How to play a role in building a sustainable future

In her keynote speech, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland warned the world faces serious challenges when it comes to the environment, inequality and the future of work

How can co-operatives contribute to meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals? The topic was the main theme of Gro Harlem Brundtland’s speech at the Global Conference of the International Co-operative Alliance in Malaysia.

The former prime minister of Norway delivered the closing keynote speech where she described co-ops as “a vital force for good”.

She also praised the movement for the initiatives taken in eradicating poverty, improving access to essential goods and services, protecting the environment, and building a more sustainable food system.

Dr Brundtland’s 1987 report for the World Commission on Environment and Development document coined the concept of sustainable development.

A member of a co-operative herself, she said co-operative values were part of her upbringing in Norway.

“For the first time in human history the present generations are in fact aware that we are on an unsustainable path, and that we will be the ones responsible for the fate of all future generations,” she said.

However, she said she was “optimistic” about the future but pointed out that the business sector had to focus on respecting human rights, and addressing inequalities within the corporate culture and committing to leading on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Co-operatives are already pledging to the SDGs via the Alliance’s platform

“Businesses generally, as well as the co-operative sector specifically has long been a force for wealth creation. Today, they can also be a much greater force for justice and peace.

“Working with and for society, they can help fulfil the vision of sustainable development we launched three decades ago,” she said.

Speaking after the plenary session, she expanded on how co-ops could play a role.

“The movement is one example of those where people get together and share a value base and do things together. That is important for building trust, and for creating opportunities that apply to all.”

She said the more politics and society reflect such values the better, “because we are in this together”, adding: “These principles need to be addressed, spoken about and written about.”

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