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  • An increasing number of workplaces are embracing future fit practices including flexible working and benefits for employees. © iStockphoto

    For over 25 years, companies have valued our ability to serve as their early warning system—to interpret emerging issues and trends in the sustainable development agenda and help them anticipate, understand, and respond to shifts in the business landscape. Our Ten Trends for 2015 series distills SustainAbility’s thinking over the past year and forecasts the issues that will shape the sustainable development agenda in 2015. This is the first in our series of blogs expanding upon these trends.

    Several developments last year—such as calls for banning zero-hours contracts in the UK, the escalation of the living wage issue in the US, UK, and parts of Asia, and initiatives by corporates to address root causes of inequality—have brought into sharper focus the question: What does the workplace—when it’s fit for the future—look like?

    The reality of an ageing workforce in developed economies is profoundly shifting how businesses reconfigure working practices and accommodate a multi-generational workforce. McDonald’s has warned that Europe faces a future of stunted growth unless employers take measures to bring young people and older workers into the labour force. Several companies that have focused on adapting their business practices to accommodate older workers are seeing financial returns and productivity gains. For example, since retailer B&Q began actively recruiting store clerks over the age of 50, its staff turnover is six times lower, while short-term absenteeism has decreased by 39%. Unilever UK estimates that it gains six euros in productivity for every one euro spent on a wellness program designed to prolong the working life of its older employees. …

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  • Flickr image by Greg Foster

    SustainAbility’s recently released research, See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance, proposes a solution to the somewhat stalled state of sustainability reporting and transparency. “See Change” highlights three key elements that must be addressed in order to gain the most value from transparency and reporting efforts: materiality; valuation of externalities; and integration. What follows is the first of a three-part series that will explore those elements.

    Most sustainability reports contain vast quantities of information about a company’s environmental and social impacts. While this generally means an increase in transparency, it also has led to lengthy, costly and minimally read reports. The resources devoted to gathering data and creating narratives ultimately are not bringing enough value to companies and their stakeholders. How can we improve these reporting efforts and ensure that the powerful data and narratives in these reports are leveraged to inform decisions? …

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  • Image © 38 Degrees

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    38 Degrees is one of the UK’s biggest campaigning communities, with over
    2.5 million members. Members link up online and offline to discuss and vote on which issues the organisation campaigns on together. Zoë Arden talked to Maddy Carroll, Director of Campaigns at 38 Degrees, about the rise of ‘people-powered’ movements.

    Zoë Arden: Can you tell me about how the organisation started?

    Maddy Carroll: 38 Degrees started in 2009 when the political establishment kept talking about widespread apathy amongst the British public. But the public wasn’t losing interest in politics, they were losing faith in politicians; they still cared very much about the issues. 38 Degrees came out of a model of campaigning that started in America with an organisation called MoveOn bringing large numbers of people together to campaign on issues they care about.

    The ‘Stop Forest Sell-Off Campaign’ that started in 2010 was a very big moment for 38 Degrees. It was a campaign that really went to the heart of so many people in the country – preventing the sale of national forests to private companies. …

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  • Flickr image by Wayne Wilkinson

    Labels can be tricky and distracting things. “Corporate citizenship,” “corporate social responsibility,” “shared value,” “triple bottom line,” “sustainable development,” and “sustainability” are just a few of the terms used by the broad array of professionals nudging business to play a positive role in society.

    It may seem a bit tenuous for someone in the full-time employ of an organization called “SustainAbility” to make such a pronouncement, but in keeping with the rose-by-any-other-name-would-smell-as-sweet philosophy, I suggest the discussion about labels be set aside for good and that 2015 be embraced as the year of The Obvious.

    It is obvious, for example, that soiling your home—literally the dwelling in which you live, or figuratively the community from which you and others draw water, breathe air, produce food, and go about day-to-day life—with toxic substances that can quickly or slowly kill you is, well, a pretty bad idea. …

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  • Image by mkhmarketing

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    These days, it can be a challenge to rise above the digital buzz and hum of the crowd. With social networks enabling everyone and anyone to become BrandMe and multinational brands spending herculean budgets on social marketing efforts, the din can be intense and getting your voice heard above it, a challenge.

