Puhe yritysten yhteiskuntavastuusta Milanossa 17.9.2015

Honourable chairperson, distinguished participants,

first of all, thank you for the opportunity to be here today. In a world that is evermore globalised and interconnected and where people are more informed than anytime in history, there is a clear and natural need for good corporate social responsibility (CSR).

As a politician, I know that reputation truly matters. Reputation, however, cannot be built on false premises or on shaky ground. There has to be substance behind the words. I do believe that people will eventually see through empty words, both in politics and in business. Votes will not be cast and share prices will drop.

The difference between ethical considerations in politics and in business is that the lawmakers enact the laws, while businesses regulate themselves. In other words, mandatory CSR is called law.

As such, CSR has drawn both criticism and praise. This is understandable. There is no single definition of CSR. It is a multifaceted concept that defies concise definitions.

I see the efforts in many companies in this light. It is always better to think about the issues and take at least small positive steps than to disregard the whole concept.

Often stopping the daily routines for a moment helps. Constant questioning of one’s own thinking and even motives are prerequisites for truthful and honest action.

Dear listeners,

I want to focus on the environmental side of CSR. I will talk frankly and hope that this short speech gives you a thought or two about responsibility towards our one single Earth.

We all know that there are grave and acute threats to the environmental well-being of the planet. We are acting in an unsustainable way, endangering both our personal well-being, that of the future generations and that of countless other species.

The key question is: can we make the necessary adjustments? There are two kinds of adjustments: relative and absolute. We tend to very proud of the relative ones. This and that indicator is now zero point six percent better than the year before, our carbon intensity has reduced a bit and so on and so forth.

These concepts are all very good, as they present us exact figures to show whether we are getting more from less.

Dear listeners,

the fundamental paradox in how we measure our success is that the relative numbers do not matter much. Take climate change as an example. In that discourse, as you all know, planetary well-being is measured as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One single figure – parts per million [currently about 400] – demonstrates our success or failure in climate policy.

In terms of that amount, it does not matter much whether cars are consuming less petrol when the total emissions are growing.

Climate and nature are blind to relative success stories.

As many environmental indicators get worse year by year, it would be easy to fall into apathy and feel powerless in front of the enormous challenges.

However, apathy is not an option. I place my hope on raising the awareness of citizens, consumers, businesses and their leaders. I honestly believe that the vast majority of us want to make good.

Dear listeners,

when citizens in express their preferences and values not only by political action or by placing direct pressure on lawmakers – but by being consumers – they should be able to do informed choices. Product information, reporting and accounting about the social, economic and ecological effects of the product should be clear and transparent.

Honourable chairperson, dear listeners,

corporate social responsibility is a slippery concept. I hope that I have made myself clear in that I see it both beneficial and necessary. As businesses gain more experience of CSR methods and internationally agreed standards such as the ISO 26 000 become more used, we are heading to the right direction.

We cannot  be more sustainable by just wishing things to happen.

I call for wide cooperation between everyone. If we want to secure our long term well-being and profits, we need a revolution in our thinking.

Shortly put, no environmentally harmful practice should be profitable. On the contrary, polluters should pay the full costs of their actions. We should be very careful when subsidising one sector or another. Good intentions often turn into bad incentives.

Ladies and gentlemen,

sometimes it is very frustrating to work with these issues in the Environmental Committee of the European Parliament. The issues can be fiendishly complex. We are constantly tinkering and tweaking legislation to make it suitable for all the member states; and to reach the policy objectives set in the lofty aspirations of the EU.

But to be brutally honest with you, nobody really knows the real world effects of some of the legislation we enact. The feedback mechanisms are multifaceted and dynamic. We just have to muddle through and learn by doing.

Dear listeners,

with this sobering thought I want to once again thank you for your attention and wish everyone small steps forward!

Pidetty Autogrill.10 – Ten Years of Sustainability Looking at the Future Businesses and Sustainability: Opportunities and Developments  –tilaiuudessa Milanossa 17.9.2015