Brazil has the potential to become a world leader in sustainable business, but different stakeholders need to work together to realize that vision, says Jorge Abrahão.
Jorge Abrahão
Instituto Ethos de Empresas e
Responsabilidade Social
“The sustainability agenda is not a checklist that companies have to comply with. It’s an opportunity for them to develop and grow.”

If you ask Jorge Abrahão, president of the Brazilian responsiblebusiness NGO Instituto Ethos de Empresas e Responsabilidade Social, few countries are so laden with opportunities for sustainable business as Brazil. According to him, the country has the potential to be a leader in a new sustainable world economy.

Brazil has perhaps the greatest biodiversity assets of any country, its power sector is largely renewable, its bio-energy and bio-refining industries are among the world leaders in their field, the former ghost of inflation has been kept down for 20 years and, although growth has taken a downturn lately, the country has seen impressive economic developments over the past 15 years. “This gives Brazilian businesses a unique head start in the race to be leaders in sustainable business,” says Abrahão. Now he hopes that businesses too will see sustainability for the opportunity it really is.

“The sustainability agenda is not a checklist that companies have to comply with. It’s an opportunity for them to develop and grow,” says Abrahão.

The Instituto Ethos was founded in 1998 to promote socially responsible business. Since then, it has grown considerably and gained recognition in and outside Brazil. Over time, the organization has engaged with close to 7,000 companies and Abrahão is a UN Global Compact Board member. However, the task is huge. There are five million businesses in Brazil. Trying to embed sustainability as a fundamental principle in this number of entities is just overwhelming, even for an organization working as tirelessly as Instituto Ethos. “On its own, the institute has little chance to move sustainability further,” says Abrahão, so gathering the many sustainability initiatives in Brazil on a common platform to coordinate the work better has become a priority for the institute.

“There are many initiatives in Brazil that all want to promote sustainability, but they’re fragmented. We have a rich civil society but we work in isolation. This is why we’re trying to build a common agenda,” he says.

The goal is to gather the many initiatives from government agencies, business organizations and civil society on a shared platform to realize Brazil’s potential for sustainable growth.

“The companies need to talk with the social movements, the government and academia. What we need to do is to put these different players at the same table to discuss the problems, how they react to them and how public policies can effectively be put together,” says Abrahão.

Instituto Ethos has worked closely with the UN Global Compact for years, and the support of the UN Global Compact has been an important factor in broadening the sustainability agenda in Brazilian business circles. It brings the clout of the UN to the agenda, but to Abrahão it is equally important that the UN Global Compact’s ten principles highlight the fact that sustainability is multidimensional.

“The UN Global Compact has ten principles and this carries the clear message to businesses that they need to start looking at how they impact society, not just in isolated areas but across the environment, inclusion, social and governance dimensions,” says Abrahão.

He also stresses the need for policies to follow up and consolidate voluntary efforts by business.

“Good practices must be consolidated and turned into rules and general standards. This can be done through public regulations or market self-regulation. The important part is that we can work together to realize the opportunity for sustainable business in Brazil,” he says.


One of the greatest challenges facing the corporate sustainability movement is how to continue growing in terms of the number of companies aspiring to operate sustainably and at the same time make certain that businesses implement real change.

“I think we will need to focus on how to measure the effects of sustainability initiatives and on influencing national policy to ensure real progress in both quantity and quality,” says Jorge Abrahão.