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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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  • How can we transition to a sustainable economy?

    This article was co-authored by Rob Cameron and Lindsay Clinton.

    The UK election was fought largely on the issue of the economy. The Conservatives, with its surprise majority have promised to reduce the deficit by £30 billion. Fixing the economy and balancing the books is undoubtedly of great importance for the economy—as long as it is done sustainably.

    It’s a simple fact: the economy is a sub-system of our ecosystem. And yet, it has become commonplace to believe that the opposite is true – that the economy is the dominant system.

    The consequences of prioritising the economy and GDP above all else have become all-too visible: climate change, water scarcity, deforestation, soil depletion, resource shortages—but it is not only the environment that is paying a heavy price. The current economic model can be tied to rising workplace stress and illness, obesity, malnutrition, increasing inequality, and more.

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  • It has been more than two decades since policymakers, scientists, NGOs and other changemakers gathered in Rio de Janeiro for a historic summit that would set the direction of sustainable development for years to come. Since the 1992 Earth Summit, progress on climate change and sustainability has been uneven, and, many will argue, disappointing. As the date of the United Nations climate change conference in Paris approaches, the global community is facing another seminal year, building hopes that the December 2015 summit will mark the beginning of a new chapter with ambitious goals and more decisive action.

    For SustainAbility and GlobeScan’s annual Sustainability Leaders survey, we asked expert stakeholders representing business, government, NGOs and academia across 82 countries to evaluate the progress that institutions have made since the 1992 Earth Summit and reflect on their expectations for the next 20 years.

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  • John Elkington at the SustainAbility London office

    The SustainAbility London office regularly invites practitioners from within our network to speak to the team over lunch to share insights from their own work as well as their perspective on the sustainability landscape at large.

    SustainAbility was pleased to host John Elkington, Co-Founder and Honorary Chairman of SustainAbility, and the Volans team to discuss their latest publication The Stretch Agenda, a report intended as a playful provocation to big business to redefine the future of leadership in the Breakthrough Decade from 2016 to 2025.

    The Stretch Agenda is a dramatised portrayal of conversations that are already taking place in boardrooms across the Global C-suite. The piece in written as a “playper,” as opposed to a traditional report format, to provide fresh voices and perspectives on the sustainability agenda from the point of view of top decision-makers and strategists within a fictitious global company, ‘MN-Co’. The reader is given insight via a discussion between the Chair, CEO, CFO, CHRO, CMO and an incoming CXO (Chief Sustainability/Stretch Officer) and two young leaders as they ponder how to shift their company’s business model to address the economic, social and environmental challenges that lie ahead.

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  • Flickr image by fauxto_digit

    SustainAbility’s 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 last in a three-part series that explores those elements.

    Earlier in this series we explored how materiality and the valuation of externalities enable companies to focus their transparency efforts and leverage the value of sustainability reporting. This final article discusses how companies can apply materiality and externalities valuation to integrate sustainability across the business.

    True integration of sustainability means that material issues effectively are addressed within business functions and seen as critical to the company’s viability. Integration enables companies to understand internally, and — where relevant — communicate externally, how they create value and to better manage performance on critical issues.

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  • Is CSR really dead?

    Prognoses and Prognostications
    As 2014 closed and 2015 began, there were numerous “top,” “best” and “most important” lists marking notable 2014 occurrences and forecasting what to expect in 2015. SustainAbility entered these sweepstakes with our 10 Trends for 2015, which distills our thinking from the past year and predicts the issues that will shape the sustainable development agenda in the 12 months ahead.

    Our 10 select issues include – as headlines and subtext – global warming and climate activism, water, marketplace disruption, business model innovation, workforce diversity, ongoing efforts to eradicate slavery and more. The breadth of topics illustrates how varied this field has become and hints at the complexity any organisation faces in terms of managing such numerous and disparate issues well. …

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  • The roles of materiality, externalities, and integration in See Change's infographic

    This piece was originally published in the spring issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 06: The Place of Sustainability.

    Information is powerful. In our report See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance we found that sharing the right information in the right way with stakeholders can improve companies’ decision-making and drive change. Transparency on how a business generates value (for the economy, society, and the environment) can explain to stakeholders what impacts – both positive and negative – a company has, which material issues are most important, and where business opportunities may lie.

    We’re beginning to see more companies include business model diagrams on websites and in their sustainability and annual reports. This is in part driven by guidance provided by the IIRC’s Integrated Reporting Framework, which advises companies to describe the ways in which they create value. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) is also encouraging US companies to consider their business models as it includes ‘Business Models & Innovation’ as one of the ESG issues it has included in the standards it is developing. Companies like Novelis, Fibria, Natura, Astra Zeneca, Unilever, and Mitsubishi are including business model illustrations in their reports to help explain their priority issues and performance. …

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  • Hemma Varma, Senior CSR Manager Europe at Marriott Hotels, at the SustainAbility office

    The SustainAbility London office regularly invites practitioners from within our network to speak to the team over lunch to share insights from both their own work and on the sustainability landscape at large.

