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  • Calling All Sustainable Brands Alumni

    29 Apr 2016 – Koann Skrzyniarz

    Sustainable Brands San Diego 2016

    I am delighted to present this blog post authored by KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, Founder, Sustainable Brands Worldwide. While KoAnn has become a wonderful personal friend and colleague over the last decade, SustainAbility and Sustainable Brands are in the process of deepening our organizational relationship as well. First, in 2016 Sustainable Brands has joined SustainAbility and GlobeScan as a partner on our annual GSS Leaders Survey, the results of which will be presented on the main stage at SB San Diego this June. Second, I am now the Chair-elect of Sustainable Brands’ Advisory Board, a post I will assume fully in June, and in which I look forward to increasing collaboration between us still further while supporting the Sustainable Brands mission generally. Finally, because of our like-minded approach, this blog might be seen not only as a call to action for SB Alumni, but to SustainAbility’s network as well.

    Dear Friends,

    Ten years ago, GE had just launched Ecomagination, Walmart had stepped in to as a first responder to support those facing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and Al Gore had launched An Inconvenient Truth. These and many other signals portended the world we see today and were among the many signals that encouraged the launch of Sustainable Brands in 2006.

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  • Flickr image by Elis Alves

    Our recently released research, Sustainability Incorporated: Integrating Sustainability into Business, calls out the need for business to further embed sustainability into its core strategies. The report highlights five pathways that sustainability practitioners can leverage to more deeply integrate sustainability into their business: employing business model thinking; putting materiality to use; applying a sustainability lens to products and services; tapping into culture; and leveraging transparency. In the fourth of a five-part series, which was originally published on GreenBiz, we focus on leveraging transparency.

    SustainAbility has long recognized that corporate transparency is integral to sustainability. We have been active contributors to the evolution of sustainability reporting, from publishing our Global Reporters series (1994-2008) to fundamentally questioning reporting’s present day value in “See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance.” Ultimately, we recognize that reporting is just one tactic in a much broader, more strategic transparency evolution. With this in mind we explore how an emergent aspect of transparency – integrated reporting – can both drive and reflect larger efforts to integrate sustainability into business.

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  • Flickr image by Bailey Cheng

    Guest contributor Seb Beloe is Head of Sustainability Research at WHEB Asset Management and a SustainAbility Council member. This article was originally published on the WHEB blog.

    In November WHEB Asset Management published a blog highlighting deep flaws in ESG research that focuses exclusively on how companies operate, while ignoring the impact of products and services. In this article, we take aim at another part of the ESG industry that has become popular in recent years – ESG ratings.

    ESG issues are clearly material to company performance – the question is which ones

    It is important at the outset to underline that our investment process at WHEB utilises environmental, social and governance (ESG) information as a core part of our investment analysis. To quote from our Responsible Investment Policy, “We have strong conviction in the impact of ESG issues on company performance either in their own right or as a wider proxy for the quality of a business franchise, especially over a multi-year investment horizon.”

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  • Kavita speaking at the Thought For Food Summit in Berlin

    SustainAbility’s January 2016 report Orchestrating Change explored challenges and opportunities for more fully realizing the promise of multi-stakeholder collaboration for sustainability. Below, we talk with Kavita Prakash-Mani, Executive Director of Grow Asia, about how large-scale collaboration is and isn’t evolving, and what’s needed to bring its impacts to scale. (Note: Kavita is also a former team member at SustainAbility and is currently part of the SustainAbility Council.)

    Chris Gunther: Thanks for taking time to talk. Can you start by telling us more about Grow Asia?
    Kavita Prakash-Mani: Grow Asia was set up as a program from the World Economic Forum last year, in partnership with the ASEAN secretariat. Its goal is to create multi-stakeholder partnerships for inclusive and sustainable agricultural development in South East Asia with a special focus on supporting smallholder farmers to increase productivity and profitability, and also ensuring environmental sustainability.

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  • Flickr image by Caroline Ingram

    This article was originally published in Radar 09: Inside the Machine.

    The rise of the Internet and influx of connectivity around the world has enabled entirely new, more socially and environmentally impactful, business models to come to the fore. In fact, the term ‘business model innovation’ did not come to prominence until after the birth of the Internet in the 1990s. And similarly to the Internet, it saw an exponential increase in its popularity and usage into today’s ‘buzzword’ status. Below are just a few exciting examples of the many current and emerging business model innovations that are creating improved environmental and social outcomes, or are redistributing economical value more equitably throughout society.

