Holistic Approach to Sustainable Development

IIX has recently had a conversation with the Deputy Director General and Officer in Charge, Woochong Um, to get insights on ADB’s involvement in sustainable development.

To what extent to you think social and environmental challenges are currently being tackled in silos, without an integrated approach?

The risk clearly exists, so at ADB we’ve adopted an integrated approach. For instance, in 2010 we brought our environment and social safeguards under one integrated policy framework to ensure a coherent approach.

Are there active efforts within the Asian Development Bank and your department, the Regional and Sustainable Development Department (RSDD), to break down the silos of environment and social initiatives and encourage dialogue on the linkages between environmental sustainability and human development? 

In addition to our integrated policy framework, our 15 sector and thematic communities of practice work closely to link the diverse strands of environmental sustainability and human development in project design. A recent example—and typical of my department’s work—is a multidisciplinary team developing approaches for Asia’s fast-growing secondary cities to protect their urban poor from the ravages of climate change.

What can your partners and stakeholders do to help achieve true triple bottom line growth?

Our clients need to understand how we can address environmental and social issues through sustainable infrastructure, which is a key driver of economic development. Promoting sustainable transport, for example through mass rapid transit systems, can provide safe, clean and accessible transport as well as significant economic, environmental and social benefits. Partners, including the private sector, can play an important role by further promoting and financing integrated approaches.

To what extent do you agree that the most successful businesses should be ones that achieve true triple bottom line returns, and why are there so few entities that achieve this? 

We will see more entities moving in this direction. True triple bottom line returns will help firms compete and survive in a highly globalized world. But achieving greater success in this area will require more innovation. We need to break out of existing business models and seek out new green opportunities. The growing interest of palm oil producers to achieve sustainable palm oil certification illustrates this point. They want to gain access to markets where sustainability issues are influencing consumption patterns, so they are changing their practices.

In which areas of RSDD’s work do you think an integrated approach is most important? What is the plan to embrace a triple bottom line more comprehensively?

Tackling climate change in Asia and the Pacific truly requires an integrated approach to shift the region to low-carbon growth while addressing complex environmental, social and economic issues. Financial sustainability is the bedrock of all other forms of sustainability—and a mandatory part of the equation. To help move this agenda forward faster, ADB will soon be doing systematic early screening of all projects for climate risk to identify cost effective and appropriate solutions during project design.