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UNCTAD study ranks industry efforts to self-regulate on environment

01 August 1996

The guidelines that world industry associations set for their member firms generally meet or exceed the provisions of Agenda 21. The guidelines are particularly strong in the areas of: global corporate environmental management; risk and hazard management; and sustainable production and consumption. However, the guidelines are weak with respect to reporting, toxic use phaseout and full-cost accounting; in these areas, industry commitments fall short of the provisions of Agenda 21.

The leading industry associations are the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) and Kezai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives).

Voluntary international industry guidelines are crucial in an increasingly deregulated and global world. These industry environmental "mission statements" are frequently incorporated into the environmental guidelines of member firms or simply adopted in their entirety. These are, therefore, key indicators of industry and corporate environmental practice.

In the report "Self-Regulation on Environmental Management"(1) (65 pages), UNCTAD calls for attention on this new area of corporate policy-making. Since the early 1990s dozens of industry associations have published charters, guidelines and codes of conduct for their membership. In part, this has been in response to growing environmental awareness, which reached a peak with the convening of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in June 1992. But the response is also more fundamental; many companies have already gone beyond the provisions of Agenda 21 that relate to the role of transnational corporations and other large enterprises.

Industry can play a leadership role in reaching "sustainable development". In all industries, there is a gap between the best practices of the market leaders and the best practices of market followers. Industry associations can help to close that gap by encouraging the diffusion of their industry´s environmental best practices among member firms, thereby raising the industry´s average performance to its full potential.

International business has made a strong argument for industry self-regulation on environmental issues. In this context, it is crucial that the direction of corporate environmental policy is evaluated against external targets. The report Self-Regulation of Environmental Management evaluates the self-regulation efforts of industry as exemplified in their environmental principles and codes of conduct, against the expectations of the international community as reflected in Agenda 21.

Underlying the findings of the report is the emergence of a greater environmental awareness over the last five years, with corporate discourse now integrating new terms like "sustainable development", "environmental management", "life cycle analysis" and "environmental accounting". The evaluated industry guidelines in this report show new commitments within business to voluntarily use of most stringent national standards for their corporate-wide operations, to integrate sustainable development procedures into their operations, to reduce natural resource use and depletion, and to implement safeguards against risks and hazards. The findings also show areas where industry commitments could be strengthened, such as public reporting and environmental accounting.

The report examines the environmental guidelines of industry associations in relation to the provisions contained in Agenda 21. For this purpose, 26 industry association environmental statements were compiled from associations that are either international organizations or national associations with a large number of transnational corporations as members. The report also provides additional information for each association, including contact persons, addresses, missions, publications and a brief history.


1. Self-Regulation of Environmental Management (Sales No. E.96.II.A.5) may be obtained at the price US$35, from United Nations Publications/Sales Section, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, T: +41 22 917 2613, F: +41 22 917 0027, or from United Nations Publications/Sales Section, Room DC2-0853, United Nations Secretariat, New York, N.Y. 10017, U.S.A., T: +1 212 963 8302 or 1 800 253 9646, F: +1 212 963 3489.

For more information, please contact:
Khalil Hamdani, Chief
Office of the Director, Division on Transnational Corporations and Investment
T: +41 22 907 6288
F: +41 22 907 0045
Carine Richard-Van Maele, Press Officer
T: +41 22 907 5816/28
F: +41 22 907 0043
E: press@unctad.org


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