Statement by Andrew Petersen, Chief Executive of Sustainable Business Australia, Australia’s peak organisation for businesses engaging in sustainable development and aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals.
The arrival of Mr Sunny Verghese to the role of Chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is another positive sign of the broadening of the sustainable development business agenda beyond the Europe, the Americas and Australia.
Asia is the epicentre of critical issues and urgent policy actions when it comes to sustainable development. Hundreds of millions of people in Asia face increased poverty and danger through climate change, disease and exploitation and through unsustainable development, unmanaged population growth and inaction on climate change. Governments and business in Asia have a compelling responsibility to act and mitigate negatives and take advantage of a more sustainable future. Asia has the most to lose and the most to gain.
Often, these counties are the start of a global supply chain for western companies or a key link in it. They are uniquely placed. Further, many of countries are developing their energy systems, modernising their agriculture and are in the midst of developing public policy for sustainable development. They’re not hamstrung as many western nations are on fossil fuel based energy technology and policy development on sustainable development and climate change that are in the slow lane. They know the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are central to their success as societies and often push more developed countries into action, as we saw in Paris at the end of 2015.
This is why it is great that a Singapore based Indian national, Sunny Verghese, is in the chair at the WBCSD, replacing the sustainable development icon, Paul Polman, of Unilever. Paul was a true leader in every sense of the word. With Sunny, we have someone who brings unique leadership through experience of operating a global agri-business.
In addition to being the first Chair from the agri-sector, Mr Verghese is also the first Asia-based and Asian CEO to be elected to this position.
Sunny is a good friend of Australia and his business, Olam, is very active here. Agriculture is undergoing a rapid shift to more sustainable practises and agri-business is way ahead of government when it comes to adapting to and mitigating against climate change. Sunny’s company has been at the forefront of that innovation. With the global population expected to grow by over three billion by the turn of the century, the need for more sustainable agriculture and water resource management on lands rapidly changing and often deteriorating due to climate change is critical.
Sunny told the ABC in 2014:
I think Australia will be a major catalyst for agricultural innovation and growth. Australia, however, should continue to find the next practice. I always say that trying to be best practice is lousy strategy because the whole world wants to be best practice. Everybody is trying to be best practice. So, everybody’s achieving best practice, which means you’re all middle of the pack. What does distinguish Australia is that it has always invented next practice in agriculture. But in order to stay at the forefront, it needs to invest in research, continue to invest in research, to find that next practice, the next breakthrough, which becomes the global standard for everybody else to aspire for. In many commodities, Australia really sets that tone. But it cannot rest on its laurels – it has to continue to work hard to retain that edge.
We look forward to welcoming Sunny back to Australia, hopefully sometime this year, to talk with Australian business about his agenda for complex and interlinked issues in energy, food and land use, and cities and mobility, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
About Sunny and Olam
Sunny co-founded Olam in 1989 and leads the Company’s strategy, planning, business development and management. His external Directorships include Chairman of International Enterprise Singapore and the Human Capital Leadership Institute. Sunny is a recipient of the Outstanding CEO of the Year award, as well as the Public Service Medal from the Government of Singapore.
Olam is a leading agri-business operating from seed to shelf in 70 countries, supplying food and industrial raw materials to over 23,000 customers worldwide. Established in 1989, today we have built a global leadership position in many of our businesses such as Edible Nuts, Cocoa, Spices and Vegetable Ingredients, Coffee, Cotton and Rice.
Olam has a well-established presence in Australia, with a particularly strong footprint in the Eastern states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. We operate an integrated supply chain for 5 key products: cotton, almonds, pulses, cocoa and dairy, delivering these to over 500 customers worldwide. Olam employs over 400 permanent staff and approximately 300 seasonal employees during peak seasons. Our head office is located in Brisbane (Queensland) with regional offices located within Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
Sunny in Australia
- ABC Landline (September 2017): Interview – Sunny Verghese: Almond investment in the Riverina
- ABC Landline (August 2014): Sunny Verghese Interview
Updated: 11 January 2018