Milano, 9 June 2020
It is no longer a drop in the ocean. Any individual business can contribute to safeguarding marine life: if not only the so called “blue economy”, which is directly related to the seas, but all and every industry becomes aware of this, there is still hope for our oceans. That’s the starting point for the second edition of Business for Ocean Responsibility - A global perspective. Three years ago, the One Ocean Foundation (OOF) set out to build knowledge about what companies are doing to address the many challenges facing marine ecosystems. The Foundation for marine environment preservation participated in the United Nations’ annual conference for World Oceans Day as a Supporting Partner of the event, during which results of the “Blue economy and the private sector” research were presented. The study had been conducted by Stefano Pogutz, Head of OOF Scientific Committee and Scientific Coordinator of the project, along with Aristea Saputo, Francesco Perrini, Manlio De Silvio, Virginia Allevi from the Sustainability Lab of SDA Bocconi School of Management, and with McKinsey & Company and CSIC (Spanish National Research Council).
The goal is to make ocean safeguard a “business” for everybody. Over 3 billion people (40% of the world’s population) depend on biodiversity and resources offered by marine and coastal ecosystems. Oceans support unique habitats, and provide food and freshwater supply, renewable energy, benefits for health and well-being, tourism and trade. The blue economy employs 168 million people, and accounts for estimated annual revenues of $ 5.2 trillion, and gross value added (GVA) of $ 2.6 trillion. Oceans contribute to the overall global economy by 3.3% in terms of GVA, making it the seventh largest economy in the world. Now the challenge is widening the “narrow” focus of blue economy to incorporate all types of industries and sectors.
The new study draws on a large sample of 1,664 companies, accounting for 50% of the world’s GDP. They are active in 16 industrial sectors, both ocean and non-ocean related. The insights offer a snapshot of the main trends in the strategies and practices global businesses adopt to respond to ocean sustainability challenges. According to our findings, 51% of companies show awareness – to a different extent – of their industries’ potential pressures on ocean ecosystems. 44% of them engage in some kind of mitigating activities. Higher levels of awareness concern marine litter (mostly plastics), biodiversity and contaminants; all of them primarily associated with ocean acidification.
But in order to reach ocean sustainability, awareness and activation must converge. According to our analysis, 26% of companies are aware and active at the same time. They are “sustainability leaders”, and they can be found in most industries, both ocean and non-ocean related. They display a superior attitude towards product innovation (e.g. eco-design, plastic reduction etc.), process innovation (mainly related to GHG emission reduction and recycling initiatives), cooperation with and engagement of relevant stakeholders for ocean protection, ESG criteria, and supply chain sustainability practices.
Much is still left to do, though. Almost half of our sample companies show low awareness, and 1/4 of those who are wary of the issues do not engage in consistent business responses. Information and communication are crucial to boost awareness and activation. Like for climate change and the circular economy, the disclosure of ocean-related standardized information is going to be beneficial to businesses, investors, policy makers and other constituencies. The time has come to kick-off a new ambitious “enterprise”, aggregating multiple stakeholders around the idea of enhancing the disclosure of voluntary, material and reliable ocean-related business information. In order for the seas to be our resource, not our problem.
SDA Bocconi School of Management
SDA Bocconi School of Management