Companies should not allow the recession to stifle commitment to tackling sustainability issues.   

This week's Global Risks conference in London highlighted concern that, as the world economy disappears into the abyss in 2009, so too will promises to seriously confront sustainable development.

Raj Singh, of insurance group Swiss Re and a speaker at the conference, told just-drinks that there is "concern" about the private sector's commitment to sustainability in the wake of recession.

Singh, speaking in particular on emerging markets, many of which also house some of the world's poorest people, said that "so far we have not seen any evidence of the private sector pulling back, but it is a concern".

Singh said that the longer term costs of ignoring sustainability issues, such as carbon emissions and use of resources, would have social and economic impacts that far outweigh a global economic downturn.

This is particularly true for firms with large exposure to emerging markets, according to Singh. "More public private partnership work needs to be done," he said.

SABMiller CEO Graham Mackay told a sustainable development conference in London last autumn: "When I look at our ten sustainable development priorities...I do not see how we could remain competitive if we invested less in these core business activities during difficult economic times." 

The Global Risks Network Report, published this week by the World Economic Forum and several partners, warned that food prices would become more volatile over the next decade, as climate change and rising demand for materials affects supply.

Water is set to become an increasingly prized resource, it added, quoting a 2008 OECD report that found 44% of the world's population lived in areas of "high water stress". This is expected to top 50% by 2030 "if better water policies are not implemented".

Just as Chris Losh argued in his feature on wine and climate change in just-drinks this week, the whole beverage sector, which contains some of the world's largest companies, should not allow recession to muddy the waters.