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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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  • This article was first published in GreenBiz and was co-written by Aiste Brackley, Trends and Research Manager at SustainAbility and Alex Lewis, Senior Research Analyst at GlobeScan.

    In some respects the Volkswagen emissions scandal could not have come at a worse time. Unfolding two months before the historic COP21 climate summit in Paris, the revelations that the car giant cheated emissions tests reinforced long-held suspicions among some skeptics that the private sector’s buy-in over climate change was superficial. The 2015 Climate Change Survey, GlobeScan and SustainAbility’s most recent survey, reveals that international sustainability experts continue to view the contribution of business as modest. However, if we are to see meaningful long-term progress, national governments as well as the private sector will have to step up, as the two institutions will be critically important for the implementation of the post-COP21 framework.

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  • Will Geoff Lye's latest grandchild, Leo, wonder why it took us so long to avert the huge impacts of climate change?

    This is the second in a series of blogs Geoff Lye will produce in the run up to COP 21 and through the conference itself. His blogs from most COPs since the Bali conference in 2007 can be found here .

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  • Flickr image by digitalpimp

    This is the first in a series of blogs I will produce in the fortnight running up to COP 21 and through the conference itself. As a regular attendee and reporter from most COPs since the Bali conference in 2007, I must admit to a feeling of déjà vu. The world’s leaders will be coming together in yet another of the UN’s last chance climate saloons to try to deliver a global agreement to avoid breaching the 2°C threshold.

    After COP 17 in Durban I decided, in frustration at the lack of progress, not to attend future events. Yet here I am – travel and hotels booked – excited once again in anticipation of joining the biggest ever assembly1 of climate professionals, activists, politicians, technologists, scientists and economists. For the first time, however, I have failed to get accreditation to the UN’s Blue Zone – and I know that my blogs will be weaker for that. But at this COP, most of the most interesting events and networking venues are outside the formal conference. This will create a far more open environment for most attendees and I can guarantee that there will be no shortage of surprising, inspiring and, in equal measure, depressing stories over the coming weeks.

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  • Is CSR Dead?

    16 Oct 2015John Elkington

    John Elkington at the SustainAbility London office

    John Elkington, SustainAbility co-founder and honorary chairman, launches an occasional series on the business agenda.

    ‘Turkeys vote down Christmas.’ That’s one way of reporting the result of a Barclays debate on 8 October, in which I was pitched head-to-head against Mark Kramer of the Shared Value Initiative. The key question: ‘Is CSR Dead?’

    There was a crackle in the air as the debate began. #TeamMark was ably supported by Janet Voûte, Global Head of Public Affairs at Nestlé, while my #TeamJohn partner was Covestro CEO Patrick Thomas. Long story short, Patrick and I won with 75% of the vote. But short stories can mislead.

    When Barclays first suggested the theme, both Mark and I protested. The question felt tired. But the intense social media buzz soon proved us wrong. People clearly wanted to discuss whether CSR was dead or alive. (And that was even before the wheels came off VW.)

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  • This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 08: Beyond the Company, The Future of Sustainability Goals.

    Redefining success in business is a pretty ambitious goal, and is one that the B Corp movement has been working towards since 2006. SustainAbility, for over 25 years, has been working to make business and markets more sustainable, and is proud to be one of the first certified B Corps in the UK and to be part of this global movement.

    We spoke with the key figures behind the launch of B Corp in the UK, as well as some companies in the B Corp community, to discuss their ambitions and how they see the movement developing.

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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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  • Flickr image by Melanie Holtsman

    Our economies in their present forms are unsustainable. Our planet has been subjected to the Great Acceleration of humankind’s impact, which presents immense risks to the health of the biosphere and our civilization. Our impact is directly linked to global economic growth.

    At SustainAbility, as we argued in our report Changing Tack, business can be a great driver of change but the present rules of engagement in business, finance and markets are largely unchanged since the 19th century. Meanwhile, global growth has stalled and, eight years after the financial crash, many developed world economies continue to be moribund. A change in how we run our economies and business is urgently needed. And for that we need leadership.

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  • Flickr image by Mary Anne Enriquez

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

    Last year, the CEO of Fortune 250 energy provider NRG wrote a letter to shareholders about the lack of innovation in the energy industry. “There is no Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google in the American energy industry today,” David Crane wrote. “NRG is not that energy company either, but we are doing everything in our power to head in that direction – as fast as we can. But we need to pick up the pace further, and that is what we intend to do.”

    Although NRG’s portfolio still includes 30% coal-generated power, it is repositioning itself and its business model to guide energy users from a grid-based power system to a distributed generation system. It’s also developing products and services related to electric vehicles, rooftop solar and home energy efficiency.

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  • How can we transition to a sustainable economy?

    This article was co-authored by Rob Cameron and Lindsay Clinton.

    The UK election was fought largely on the issue of the economy. The Conservatives, with its surprise majority have promised to reduce the deficit by £30 billion. Fixing the economy and balancing the books is undoubtedly of great importance for the economy—as long as it is done sustainably.

