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  • Flickr image by Melissa Wiese

    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 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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  • Philadelphia increased its residential recycling by nearly 20,000 tons after partnering with Recyclebank. Flickr image by Bob Snyder

    Imagine if you got rewarded every time you rode your bike instead of driving, or if you received a tangible benefit whenever you made a greener choice. Would this change how you go about your day? And could that change be a stimulus to speed up advances in global sustainability?

    Convincing consumers to change their behavior is a significant component of the sustainability agenda. But for the most part, these efforts have been based in apps and campaigns, such as Alcoa’s Aluminate can recycling app or Bank of America’s Keep the Change savings program. By comparison, business models designed to stimulate sustainable behavior change are a relatively new – and largely unproven – concept.

    However, given the growth of smart technology and social media, expect to see behavior-change-focused business models in the future. If these models can generate profit and scale, they could help drive an economy decoupled from resource use. …

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  • Flickr image by NAMU-Cube

    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.

    In his 2014 State of the Union address Barack Obama underscored the urgent action required on climate change but made no mention of controversial and divisive energy policy matters such as approving the TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. Environmental groups and energy experts question how long it is possible to sustain an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, which backs investment in clean energy alternatives on one hand but also promotes rampant drilling and mining of fossil fuels on the other.

    The Obama administration is not the only one finding itself at this energy crossroads. The uncomfortable transition from fossil fuels to renewables is playing out in a tug of war between the high-carbon lobby and more progressive companies placing their bets on the transition to a low-carbon economy. …

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  • The idea of business model innovation—that a company could launch a new business model never conceived of before, or transform an existing business model—has long captivated business leaders. And yet, executives are often held back by vested interests in their current approach: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But as global trends—environmental, social, political, technological—continue to shift the foundations of our current business models, incremental innovation will become less effective in enabling companies, industries and whole economies to adapt and succeed. There is an urgent need for fundamentally different approaches to value creation….

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  • Business Model Innovation: Postcards from the Edge

    24 Jan 2014 – Melanie Colburn

    Flickr image by emersonquinn

    What will business look like in 2025 or 2050? How will successful corporations adapt to the mega trends stemming from the sustainability challenge?

    These questions hint at a few of the implications of SustainAbility’s current think tank work. Earlier this month, we tested some ideas from our forthcoming paper on business model innovation, entitled Model Behavior, at a roundtable event in San Francisco. Attendees included representatives from B Lab, Gap, GlobeScan, Impact HUB Bay Area, Levi Strauss & Co, PG&E, Safeway, SAP, and Vodafone, among other organizations. (Quotes from the discussion included below are edited to provide anonymity, unless attribution was granted.)

    Tell Me How to Move This Mountain

    As one roundtable attendee attested, ‘The last time [my company] went through a business model transition it didn’t go so well—either for [the company] or [its stakeholders]—but we know business model innovation needs to happen.” …

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  • Crowd-sourced models enable individuals to invest directly in solar projects and novel partnerships will finance solar projects. Image by Activ Solar, Flickr

    This is post 8 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.

    In the wake of the 2007/8 financial crisis, the phrase “financial engineering” has come to have a negative connotation, conjuring images of math wizards creating esoteric financial products that brought our global financial system to its knees. While such engineering is showing signs of a gradual rebirth, we see a new form of financial engineering happening–one that promises beneficial social and environmental outcomes. …

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  • Beyond executive pay, we’ve seen the inequality conversation manifest itself into ‘living wage’ campaigns rippling through the service sector in 2013. Image by Ari Moore, Flickr

    This is post 1 of 10. See next.

    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.

    “‘How can it be,’ he wrote, ‘that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?‘” That was President Obama quoting Pope Francis in a wide-ranging December speech on income inequality, which he called the “defining challenge of our time.” It also represented a high water mark in what has been a remarkable year in raising the profile of inequality as not only an urgent societal issue, but also a critical business one….

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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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  • The promise of business-model innovation has long captivated the sustainability field, generating plenty of hype. But all the talk has yet to yield many real business-model changes.

    You might not know it to hear companies talk. Any business change can end up being classified as “business model innovation”. In a BCG and MIT survey of executives and managers earlier this year, nearly half of the respondents said their companies had changed their business models as a result of sustainability opportunities. However, the majority of innovations we see involve changes in companies’ processes and/or products, not underlying business models….

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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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  • Time is of the essence: Are investors failing to acknowledge long-term risks to their funds and overvaluing their assets?

