Today, the term sustainability has become a part of everyday conversation so that we don’t think about the long, winding road it has been on.

In the 1970s, there was much unfinished debate between supporters of economic development against those who wanted environmental preservation. Finally, the debate culminated into a resolution adopted at the General Assembly session of the United Nations on 19 December 1983. The United Nations formalized the formation of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) with Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, as chairman and Mansour Khalid from Sudan as vice chairman. There are 21 other commission members, including Dr. Emil Salim from Indonesia.

The official name of this commission is rarely used, people know it better as “Brundtland Commission”, after the name of the Norwegian woman who became its chairman. Nearly four years after its inception, the commission has completed its work on a report entitled “Our Common Future”, also known as the Brundtland Report. The point is to advocate for a new approach to balance economic development with environmental protection through a concept called Sustainable Development.

The formulation of Sustainable Development in the Brundtland Report that has become a global reference until now is “Development that meets the needs of the present without affecting the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.

The Brundtland Report was followed up in 1992 by the holding of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Again, this official name is rarely used and the conference is better known as the Earth Summit or the Rio Conference. Follow-up meetings were also known informally as “Rio+10” in 2002 in Johannesburg and “Rio+20” in 2012 which were again held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Triple Bottom Line”
In 1994, a businessman-cum-intellectual and environmental activist in Britain named John Elkington translated sustainable development into a triple bottom line. Bottom line is an informal term in accounting that refers to the last number on the income statement that can be plus (profit) or minus (loss). So, bottom line might be translated as positive performance in Indonesian. This term is also known as the economic or financial bottom line (financial or economic results).

John Elkington argues that, not only must companies produce positive results economically, but also socially and environmentally. For this reason, he calls it the triple bottom line. Then, there are those who make slogans from the triple bottom line to 3Ps: People, Planet, Profit, which is now even better known than the original term triple bottom line.

So, the essence of sustainability is a balance between economic, social and environmental performance. If there is one element that dominates, then there is no balance which results in the sustainability of a business being threatened. For example, a company pays great attention to environmental and social issues, but it is not run economically so that the losses will be prolonged, so its business is not sustainable. Likewise, companies that are solely pursuing positive economic performance but forgetting environmental and social sustainability are also unsustainable.

By considering the matters above and linking them to the Indonesian context, the emphasis on “CSR funds”, which is often found, by definition alone has violates the principle of sustainability, as it emphasizes only one element, while there should be a balance between the three elements that have been explained previous.

Sustainability as a principle is somewhat difficult to explain operationally if there are no standard guidelines. There are two global efforts that have become guidelines for businesses who want to support sustainable development by running socially responsible businesses. First, is the United Nations Global Compact which was inaugurated by Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations in 1999/2000 which covers four major areas, namely Human Rights, Labor Standards, Environment, and Anti-Corruption.

Companies or organizations that agree to implement them must make a written commitment, and in many countries including Indonesia there is a network of supporting companies called the United Nations Global Compact Network. Ms. Martha Tilaar is one of around 60 entrepreneurs from around the world who initiated their commitment to the Global Compact.

Furthermore, there is an international standard called ISO 26000 on Social Responsibility which has been adopted and ratified by most countries in the world. In Indonesia, the National Standardization Agency for Indonesia (BSN) has included it in the Indonesian National Standard (SNI) with the code SNI ISO 26000:2013. Especially for public companies and SoEs, this standard must be a reference in preparing CSR programs that aim to achieve sustainable development. ISO 26000 covers six areas, namely Human Rights, Labor Practices, Environment, Fair Operating Practices, Consumer Issues, and Community Development to achieve Sustainable Development goals.

Deep Understanding
Performance measurement based on the triple bottom line principle is made possible by using the reporting standards issued by the Global Reporting Initiative. This reporting standard has become a reference for public companies in Indonesia in preparing their annual reports, which not only include financial reports, but also include performance reports in the environmental and social environment sectors.

Thus, it is clear that the momentum created by the Brundtland Report over the decades has been successfully operationalized. In addition to individual organizational or corporate commitments to support the achievement of sustainable development through CSR programs, there are also state commitments initiated by the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) which since 2015 have been replaced by SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). In both ISO 26000 and the GRI reporting standards, the emphasis is on stakeholder engagement, namely interaction with stakeholders, because they are the ones most affected by and have an impact on the sustainable development efforts of each company.

It is often found that in their sustainability reports, companies mention efforts to support the achievement of a certain number of SDGs among the 17 targets that have been mutually agreed upon by all UN member states.

Studies and research on sustainable development as well as individual company efforts through the CSR program and its relation to community activities are all included in the area of public affairs. Thus, consulting companies engaged in public affairs must have a deep understanding of the whole complex, including stakeholder engagement and communicating commitment to CSR.


Noke Kiroyan
Chairman & Chief Consultant, Kiroyan Partners

This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 62nd edition, issued on May 2020, page 65.


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