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  • Hemma Varma, Senior CSR Manager Europe at Marriott Hotels, at the SustainAbility office

    The SustainAbility London office regularly invites practitioners from within our network to speak to the team over lunch to share insights from both their own work and on the sustainability landscape at large.

    We were delighted to have Hemma Varma, Senior CSR Manager Europe at Marriott come in to talk to us about their sustainability strategy. Hemma’s focus is on managing partnerships with charities and advocacy groups, driving employee engagement and supporting Marriott’s 20/20 youth vision. With 350,000 staff worldwide and hotels in over 72 countries, the depth and diversity of sustainability issues that Marriott faces are vast, touching practically every facet of the corporate social responsibility spectrum.

    Beginning as a family run business in 1927, Marriott has always stuck to its roots, placing great importance on community engagement and adopting the view that what it takes from the community, especially in terms of employees, it should give back. The founder’s philosophy, “Take care of our associates and they will take care of the customers” is now a widely accepted way of thinking in business but Marriott was embracing this value long before the terms ‘CSR’ or ‘employee engagement’ even existed. …

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  • Image © CC Paul Lowry

    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 fourth in our series of blogs expanding upon these trends.

    One of the biggest stories of 2014 was uncertainty across the energy sector, which is set to continue throughout 2015, a seminal year in the transition towards a sustainable global energy future due to the Paris climate negotiations in December 2015. Price volatility coupled with record gains in renewable energy provision, the rise of divestment from fossil fuel companies, and growing momentum for real emissions reductions is placing pressure on society to act quickly in the fight against climate change. No actor is more impacted by these changes than fossil fuel companies. The time has arrived for them to engage constructively around the provision of energy under emissions constraints and recognize their new role in society. …

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  • Flickr image by Bill Gracey

    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 third in our series of blogs expanding upon these trends.

    Earlier this year SustainAbility identified global water stress, water demands that exceed water availability, as one of ten key sustainability trends for 2015—both as a supply chain risk for companies as well as an issue of political and economic significance to countries. In the trends summary, we highlighted the World Economic Forum’s identification of “water crises” as one of the top ten issues of greatest concern to the global economy in 2015. Just a few months into 2015 and with World Water Day approaching this Sunday, March 22, it’s evident that the global water crisis is indeed a critical issue with extreme water stress in Sao Paulo, Brazil and across California as just two examples.

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  • The SustainAbility team, around the world!

    In the spirit of Radar’s spring issue, The Place of Sustainability, we feature some of the recent travels of the SustainAbility team. They bring us a first-hand view of Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Indonesia and India and a snapshot of some of the issues that currently define these diverse countries.

    Bhutan, Denise Delaney
    The Kingdom of Bhutan – or the Land of the Thunder Dragon – is sandwiched between China and Nepal with a population of three-quarters of a million people. Bhutan intrigues. There are no traffic lights. There is effectively no advertising. You will not find the outlet of a single, large multi-national company. The pursuit of happiness is the country’s greatest export.

    Gross National Happiness (GNH) measures and supports Bhutanese society across nine domains, and builds on its original four pillars of happiness: sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, environmental conservation, the preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance. Whether or not GNH will prove an effective alternative to GDP or other measures, what one of the GNH co-authors, Karma Ura, says of GNH resonated quite strongly with me: …

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  • Rida translates for the London office

    Every fortnight, the SustainAbility London office invites practitioners from within our network to speak to our team over lunch and share insights from both their own work and on what’s next on the sustainability landscape.

    SustainAbility was pleased to host Mumtaz Shaikh, alum of the Quest Fellowship Programme in our office last week to discuss the impactful work she has been doing for over a decade on empowering women in marginalised communities in Mumbai, India. She was recently awarded the Daughter of Maharashtra award in recognition of her services to the cause of gender equality.

