The environmental principles of the Global Compact (principles 7-9) provide an entry point for business to
address the key environmental challenges. In particular, the principles direct activity to areas such as research, innovation, co-operation, education, and self-regulation that can positively address the significant environmental degradation, and damage to the planet’s life support systems, brought by human activity.

The three environmental principles are drawn from a Declaration of Principles and an International Action Plan (Agenda 21) that emerged from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janerio in 1992. Chapter 30 of Agenda 21 identified that the policies and operations of business and industry can play a major role in reducing impacts on resource use and the environment. In particular, business can contribute through the promotion of cleaner production and responsible entrepreneurship.

Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges. 

The precautionary approach is defined as follows: “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” Precaution involves the systematic application of risk assessment (hazard identification, hazard characterization, appraisal of exposure and risk characterization), risk management and risk communication. When there is reasonable suspicion of harm and decision-makers need to apply precaution, they have to consider the degree of uncertainty that appears from scientific evaluation.

Principle 8: Businesses should undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility. 

Companies have the responsibility to ensure their activities do not cause harm to the environment of their neighbours. Society also expects business to be good neighbours. Business gains its legitimacy through meeting the needs of society, and increasingly society is expressing a clear need for more environmentally sustainable practices.

Principle 9: Businesses should encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies. 

Environmentally sound technologies are those that protect the environment, are less polluting, use resources in a more sustainable manner, recycle more of their wastes and products, and handle residual wastes in a more acceptable manner than the technologies for which they were substitutes. Environmentally friendly technologies include a variety of cleaner production processes and pollution prevention technologies, as well as end-of-pipe and monitoring technologies. They also refer to total systems, including know-how, procedures, goods and services and equipment, as well as organizational and managerial procedures.

Some suggested steps:
  • Provide information to consumers and stakeholders about potential environmental risks of products and services.
  • Join industry-wide efforts to share knowledge and deal with issues, in particular production processes and products around which a high level of uncertainty and sensitivity exist.
  • Establish a sustainable production and consumption programmes with clear performance objectives to take the organization beyond compliance in the long- term.
  • Establish corporate policy on the use of environmentally sound technologies.
  • Change the process, manufacturing technique and/or input materials, as well as make changes to the product and procedures related to reuse of materials on site.
  • Measure, track and communicate progress in incorporating sustainability principles into business practices.
  • Share and disseminate information illustrating the benefits of using clean technologies.
  • Use life-cycle assessments (LCA) in the development of new technologies and products.

Visit the Global Compact Website page on Environment for more detailed and up-to-date information, recommended tools and guidance materials.