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  • What I Have Learnt: Inge Wallage

    14 Jun 2016 – Zoë Arden

    Inge Wallage

    This article was originally published in Radar 10: Being Human.

    Part of being human is the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes or, better still, wear them. Inge Wallage, currently communications director at the International Water Association (IWA), is one of an increasing number of professionals who are blurring the lines between business, civil society, public sector and campaigning groups. Her career has spanned roles at Motorola, Statoil, Philips Electronics, Greenpeace and in communications consulting. This is what she has learnt.

    What I’ve learned after seven years in civil society and a career in business is that solutions for the future will come about by unusual suspects coming together and sector boundaries blurring – we bring water professionals together across disciplines, across sectors and across the world.

    Humans tend to believe in technocratic solutions but the reality is we need to come up with new ideas that might come through different roots such as philosophy. Even though IWA is a registered charity, it is starting to behave like an incubator and/or a social enterprise – you need to be agile to come up with water management solutions. We’re becoming more business process focused for good, not to make money.

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  • Our recently released research, Sustainability Incorporated: Integrating Sustainability into Business, calls out the need for business to further embed sustainability into its core strategies. The report highlights five pathways that sustainability practitioners can leverage to more deeply integrate sustainability into their business: employing business model thinking; putting materiality to use; applying a sustainability lens to products and services; tapping into culture; and leveraging transparency. In the fourth of a five-part series, which was originally published on GreenBiz, we focus on leveraging transparency.

    SustainAbility has long recognized that corporate transparency is integral to sustainability. We have been active contributors to the evolution of sustainability reporting, from publishing our Global Reporters series (1994-2008) to fundamentally questioning reporting’s present day value in “See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance.” Ultimately, we recognize that reporting is just one tactic in a much broader, more strategic transparency evolution. With this in mind we explore how an emergent aspect of transparency – integrated reporting – can both drive and reflect larger efforts to integrate sustainability into business.

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  • Tech Companies and the ‘War for Talent’

    21 Mar 2016 – Rebecca O'Neill

    Image by iStockphoto

    This article was originally published in Radar 09: Inside the Machine.

    Competition for high performers in the tech sector can drive sustainability practices in companies, but may lead to negative societal impacts elsewhere.

    The digital transformation that is underway across all industries, from automakers to journalism to agriculture, is leading to mind boggling growth in the technology sector. New products and services are in high demand, as companies realise that shifting their business models to incorporate more sophisticated technology can often lead to more efficient supply chains, better customer services and, ultimately, higher profits.

    The growth of the tech sector in our economy has complex sustainability ramifications, from data privacy, cyber insecurity, e-waste and obsolescence to human rights and labour issues in the supply chain. But on the whole, tech companies have played active roles in the ongoing corporate sustainability movement, often leading in key issues such as shifting to 100% renewable energy.

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  • Image by Rochelle March

    In the Michelin starred restaurant, Enoteca, nestled amongst palm trees with a view of the Mediterranean, an acclaimed chef, Paco Perez, places a plate inside a strange-looking machine. He pushes a few buttons and removes it, now adorned with an intricate, coral-like design. He adds ingredients onto the edible design—caviar, sea-urchins, hollandaise, an egg and carrot “foam”—and pronounces the meal “Sea Coral.” The centerpiece of the dish is made from a seafood puree shaped into a complex design that would be near impossible to create by hand; instead, it has been assembled on to the plate by a 3D printer.

    3D printing is “at a tipping point, about to go mainstream in a big way,” forecasted Harvard Business Review last year. Despite a small slump in growth during 2015, the industry is now expanding into more and more channels. Mattel just released a 3D printer for kids named the ThingMaker. Scientists at Princeton University have 3D printed a bionic ear that can hear radio frequencies beyond the range of normal human capability. 3D printed casts are known to heal bones 40-80% faster than traditional ones. You can take a picture of you foot and send it to SOLS, a start-up specializing in custom orthotics, to get stylish orthopedic insoles 3D printed and sent to your door.

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  • Image by iStockphoto

    This article was originally published in Radar 09: Inside the Machine.

    In our Fall 2015 Quarterly Trends we noted that rapidly developing technological breakthroughs are reshaping society, business, supply chains and the workplace. We are also seeing a greater articulation of the discomfort that is arising from the rate at which technological progress is taking place and the inability to manage some of the risks and challenges associated with it.

    One of those challenges is the widening of inequality. As Jo Confino, Executive Editor, Impact & Innovation, notes in The Huffington Post: “Experts say that rapid advances in technology are pulling the world in opposite directions and that the way that policy makers, businesses and civil society handle the extraordinary pace of change will determine the direction of human society.” These concerns are particularly salient in the face of forecasted trends for 2016, which include the rapid development of the Internet of Things, cybersecurity becoming more of a concern for both business and households and artificial intelligence and robotics increasingly holding the potential to replace human tasks.

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  • Our recently released research, Sustainability Incorporated: Integrating Sustainability into Business, calls out the need for business to further embed sustainability into its core strategies. It highlights five pathways to more deeply integrate sustainability into business: employing business model thinking, putting materiality to use, applying a sustainability lens to products and services, tapping into culture, and leveraging transparency. In the first of a five-part series to explore these pathways, we focus on the first one, employing business model thinking.

    While many companies claim that sustainability is embedded in their DNA, very few have truly integrated environmental and social considerations into their decision-making processes and core strategies. Many strategies are still centered on creating financial value while sustainability initiatives remain in a programmatic silo, separate from core business strategies.

    To address today’s pressing global challenges, sustainability must be embedded into the core business. One way that companies such as AstraZeneca, Fibria (PDF) and Novelis are working to break sustainability out of its silo is by exploring how the business creates value; in other words, employing business model thinking. These three companies have all created business model diagrams and shared them externally in their reporting.

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  • Image by Rochelle March

    3D printing remains the cool kid in class, still fresh, and maintaining an attractive level of intrigue. And its future looks promising. According to Harvard Business Review from May 2015, industrial 3D printing is “at a tipping point, about to go mainstream in a big way.”

    3D printing is a technology that can build three dimensional items by adding material, whether plastic, metal, concrete or human skin, layer upon layer, until the object is created. What began in a couple laboratories and garages of makers as a way to build customized components has become a lucrative industrial technology, enabling more efficient and customized manufacturing.

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  • A series about regional trends: The water crisis in Latin America challenges business as usual and spurs innovation.

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • "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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