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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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  • 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 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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  • 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 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 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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  • 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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  • Sustainability reporting is stalled. That is, reporting is simply not driving as much impact as it could.

    This is not to say that reporting has not evolved since its early days or led to important and useful information and action. It certainly has. Companies that have been monitoring and reporting on an array of social and environmental issues spanning many years have created numerous baselines, data sets, subject-matter expertise and collaborative relationships upon which to build.

    Impact-wise, reporting has enabled efficiency gains, informed stakeholders about key issues, enhanced corporate reputations, and started to inform some investor decisions. …

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  • Janet Voûte, Global Head of Public Affairs, Nestlé

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

    After 15 years in strategy consultancy with leading firms Bain and Company and The Boston Consulting Group, Janet Voûte moved into public health as CEO of the World Heart Federation. She then spent two years as Partnerships Adviser at the WHO and became Global Head of Public Affairs at Nestlé in December 2010.

    SustainAbility has been working with Nestlé since 2006 on Creating Shared Value reporting, stakeholder engagement and strategy, and most recently arranged the company’s fourth stakeholder convening in London. Rob Cameron spoke with Janet about the increasing importance of speaking the language of both business and NGOs and Nestlé’s stakeholder engagement journey.

    Rob Cameron: How would you characterise stakeholder engagement when you arrived at Nestlé?
    Janet Voûte: I arrived a few years after the terminology and thinking around Creating Shared Value (CSV) at Nestlé had been launched, and the focus on being the leading nutrition, health and wellness company had been clearly defined. Additionally, the Chairman and the Public Affairs team had also agreed upon nutrition, water and rural development as priority areas for action. …

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  • Mask wearing has become a common sight in downtown Beijing. Taken April 2014 © Chris Wash.

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

    The Chinese government’s declarations of environmental concerns as first-order priorities have a spotty history in heralding imminent change, due largely to uneven enforcement on a state and local level. So one could be forgiven if the flurry of actions announced in the first half of 2014, which include statements by a government advisor that the country will set an absolute cap on carbon dioxide emissions for the first time and adopt a revised Environmental Protection Law (the first in 25 years) imposing harsher financial and criminal punishments to polluters, is viewed with scepticism. But stakeholder activity to hold the government accountable for their environmental stewardship, whether by protest or product offering, has risen too. We have seen more signs of environmentally-sparked protests, like one fought over the construction of an industrial plant in Guangdong province or another that incited a riot in Hangzhou over plans to build Asia’s largest waste incinerator project, take place this year….

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  • Image © Juan Tan Kwon via Flickr

    World Cup season is upon us! The global event that football fans around the world have all been awaiting has started. All eyes are on the 32 national teams that will be competing in Brazil for the next five weeks.

    I was 11 years old when my country, France, hosted and won the World Cup in 1998. The national pride when Les Bleus lifted the trophy before the eyes of millions of people around the world was overwhelming. Surely any event driving this much passion globally should never be called into question? But my grown-up self now wonders if all this enthusiasm could be used to drive much needed positive environmental change?

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  • This article originally appeared in Radar Issue 03: What Chance Change? Exploring Sustainable Finance.

    Jessica Fries helps companies integrate sustainability into core business processes and activities. Denise Delaney, based in SustainAbility’s London office, caught up with her on the latest initiatives by A4S and IIRC.

    Denise Delaney: Why establish a CFO Leadership Network?

    Jessica Fries: The CFO Leadership Network is part of The Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S). A4S’s primary focus is on the role of the finance and accounting community in creating sustainable business models and a sustainability economy. We did some research in 2012, which really highlighted the perception among different groups that CFOs were unconvinced that there was a commercial rationale for integrating sustainability into the running and operation of the business. We had been working with a number of CFOs who felt very strongly that the commercial case was clear and were interested in developing practical ways to integrate sustainability into financial decision-making, understand what others were doing to advance thinking and convince their peers of the imperative to act. The CFO Leadership Network emerged. …

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  • This article originally appeared in Radar Issue 03: What Chance Change? Exploring Sustainable Finance.

