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Indonesian Publicly Listed Companies and Sustainability Initiatives: Strong or Weak Tendency?

In recent years, Indonesia has made significant efforts to promote sustainable business practices. Many new regulations, such as the Indonesian Financial Authority Regulation Number 51 Year 2017, have been adopted, requiring publicly traded firms to prepare sustainability reports. However, according to the Harvard Business Review (May-June 2021), the act of reporting does not automatically indicate significant progress.  There is growing concern that these reports frequently lack consistency, thoroughness, and clarity, and may be deceptive.  This intrigues the author’s interest in knowing more about the sustainability reports of Indonesian companies. Therefore, primary focus of this article will be to study whether Indonesian companies have strong or weak sustainability inclinations.

This study investigates into 24 publicly traded companies from the manufacturing, agriculture, logistics and transportation, automotive, and mining industries. The author investigated into the sustainability reports of publicly traded companies in these industries to better understand their commitment to sustainable development.

To address the lack of defined standards for evaluating sustainability reports, the author developed a detailed rubric with nine parameters.  Natural capital, economic growth and conservation, waste generation, energy sources, waste recycling, ecological footprint, economic growth and biodiversity, economic growth and climate change, and climate change adaptation are among the themes covered by these indicators. 

Table 1. The Difference Between Weak and Strong Sustainability Based on 9 Key Indicators

Key IndicatorWeak SustainabilityStrong Sustainability
Approach  towards natural capitalNatural capital is exchangeable with human-made capital, it can result in economic growth.Preserving natural capital is vital as it is invaluable and cannot be substituted, ensuring its availability for future generations.
Economic growth and conservationInitiatives prioritize economic efficiency and may unintentionally neglect or harm environmental conservation.Initiatives place a high importance on conserving other natural resources.
Waste generationInitiatives can promote consumption and production habits that exhaust natural resources and produce waste.Initiatives encourage the adoption of methods that use resources efficiently and reduce waste.
Energy sourceInitiatives promotes the use of non-renewable energy source despite their detrimental effects on the environment.Initiatives prioritize the utilization of sustainable energy sources, including solar, wind, and geothermal power.
Waste recyclingInitiatives provide higher importance on linear production and consumption patterns that dispose of waste rather than recycling or reusing it.Initiatives prioritize the development, production, and utilization of products in manners that minimize waste and encourage the retrieval of resources.
Ecological footprintInitiatives fail to consider or underestimate the environmental impact of economic operations.Initiatives are designed to diminish the human ecological footprint, which refers to the consequences of human actions on the environment.
Economic growth and biodiversityInitiatives centre on fostering economic growth and may not give precedence to the preservation of biodiversity.Initiatives are made to safeguard ecosystems and species at risk of extinction.
Economic growth and climate changeInitiatives give greater importance to promoting economic growth rather than focusing on mitigating climate change.Initiatives are designed to mitigate the release of greenhouse gases and restrict the increase in global temperatures.
Climate change adaptationInitiatives often fail to adequately consider or assess the potential dangers posed by climate change and do not give sufficient importance to implementing steps for adaptation.Initiatives are implemented to anticipate and adjust to the consequences of climate change.

The majority of companies, according to the sustainability reports gathered, are now in the early stages to implement strong sustainability initiatives. This includes tree planting along with energy and material early green transition. On the intensive stage of strong sustainability, two significant examples are the preservation of Bekantan monkeys and the creation of biodiversity nurseries. Weak sustainability approaches include simply monitoring the environment and utilizing technology for efficiency but ignoring the issue of excessive consumption. 

Image 1. Indonesian Companies’ Sustainability Initiatives on Weak – Strong Sustainability Spectrum

It is critical, however, to debunk the idea of strong and weak sustainability as a binary option between good and bad. Instead, they co-exist on a spectrum line, reflecting the delicate interplay of man-made technology and natural capital preservation. Weak sustainability relies on substitution and technology solutions, while strong sustainability believes that natural capital has intrinsic value and irreplaceable therefore should be protected to sustain human life and future generations. Real-world examples from the study demonstrate a symbiotic relationship between weak and strong sustainability. Weak sustainability provides relatively more rapid response to tackle climate challenges, whereas strong sustainability addresses root-cause and long-term challenges. It is a dynamic interplay that emphasizes the significance of both methods in realizing a comprehensive and long-term commitment to sustainable development.

Finally, this study into sustainable strategies across Indonesian publicly traded companies reveals a complex picture. While many businesses are making progress, there is still a need for ongoing development. As companies traverse this complex landscape, a balanced blend of strong and weak sustainability emerges as a realistic and successful method to promote sustainable development.

*This article is provided in collaboration with Anthoni Nicolas Tarigan (ICP Master in Sustainable Development, KU Leuven – Belgium)

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