disposal of products. A capillary multimodal network with good quality are fundamental factors for the distribution of goods and services.

However, sustainability issues must be considered in this dynamic. For example, the great dependence on road transport – in the Brazilian case -, whose roads do not have a reasonable state of conservation for a country with continental dimensions. This implies:

  • saturated network;  
  • inefficient network;
  • large GHG emissions.

The urban mobility scenario also shows signs of lagging behind. The urban agglomeration, poor road planning and scarce and low-quality public transport have turned cities into a chaotic environment for commuting.

The result is an increase in the cost of transit for both citizens and companies. With this scenario, it is extremely necessary that the logistics network and urban mobility become sustainable and efficient.

The Transport sector is one of the main responsible for GHG emissions in Brazil and in the world, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels.

The Paris Agreement converted the promise of reducing emissions into a legal commitment, the central objective of which is to maintain the average global temperature 2ºC below pre-industrial levels. Brazil has committed – through the NDC – to reducing absolute emissions by 37% by 2025, thus requiring a task force in the area of transport.

 

social impact

Business is a significant driver of social impact as it:

  • create jobs;
  • train workers;
  • build physical infrastructure;
  • acquire raw materials;
  • transfer technologies;
  • pay taxes;
  • increase access to products and services, from food to energy and information technology.

Businesses affect people's assets, capabilities, opportunities and quality of life. Because these people are employees, customers, suppliers, distributors, retailers, and neighbors, their growth and well-being are critical to the company's financial success.

Today, an organization with happy customers, healthy value chains, happy local communities and support from governments and other stakeholders is well regarded. As a result, the business sector is increasingly interested in measuring its socio-economic impact for a range of reasons, from reducing costs to creating and seizing opportunities.

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