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  • "The catastrophization of the future freezes people," said Paul Hawken at this year's VERGE SF conference. Image by net_efekt, Flickr

    This is post 2 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.

    “The catastrophization of the future freezes people.” If there was a common theme at the various sustainability conferences we attended this year it was an acknowledgment that collectively, the sustainability movement has failed at telling a compelling (read: positive) story of what a sustainable future looks like. This quote from Paul Hawken at the VERGE SF conference was followed by similar sentiments from Amory Lovins and Andy Revkin that we’ve had very little to show when deploying ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric. As Jo Confino of Guardian Sustainable Business summarized, “The greatest risk to the sustainability movement is that it is struggling, and so far failing, to articulate a vision of a future that is both prosperous while remaining within planetary boundaries.” …

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  • Speakers highlighted the electrification of cities as a major opportunity for cutting carbon emissions. But collaboration between city administrations and ICT intelligence providers will be critical to harmonizing electricity supply and demand.

    Last week, I attended the ‘Business Day’ event held by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) as part of World Climate Summit 2013 during COP19 in Warsaw. The mission of the day was to explore WBCSD’s ‘big ideas’ to avoid the trillionth ton of carbon. For WBCSD, the big ideas are business solutions, the core of their recently launched Action 2020. The Action 2020 framework for action builds upon Vision 2050 and considers nine priority areas, including climate change, which addressed together will bring about transformative change….

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  • Image courtesy of Christopher Chan ©2011

    “What unites us on an urban level is more unifying than divisive.” – Paul Hawken

    If you were to judge solely by the plenary sessions at VERGE, a conference uniting the sustainability and tech communities in San Francisco last week, you would be hard-pressed not to be hopeful that we are turning a corner on the greatest sustainability challenges of the 21st Century because of, not in spite of, business. The intersection points between business and society’s agendas are undoubtedly growing and this overlap is nowhere more apparent than in cities. …

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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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  • While defending assets and markets against climate risks is the focus of most vulnerability assessments, few of us are inspired by an inherently defensive mission. Image courtesy of Digital_Third_Eye: Flickr

    Not that long ago, “adaptation” was a bad word among good environmentalists.

    That’s because it was seen as conceding defeat in the fight to put a price on carbon pollution, a distraction from the dramatic emissions reductions needed.

    But just a few years later, we’re seeing growing interest in “adaptation” — or its more pleasantly-named cousin, “resilience“ — from cities and corporations. Even so, few would argue that climate resilience is routinely prioritized at the necessary scale.

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  • The battle for a sustainable future will be won or lost in our cities. Image credit: CC license by art-dara/Flickr

    Although occupying only 2% of the Earth’s land surface, cities account for more than 60% of global energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions. Over 3.5bn people are city dwellers today, and by 2050 that number is projected to almost double. With figures like these, it’s not a stretch to say that our battle for a sustainable future will be won or lost in our cities.

    So how do we win that battle? Early in 2012 we started exploring this very question in Citystates: How Cities are Vital to the Future of Sustainability, and last week I had the opportunity to chair a panel on the subject at Convergence Paris. Joining me were two people with a lot of experience in this area: Peter Madden from Catapult Future Cities, and Sterling Hughes from Silver Spring Networks.

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  • Image: OiMax (Flickr)

    We are reminded constantly that humanity faces unprecedented challenges: climate change, resource constraints, economic volatility, over and under nutrition, widening inequality, and political conflicts that are increasingly aggravated by these issues. Yet, even as awareness of the causes and potential solutions to these challenges has never been higher, overall progress remains frustratingly slow or non- existent. Understandably, many of us have looked to national and international leaders, multinational companies, universities and other large scale institutions to provide leadership but, while their efforts have been earnest and sometimes substantial, they have so far failed to make very much difference….

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  • Everywhere you look, it’s all about the Olympics!

    One of the earliest events, occurring the day after the opening ceremonies, was the men’s cycling road race – a 250 km route that finished through the streets of London.

    An avid cyclist myself (I am proud to say that I have completed three 100-mile races), I was happy to tune in to catch the end of the race.

