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  • Rob Frederick is Vice President and Director of Corporate Responsibility at Brown-Forman, a global producer of spirits and wines including brands such as Jack Daniels, Finlandia, Herradura and Woodford Reserve. Prior to joining Brown-Forman, Rob helped define and implement sustainability strategy at Ford Motor Company.

    Rob was a client of SustainAbility at Ford and continues to work with us at Brown-Forman. Michael Sadowski, VP at SustainAbility, leads this work and recently spoke with Rob to discuss his corporate experience to date and the most material issue for a spirits and wine company – responsible drinking.

    Michael Sadowski: You were at Ford during the early days of its corporate responsibility (CR) efforts and helped start Brown-Forman’s CR program. How do you compare your experiences at Ford and Brown-Forman?

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  • We are pleased to publish the results of The 2013 Ratings Survey: Polling the Experts, the latest expert survey on sustainability ratings and rankings from the GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey series. As with the surveys preceding it, we took the pulse of experts from around the world (see report below for details) on topics including rating credibility, drivers of such credibility and the importance of ratings in driving improved corporate performance. The survey comes at a good time, as we’ve recently seen a burst of activity around existing ratings (e.g. the Global 100, CDP’s Supply Chain Report) and new ones (e.g. Natural Capital Leaders Index)….

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  • The main driver for the decline in coal usage has been hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking), a process more frequently utilized through advancements in technology. Flickr image of Long Eaton coal plant by lewismd13.

    This is post 9 of 10. See next or previous.

    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. In 2013, SustainAbility re-launched a dedicated function to regularly track and interpret “what’s next”—our Ten Trends of 2013 series is the distillation and public output of our thinking over the year.

    Every year, a number of organizations publish long-term energy forecasts. The two most recent ones were the World Energy Outlook 2013 from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040 from ExxonMobil. These reports paint a future that is more or less the same when it comes to how fossil fuels contribute to our energy future – the IEA predicts that 75% of global energy demand will come from fossil fuels by 2035 (vs. 82% today) while ExxonMobil forecasts a similar figure for 2040.

    While these robust research pieces are must reads for anyone working in the energy space, a variety of technical, environmental and societal factors make their predictions about the future of energy more uncertain than ever. …

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  • Crowd-sourced models enable individuals to invest directly in solar projects and novel partnerships will finance solar projects. Image by Activ Solar, Flickr

    This is post 8 of 10. See next or previous.

    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. In 2013, SustainAbility re-launched a dedicated function to regularly track and interpret “what’s next”—our Ten Trends of 2013 series is the distillation and public output of our thinking over the year.

    In the wake of the 2007/8 financial crisis, the phrase “financial engineering” has come to have a negative connotation, conjuring images of math wizards creating esoteric financial products that brought our global financial system to its knees. While such engineering is showing signs of a gradual rebirth, we see a new form of financial engineering happening–one that promises beneficial social and environmental outcomes. …

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  • Many business leaders find themselves stuck in a plateau on their ascent towards “Mount Sustainability,” unable to scale at the pace required to address global challenges, says the CEO Study on Sustainability” by the U.N. Global Compact and Accenture. The report is an important read for anyone working in the sustainability profession, and the results show how far corporations have come in their journeys towards sustainability, as well as how far we have to go….

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  • Many companies are waking up this morning to find out their sustainability scores, but could the scoring systems themselves be improved?

    Today, two heavyweights of the ratings world – the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) and CDP – released their 2013 results. DJSI and CDP, according to polled sustainability experts in SustainAbility’s Rate the Raters research, are the 1st and 2nd most familiar ratings respectively in the corporate sustainability field, and are among the top three in terms of credibility.

    The annual release of these ratings generates a considerable amount of attention, including praise from companies that have done well (Siemens has again been ranked the world’s leading industrial company in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index) as well as critique. (Congrats to Bank of America on their inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index … wait, hang on, WHAT?!)….

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  • B Labs are creating a new kind of corporation for a new economy

    July 17, 2013 was a historic day, one that B Lab’s co-founders call “a tipping point in the evolution of capitalism” and the “coming home” of capitalism to its proper role of creating shared and durable prosperity. It was on this day that Governor Jack Markell of Delaware – a state home to 1 million businesses, including 50% of all publicly-traded companies and 64% of the Fortune 500 – signed Senate Bill 47, legislation that enables the formation of public benefit corporations (PBCs) in Delaware. In brief, this legislation allows PBCs to be managed for the benefit not only of stockholders, but also for public interest and those affected by the corporation’s activities.

    I represented SustainAbility (a Certified B Corporation – see our profile) at a celebratory event at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in New York City, where I caught up with Bart Houlahan, a co-founder of B Lab.

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  • Companies like Whole Foods have developed successful business models to meet particular environmental and social needs but it is not necessarily as straight forward for mainstream brands.