    It’s a simple fact: the economy is a sub-system of our ecosystem. And yet, it has become commonplace to believe that the opposite is true – that the economy is the dominant system.

    The consequences of prioritising the economy and GDP above all else have become all-too visible: climate change, water scarcity, deforestation, soil depletion, resource shortages—but it is not only the environment that is paying a heavy price. The current economic model can be tied to rising workplace stress and illness, obesity, malnutrition, increasing inequality, and more.

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  • It has been more than two decades since policymakers, scientists, NGOs and other changemakers gathered in Rio de Janeiro for a historic summit that would set the direction of sustainable development for years to come. Since the 1992 Earth Summit, progress on climate change and sustainability has been uneven, and, many will argue, disappointing. As the date of the United Nations climate change conference in Paris approaches, the global community is facing another seminal year, building hopes that the December 2015 summit will mark the beginning of a new chapter with ambitious goals and more decisive action.

    For SustainAbility and GlobeScan’s annual Sustainability Leaders survey, we asked expert stakeholders representing business, government, NGOs and academia across 82 countries to evaluate the progress that institutions have made since the 1992 Earth Summit and reflect on their expectations for the next 20 years.

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  • John Elkington at the SustainAbility London office

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

    SustainAbility was pleased to host John Elkington, Co-Founder and Honorary Chairman of SustainAbility, and the Volans team to discuss their latest publication The Stretch Agenda, a report intended as a playful provocation to big business to redefine the future of leadership in the Breakthrough Decade from 2016 to 2025.

    The Stretch Agenda is a dramatised portrayal of conversations that are already taking place in boardrooms across the Global C-suite. The piece in written as a “playper,” as opposed to a traditional report format, to provide fresh voices and perspectives on the sustainability agenda from the point of view of top decision-makers and strategists within a fictitious global company, ‘MN-Co’. The reader is given insight via a discussion between the Chair, CEO, CFO, CHRO, CMO and an incoming CXO (Chief Sustainability/Stretch Officer) and two young leaders as they ponder how to shift their company’s business model to address the economic, social and environmental challenges that lie ahead.

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  • Adrian Henriques in the SustainAbility London office

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

    We were delighted to welcome Adrian Henriques, independent adviser on corporate transparency, public sector accountability, and civil society development. Adrian is an experienced sustainability professional with more than 15 years in the field. He independently researches and advises both the private and public sectors – for the likes of M&S, Camelot, GRI and social enterprises – and is a Visiting Professor of Accountability and CSR at Middlesex University Business School.

    With a long career in sustainability and the accountability agenda, we were interested to hear Adrian’s perspective that “optimism is quite dangerous” in regards to the evolution of corporate sustainability and CSR over the last 15 years. Below are the highlights from our discussion.

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  • Flickr image by fauxto_digit

    SustainAbility’s 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 last in a three-part series that explores those elements.

    Earlier in this series we explored how materiality and the valuation of externalities enable companies to focus their transparency efforts and leverage the value of sustainability reporting. This final article discusses how companies can apply materiality and externalities valuation to integrate sustainability across the business.

    True integration of sustainability means that material issues effectively are addressed within business functions and seen as critical to the company’s viability. Integration enables companies to understand internally, and — where relevant — communicate externally, how they create value and to better manage performance on critical issues.

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  • Is CSR really dead?

    Prognoses and Prognostications
    As 2014 closed and 2015 began, there were numerous “top,” “best” and “most important” lists marking notable 2014 occurrences and forecasting what to expect in 2015. SustainAbility entered these sweepstakes with our 10 Trends for 2015, which distills our thinking from the past year and predicts the issues that will shape the sustainable development agenda in the 12 months ahead.

    Our 10 select issues include – as headlines and subtext – global warming and climate activism, water, marketplace disruption, business model innovation, workforce diversity, ongoing efforts to eradicate slavery and more. The breadth of topics illustrates how varied this field has become and hints at the complexity any organisation faces in terms of managing such numerous and disparate issues well. …

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  • The roles of materiality, externalities, and integration in See Change's infographic

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

    Information is powerful. In our report See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance we found that sharing the right information in the right way with stakeholders can improve companies’ decision-making and drive change. Transparency on how a business generates value (for the economy, society, and the environment) can explain to stakeholders what impacts – both positive and negative – a company has, which material issues are most important, and where business opportunities may lie.

    We’re beginning to see more companies include business model diagrams on websites and in their sustainability and annual reports. This is in part driven by guidance provided by the IIRC’s Integrated Reporting Framework, which advises companies to describe the ways in which they create value. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) is also encouraging US companies to consider their business models as it includes ‘Business Models & Innovation’ as one of the ESG issues it has included in the standards it is developing. Companies like Novelis, Fibria, Natura, Astra Zeneca, Unilever, and Mitsubishi are including business model illustrations in their reports to help explain their priority issues and performance. …

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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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  • 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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  • 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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