    Marketing 101 will tell you the trick is to stand out. You need clearly defined core values and a “Big Idea“. This bodes well for businesses that put sustainability at the heart of their corporate strategy. Strong admirable core values…check. Big idea…check. But unfortunately, these values and ideas can get lost within the sea of words and ads on the typical social networking spaces of Twitter or Facebook. And one of the most common mistakes from mission-driven, sustainability-focused businesses is an inability to see beyond these platforms as vehicles for their digital campaigns. Despite there being hundreds of social networks that campaigners can leverage, many still operate in a limited social landscape….

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  • This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists. The interview was conducted by Mark Lee and Chris Guenther.

    In the spirit of this issue’s theme covering different types of campaigning, SustainAbility’s Executive Director Mark Lee and Director of Research Chris Guenther interviewed Aaron Frank of Disney about the recent launch of its corporate citizenship platform Be Inspired. Having worked alongside GlobeScan to help Disney develop the platform last year, we were interested to learn how the company is communicating the meaning and purpose of Be Inspired to internal and external stakeholders, and to hear what role Aaron thinks companies have in campaigning for sustainability.

    Mark Lee / Chris Guenther: Aaron, before we plunge into this interview, can you explain your role and how you came to Disney?

    Aaron Frank: I am Director of Corporate Citizenship, Insights and Integration at The Walt Disney Company (Disney). Our team develops and monitors overall citizenship strategy at Disney, including spearheading the recent development of Be Inspired. We also deliver cross-cutting citizenship work like stakeholder engagement, impact measurement, and reporting. …

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  • Flickr image by Victor

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    Society always will need medicines, and medicines always will require heavy investment in research and development. But signs indicate the pharmaceutical sector’s customers — governments, insurers, foundations and patients — are increasingly not willing or able to pay as much for its products. The $84,000 price tag for Gilead’s new Hepatitis C drug and the soaring price of vaccines in the United States has left many asking, “How much is enough?” Despite more tightly controlled pricing in Europe, pressure for drug price reductions also is mounting.

    The existing margin-based pharmaceutical model neither will continue to yield traditional profits, nor will it meet the rapidly growing and changing demand for healthcare, particularly in relation to non-communicable diseases. Some new approaches are emerging, particularly in developing countries, such as GlaxoSmithKline’s low-margin, high-volume model that’s been applied in the 49 poorest nations. Yet overall, profits still rely heavily on established markets where the reimbursement system for cutting-edge products exists. Pharma companies remain focused on making the existing business model continue to yield expected profit levels and are failing to see opportunities for business growth elsewhere. …

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  • Flickr image by Dennis Wilkinson

    Reporting on an unsustainable business model

    As I was reviewing the selections for “best report” for Corporate Register’s 2015 Reporting Awards I found myself thinking, enough is enough. The most recent round of finalists includes British American Tobacco (BAT). It is true that the company is doing progressive things and has long been used as an example of a highly transparent company in a challenging industry. But if we want to create a sustainable future, can we continue to give plaudits to companies that lead in transparency and disclosure yet have fundamentally unsustainable business models? …

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  • Sustainability reporting is stalled. Companies are spending too much time and too many resources creating lengthy reports that few read. However, sustainability reporting and transparency have also brought many benefits, helping companies manage key environmental and social impacts and build trust and credibility with stakeholders. And yet, we are failing to tap into the potential value of reporting and transparency – value that could provide vital information to more directly inform decisions that drive better business and societal outcomes.

    Our latest research which launched today, See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance, proposes a solution. Informed by over 50 interviews and a survey of nearly 500 sustainability practitioners, See Change features three key elements of transparency, six case studies, and a practical tool. Specifically, the Transparency Advancement Tool guides companies to develop their transparency efforts by focusing on what is strategically important (i.e., materiality), valuation of externalities, and integration….

