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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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  • "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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  • Lego's female scientist minifigure. Image courtesy of BrickTsar / YouTube

    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.

    Challenging Gender Norms Through Product Marketing

    In early September Toys ‘R’ Us pledged to drop gender labeling for its products in UK stores, and in the long term, it has indicated plans to remove explicit references to gender in its store signage. The move followed pressure from Let Toys Be Toys, a consumer group that campaigns for gender neutrality in toys. The campaign highlights the social cost of gendered marketing to children— from influencing personality development to shaping world views. Other UK retailers including Boots have agreed to remove “boy” and “girl” signs from their stores after receiving social media pressure from consumers….

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  • Greenpeace's recent scaling of London's Shard shone a light on the continuing lack of engagement by fossil fuel companies, but could targeting investors bring more tangible results? Photography courtesy of Sandison/Greenpeace.

    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.

    Fossil Fuel Divestment Gathers Momentum

    Last fall, climate activist Bill McKibben’s organisation, 350.org, supported the launch of fossil-free divestment campaigns across cities and college campuses. Modelled on the South Africa anti-apartheid divestment movement of the 1980s, the campaign has reached over 100 US cities and 300 colleges. Similar versions are also taking hold in Australia, the Netherlands and the UK.

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  • Sustainable Brands 2013

    I had occasion this week to be in San Diego for Sustainable Brands 2013, where I offered opening remarks on the first full day of the conference, June 04. Conclusions from Changing Tack, the final output of The Regeneration Roadmap, were top of mind as I did so.

    Sustainable Brands’ theme this year was “From Revolution to Renaissance.” I love the implications behind the words. To me, it suggests that we have broken through into a creative, hyper-productive phase of sustainable development progress and the role brands will play. But, as in the title above, I put the theme to the conference audience as a question – not to query where we are going, but to allow us to step back and look at where we are on the journey, and to consider how we can chart a path forward. And, based on Changing Tack’s conclusions, I suggested that we need to incite still far more people toward revolution at the same time as we push forward the renaissance….

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  • Companies continue to rank low among global institutions when it comes to sustainability leadership, though a few companies — mostly the usual suspects — continue to rise above the others, according to an annual survey being released this week.

    If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it is. According to the 2013 Sustainability Leaders survey, produced jointly by GlobeScan and SustainAbility, the private sector outperforms only the world’s national governments when it comes to effectively addressing sustainability challenges. That is to say, their second to last….

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  • Collaboration for sustainability: Nike is working with its competitors to develop a systems change programme to eliminate hazardous chemicals from supply chains.

    As the Guardian’s Jo Confino wrote at the close of the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012, “the most often used phrases in the many meetings I attended [were] the need to create ‘coalitions of the willing’ and a recognition that ‘all issues are inter-connected’ and cannot be viewed in silos.”

    Collaboration is widely acknowledged as vital if we are to address global challenges at the scale and speed we need, but the current rhetoric often fails to acknowledge how hard it is to …

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  • “How might our businesses serve our humanity, and how might our humanity serve our businesses?” (Raphael Bemporad, BBMG speaking at Sustainable Brands, London)

    Sustainable Brands finally came to London, in November, a long way from its most recent home in balmy San Diego. The organisers may not have brought us sunshine but the event did bring a strong call for more humanity, heart, purpose, bravery and honesty in brands and business….

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  • I am perplexed by the fuss about integrated reporting. It seems obvious that a company ought to effectively measure and communicate aspects of its business that matter to key stakeholders, and to do it in a cohesive manner.

    Why it wasn’t done well in the first place is a discussion for another time and place, but here we are in 2012 knowing what’s at stake if we don’t take into account the impact we have on current and future generations’ ability to thrive. Surely we are ready to move …

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  • One of the perks of being a graduate student at the University of Michigan was access to football season tickets. With this, I learned the various rituals undertaken by the student section on game day, including chanting, “who cares?” when opposing team players’ names are announced before each game.

    This ritual still makes me smile for some reason, and is also a question many of us in the sustainability field ask during ratings and rankings season, which kicked off last week with the release of the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. These results, like those in previous years, sparked a flurry of press releases by proud companies, angst in companies who fell short, blogs debating the merits and shortcomings of ratings, and consultancies offering their services to improve company performance….

