The UN Conference of Sustainable Development is the largest yet with over 50,000 participants from government, civil society, and the media. But where are the small businesses?
Having worked in a small-practice for two years, I am like one in seven Australians who have worked for a small to medium businesses with 15-50 employees. In many other countries, this number is also up to seventy per cent of the population. Small businesses play a large role in achieving sustainable development, and the conference outcomes will impact them and their influence in achieving sustainability. So why aren’t their voices being heard?
The sustainability agenda continues to encourage business start-ups especially in the area of technology and services specifically following the “Silicon Valley” start-up model. Environmental engineering companies, for example, have cropped up all over the country as a practical response for the growing demand for sustainability expertise.
While these are practical examples of government policy driven towards sustainable development, the outcome of the Rio+20 summit remains unclear. Negotiations are ongoing and at the present no measurable targets have been set.
This brings up the issue of confidence. Confidence fosters investment, creativity and innovation in small business and without this a great opportunity for sustainability in Australia is lost. Businesses need to know clearly what to expect in the coming years from our policy makers.
There is reason for hope. Already half of the small businesses are run by women internationally, a statistic that smashes through the glass ceiling of the corporate world. James Davidson Architects, a local architecture practice in Brisbane, developed several innovative design responses to disaster resilience, following the Queensland floods. They were able to transfer new knowledge directly to clients and other partners, a practice that has been much talked about at Rio+20. So how can we have knowledge transfer between small businesses and how can we ensure this kind of work continues?
While union representation advocate various agendas of small business, direct participation of small business at Rio+20 is extremely limited. This is of course due to the pragmatics of small business owners, and the demanding range of tasks restricting their ability to travel to Rio.
But we need to bring attention to successful small business enterprise and their practical efforts in pushing a sustainability agenda. This bridges the gap between idealogy and practice that is so evident at this conference.
Let’s get something concrete to build upon at Rio.
By Sam Bowstead, photo by Getty Images.