Women Leaders Gather in Rio to Develop Green Economy Proposals, Influence UN Conference

While world governments struggled to make progress on global sustainability issues at Rio+20, women leaders from business, civil society and governments met in Rio de Janeiro over the weekend to develop a concrete set of recommendations for fast-forwarding women’s leadership in the green economy.

Earth Day Network, in partnership with the UN Foundation, hosted the event on Saturday, June 16, as part of our Women and the Green Economy (WAGE®)campaign. The event was sponsored by PwC and builds on more than two years of regional consultations in cities around the world, including Delhi, San Francisco, Sydney, New York, Cancun and Boston.

Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, kicked off the event by highlighting the importance of women’s voices in shaping the green economy, which she believes represents the industrial revolution of our day.

“Women’s leadership in government positions, businesses and civil society organizations that are engaged in shaping the green economy is nowhere near what it needs to be,” said Rogers. “The WAGE Campaign was created to develop policies, communications vehicles, and other mechanisms to broaden women’s participation in the creation of a green economy.”

Participants in the event’s roundtable discussion included Amanda Ellis, New Zealand’s deputy secretary of international development; Lisa Jacobson, executive director of the Business Council for Sustainable Development; Maryann Watson from PEPSICO; Erika Karp, managing director of UBS; and Yolanda Kakabadse, president of World Wildlife Fund International.

The recommendations from the event will be formally presented to the global leaders and media representatives attending Rio+20.

Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women, delivered the keynote address. She emphasized that the term “green economy” was still a source of debate among the official and unofficial participants in the Rio conference.

“From the perspective of UN Women, sustainable development and women’s leadership are an integral part of the definition of the green economy,” said Puri.

In addition to supporting the global work of the UN at Rio+20, the UN Foundation is playing a major role in the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this year and has created a practitioners’ network of energy providers that is working to strengthen the capacity of small and medium size women-run businesses.

“WMD does not stand for ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ but instead, ‘women make a difference,’” said Melinda Kimble, senior vice president of the UN Foundation.

Kathy Nieland, U.S. sustainable business solutions leader for PwC, outlined the important perspective of women leaders globally and the ways in which PwC has itself been a global leader in advancing sustainability in women’s leadership in their business, with their clients and through their partnerships with civil society organizations.

Recommendations from the event were broad-ranging.


Over the past decade, initiatives to provide micro finance to women have met with great success and are increasing in popularity. However, women who run small and medium-size enterprises are still challenged in finding angel and working capital financing.

Participants in today’s WAGE event noted that the private sector is beginning to realize the enormous potential and reliability of women as banking clients, and some have created women’s banking products that recognize women’s special needs.

Their recommendations for specific initiatives to increase the availability of angel and working capital financing include:

  • Creating a global fund at the International Finance Corporation that focuses of women-run small and medium-size enterprises working on renewable energy and in other sustainability businesses;
  • Expanding the memberships of banks that are a part of the Global Banking Alliance for Women and using tax incentives and public financing to expand the availability of these funds and products; and
  • Communications efforts to identify and engage women small business owners and and get them “over the doorstep” and ensure that these funds and financial products are successful.


Women make more than 75% of all consumer purchasing decisions worldwide. But to date, they have not created a movement to consolidate women’s consumer power. Participants in today’s event believe that this is largely due to a deficit in consumer education.

Their recommendations to empower women as consumers include:

  • Requiring international standard-setting entities to set standards for green consumer labeling (some of which is being considered or addressed);
  • Creating national standards for consumer education on green labeling;
  • Using mobile and other technologies – including bar codes – to educate consumers;
  • Setting standards for products’ green claims; and
  • Creating trade regimes for green labeling.

Participants also called on international organizations, NGOs and national governments to support efforts to aggregate and encourage consumer movements.


Event participants discussed quotas for women’s inclusion in corporate board rooms, governments and international institutions. They made no definitive endorsement of such quotas, although they noted that countries that have employed mandatory quotas are mostly encouraged by the results.

Their recommendations to increase the number of women in leadership positions include:

  • Require coordinators of national and international conferences to actively seek women as participants;
  • Have women who are selected as panel participants on green economy panels ask that at least two women be represented on each panel;
  • Encourage bi-lateral and multilateral agreements to provide expertise in STEM education, retention of women in STEM careers, funding for girls education generally as well as girl’s STEM education;
  • Fund more corporate and government research to secure statistics on women’s participation in the highest levels of government and corporate governance; and
  • Increase mentoring and sponsorship of women leaders throughout corporate, government and NGO sectors and strategic partnerships.


Participants in the event concluded that women should be cultivated as spokespersons for the green economy and should be actively encouraged to write in mainstream media, academic publications, and new media. And corporationsshould be encouraged to support women as spokespersons in their fields, including new technologies, efficiency, and other elements of the green economy, they said.



Read the more about the event at Women’s eNews.