    As the world’s multinational banks move, lend, invest and protect money for customers and clients in the decades to come, they can play a major role in the context of sustainable development.

    They must for three main reasons. First, they can enable sustainable growth. The unique capabilities of multinational banks, principally the large universal and investment banks, make these entities key enablers in the shift to more equitable distribution of income and the long-term investments needed to support more sustainable development.

    They can also contribute to financial stability. The health of the global economy is inextricably linked with banks’ success. By better managing their own health, banks can contribute to a strong, resilient global economy that protects jobs and livelihoods, avoids collapse in the face of external shocks, and in doing so, provides a platform for more sustainable forms of growth. …

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  • Leo Johnson talking to Rob Cameron at our London office.

    This article originally appeared in Radar Issue 03: What Chance Change? Exploring Sustainable Finance.

    Leo Johnson, a partner in PwC’s Sustainability and Climate Change team, has recently co-authored Turnaround Challenge: Business and the City of the Future, which explores how capitalism can reinvent itself to offer sustainable growth.

    Rob Cameron spent a morning with Leo exploring his views on the wisdom of Hollywood icons, tequila capitalism, jujitsu moves and the parallels between banks and rock ‘n’ roll.

    Rob Cameron: Let’s start with that most British of questions – what do you think of the recent weather here in the UK? I ask because I wonder if it takes this kind of flooding disaster to get politicians to pay attention to the risks of climate change?

    Leo Johnson: We should be so lucky. My take is that major progress won’t result from flooding. If anything my fear with big-time impacts from climate change is that they could bring what they call ‘threat rigidity’, the draw-bridge going up. My optimism comes from a different place than disaster. To me, it’s most simply put by Marilyn Monroe. She said: “Sometimes good things fall apart so that better things can fall into place.”

    This is exactly what Schumpeter was trying to say too. His idea was that there are these waves of ‘creative destruction’ where the technological model that was triumphant starts, as it gets fully deployed across the economy, to burn out and then becomes dysfunctional, creating the space for disruptive technologies to erupt. …

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  • Flickr image by Melissa Wiese

    This interview originally appeared in Radar Issue 03: What Chance Change? Exploring Sustainable Finance.

    Scientific consensus seems to be growing that there is a causal link between excess sugar consumption, rising obesity and Type 2 diabetes and other NCDs. Analogies such as sugar is the new tobacco have grabbed headlines recently alluding to the addictive nature of sugar, and food products such as fizzy drinks are particularly under fire due to the high sugar content that is ingested very quickly.

    Although this isn’t a new issue, in recent months we have seen campaigners, governments and investors increasingly pay attention to the major health and economic costs associated with sugar-related health problems. Last year a report from Credit Suisse’s Research Institute brought into focus the staggering health consequences of sugar. The report revealed that approximately 30%–40% of healthcare expenditures in the USA are attributed to addressing issues closely tied to the excess consumption of sugar. The WHO has published draft guidelines that recommends people halve the amount of sugar in their diet from 10% of total calorie intake a day to a target of 5%. …

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  • Radar Issue 03

    The financial crisis has dominated headlines for several years. Now the talk has switched to recovery, which has led us to the question what type of recovery? There is an urgent need to reshape the global economic system—including financial markets—to better serve the needs of society, the environment and the wider economy. While we welcome signs of improved financial investment, rising incomes and profitability, we must also ensure that they are not at the expense of more sustainable development.

    In this third edition of Radar, we explore the issue of sustainable finance and ask what chance is there for change? In our lead article we outline the business case for banks to be the institutions that steer us into a new era of sustainable finance (Banking on Sustainability: Financing the Future). Rob Cameron interviews Leo Johnson about his new book and the signs he sees of a new form of capitalism emerging (The Unusual Suspects: Leo Johnson). …

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