    “Innovation is most powerful when it’s activated by collaboration between unlikely partners, coupled with investment dollars, marketing know-how and determination. Now is the time for big, bold solutions. Incremental change won’t get us where we need to go fast enough or at a scale that makes a difference.” — Mark Parker, CEO, NIKE, Inc. at the LAUNCH 2020 Summit

    I recently finished Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, and came away with new perspectives on, and examples of, strong private sector leadership on environmental and social issues. The authors’ examples from Whole Foods – generous employee benefits, transparency and equity of salaries, etc. – are impressive and might be enough to soothe customers displeased by Whole Foods’ CEO Mackey’s candid views on topics such as health care, climate change and unions.

    Like others before them (see my blog on Creating Shared Value), the authors attempt to differentiate their concept with others such as sustainability, citizenship and CSR. Yet Mackey and Sisodia essentially offer the same thesis: companies that consider and manage a broad array of stakeholder interests (beyond meeting the needs of shareholders alone) will perform better financially over the long run. This viewpoint is now more or less commonplace amongst large, global companies, a development we should celebrate….

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  • Here’s the crux of the sustainability dilemma: What researchers and nonprofits deem “important” to the long-term health of companies doesn’t coincide with information that investors consider “material.” That’s how one investment professional described the current “epic battle” to our company, SustainAbility, in an interview for the latest edition of our “Rate the Raters” research, The Investor View.

    There’s a wide gap between what investors say is important and what they do with their money. For example, more than 1,000 investors, managing more than $30 trillion in assets, have signed on to the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investment….

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  • When we wrapped up phase four of Rate the Raters in July 2011, we expressed our desire to further understand how ratings were creating value for and being used by companies, investors and other key stakeholders. Throughout our research, we’ve heard a good deal from companies about the pain caused by ratings, and so we were keen to ascertain how much (if any) of this pain is worth it. We thus set off in phase five to explore this question of value, and spoke with individuals responsible for ratings at nearly 30 companies in the process….

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  • One of the perks of being a graduate student at the University of Michigan was access to football season tickets. With this, I learned the various rituals undertaken by the student section on game day, including chanting, “who cares?” when opposing team players’ names are announced before each game.

    This ritual still makes me smile for some reason, and is also a question many of us in the sustainability field ask during ratings and rankings season, which kicked off last week with the release of the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. These results, like those in previous years, sparked a flurry of press releases by proud companies, angst in companies who fell short, blogs debating the merits and shortcomings of ratings, and consultancies offering their services to improve company performance….

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  • Over the last decade, there has been an extraordinary growth in the number of ratings and award schemes designed to measure corporate sustainability performance. While these rankings play an important role in improving corporate performance, companies are struggling to keep up, and many question the time and effort required to respond to raters’ requests for information.

    Is it all worth it? Which ratings, if any, do people pay attention to? How much does a company’s score …

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  • I recently had the pleasure of participating in the annual workshops of SustainAbility’s Engaging Stakeholders network. The theme for the workshops was “value.” That is, how companies can derive greater business value from their sustainability communications and engagement, and how they can deliver greater value to stakeholders and society via their efforts.

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  • A question and answer with Wood Turner and Mike Bellamente of Climate Counts, one of the ratings profiled in SustainAbility’s Rate the Raters research series.

    1) Looking at the Phase Four paper of Rate the Raters, what resonates most with you?

    Now that corporate sustainability ratings have been around awhile, SustainAbility’s Rate the Raters project helps us gauge what the future holds. The phase four paper establishes that rating standards will require greater differentiation moving forward, and that raters will need to distance themselves from the overly saturated data compilation side of the business in order to remain competitive. We at Climate Counts certainly believe this to be true; indeed, if our goal is to point the business community in the direction of climate change awareness and leadership, it should be done with clarity and efficiency, not complexity and duplication.

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  • Sustainability challenges are enormous. Ratings can help drive attention and capital (financial, human, consumer) to those companies best positioned to address these challenges. Rate the Raters is a project that aims to make sense of the expanding universe of corporate sustainability ratings and rankings and to improve the quality and transparency of such ratings.

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  • More on the similarities and differences between Creating Shared Value and Sustainability.

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  • I recently attended the announcement of CR Magazine’s “100 Best Corporate Citizens List” at the New York Stock Exchange, for which the closing keynote was Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School. Professor Porter provided an overview of his (and Mark Kramer’s) Creating Shared Value concept, which prompted me to read their recent Harvard Business Review article in earnest.

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  • Highlights of feedback and reactions we’ve received so far, and a call for your opinions as we turn to phase four.

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  • A challenge to banks: explain the value you provide to society through your core businesses (not just your good works).

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  • A new lawsuit against McDonald's shows the challenge of drawing a line between corporate and personal responsibility.

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