Rio + 20 For Dummies

Ethical Markets

by Melanie Feliciano
Ethical Markets Correspondent

The Mekong River – which travels through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia – is being destroyed by the construction of hydropower dams.

The Aral Sea in Uzbekistan has had its surface area reduced by 90% due to diversion of water tributaries.

Photographs of these effects of human industry on our planet, along with installations of mother earth’s crucifixion (pictured left), were on display at The People’s Summit, an outdoor forum that gave context to the United Nations Rio + 20 environmental conference taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil June 13-22.

Without this “side event,” the average dummy, aka me, could not have believed anything could be accomplished at The Riocentro Convention Center, where politicians representing 193 countries convened to negotiate a document that would aggressively attack governmental oil subsidies and encourage the redefining of GDP. To the average layman, the conference itself was unsustainable. It took 3 hours in heavy traffic to get from Copacabana to Riocentro, which felt like a suburban shopping mall – with a food court and all – designed for consumption. “Sustainability” seemed like just another market to exploit for financial gain, and the final document produced was as watered down as earth will be in a few more decades.

So depressing, right? Not if you watch this video:

The Future is Ours from Michael Marantz on Vimeo.

And suddenly everything seems possible. Amazing how the power of moving images can change one’s perception. Hazel Henderson, a well-known advocate of reforming financial markets by investing responsibly in clean energy and technology, has been producing similar videos, articles, books and reports under the Ethical Markets Media umbrella since 2005.

For the first time, the United Nations recognized Ethical Markets as a bona fide media organization to cover the Rio + 20 conference, and after spending more than a week attending side events, networkers, parties and forums throughout the city, as well as panels at the Riocentro Convention Center, it became apparent that the presence of Ethical Markets was important for reporting back to the people of the United States.

First off, if we depended on mainstream media to determine our future, we would certainly be overwhelmed by all its negativity.

Second, American mainstream media – with the exception of CNN – was glaringly absent and/or completely uninterested in the largest UN event to date. Why? Besides Hillary Clinton, American-elected officials were also glaringly absent.

Staying true to American media fashion, CBS, ABC, the Associated Press and CNN picked up the bad news from other news sources that negotiators failed to produce a document that would aggressively attack governmental oil subsidies or encourage the redefining of GDP. Their headlines say it all:

Rio 20 Years Later: Pollution Up, Forests Down,Associated Press

Rio + 20, The Unhappy Environmental Summit, CBS News

Rio + 20, The Unhappy Environmental Summit, ABC News

What they are not highlighting is the influence of this conference on established companies and the next generation of entrepreneurs.

What they are forgetting is that our elected officials are NOT the leaders of the United States of America – our corporations are the leaders and as consumers,  we should be paying attention to PepsiCo, Mars, Coca-Cola, Unilever and Nike, which presented at the myriad side-events of the conference. Their messages were the same: to show how they are changing their business practices to curb environmental degradation, as reported by The Economist: Rio + 20 summit: Green Business and panelists at the World Resources Institute Forum on Sunday, June 17, 2012. 

WRI Director Jennifer Morgan asked panelists of leading companies: Is government necessary in achieving sustainability? Kersten-Karl Barth, Director, Sustainability, SiemensRobert ter Kuile, Senior Director Environmental Sustainability – Global Public Policy at PepsiCo and Andrew Hobday, Chief Sustainability Officer, Mars answered the question by highlighting the measures their companies have taken to curb their impact on the environment.

Some of their presentations seemed genuine; some seemed like greenwashing. To the backdrop of the air conditioning on full blast in the Copacabana Forte, it was sometimes hard to tell.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Intent on finding more voices of innovation, we headed to RioCentro to attend “The economy of climate change towards poverty eradication and the transformation of international climate negotiations.” This panel underlined the multiple opportunities of development offered by the economy of climate change and green economy and suggested recommendations on the way to reinvent the system of international negotiations on climate. Panelists included:

  • Bettina Laville, Partner, Landwell & Associés; President, Planetworkshops’ Steering Committee (France) Negotiator during the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, member of the French delegation in Johannesburg in 2002, Bettina Laville has been analyzing for the last twenty years the challenges of sustainable development on an international level.
  • Anthony Lecren, Member of the Government, Sector of the economy and foreign trade (New Caledonia) Initiator of the historic signature of the joint position of the islands of Oceania for Rio+20, Anthony Lecren will be carrying the voice of the Pacific Islands’ people to the Earth Summit.
  • Didier Mavouenzela, President, CCI Pointe-Noire (Congo) President since 2007, Didier Mavouenzela is known for his numerous initiatives in favor of the emergence of small companies  and to facilitate dialogue between the private sector and the public authorities.

But it was Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Canadian environmental activist, who stole the show. At 12 years old, Cullis-Suzuki gained world-wide attention through the powerful message she delivered to international decision makers at the closing ceremony of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Now a mother of two young sons, she said “intergenerational love is our most powerful tool against climate change.” Basically, if everyone would just take a sober look at the solemn statistics and visual evidence around the world, they would all realize the next generation is facing a bleak future. Doesn’t make much sense when we work so hard to save money for their college educations.

Thursday, June 21, 2012
On the shuttle to the Athletes Park, Pinky Castelo-Cupino of Forum of Ethics & Responsibilities, introduced to us a concept called “solidarity economy,” which we at Ethical Markets call “the love economy.“It’s an appropriate theme before attending the Women and Natural Resources panel. It is critical to good governance to understand women’s distinct roles in natural resource management, but very often a heavy burden of domestic and economic responsibilities as well as socio-cultural factors limit their participation in community activities.  This limitation has kept women politically and culturally marginalized from decision making structures that affect their access to the very resources upon which they depend. However, decades of programming to improve gender equality in natural resource management has proven that increasing the effective engagement of women in decision making and leadership leads to improved and sustainable results.Through a combination of multimedia and panel discussion, this session identified gender-based constraints and opportunities as well as strategies for addressing them at community, national, and international policy levels.  It presented a common framework with which to organize  strategies for engaging women as change agents in fisheries, forestry, food security and health. Speakers:

  • Don Steinberg, USAID Deputy Administrator.
  • Jeanette Gurung, Executive Director, Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management.
  • Alice Madden, With Chair, University of Colorado.
  • Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental Affairs

A live video stream of this event was available for viewing at

Overall, what we discovered at the Rio + 20 conference were people working hard and creatively to make our future sustainable for the next generation. As Global Citizens, we need to decide if we want to be a part of this international dialogue, or if we will relegate it to just another fashion trend.