Press Conference on 'Sustainable Business Exam'

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18-Apr-1997 00:28:53
Students preparing for a career in business, finance and government are to be challenged to take the "Sustainable Business Exam" on the Internet on 5 June, World Environment Day, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press briefing this morning.

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The examination, developed by the Foundation for Business and Sustainable Development, a new initiative of the 120-member World Business Council for Sustainable Development, will be launched in cooperation with an international association of business and economic students, the Association internationale des etudiants en science economique et comerciale (AIESEC).

Speaking at the briefing were the following: Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations, Hans Jacob Biorn Lian; President of the Foundation, Professor Jan-Olaf Willums; Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Industry and Environment Office in Paris, Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel; and a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Alejandro Cano-Ruiz.

Giving the background to the initiative, Professor Willums said that a study by the MIT showed that many business students did not regard environment courses as relevant and did not even dare refer to them in their curriculum vitae, fearing that they would be regarded as trouble makers by potential employers. That contradicted the objectives of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and it was felt that a message had to go out that sustainable development mattered. It was therefore decided to organize the examination with the AIESEC, which he described as the biggest student organization in the world, represented at 740 universities in 75 countries. He said that 100,000 students were actively involved in AIESEC activities, with an outreach to nearly 1 million students around the world.

He said that at a forthcoming AIESEC conference the sustainable business challenge would be launched in the form of a simple, multiple-choice examination which would officially be made available to students on the Internet on 5 June. The examination would last at least three hours and would be in different languages. Successful students would be awarded a certificate by the World Business Council with a letter of introduction from its Chairman to the Council's 120 constituent members. The best students would also be invited to discuss the future of sustainable development with business leaders at a round-table conference to be organized later.

Professor Willums said the Foundation was in the process of completing "a green book -- a businesslike cheque book", which incorporated some highly- provocative student language to cover the key issues on sustainable development which the United Nations and the business community were wrestling with. Among those involved in its preparation was UNEP. The green book was not a policy document but a convincing paper to students that sustainable development issues would be part of their daily lives in business in the future. He hoped some United Nations delegates would show interest in the examination to see how they could compete with the students.

Opening the briefing earlier, Ambassador Lian said the international community was working very hard to raise awareness and to agree on norms and standards to deal with environmental problems. The United Nations played a pivotal role as the intergovernmental global forum capable of showing the right way ahead to be followed. One basic task was to actively engage the private sector in those endeavours and to raise the level of knowledge of future business leaders on the challenges posed by the environment. The job market today was not only receptive to environmental thinking, he said, adding that the private sector now understood that their success was often directly linked to their capacity to deal with environmental problems. "This tells us that students may find out that the more they know about the environment, the more the chance they have to get a good job when they come out of school."

He said the World Business Council for Sustainable Development had been very active in that field for a number of years now. It had recently established a foundation based in Oslo and its first project was the sustainable business challenge.

Ms. de Larderel said UNEP had a long history of working with industry. One of its advices to the business community was that prevention was better than cure, and that acting before environmental damage brought economic benefits to both industry, the community and a country as a whole. In addition, an industry could also gain a competitive advantage. To achieve that clean production goal, there was need for environmentally literate decision makers who could integrate the environmental dimension into their strategy and everyday decision-making. That was why UNEP had joined the World Business Council in the production of the "green book" and its other activities. The "green book" was aimed at new graduates from business schools. They were also working together to adapt the book for engineers. She said the World Business Council, the World Federation of Engineering Organizations and UNEP would organize a conference in Paris, next September, to exchange ideas on how environmental issues could be integrated into the curriculum of engineering institutions and how environmentally literate engineers could also be produced.

Mr. Cano-Ruiz, a student at MIT, said the project was not only about helping students get a job. In 10 to 20 years, graduates of business and engineering schools would be making some of the most critical decisions in industry, the consequence of which could affect them and their offspring in the next 20, 30 or 40 years. The project not only made sense for his career development, but helped make a better world for future generations. "To all my peers at business schools and the future of engineering schools, I accept the challenge and see you on the Internet on June 5", he said.

Commenting on observations by a correspondent that least developed countries could be marginalized in the planned test, Professor Willums said that a study was currently under way to identify the most relevant issues in different cultures on sustainable development. The World Business Council was working closely with UNEP to reach out to as many organizations as possible in all parts of the world. It was planned to make the examination available as a pamphlet to reach areas with no access to the Internet.

Ms. de Larderel said developing countries were not being marginalized. On the contrary, the United Nations was helping them to leap-frog and to be better prepared for the challenges of sustainable development. Currently a conference on business schools and sustainable development and the role of future generations in education was taking place in India and UNEP was an important partner in its organization.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is a coalition of international companies united by a shared commitment to the environment and to the principles of economic growth and sustainable development. Its 120- plus members, which include many of the world's best known and respected companies, are drawn from 34 countries and more than 20 major business sectors. It has a global network of national and regional councils and partner organizations, representing more than 600 companies, according to a brochure on the Council.

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