Sustainability Pioneer Sentenced to Prison Over Asbestos
Eternit factory in Casale Monferrato. Photographer: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images
A pioneer of the sustainable business movement, Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, was sentenced today to 16 years in prison in connection with asbestos-related deaths at his former company, Eternit AG.
A court in Turin, Italy, ruled today that Schmidheiny and lead Eternit shareholder Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier were partially responsible for hundreds of deaths and illnesses caused by asbestos in Eternit factories. They were also sentenced to pay damages, which reportedly could reach past 250 million euros ($330 million), to be determined in a separate civil proceeding to victims’ relatives and to a number of local authorities.
Schmidheiny announced in 1978 that Eternit would stop making products with asbestos, when he became president of its board of directors. Half of production was asbestos-free by 1984, and the company last used asbestos minerals a decade later, according to Eternit AG’s website. The company closed its Italian facilities in 1986, six years before Italy banned asbestos.
Schmidheiny is also the founder of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which provides a forum for 200 member companies with combined revenue of more than $7 trillion “to develop innovative tools that change the status quo,” according to the website of the Geneva-based group. He founded the council after Maurice Strong, then secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, appointed Schmidheiny as his principal advisor on business and industry “to represent the voice of business'' at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
The council, which claims to have created the term "eco-efficiency" in 1992, has published a vision for 2050 that urges companies to incorporate the costs of externalities such as carbon and water into the marketplace and to halt deforestation. The group will participate in the Rio+20 sustainable development conference that will be held the third week in June.
Schmidheiny's books include Walking the Talk: The Business Case for Sustainable Development, coauthored with former DuPont Co. Chief Executive Officer Charles Holliday and former Royal Dutch Shell Plc Chairman Phil Watts.
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