While for some people sustainable Saudi Arabia is an oxymoron, this past weekend’s Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh suggests that particular thinking may be a thing of the past.
The forum, timed to let participants in the World Economic Forum take part in both, has quickly become a leading gathering in the Middle East. Fresh on the heels of the 2009 World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, this year’s theme of “responsible competitiveness” further marked a trend that the region is embracing corporate responsibility more enthusiastically than ever.
Though oil prices have fallen to one-third of where they were this summer--proving that even Saudi Arabia isn't immune to the global economic gloom--it was clear that sustainability will be a key element of an economic revival.
Carlos Ghosn of Renault and Nissan used his opening keynote to speak about the electric vehicles his companies will bring to market and the batteries that are in development. The International Postal Corporation (a cooperative association of 23 national postal authorities) spoke of “greening” snail mail and logistics. And the opening night events centered on their first-ever responsible competitiveness awards, with National Commerce Bank taking home the prize for its reporting efforts.
I had the chance to speak about the role of government action in promoting responsible business on a panel chaired by Laura Tyson, Former Chair of the U.S. President's Council of Economic Advisors.
At a conference where being asked “which airport terminal?” means public or private planes, not domestic or international, and where sexes are still segregated for formal sessions, some of the surface differences gave way to more subtle realities. When Irish President Mary Robinson, there on her first visit to Saudi Arabia, reinforced the importance of women's rights, she was met in kind by a self-described human rights advocate, expressing his wish for women to be treated equally in his country. He received sustained applause.
The entry of the Arab world into the global sustainability debate should be welcomed. It serves to bring fresh perspectives to the table and makes the corporate responsibility world truly global. It also will help to integrate a part of the world that has suffered from isolation.
And, oh yes, there is the need to transition our energy system to a more sustainable model. Having the Saudis in the middle of that discussion can only help.
Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.
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