Hundreds of business leaders huddled here Friday on the sidelines of the Rio+20 conference to seek common ground on sustainable policies to protect the environment and spur economic growth.
Only days before world leaders hold UN-sponsored summit talks on how to steer the planet toward a sustainable future, the corporate chiefs discussed possible possible private sector policies to help achieve those goals.
Opening the Corporate Sustainability Forum, United Nations Global Compact executive director Georg Kell underscored the key role of "innovation and collaboration" in the process.
The Global Compact, a UN initiative to encourage businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, has 7,000 corporate participants in 135 countries.
About 1,000 corporate leaders from around the world are attending the four-day forum, including Maria das Gracas Silva Foster, chief executive of Brazil's state-owned energy giant Petrobras, and another 1,000 labor activists, investors and government officials.
Kell stressed the need to harness "the power of corporate creativity and responsible capital" to foster women's emancipation, poverty eradication, social investment, renewable energy and sustainable food production, as well as to generate water resources.
Compact officials noted that upcoming infrastructure needs in the "green" sectors of economically key areas such as energy, agriculture and water are conservatively calculated in the hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
With the right incentives and enabling environment, the private sector can make significant and lasting contributions to the sustainable development agenda, Kell said.
"The kind of movement that has been developing around the Rio+20 summit and the issues that are covered by sustainable development cannot be dealt with satisfactorily without the business community," said Timothy Wall, a spokesman for the forum.
"Business is not against regulations," Wall said. "They like to know the rules of the road. Responsible corporations do not mind sanctions for damaging corporate behavior, and they like incentives to move in a direction that will help the environment and combat poverty."
By adopting the Global Compact launched in 2000, corporations pledged to respect 10 universally accepted principles dealing with human rights, work standards, environment and the fight against corruption to ensure fair trade.
The scheme has received 7,000 signatures from 135 countries but the aim is to collect 20,000 by 2020.
The business forum showcases practices that contribute to sustainable development, the key topic of the UN-sponsored Rio+20 summit being held June 20-22 in Rio, along with innovation and job creation.
It features 120 thematic workshops on the summit's agenda, addressing energy and climate, water and ecosystems, agriculture and food, social development, urbanization and cities, economy and financing.
Organizers said private-public partnerships and more than 100 corporate commitments would be announced and recommendations would be submitted to Rio+20 summit leaders next week.