Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

3 Dec 2015

Maurice Strong was a sustainability pioneer

Posted by Michael Keating

Maurice StrongWith the death of Maurice Strong on November 28, the world has lost one of the great pioneers in sustainability. Strong was unique in his time. A self-made millionaire businessman, he also had a strong social conscience and was a leader in environmental protection. As someone from a poor family, he worked to reduce poverty, and was the founder of the Canadian International Development Agency in the latter 1960s. This was a major step to create Canada’s modern aid policy. Strong stepped onto the world stage in 1972 as head of the UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm, the first major global conference to link environmental quality and human well-being. He was then asked to found the United Nations Environment Programme, the first global environment institution. In the 1980s, he was an important member of the World Commission on Environment and Development (The Brundtland Commission), which produced the 1987 report, Our Common Future. This book popularized the term sustainable development, and launched the worldwide discussions on how to achieve it. Strong went on to organize and lead the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development is held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conference included the Earth Summit, the largest meeting of world leaders in history. Among its numerous outcomes was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the first global agreement seeking to control greenhouse gases.

Strong was also a highly successful businessman, who headed Power Corporation of Canada, Petro-Canada and Ontario Hydro. He brought a business perspective to environmental discussions at a time when most business people avoided talking about the environment. I remember him making business analogies to sell environmental stewardship. Strong was one of those rare people who could move between the world of business and environmental diplomacy. He had access to world leaders, and a talent for bringing together a wide range of opinions to come up with an agreement that all could accept. He is a historic figure. For a short video on his career, click here.

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