These achievements in such a short time, particularly in view of the situation in the Secretariat in the autumn of 1970, would not have been possible without Maurice Strong’s innovative methods, enthusiasm and power of persuasion. A key ingredient was his ability to establish trustful personal relations with all key actors, both in capitals and in the UN. Although this required a gruelling travel schedule, he still managed to build up the Conference Secretariat in record time.

The process is the policy

Maurice Strong consistently applied his overall formula: “The process is the policy”.

His first point of departure was similar to that of Sverker Åström. He felt the preparatory process itself was as important as the actual results of the Conference.

The second was that he would exercise leadership to the maximum extent possible in a given political setting. This meant promoting constant interaction between the substantive and political aspects of an issue. The aim, which was largely fulfilled, was to increase the quality and level of consensus gradually, so that the process itself would produce a result satisfactory to all. By following the process, the end result was mainly secured before the Conference started.11/

When delegations assembled at Stockholm for the final work, there would be no way back other than a radical turnaround which, by then, would have been politically impossible.12/ Strong and his colleagues in the Conference Secretariat orchestrated or managed a complex series of consultations and negotiations, parallel or additional to the official proceedings. These meetings involved not only government representatives but also a wide selection of independent experts. One such forum – an informal, representative group of 15 to 20 experts that provided continuous advice throughout the process – included, among others, Jim MacNeill and David Munro, Canada, and Martin Holdgate, UK.13/

“The process is the policy” concept was assisted by the deadline presented by the Conference itself. This served as a powerful stimulus to achieve results. Delegations were working towards a first-ever, action-oriented global conference in the area of environment and it was being closely monitored by media and civil society.

Through Strong’s approach, it became possible to break new ground that would have major repercussions for the future. He opened the process and invited the active involvement of civil society, the scientific community and the corporate sector.

Civil society: A major issue before Stockholm was how to channel and make use of the interest from many civil society organizations. Recognizing that there was often deep mutual suspicion and mistrust between civil society and governments, Strong recruited Henrik Beer, the head of the International Federation of Red Cross Societies, as special adviser, as well as Baron van dem Busche, a leading member of the German resistance movement during World War II. In cooperation with the host country, special NGO facilities were established at the conference, including the Environment Forum. This became a model for future UN conferences.


11. Herter and Judy, p. 21.

12. Memo Göran Bäckstrand (desk officer, Swed MFA), 1972-08-24.

13. Jim MacNeill, note to author 2009-02-11.