“Fernando Almeida has been a source of strength for
sustainable development in Brazil and in the world (...).
I see him as a wise and brave leader (...).
His is always an eloquent voice”
WBSCD Chairman Bjorn Stigson's opinion, above, is found on the flap of “The Challenges of Sustainability – an urgent rupture”, a book written by Fernando Almeida, published in mid 2007. In it he makes a dire alert: we either change our business models and development patterns or we place the survival of the planet at risk in this century.
Fernando Almeida has well over 30 years of professional experience acquired in the public and private sectors, in the academic sector and civil institutions. He has earned the right to being the spokesperson of the vision of the international, national and local trends, both with respect to ecosystems - climate change, water shortage, biodiversity, etc. - and with respect to the social aspects as shown by stakeholder demands.
He has been active in the formulation of business and public policies, focusing on long-term approaches, clearly defining challenges and opportunities. As he has been at the helm of the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS) for the past ten years, he has been concentrating his activities on the business sector.
Companies are overlooking both the dilemmas posed by growing environmental restrictions and the possibilities for expanding business in this new context. Managers, starting with the CEO, are focused on their daily demands. They don't have time to reflect on major issues in order to trace their strategies and to prepare themselves for upcoming complex issues.
Socioenvironmental strategies are also gaining ground. Companies must be prepared to ensure that the exposure of their brands be positive and add value to their immaterial assets.
Often this is not possible because of the lack of understanding of aspects that are important to the company. It is essential to know what to say within and outside the company.
The recent example of General Electric constitutes a symbolic definition of the meaning of long term vision in the corporate sector. In 2004, the Chairman of GE, Jeffrey Immelt, determined that all areas of the company should become involved in the creation of environmentally sound products. Only 20% of the executives present at that meeting thought this was a good idea. Others had a look that said "you can't be serious!". In spite of the suspicion of his direct advisors, Immelt moved forwards. GE revenue, in 2007, was 172 billion dollars and, most significantly, managed to establish a link between profit and sustainability.
When he graduated in Civil Engineering from the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) in the seventies, Fernando Almeida saw beyond the availability of easy jobs in the trail of the Rio real estate boom at the time. Much to the surprise of his university colleagues, he packed his bags and went on to further his studies, concluding a Master's Degree in Environmental Engineering in the United States.
Back in Brazil, with a good foundation in conventional and environmental engineering, Fernando Almeida joined the recently created Feema (pioneering state environmental agency in Brazil). At the same time, Almeida also taught in undergraduate and graduate courses, an activity he was to continue alongside his other activities down the road. When he left Feema, as president of the institution, he established a consulting firm to assist companies interested in adapting to new environmental legislation requirements.
The qualitative jump of his career could be said to have been the 1992 Earth Summit. He listened closely to the words of Swiss businessman Stephan Schmidheiny, who, under the suspicious eyes of environmentalists presented the concept of ecoefficiency. That moment saw the linkage of the concept of sustainable development, conceived five years previously by the Brundtland Commission, and corporate activity.
Fernando Almeida brought together everything he had learnt in academia, in his activities in government and as corporate consultant, and began to disseminate a new discourse, giving lectures, writing articles and even as the anchor on a morning radio show at the then recently created Rádio CBN entitled “Better Living”.
The experience he amassed in the state agency, teaching and as a small entrepreneur was the foundation for the knowledge needed to realize that alone, the three key sectors of society would not be able to effect changes in the course of the traditional development model, based on profit at any cost, destruction of natural resources and on social exclusion.
The holistic vision of social structures and their mechanisms for relating to the environment is, without a doubt, his greatest professional advantage and the reason for the success of his lectures and articles, regardless of the controversial nature of his discourse.
Despite the wide dissemination of the concept of sustainability, Fernando Almeida is still seen by some as a “capitalist disguised as an environmentalist” and by others as an “inconsequential environmentalist”. This distortion, although still present, has been worse. It is diminishing over time and mostly as a result of increased socioenvironmental challenges. Keeping the focus on the sense of urgency in defending a radical and structured change in the development model, he has expanded his range of alliances with civil institutions, such as Greenpeace, and governmental ones, such as the Ministry of the Environment.
The constancy of Fernando Almeida to the political positioning at the intersection of the business, government and civil society sectors doesn't always please everyone, particularly those that are at the extremes of this hypothetical institutional map, but it has assured him professional recognition. Because of his background and his work at CEBDS, he is called upon to act on several different fronts. For example, he was invited by the WBCSD to represent it at the Executive Committee of the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the most important global environmental inventory carried out up to now. He also was the main advisor during the creation of councils of the WBCSD network in other countries, such as China, Chile and Angola. Today he is a board member of the Institute of Advanced Studies of the United Nations University in Japan.