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  • Over the last decade, there has been an extraordinary growth in the number of ratings and award schemes designed to measure corporate sustainability performance. While these rankings play an important role in improving corporate performance, companies are struggling to keep up, and many question the time and effort required to respond to raters’ requests for information.

    Is it all worth it? Which ratings, if any, do people pay attention to? How much does a company’s score …

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  • Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan. Marks & Spencer’s Plan A. GE’s ecomagination. Nike Better World.

    Feel like you can’t turn around without bumping into a big, brassy, branded, corporate sustainability program these days? Or at least a product campaign (think Nissan Leaf) that seeks to cast a green and otherwise sustainable hue over an organization? It seems we have entered the age of the Big (Sustainable) Idea, an epoch in which performance as well as leadership and influence are limited without membership in this club….

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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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  • The phrase “In praise of Barclays”, used during this, of all weeks, and with Wimbledon coming to a conclusion, surely elicits only one response: “You cannot be serious!!” Well, no, not exactly serious. In fact, most definitely not serious, because the company’s performance has been nothing short of woeful at best and disastrous at worst. So, why the headline?

    I will remodel it: “In praise of Barclays individuals that I know have worked patiently and diligently for over a decade or more to drive change against all the odds, and in praise of the tens of thousands of frontline Barclays staff who are being vilified daily by the media. They have surely felt …

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  • The World Health Organisation estimates that 30% of prescriptive drugs in circulation in emerging economies are counterfeit. Imagine you live in the developing world, and you depend upon regular medicine to keep you healthy enough to feed your family. There is roughly a one in three chance that each pill you take is at best ineffective, and at worst dangerous. Other than swallow and hope for the best, what can you do? …

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  • “You want us to produce one of those corporate socialist reports?!” This incredulous response, from the CEO of a large US conglomerate, may not be the typical reaction that we get from companies (a raised eyebrow is much more common in London), but it does belie a deep-seated misunderstanding about the role and value of sustainability reporting.

    In case you’ve not been watching, sustainability reporting has become a sizeable industry. CorporateRegister.com, a consultancy that monitors the global output of reports every year, estimates that in 2011 there were approximately 6600 reports (including corporate responsibility, sustainability, environmental and other similar reports) – up from less than 1000 ten years ago and …

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  • Back in September, I discussed in a blog post the fact that open data was one part of a move for technology to help us become more open, collaborative, participatory, and connected. Open data is but one part of a wider suite of technologies currently being adopted for accountability in the value chain. We discussed these in a recent Engaging Stakeholders webinar featuring Leo Bonanni of Sourcemap. These technologies include RFID, apps, mobiles, and a number of different codes – alphanumeric, barcodes and QR codes. Collectively, this group of technologies …

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  • In business, sometimes simplicity is praised and sometimes it is scorned. It can be hard to predict which reaction will win out.

    Each year, GlobeScan and SustainAbility survey sustainability experts across corporate, government, NGO, academic, research, and service organizations in 75-plus countries to determine which businesses are perceived to be sustainability leaders, and why. This year’s results remind us that simplicity is a more complex phenomenon than it might appear.

    The 2012 Sustainability Leaders Survey was released this month. …

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  • You do all the right things: establish goals and targets, publish an annual sustainability report, seek employee and public input — and then repeat the cycle. Yet despite your efforts, those around you don’t seem to be moving fast enough to address the world’s environmental challenges, and you sense that real progress will require more involvement on the part of consumers, investors and government leaders.

    What do you do? How will you make your company’s engagement efforts …

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  • It’s hard to think about brand leadership without thinking about Apple, now neck-and-neck with ExxonMobil as the world’s biggest company by market cap.

    Last week, Apple was top of mind for many of us, with two major pieces of reporting: the UK release of Adam Lashinsky’s book, Inside Apple, which describes in part-admiring, part-unmerciful detail Apple’s tough organizational culture, and the New York Times’s excellent investigation into conditions in Apple’s supplier factories in China.

    This last piece spurred CEO Tim Cook …

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