Representatives from leading Vietnamese enterprises agreed to move forward with the IUCN-supported Viet Nam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VBCSD) at a stakeholder consultation meeting on Feb. 24, 2009.
“Businesses can profit from a focus on environmental performance because it improves our reputation,” said Aidan Lynam, General Director of Holcim Viet Nam Ltd., “but the focus must be on action.”
The companies present included the 15 that have signed on as founding members of the VBCSD, a business-led forum for sharing experiences and best practices, and piloting projects related to sustainable development and climate change adaptation in Viet Nam.
Vo Van Mai, Chairman of HIPT Group, said many companies want to address community and environmental issues using internationally recognized practices but lack the expertise to do so.
“We need more workshops and employee trainings to inform businesses about sustainable development issues, which are very new in Viet Nam,” he said, suggesting that the VBCSD tap into local media to raise awareness about its objectives.
The firms met to offer recommendations from a business perspective to the VBCSD proposal being drafted by IUCN and the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), who will play supporting roles in initially organizing the council. The Royal Netherlands Embassy has expressed interest in funding the VBCSD in its preliminary stage, after which the council is expected to independently generate financing through member fees and other sources.
The VBCSD should align its projects with the Vietnamese government’s environmental priorities, and even sectors that do not directly depend on natural resources should look for ways to green their operations, participants said.
“The government has set a requirement for the cohesion of three pillars: economic, social and environmental development,” said Nguyen Van Thang, of the Ministry of Planning and Investment. “Spending on environmental protection has been very low among local governments, but all three pillars must be harmonized to make the overall economy more efficient.”
Nguyen Quoc Anh, of Vinashin, said the council should focus on the challenges of particular industries, possibly by creating sector-specific subcommittees.
“We also can look to lessons from similar companies abroad to provide direction,” he said.
Senior business executives should have a greater representation on the council, added Gavin Smith of Dragon Capital, and informing top managers that establishing a sustainable development agenda requires a short-term investment that will result in long-term gains could be a way to attract them.
“We can get their attention by explaining that sustainability creates the potential for making more profit within a business plan that includes much less risk,” he said.
Participants agreed to launch the VBCSD as early as possible under the strong leadership of the 15 founding members and support from IUCN VN, VCCI and SNV. It is expected that the VBCSD can be launched in a few months time.
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