    As I watched two competitors pull away from the main pack (otherwise known as the peloton) — and sprint toward the finish, I thought about what it takes to win a race like that and what parallels can be drawn for those of us in the sustainability field….

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  • Having pretty much recovered from having my iPhone, iPad and laptop stolen (and having also pretty much recovered from one of the worst bouts of flu in my life), today in Rio was, on balance, a great day. People often ask me whether I am optimistic generally on the sustainability front and I find myself repeating that I wake up an optimist and go to bed a pessimist. And so it looks today.

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  • Early talk about the UN Summit Rio+20 to be held June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, gives the impression that it may flop. Recent articles from respected groups like the Council on Foreign Relations and the World Resources Institute and outlets like Guardian Sustainable Business and Environmental Finance cite low expectations. For those that pay attention to international governance meetings, the lack of progress at the annual COP meetings (Conference of the Parties) to assess and negotiate climate change commitments and lack of action after past sustainable development meetings have created a cloud of fatigue.

    While many are skeptical about Rio+20, we stand to gain from holding this fourth—the fourth in forty years—in a series of Summits focused on environment and development.

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  • Uncertainty and anxiety are ubiquitous nowadays. The global economy remains fragile, and even where it does show some life, the continued volatility (and upward trajectory) of energy and other commodity prices is there to beat back any real sense of momentum.

    Meanwhile, progress on grand challenges like climate change, food and water security, and sustainable consumption is either halting or nonexistent, and there is declining confidence that large institutions, including governments, multilateral organizations, companies and even large NGOs, will lead the way in addressing them.

    That’s the general feeling at the global level, and across many countries. But look through the prism of cities…

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  • I mentioned in an end 2011 article for GreenBiz, on Simon Mainwaring’s view of Contributory Consumption, that I’d had the opportunity to visit the LIVESTRONG Foundation HQ in Austin, TX as part of a series of Sustainable Life Media meetings last month hosted by Dell.

    I was in Texas while COP 17 was playing out in Durban, so it may be the coincidence of timing leading me to make a connection, but I have been pondering similarities between society’s struggles to defeat cancer to the battle against global warming. Is there a lesson here?

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  • This is the last in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, three, four, five, and six.

    Back in the UK now and reflecting on the news filtering out this (Sunday) morning. Given the threat yesterday of a chaotic collapse, with echoes of Copenhagen, I was relieved to hear of the final outcome. The very best was never going to be equal to the full climate challenge we face, but this COP has made some major strides in securing a long-term mitigation roadmap with ‘legal force’.

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  • SustainAbility’s Frances Buckingham sits down with Paul Gilding – an independent writer and advocate on climate change, and former CEO of Greenpeace International and other NGOs – to discuss his new book and his optimism for humanity’s ability to successfully navigate, and be better off on the other side of, the Great Disruption….

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  • Just One Earth (Day)

    22 Apr 2011Mark Lee

    Image: NASA, The Visible Earth

    Funny – we have one Earth Day among 365 days total. Yet we have but one, presently poorly stewarded, earth. I know I am not the first to say it, but, c’mon, really, isn’t every day Earth Day?

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  • The Great Disruption – Are you ready?

    19 Apr 2011 – Paul Gilding

    It’s time for all those focusing on sustainability to change gears and review strategy. With the ecological system groaning under the strain of an economy simply too big for the planet, we have to face the uncomfortable truth. The time to act just preventatively has past. It is time to brace for impact as we enter The Great Disruption.

    The coming years won’t be pleasant, as our society and economy hits the wall and realigns around what was always an obvious reality: You cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. Not ‘should not’, or ‘better not’, but cannot.

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  • How a new documentary on the Carteret Islands may give even climate 'experts' more clarity of purpose.

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  • Why adaptation - not only to climate change and other challenges, but also to their purported solutions - is essential.

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  • Geoff Lye sums up his thoughts on the outcome and implications of COP 15.

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  • Gary Kendall explains why the 2°C threshold for dangerous climate change is so important.

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