    Technological Globalization, an Enabler
    The influx of digital technology and smartphones to hundreds of millions formerly excluded from the economy has provided access to finance, and created new job opportunities.

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  • Flick image via BASF

    Our recently released research, Sustainability Incorporated: Integrating Sustainability into Business, calls out the need for business to further embed sustainability into its core strategies. The report highlights five pathways that sustainability practitioners can leverage to more deeply integrate sustainability into their business: employing business model thinking; putting materiality to use; applying a sustainability lens to products and services; tapping into culture; and leveraging transparency. In the third of a five-part series, which was originally published on GreenBiz, we focus on applying a sustainability lens to products and services.

    Many companies have identified ways to modify existing products or services — or to develop new ones — with sustainability factors top of mind such as Ford and the F-150 pick-up truck, Nike and Flyknit shoes, and Nest Labs and the learning thermostat. When companies such as these apply a lens of sustainability to their products, they signal to customers and other external stakeholders that they are prioritizing environmental and social issues. At the same time, they signal to internal stakeholders that sustainability is a priority and an opportunity for innovation and growth. This type of internal employee messaging and prioritization is a significant opportunity and pathway towards integrating sustainability more deeply across the business and ultimately creating more value.

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  • Tech Companies and the ‘War for Talent’

    21 Mar 2016 – Rebecca O'Neill

    Image by iStockphoto

    This article was originally published in Radar 09: Inside the Machine.

    Competition for high performers in the tech sector can drive sustainability practices in companies, but may lead to negative societal impacts elsewhere.

    The digital transformation that is underway across all industries, from automakers to journalism to agriculture, is leading to mind boggling growth in the technology sector. New products and services are in high demand, as companies realise that shifting their business models to incorporate more sophisticated technology can often lead to more efficient supply chains, better customer services and, ultimately, higher profits.

    The growth of the tech sector in our economy has complex sustainability ramifications, from data privacy, cyber insecurity, e-waste and obsolescence to human rights and labour issues in the supply chain. But on the whole, tech companies have played active roles in the ongoing corporate sustainability movement, often leading in key issues such as shifting to 100% renewable energy.

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  • Image by Rochelle March

    In the Michelin starred restaurant, Enoteca, nestled amongst palm trees with a view of the Mediterranean, an acclaimed chef, Paco Perez, places a plate inside a strange-looking machine. He pushes a few buttons and removes it, now adorned with an intricate, coral-like design. He adds ingredients onto the edible design—caviar, sea-urchins, hollandaise, an egg and carrot “foam”—and pronounces the meal “Sea Coral.” The centerpiece of the dish is made from a seafood puree shaped into a complex design that would be near impossible to create by hand; instead, it has been assembled on to the plate by a 3D printer.

    3D printing is “at a tipping point, about to go mainstream in a big way,” forecasted Harvard Business Review last year. Despite a small slump in growth during 2015, the industry is now expanding into more and more channels. Mattel just released a 3D printer for kids named the ThingMaker. Scientists at Princeton University have 3D printed a bionic ear that can hear radio frequencies beyond the range of normal human capability. 3D printed casts are known to heal bones 40-80% faster than traditional ones. You can take a picture of you foot and send it to SOLS, a start-up specializing in custom orthotics, to get stylish orthopedic insoles 3D printed and sent to your door.

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  • Image by iStockphoto

    This article was originally published in Radar 09: Inside the Machine.

    In our Fall 2015 Quarterly Trends we noted that rapidly developing technological breakthroughs are reshaping society, business, supply chains and the workplace. We are also seeing a greater articulation of the discomfort that is arising from the rate at which technological progress is taking place and the inability to manage some of the risks and challenges associated with it.

    One of those challenges is the widening of inequality. As Jo Confino, Executive Editor, Impact & Innovation, notes in The Huffington Post: “Experts say that rapid advances in technology are pulling the world in opposite directions and that the way that policy makers, businesses and civil society handle the extraordinary pace of change will determine the direction of human society.” These concerns are particularly salient in the face of forecasted trends for 2016, which include the rapid development of the Internet of Things, cybersecurity becoming more of a concern for both business and households and artificial intelligence and robotics increasingly holding the potential to replace human tasks.

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  • Meet Our Network: Sean Ansett

    09 Mar 2016 – Zoë Arden

    Image by Yoxi

    This article was originally published in Radar 09: Inside the Machine.

    Having held senior corporate responsibility positions at Burberry and Gap Inc., Sean Ansett now provides strategic advice on ethical trade, human rights and environmental sustainability. Zoë Arden spoke with him about his work with LaborVoices, a social enterprise that polls workers through their mobile phones to provide real-time visibility inside supply chains.