    Earlier this month I attended two investor-related events – the launch of the new report published by the Carbon Tracker and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and the RI Europe 2013: Investor-Corporate ESG Summit. Both events recognised the challenges of incorporating ESG considerations into company valuations, and discussed the growing set of initiatives and approaches that investors are taking to resolve the situation.

    In the first report in the series – Unburnable Carbon: Are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble? – Carbon Tracker argued that if the world is to remain within the 2 degrees limit of tolerable global warming then it can only “afford” to burn approximately 20% of total known fossil fuel reserves, leaving 80% of assets technically stranded and meaning that investors who are valuing companies based on their ability to continue to burn these fossil fuels may be massively overpricing their assets….

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  • “The current economic system, built on the idea of perpetual growth, sits uneasily within an ecological system that is bound by biophysical limits.” So states the fifth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-5), published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 2012.

    Renowned economist Kenneth Boulding reflected the same sentiment more pointedly many years ago when he said: “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

    Infinite growth is the operating principle, reinforced by our current economic and political systems, on which many of the world’s business leaders, policy-makers and investors make decisions every day. As a result, the gap between our current burn rate and what the planet’s environmental systems can support on a sustained basis continues to grow. This gap represents a significant risk – and an opportunity – for the business community.

    This is the context of the most recent collaboration between UNEP and SustainAbility, along with Green Light Group: a just-released report titled GEO-5 for Business. Using GEO-5 (a 500+ page compilation of environmental data, policy options and scenarios) as its foundation, GEO-5 for Business serves as a translation and primer written specifically for business leaders. While much analysis has been conducted on the impacts of business on the environment, this report looks in the other direction – at the impacts of environmental trends on business….

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  • Apps like Buycott are enabling consumers to uncover details of a product’s corporate family tree and join user-created campaigns to boycott businesses that support questionable practices.

    Between traditional news channels, blogs, and social media, it can be hard to keep up with what’s happening in the field of sustainable development. In this roundup the SustainAbility team aims to cut through the noise with a handful of highlights that have caught our eye….

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  • I was at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference last week. This annual event, where Fortune magazine “gathers the smartest people [they] know in sustainability,” is a cauldron of ideas and actions focused on finding “Sustainable Solutions,” this year’s conference theme. There is no shortage here of big ideas.

    Hannah Jones, Nike’s Vice President of Sustainable Business and Innovation, speaking on a panel titled “Pushing the Boundaries of Green,” summed up neatly …

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  • Earthrise

    For me, and I daresay for many working in the sustainability space, Earth Day has become an opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made over the past year, and to think about where we need to focus our efforts going forward….

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  • People worldwide are starting to connect the dots. Hurricane Sandy costing New York over 60 billion dollars with one of the largest insurance pay-outs in history. 85% of Dhaka submerged by recent flooding. 44 million people – many located in our cities – pushed into food poverty by food price spikes in 2010. And the costs of congestion bringing many urban centres to grid lock. In summary – cities worldwide need to take steps now to ‘future proof’ themselves if they are to avoid irreversible and costly damage to their environmental, social, and economic futures….

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  • If you’ve been watching any of the news coming out of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, you would not be blamed for thinking that it will ultimately fail. Many have decried the final Rio outcome document as weak and watered down. Several leaders have spoken out against the final version expressing dismay that it does not offer a more ambitious agenda. United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said in his opening remarks to the general assembly earlier this week, “Let me be frank: …

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  • Let me start by stating the obvious: The current trajectory of our society’s consumption of natural resources is not sustainable. I know it, you know it, NGOs know it, and policy makers and business leaders increasingly know it.

    Yet as the world prepares for the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June, two questions loom large:

    1. Why haven’t we made substantive progress towards sustainable development over the last 20 years?

    2. What do we need to do differently over the next 20 years to transition to a sustainable economy?

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  • I recently had the pleasure of participating in the annual workshops of SustainAbility’s Engaging Stakeholders network. The theme for the workshops was “value.” That is, how companies can derive greater business value from their sustainability communications and engagement, and how they can deliver greater value to stakeholders and society via their efforts.

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

    Durban will briefly be in the climate spotlight just months before the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit. Few of us at Rio in 1992 would have believed that so little progress would be made in the intervening years. At the time, I had four children of school age. Frankly, the UN process has served neither them, nor my four grandchildren, well since. Climate procrastination has put future generations (with over two billion ‘climate innocents’ to be born by 2050) at severe risk of increasingly dangerous climate disruptions. We have seen how national and international governments and institutions responded to the 2008 financial crisis in just two crucial days, but also how, in two crucial decades, they have achieved very little on the much deeper climate crisis. Nature neither defers decisions nor haggles; nor, as widely observed after the financial crisis, does nature do bailouts.

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