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  • Image by Mike Bailey

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    Sarah Murray, a regular contributor to the Financial Times and The Economist Group, has been writing about sustainability since the late 1990s when few reporters were covering environmental and social issues in the business press. She talks to Frances Buckingham on how coverage of the issues has changed, the role of media in calling out corporate malpractice and showcasing solutions, and the need for companies to tell the whole story.

    Frances Buckingham: How would you sum up your experience of covering sustainability issues for the Financial Times and The Economist Group?

    Sarah Murray: Over the past decade of writing for the Financial Times (FT), what started as a niche topic has become much more mainstream. Early on, the paper recognised that social and environmental challenges present risks and opportunities, and that business readers generally want to hear about solutions, not problems. The FT now has regular special reports covering sustainability topics. And while the paper has an environment correspondent, other industry reporters also cover the social and environmental issues that affect the companies that fall within their beat. In that sense, sustainability has moved out of a silo to appear in a range of sections of the newspaper. The number of white papers and research reports I write for the Economist Intelligence Unit has also increased. And while in these reports, I once covered corporate sustainability as a single issue, I’ve recently been writing on more focused topics such as energy efficient buildings or green cities. …

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  • Flickr image by Walmart Corporate

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    Investments in renewable energy surge worldwide, driven by improving cost-effectiveness and growing demand in developing nations. However, as uncertainty around policy remains, the continued rapid pace is called into question. …

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  • Flickr image by d2s

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    California’s Silicon Valley, a global epicenter of the high tech industry, is becoming the central focus of a national debate around the representation of women and minorities in technology companies. …

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  • Flickr image by thebittenword.com

    This article was co-written by Matt Loose and Aimee Watson.

    What if everyone could have access to food that meets their dietary needs without preventing future generations from meeting theirs? That’s the idea at the heart of sustainable nutrition. Increased attention to the environmental impacts of food types drives interest in sustainable nutrition, helping spur innovation and interest in those foods that can deliver nutritional value with a reduced environmental footprint.

    The agricultural footprint — the land required to grow the food sold — of the world’s largest global food companies, producers and traders is huge. As food demand increases in line with an increasing population, demand for land will grow. …

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  • Flickr image by andres musta

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    Global human rights violations have risen in the last decade and unless governments act to introduce stronger binding mechanisms and companies start viewing human rights compliance as an essential part of corporate accountability, progress on human rights will remain slow. …

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  • Flickr image by nachof

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    A series of scandals have shaken food companies sourcing and selling in China, bringing into the spotlight persistent safety concerns and forcing corporations to review traceability tools and consider working more closely with suppliers to address the problems. …

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  • Flickr image by Doc Searls

    As Climate Week drew to a close last month, the media and sustainability experts lauded the private sector for its can-do attitude towards addressing climate change. That level of action is especially welcome coming from the thousands of companies calling for a global price on carbon.

    That increasing level of commitment and action from companies must also be applied to water scarcity challenges. From droughts in California and Ohio to the continuing water shortages in India, water scarcity will become only more pressing and affect billions more people with each passing year. …

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  • This interview was originally published in the summer issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 04: Better, Connected.

    At the end of 2013, SustainAbility was pleased to welcome The Partnering Initiative (TPI) to share its London office space. TPI is one of the leading organisations driving the theory and practice of collaboration between business, NGOs, governments and others.

    Rob Cameron recently spent a morning in conversation with TPI’s Executive Director, Darian Stibbe, discussing the challenges and opportunities that cross-sector partnership and collaboration can bring to business, NGOs and governments.

    Rob Cameron: Partnering is necessary for making progress in sustainability given the scale of the challenges we face. But it is surprisingly difficult to find great examples of partnerships that really deliver. How do you make partnerships successful?

