In a report released today on "Self-Regulation on Environmental Management" (165 pages), UNCTAD finds that in response to growing environmental awareness and green consumerism dozens of world industry associations since the early 1990s have set environmental guidelines and codes of conduct for their member firms. Most of them were issued in the months before and after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.
An evaluation of the guidelines set by 26 industry associations shows that they generally meet or exceed the provisions of Agenda 21 in the areas of: global corporate environmental management; risk and hazard management; and sustainable production and consumption. However, industry commitments fall short of the provisions of Agenda 21 with respect to reporting, toxic use phase-out and full-cost accounting.
Most of the guidelines, including those of some of the major players, are of a voluntary nature; they do not ask signatories to commit to the principles or activities they recommend. They are nevertheless frequently incorporated into the environmental guidelines of member firms or adopted in their entirety.
The 26 industry association environmental statements examined in the report were compiled from associations that are either international or national with a large number of transnational corporations as members. The leading ones are the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) and Kezai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives).
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.
Corporate discourse has began integrating new terms like "sustainable development", "environmental management", "life cycle analysis" and "environmental accounting". The industry guidelines evaluated in the report show new commitments within business 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 that industry commitments remain weak in other areas, such as public reporting and environmental accounting.
An annex to the report provides additional information for each industry association reviewed, including contact persons, addresses, missions, publications and a brief history.