    Zoë Arden: Can you tell me about LaborVoices?

    Sean Ansett: It is a way for workers to voice concerns, share feedback and measure impact at the factory, field or mine level. Workers generally are more comfortable sharing thoughts outside the work environment – at home, on their commute, in their communities. But it is important to remember it is another tool in the kit, not a silver bullet.

    We are experiencing strong response rates, over 50% in some cases. There is more willingness to share than in traditional social auditing processes where, increasingly, workers are being coached to respond to the auditors. You generally don’t see traditional corporate responsibility reporting cover what was actually learned or what has changed in the factories through social auditing or training programmes, so LaborVoices can be deployed for assessing the impact of learning and knowledge post training and then reported.

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  • Flickr image by Nic Taylor

    Our recently released research, Sustainability Incorporated: Integrating Sustainability into Business, calls out the need for business to further embed sustainability into its core strategies. It highlights five pathways to more deeply integrate sustainability into business: employing business model thinking; putting materiality to use; applying a sustainability lens to products and services; tapping into culture; and leveraging transparency. In the second of a five-part series, which was originally published on GreenBiz, we focus on putting materiality to use.

    Most large companies have identified their most critical sustainability issues, including human rights, water, customer privacy, climate change and beyond. Identifying and prioritizing those social and environmental issues, such as a materiality assessment, helps companies allocate resources, set goals and focus their strategy.

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  • SustainAbility’s latest report, Orchestrating Change: Catalyzing the Next Generation of Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration for Sustainability, was published in January. Syngenta, the global agribusiness company, which has made collaboration a key focus of its Good Growth Plan, was a sponsor of the report. We talked to Juan Gonzalez-Valero, Head of Public Policy and Sustainability for Syngenta, about how collaboration continues to grow in importance for the company, and for sustainable development generally.

    Chris Guenther: What are some of the key collaborative initiatives that Syngenta is part of, and how do you think about the role that collaboration plays in the Good Growth Plan?

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  • Flickr image by davebloggs007

    Our recently released research, Sustainability Incorporated: Integrating Sustainability into Business, calls out the need for business to further embed sustainability into its core strategies. It highlights five pathways to more deeply integrate sustainability into business: employing business model thinking, putting materiality to use, applying a sustainability lens to products and services, tapping into culture, and leveraging transparency. In the first of a five-part series to explore these pathways, we focus on the first one, employing business model thinking.

    While many companies claim that sustainability is embedded in their DNA, very few have truly integrated environmental and social considerations into their decision-making processes and core strategies. Many strategies are still centered on creating financial value while sustainability initiatives remain in a programmatic silo, separate from core business strategies.

    To address today’s pressing global challenges, sustainability must be embedded into the core business. One way that companies such as AstraZeneca, Fibria (PDF) and Novelis are working to break sustainability out of its silo is by exploring how the business creates value; in other words, employing business model thinking. These three companies have all created business model diagrams and shared them externally in their reporting.

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  • With the arrival of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the COP21 agreement (or ‘Paris Agreement’) on climate change at the end of 2015, there has been a rush of new and renewed calls for cross-sector collaboration to implement them. The last of the 17 SDGs – “Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development” – underscores this and lays out a broad collaborative agenda in the realms of finance, technology, capacity building, trade and systemic factors. And it’s working. At COP21 and again at the World Economic Forum in Davos, new and ambitious collaborations were announced left and right. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, The New Deal on Energy for Africa, The Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development and Champions 12.3 are just a few of the high-profile initiatives launched recently.

    Of course, this represents just the latest chapter in many years of increasing interest and activity (and also some hype) concerning such collaboration. At conferences, in articles and books, on social media and elsewhere, we remind each other repeatedly of the need for more and better collaboration, especially among business, government and civil society, to drive progress on sustainability, and we tout the variety of initiatives that our organizations have joined or helped create. At SustainAbility, we’ve long been advocates for this kind of enhanced engagement between and among companies and society, and we’ve been proud to play supporting roles in efforts ranging from Nestlé’s Creating Shared Value convenings to the recently launched Sustainable Coffee Challenge.

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  • Image by Rochelle March

    3D printing remains the cool kid in class, still fresh, and maintaining an attractive level of intrigue. And its future looks promising. According to Harvard Business Review from May 2015, industrial 3D printing is “at a tipping point, about to go mainstream in a big way.”

    3D printing is a technology that can build three dimensional items by adding material, whether plastic, metal, concrete or human skin, layer upon layer, until the object is created. What began in a couple laboratories and garages of makers as a way to build customized components has become a lucrative industrial technology, enabling more efficient and customized manufacturing.

