Issue: June 2014, Together for change – The contribution made by transdisciplinary sustainability research

In Focus

The sustainability trainer

Global Value – a tool for multinational companies

Becoming even better – not just in terms of products and services, but overall: for many companies that seems to go without saying. Sustainability measures for good staff development, an efficient energy supply and environmentally sound waste management are widespread. But do the activities of multinational companies actually impact on global development and sustainability goals – such as poverty reduction and environmental conservation? The European Global Value project, which the Oeko-Institut is involved in, is addressing this issue. Central to the project is the continuing inclusion of practical industrial experience and the expertise of a variety of stakeholders.

Global Value is coordinated by Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) and promoted under the EU’s 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. A total of twelve partners from Europe, Asia and Africa are working on the project to achieve a clear goal: from 2016 multinational companies will be able to evaluate their impact on global development and sustainability goals and make improvements. The creation of a new instrument is at the core of the project, with the aid of which companies will be better able to assess the environmental and social impacts of their products and activities in developing countries. This development, which involves researchers and practitioners from the widest range of disciplines and backgrounds, is a joint venture with companies. “The tool will enable company activity to be assessed as fully as possible – encompassing procurement, production and distribution as well as voluntary corporate commitment”, explains Christoph Brunn, an Oeko-Institut expert. With the aid of the web-based tool, companies will be in a position to identify and implement more responsible choices. A handbook and training materials are being developed alongside the tool to help companies with practical application. “Once it is ready the tool will be freely available worldwide”, he says.

In the tool’s development phase the practical experience of companies such as those in the textile and food industries is already being put to use – industry partners Bata and Olam will each test the tool at different stages of development and their feedback will contribute to continual improvement. These two partner companies have factories in Bangladesh und Tanzania, and research partners from these countries are participating in Global Value. In addition the tool development process is monitored by an “expert crowd”: this panel of experts is intended to be an improved version of a traditional advisory board. It already consists of over 100 members and is to be expanded further in order to cover the main themes and sectors as comprehensively as possible. “The experts come from industry, politics and civil society organisations, and in the course of the project they will repeatedly contribute their knowledge and assessments via digital channels”, says Christoph Brunn. “We are currently looking for more members for the expert crowd, and interested professionals can apply via the WU homepage.” He adds: “The development of this tool is a transdisciplinary project – you can see that from the expert crowd and the industry partners, as well as the variety of research institutions involved.”

The basis of the development goals to be defined, achievement of which will be tested with the tool, will be the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These came out of the Millennium Declaration of the United Nations Summit and include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger as well as the achievement of universal primary education and the guarantee of environmental sustainability. The 189 states at the Summit pledged to achieve these goals by 2015, and a follow-up agenda is already on the way. “The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be developed by autumn 2014”, explains Franziska Wolff, the Deputy Head of Environmental Law and Governance at the Oeko-Institut. The development of the SDGs is also being watched closely in the context of the Global Value project. “We have our own work package that keeps track of this process and ensures that the latest developments are integrated in the project”, she says.

Examining the regulations

However, before they can really get started on developing the tool, the Oeko-Institut researchers have to complete important groundwork: they are working on institutional frameworks for sustainable business conduct, or systems of governance. These are interrelated regulatory structures for various environmental and development issues at national and international level, developed by governments, business associations and NGOs. “For example, in the case of fair trade it would be UN standards, national laws, voluntary labelling such as the Fairtrade mark and perhaps other civil society mechanisms such as the Clean Clothes Campaign”, explains Franziska Wolff, who is leading the relevant work package of the Global Value project. In the IMPACT project, which finished in autumn 2013, the Oeko-Institut researchers looked into the effect on society of voluntary sustainability measures by businesses. In doing so they discovered that more stringent regulatory measures – such as taxes and compulsory reporting – are expedient and necessary for commitment to sustainability.

Now the Oeko-Institut is going to undertake a study on behalf of Global Value into the influence institutional frameworks have on sustainable behaviour by multinational companies. “First we identify the systems of governance relating to environmental and development issues”, says Wolff, “and then we look at how, through corporate behaviour, these affect environmental and social aspects in the developing countries, and also how they affect the competitiveness of the multinational companies. Lastly, we are interested in how far development policy measures by companies are coordinated with government development cooperation.” At a workshop to be held in June 2014, the experts on the Global Value team will discuss their initial findings with relevant stakeholders, representatives from industry, science and civil society. “We will be discussing our preliminary work relating to systems of governance with these stakeholders, and we will also be talking about plans for case studies”, she says. That is because, after the workshop, other practitioners will have their say: in nine case studies on various themes including fair trade, human rights and conservation of biodiversity the scientists will be asking many relevant players for their assessment of the influence of institutional frameworks on companies and indirectly on the environment and development. “In the case of fair trade these might be representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO) or the Fairtrade label, say”, explains the scientist, “but of course companies themselves should also be asked to what extent the institutional frameworks influence them.” At this stage of the project too, the expertise of industry and other stakeholders is the cornerstone of Global Value. Christiane Weihe


Further information about the article
Contact at the Oeko-Institut

Franziska Wolff
Deputy Head of Environmental Law & Governance
Oeko-Institut e.V., Berlin Office
Tel.: +49 030-40 50 85 371 

Christoph Brunn
Environmental Law & Governance
Oeko-Institut e.V., Darmstadt Office
Tel.: +49 6151-8191 128

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