    Mumtaz’s journey into activism and advocacy began when she joined a Committee of Resource Organisations (CORO) meeting over a decade ago, lending her voice to issues affecting women in her community. She is a strong believer in grass-roots level mobilisation for finding solutions to local problems. Having had personal experience with issues such as gender-based discrimination and domestic violence, she understood that right to dignity and easy access to public services for women were absolutely critical for women’s empowerment in her community.

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  • Environmental economist Pavan Sukhdev

    This piece was originally published in the spring issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 06: The Place of Sustainability.

    SustainAbility is pleased to shine a spotlight on the work of environmental economist Pavan Sukhdev, CEO of GIST Advisory, an environmental consulting firm focused on enabling governments and corporations to measure and manage their impacts on natural and human capital. At the end of 2014 he joined our Engaging Stakeholders workshops to share his knowledge on the importance of, and emerging methodologies in, valuing externalities, including social, environmental and financial impacts.

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  • Froosh's Fruit Farm Programme in action

    This piece was originally published in the spring issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 06: The Place of Sustainability.

    Anna Hagemann Rise, Froosh Group Communications and CSR manager, interviewed for a different role but within minutes she and the CEO were talking politics and it ended with him asking if she would like to run the Fruit Farm Programme. She talked to Zoë Arden about the fruit smoothie company’s connections with the countries from which it sources.

    Zoë Arden: What is the Fruit Farm Programme and what does it mean for Froosh?

    Anna Hagemann Rise: A couple of years ago, the Fruit Farm Programme was a side project. Now it’s something that all the countries that we operate in want to be involved and I’ve spent the last two years building the programme to bring Froosh’s staff to the farms where our fruit is grown. In 2014, we did seven trips, and we have 11 planned for 2015. I invite media, customers, and people in the public sphere who share our values. It’s not just about trips but to build the political message. I also present once a week at either a conference or a university, explaining the political mission of the company – trade not aid. …

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  • Flickr image by Brent Flanders

    Our recently released research See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance proposes a solution to the 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. This is the second in a three-part series, which was originally published on GreenBiz, to explore those elements.

    In the first article in this series, we explored how materiality enables companies to focus their transparency efforts and leverage the value of sustainability reporting. The second important element of transparency is valuation of externalities. After identifying and prioritizing the most material issues, companies should account for externalities: the unintended indirect consequences associated with an economic activity for which the costs have not been accounted.

    Valuing externalities, such as the full cost of GHG emissions or the upstream environmental benefits of choosing a recycled material, allows a company to understand and present a comprehensive picture of its role in society and the environment. …

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  • Apple CEO Tim Cook's public coming out in 2014 highlighted the issue of LBGT workplace discrimination. Image © CC Mike Deerkoski

    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 second in our series of blogs expanding upon these trends.

    While gender diversity continues to frame the narrative on diversity within a company’s workforce, stakeholders and companies are shifting their focus to more holistic interpretation. This includes fostering other dimensions of inclusion such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disabilities.

    In 2014 a number of tech companies including Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon publicly disclosed their diversity figures, bringing attention to the underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities in the industry. While the tech industry has lagged behind other industries on the diversity front, the rise in disclosure of diversity data by these companies signals that, beyond examining their environmental and social impacts, these companies may be turning an inward lens onto their own workforce. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review posits that with various reporting frameworks and guidelines promoting improved non-financial reporting, significant insights will come from human capital reporting to provide investors and regulators with information on how companies create value over time. …

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  • Flickr image by Bill Keaggy

    From economists to politicians, from consumers to scientists, plenty of people agree that the current approach of many businesses is not sustainable.

    We’ve talked about the sheer obviousness of this point, as have many other thinkers and doers working on this challenge. But when it comes to discussing this with people responsible for key decision within these companies, it is frankly a bit awkward. Even for consultants like us who are engaged specifically to talk about this stuff, it doesn’t always feel okay to come right out and say it.

    We can discuss the most material issues, engage diverse stakeholders, or develop ambitious goals, all with the intent of nudging decisions in the right direction. But rarely do we come right out and say: Enough already. If significant talent and money at this company aren’t directed towards addressing the challenge and adapting, we’re not going to make it.

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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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