    Darian Stibbe: Firstly, there has to be an alignment of interest. We sometimes talk about ‘Davos syndrome’ in which, for example, a CEO of a company and the head of a UN agency agree to launch a partnership, but when it comes down to making it happen on the ground, there is the realisation that there is insufficient overlap of interest between the two organisations. You have to start off with a clear and necessary overlap of interest and that can be a challenge in itself. …

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  • SustainAbility Research Director Chris Guenther recently caught up with John Elkington, Co-Founder of SustainAbility and Founding Partner and executive chairman of Volans, about the launch of John’s recently published book, The Breakthrough Challenge. In addition to the book, they discuss the dilution of the sustainability agenda, the shifting role of the Global C-Suite, and the upcoming Breakthrough Decade.

    Chris Guenther: SustainAbility has closely tracked–and frequently discussed with you–your work on Breakthrough Capitalism, which you framed at the first Breakthrough Capitalism Forum in May 2012, and subsequently in the Breakthrough and Investing in Breakthrough reports. How have these ideas evolved to what is now represented in The Breakthrough Challenge, and what specifically drove you and Jochen Zeitz to write the book?

    John Elkington: I had no plans to write another book, Chris, having only recently published my eighteenth, The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier. But then I got an invitation from Sir Richard Branson’s foundation, Virgin Unite, to attend a small roundtable outside Geneva. On the second day, Jochen Zeitz walked in and, I have to say, there was electricity between us around our thinking and ideas. I didn’t give it much more thought, but a couple of months later he got in touch and suggested writing a book together.

    When Jochen and I spent some days together, the book evolved further. The Virgin Unite meeting we originally attended proved to have been the gestational event for what became The B Team, a not-for-profit initiative founded and co-chaired by Sir Richard Branson and Jochen, and where I am on the Advisory Board. The idea is to bring together a global group of leaders to create a future where “the purpose of business is to be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit.” …

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  • Flickr image by Tim Reckmann

    When Warby Parker launched its prescription eyewear brand four years ago, it broke the industry mold by offering a unique business proposition. Whereas most eyeglass shops depend on storefronts to bring in customers, Warby Parker created a business model based on bringing the glasses to the consumers. Using their “Home Try On” system, the company’s customers can order up to five pairs of glasses to try on in front of their bathroom mirrors – for five days at no charge.

    Much has been written about Warby Parker’s hipster brand identity as well as its social mission: for every pair of glasses sold, the company donates a pair to a person in need. What I find unique about its model, however, is the potential for sustainability by way of reduced resource usage. Just like Netflix and other virtual brands that have come before it, Warby Parker is cutting energy and resource use by streamlining operations.

    Once, the consumer marketplace was almost exclusively comprised of single-purpose brick and mortar stores – the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer and even the optometrist. Later, grocery stores – and, eventually, big box stores, retail outlets and shopping malls – put several of these services under one roof. It isn’t hard to see why the department store model was so profitable: erecting a store on every corner or in every town provides customers with convenience, builds brand recognition, and can even create a sense of community. …

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  • Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth

    This interview was originally published in the summer issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 04: Better, Connected.

    Craig Bennett rejoined Friends of the Earth as Director of Policy and Campaigns in 2010 after spending nearly four years as Deputy Director of the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (now CISL), where he headed up the Corporate Leaders Group, bringing together business leaders to tackle climate change.

    He continues to have a foot in both business and NGO camps and lectures on several executive programmes at business schools. He is also on the Net Positive advisory panel for Kingfisher. SustainAbility Director Zoë Arden spoke with him about bees, business as campaigners and how companies should be more engaged in policy.

    Zoe Arden: Stakeholder engagement has been mainly business-driven to date. How have engagements with business evolved from an NGO perspective? As we move into an era of greater partnership and collaboration, what are the emerging challenges for the NGO sector?
    Craig Bennett: I think one of the first things to do is differentiate between the types of NGOs and understand the difference between those that campaign, or try and effect policy in one way or another, and those that are ‘service providers.’ …

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