By Dizery Salim
Rio de Janeiro - A meeting of 1,000 business executives gathered at Rio+20 heard a passionate plea for resilience from Aris Papadopoulos, CEO of Titan America, a large cement manufacturer, who is also chairman of UNISDR's Private Sector Advisory Group.
"To me, the conversation on sustainability was missing one element -- resilience. Urbanization investment over the next 20 to 30 years will exceed all such investment made so far in human history. It's very important that this investment be resilient so we don't have to build twice," he said.
Telecommunications giant Cisco and financial service provider Credit Suisse were also among those spreading the word about disaster risk reduction to the 1,000 business executives taking part in the four-day Corporate Sustainability Forum in Rio de Janeiro organized by the UN Global Compact.
Mr. Papadopoulos who has been running the building materials company for 20 years and whose products -- cement, concrete blocks -- form the very foundation of city infrastructure, told the Forum: "My passion is disaster risk reduction. Disaster losses can take back 20 years of development progress. It's a tremendously important issue."
His contribution to the session, "A Changing World: Business as Unusual," attracted the attention of business leaders from around the world in fields as varied as the steel industry, the financial sector and cement production.
One businessman from India said Mr. Papadopoulos's call for public policy to drive the resilience agenda struck a chord because of his own experience with disasters.
"I remember a flood in Mumbai where an enormous number of people died or lost their fortunes. And yet the business sector was silent even though they were among those affected. It would have been the perfect opportunity to link that experience with the importance of disaster risk management," he recalled.
"We need to engage with central governments so that together we create a conducive environment for these issues to be raised and acted upon. Since I'm a member of the Confederation of Indian Industry, the main industry body in India, I would like to see the Confederation be involved in UNISDR's private sector initiative."
Armando Casis, from Lima, Peru, the corporate social responsibility manager of a cement maker, said local governments in earthquake-prone Peru lack capacity to manage day-to-day operations, let alone in times of disaster. "This is our weakness in Peru. This initiative provides us with an opportunity to try to make some progress."
Also taking part in the Corporate Sustainability Forum, Margareta Wahlström, UNISDR chief, explained that the private sector advisory group was created to advise her office on how to speak to business and to provide insights on how business leaders take decisions.
"We would like to see the business sphere engaging countries in disaster risk reduction using 'business logic.' That's our big vision for public-private partnership," she said.
At the close of the Corporate Sustainability Forum on 18 June, Forum participants put forward a final compilation of 200 voluntary private sector commitments to the Rio+20 process, covering areas ranging from low- or no-carbon footprints to re-forestation, business plans for subsistence farmers and renewal of clean, fresh water sources.
Examples of commitments include that of chemicals company DuPont, which pledged $10 billion in research and development for increasing productivity, scaling up nutrition and cutting back on food waste. Clothing company H&M commits to upgrading to 100 per cent sustainable cotton -- either organic, recycled, or certified -- in its cotton garments.
The recommendations, along with the summary of Forum proceedings, will be presented to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 21 June at the Rio+20 conference