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  • Image by Geoff Lye

    As the dust settles after the negotiation of an ambitious global agreement in Paris, Geoff Lye offers his assessment of its significance.



    23 years ago, I left Rio full of optimism – confident that a range of Earth Summit agreements, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, would set us on a sustainable path well before I would have any grandchildren. When I got back to the UK, I made a video to persuade clients of the company I was then building to take environmental issues more seriously. In practice, not only were many of my forecasts simply wrong, but my spirit of optimism was misguided. In 1992 I had four young children. Returning for the Rio+20 conference, I had four young grandchildren – and I was struck by how little progress we had made; worse, on most measures, we had tracked significantly in the wrong direction.

    So, on a train to London as COP 21 finally closed with a truly ambitious agreement, I was – in contrast to the first blog of this series – once again seeing the climate glass as half full. In fact, I see it as much more than half full. This agreement – voted on behalf of over six billion global citizens – fires the starting gun on a quest to deliver a carbon neutral economy within the lifetimes of our grandchildren. It would be easy to highlight the many potential loopholes and future roadblocks in the agreement, but the agreement does, I believe, change the nature of the debate and shifts the framing of decarbonising our economies irreversibly.

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  • Flickr image by ConexiónCOP Agencia de noticias

    In the final hours of the Paris Conference, Geoff Lye offers his assessment of the latest draft text emerging in Paris.

    The penultimate conference text was released last night and reflects remarkable progress. The mood music is good. And there is widespread optimism that the ‘Paris Agreement’ will be voted through tomorrow. As I predicted, it was inevitable that extra time would be needed to work through the sticking points and the negotiators and ministers are guaranteed another sleepless night. I also predicted progressive dilution from the draft text brought to Paris and, inevitably, there has been some – but huge advances have been made. Even the way the agreement is worded gives a sense of compromise made in good faith and in the proper spirit; deficiencies are acknowledged and carried forward to be addressed in the years before the agreement comes into force by ‘1 January 2020 at the latest’.

    At the heart of the latest draft text are the statements of overall intent and purpose. The agreement sets its overarching goal as to ‘hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.’ It also sets an aim for countries ‘to reach the peaking of greenhouse house gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter towards reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century’. These are not, of course, as forceful or as rapid as many would like to see, but they represent profound shifts from any global agreement we have ever seen in the past.

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  • Flickr image by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

    Until 2020, when the Paris agreement comes into force, businesses and sub-national governments will be key to bending the emissions curve and putting us on track to a sub-2 degree pathway. In this guest blog by The Climate Group, Ben Ferrari, Director of Partnerships, discusses why these ‘non-state actors’ are so important and what they want to see from these historic negotiations.

    World leaders join together at the COP21 talks in Paris this fortnight to agree upon a global climate deal. That deal will take effect in five years time so it is critical that we also focus on action we can take now and recognize what the low carbon leaders around the world are already doing.

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  • Image by Geoff Lye

    Having arrived in Paris last Friday for COP 21, Geoff Lye reports on highlights of a whirlwind of weekend events. This is the latest in his blog series on COP 21. For more, read his earlier posts.

    COPs can be very frustrating. Not simply in terms of the pace and direction of the UN negotiations, but also on account of the multiplicity of competing events at any time of any day – from breakfast through dinner . In practice, choosing which events to go to is a bit of a gamble; and I knew before I came that attending a COP is like panning for gold. You have to sit through and sift through a torrent of PowerPoints and panel sessions for the elusive sparkles. A few nuggets have emerged from the pan (as it were) and I have highlighted them in this blog.

    But first, my assessment of where the negotiations had gotten to by Monday evening. It is, of course, a fast changing picture, but there is a real spirit of optimism – in spite of some critical sticking points. The consensus seems to be that there is now agreement on where we don’t want to go (above 2 degrees), but not on how we won’t get there! [You may want to read that twice]. The text released on Saturday has reduced the overarching goal to a choice between 1.5°C and ‘well below 2°C’ as the warming threshold to be avoided. The tough part – still to be agreed – is setting the timelines for decarbonisation and agreeing how the burden of delivery is shared. Those issues will, no doubt, go to the wire on Friday (or, more likely into Saturday).

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  • Flickr photo by Alisdare Hickson

    As COP 21 gets underway, Geoff Lye considers the role of business to help deliver the decarbonisation needed to avoid breaching the 2°C threshold – the ultimate goal of the Paris climate talks.

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