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  • Flickr image by WorldFish

    This article was co-written by Lindsay Clinton and Rochelle March.

    As São Paulo, Brazil, suffers from the worst drought in its history, multinational pulp company Fibria, which is headquartered in the city, is one of many that has felt the pinch. At times, water has been shut off to 40% of the city and even now, after the rainy season, only 6-13% of the city’s reservoir’s capacity has been filled. In response, the company is working to reduce the amount of water it uses for forest irrigation.

    This isn’t the first time that Fibria has had to adapt to a shifting environment. Over the last several years, the rising scarcity of several essential resources – including water, fertilizer, labor and land – has pushed the company to reconsider its business model. It has diversified into renewable energy, biofuel production and sustainable real estate development. Fibria’s goal is to make these portfolio additions 20% of total free cash flow by 2025, making the company less pulp-dependent and giving it alternative options for future business growth in light of looming sustainability challenges.

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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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  • 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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  • 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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    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 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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  • 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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  • Image © CC Ilias Bartolini

    An abbreviated version of this piece was originally published in the summer issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 04: Better, Connected.

    Although a proposed increase in the US minimum wage stalled in Congress in early 2014, inequality has not lost momentum, and if anything, is poised to remain high on the global agenda. The Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard held a webinar on “Income Inequality and the Potential Risk to Investors” earlier this year, concluding that any company that furthers inequality could face substantial revenue losses from disengaged employees, lawsuits and reputational costs. McDonald’s echoed this sentiment by including inequality as a material risk in its latest 10-K. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund has become an unusual, though strong advocate of the need for countries to address income inequality because of the “dark shadow it casts across the global economy.”…

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  • Flick image of step pyramid by Ed Yourdon

    In 2004, the late CK Prahalad, an influential management professor and author, published The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, a book that urged companies to use a new lens to view the poor. Prahalad advocated for envisioning those at the bottom of the economic pyramid as producers and consumers of products, rather than merely as philanthropic beneficiaries.

    Ten years later, several large companies have adopted Prahalad’s ideas and, in the process, have demonstrated that serving the “base of the pyramid” consumer can make good business sense. I analyzed several of these “base of the pyramid” business models — what we call “Building a Marketplace” — in Model Behavior: 20 Business Model Innovations for Sustainability, a report that I co-wrote and released earlier this year….

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  • Flickr image by Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia

    Rice paddies and colorful tractors are common sights in remote parts of south India. So, too, are small shanties, brightly painted shops and coconut palms. But nowadays, in some villages, solar panels have also become part of the landscape, covering shingled roofs and competing with the palms for sunlight.

    The panels are helping to catapult energy-poor villagers – who previously had no, or only very limited, electricity – into a more sustainable future. This leap to renewable energy is the result of an innovative business model that’s being rolled out to low-income communities in the state of Karnataka.

    The company behind this new model is Simpa Networks, a technology company that aims to make sustainable energy affordable to all – even those who make less than $2 a day. In particular, Simpa targets customers who have limited access to electricity and use kerosene lanterns, which can pose health and safety risks, to illuminate their small homes. It also targets customers with little, if any, disposable income, who can’t afford to buy its solar products for $200 to $400 each – even though Simpa claims its system could yield significant savings over its 10-year lifespan. …

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  • The idea of business model innovation—that a company could launch a new business model never conceived of before, or transform an existing business model—has long captivated business leaders. And yet, executives are often held back by vested interests in their current approach: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But as global trends—environmental, social, political, technological—continue to shift the foundations of our current business models, incremental innovation will become less effective in enabling companies, industries and whole economies to adapt and succeed. There is an urgent need for fundamentally different approaches to value creation….

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  • In December we wrote about the top trends that our team tracked in 2013. If you missed them, here’s a summary to help you navigate to the main articles….

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  • Beyond executive pay, we’ve seen the inequality conversation manifest itself into ‘living wage’ campaigns rippling through the service sector in 2013. Image by Ari Moore, Flickr

    This is post 1 of 10. See next.

    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.

    “‘How can it be,’ he wrote, ‘that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?‘” That was President Obama quoting Pope Francis in a wide-ranging December speech on income inequality, which he called the “defining challenge of our time.” It also represented a high water mark in what has been a remarkable year in raising the profile of inequality as not only an urgent societal issue, but also a critical business one….

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  • Image by ravensong75 via Flickr

    Transparency on the rise

    Corporate transparency is a wide and complex terrain, including everything from legally required disclosures to employee tweets, much of it having nothing to do with sustainability. However, an increasing number of transparency initiatives are focused on social and environmental outcomes, from the rise in sustainability reporting over the last twenty years, to more recent bursts of open innovation. This increase in transparency represents a tremendous opportunity for business, the environment, and society at large if six key elements are done right.

    Transparency spreads far beyond reporting

    With the generation and capture of ever-larger streams of data, many sustainability professionals are asking, “What is the future of reporting?” Given the pace and nature of the changes afoot, that might simply be the wrong question for those working to drive the sustainability agenda forward.

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  • Prominent business sources have been making the business case for equal marriage rights on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Between traditional news channels, blogs, and social media, it can be hard to keep up with what’s making waves in the field of sustainable development. In this roundup we aim to cut through the noise with a handful of highlights that have caught our eye.

    The Business Case for Gay Marriage

    John Browne, former CEO of BP wrote a piece in the Financial Times expressing his support for gay marriage in the UK, framing the argument in economic terms: “Anything that fosters an inclusive environment makes good business sense.” He contended that gay marriage will “eliminate one more barrier to a true corporate meritocracy and deserves recognition as a matter of strategic importance in the global market for talent.”…

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  • At the risk of showing my age, when I was very young I was fascinated by the man that passed by our house every other week with his horse and cart letting out the cry of “any old iron!” He was a rag and bone man and one of the last of a dying breed that made their living collecting anything that people wanted to get rid of – metal or not. “Put it outside for the rag and bone man” was a familiar refrain in our house.

    The rag and bone trade came to my mind towards the end of the first Global Sharing Day, another step forward in the emergence of the “sharing economy”. …

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  • As SustainAbility’s web and digital media manager, I’ve been looking at how online tools and technologies can be used to support our work on The Regeneration Roadmap.

    The ambitions for the project are high, and engaging the right people in the right way will be key. Online platforms can play a significant role here: today there are fewer barriers than ever in mobilising people from all backgrounds and geographies to shape and get behind a campaign. From video blogging and social discussion forums to idea generation and crowd sourcing websites, the options available are seemingly endless. But where do you start?…

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  • Copyright (c) Kyra Choucroun

    Despite years of thinking about the traditional model of economic growth, it wasn’t until I drove through rural Ghana that it truly hit me just how spectacularly it has failed to deliver on the promise of global prosperity.

    In my last blog I challenged the widely held belief that infinite growth is both necessary and viable. That piece generated a flood of responses, from howls of protest at one extreme to speaking invitations at the other. And it was one of those invitations that led me to Ghana in the first place, to share my views on how Africa can play a part in tackling the world’s most complex challenges at a youth-led conference in Kumasi.

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  • On the heels of the launch of Appetite for Change, our team has spotted a number of developments and received interest in working together to transform our food system. And the overall theme of access to good food remains in the limelight, most recently with…

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