    We were delighted to have Hemma Varma, Senior CSR Manager Europe at Marriott come in to talk to us about their sustainability strategy. Hemma’s focus is on managing partnerships with charities and advocacy groups, driving employee engagement and supporting Marriott’s 20/20 youth vision. With 350,000 staff worldwide and hotels in over 72 countries, the depth and diversity of sustainability issues that Marriott faces are vast, touching practically every facet of the corporate social responsibility spectrum.

    Beginning as a family run business in 1927, Marriott has always stuck to its roots, placing great importance on community engagement and adopting the view that what it takes from the community, especially in terms of employees, it should give back. The founder’s philosophy, “Take care of our associates and they will take care of the customers” is now a widely accepted way of thinking in business but Marriott was embracing this value long before the terms ‘CSR’ or ‘employee engagement’ even existed. …

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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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  • Apple CEO Tim Cook's public coming out in 2014 highlighted the issue of LBGT workplace discrimination. Image © CC Mike Deerkoski

    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 second in our series of blogs expanding upon these trends.

    While gender diversity continues to frame the narrative on diversity within a company’s workforce, stakeholders and companies are shifting their focus to more holistic interpretation. This includes fostering other dimensions of inclusion such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disabilities.

    In 2014 a number of tech companies including Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon publicly disclosed their diversity figures, bringing attention to the underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities in the industry. While the tech industry has lagged behind other industries on the diversity front, the rise in disclosure of diversity data by these companies signals that, beyond examining their environmental and social impacts, these companies may be turning an inward lens onto their own workforce. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review posits that with various reporting frameworks and guidelines promoting improved non-financial reporting, significant insights will come from human capital reporting to provide investors and regulators with information on how companies create value over time. …

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  • Flickr image by Bill Keaggy

    From economists to politicians, from consumers to scientists, plenty of people agree that the current approach of many businesses is not sustainable.

    We’ve talked about the sheer obviousness of this point, as have many other thinkers and doers working on this challenge. But when it comes to discussing this with people responsible for key decision within these companies, it is frankly a bit awkward. Even for consultants like us who are engaged specifically to talk about this stuff, it doesn’t always feel okay to come right out and say it.

    We can discuss the most material issues, engage diverse stakeholders, or develop ambitious goals, all with the intent of nudging decisions in the right direction. But rarely do we come right out and say: Enough already. If significant talent and money at this company aren’t directed towards addressing the challenge and adapting, we’re not going to make it.

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Flickr image by Tim Reckmann

    When Warby Parker launched its prescription eyewear brand four years ago, it broke the industry mold by offering a unique business proposition. Whereas most eyeglass shops depend on storefronts to bring in customers, Warby Parker created a business model based on bringing the glasses to the consumers. Using their “Home Try On” system, the company’s customers can order up to five pairs of glasses to try on in front of their bathroom mirrors – for five days at no charge.

    Much has been written about Warby Parker’s hipster brand identity as well as its social mission: for every pair of glasses sold, the company donates a pair to a person in need. What I find unique about its model, however, is the potential for sustainability by way of reduced resource usage. Just like Netflix and other virtual brands that have come before it, Warby Parker is cutting energy and resource use by streamlining operations.

    Once, the consumer marketplace was almost exclusively comprised of single-purpose brick and mortar stores – the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer and even the optometrist. Later, grocery stores – and, eventually, big box stores, retail outlets and shopping malls – put several of these services under one roof. It isn’t hard to see why the department store model was so profitable: erecting a store on every corner or in every town provides customers with convenience, builds brand recognition, and can even create a sense of community. …

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  • Image © CC Domiriel: Compfight

    The identification and engagement of a company’s stakeholders to build trust, reduce risk and develop effective partnerships have been at the core of our work with business leaders for many years. As the rhetoric grows that no singular business is capable of addressing environmental and social challenges alone, companies must think now more than ever about how they can engage with NGOs, governments and other actors to develop collaborative solutions to system problems.

    Over the years, we have seen stakeholder engagement move in this direction. It’s evolved from tactical, compliance and risk-focused to more strategic and solutions-orientated, with stakeholders engaged up and down the value chain—not only as partners on critical issues but also as key players to improve business performance. …

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  • DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp via Flickr

    The continued downward slide of government leadership in driving the sustainability agenda forward, coupled with lackluster policy and advocacy engagement from the private sector, is the inconvenient truth revealed in this year’s GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey, The 2014 Sustainability Leaders.

    While a clear majority of experts see collaboration with governments as the “most effective” approach companies can take to creating pro-sustainability policies, less than a third believe companies will engage in this manner, as noted in our 2012 Collaborating for a Sustainable Future report. …

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