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    More than a million refugees crossed into Europe in 2015 alone, part of the 50 million refugees worldwide. According to the World Economic Forum, if a country was created from all the displaced people it would be the 24th largest in the world.

    Migration is not new, but the scale in Europe in contemporary times is. It is not the first refugee crisis – consider Europe after World War II, and situations in the Middle East, Africa,Latin America and Asia since – only in a higher concentration (largely by Europe’s own doing) and closer to home. Only true optimists would say it is the last. Lest we forget, the oldest refugee camp (since 1991) is a long way from Europe in Dadaab, Kenya, hosting more than 300,000 refugees. While it’s the latest chapter in a long history of displacement, the ‘choices’ migrants have are still abysmal: refugee camps, urban poverty and/or dangerous, usually illegal journeys to safety.

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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 fifth of a five-part series, which was originally published on GreenBiz, we focus on leveraging transparency.

    Forming a culture that enables an employee to understand what sustainability means for both the organization and his or her role within it is necessary in order to embed sustainability deeply. Yet culture is difficult to define and often described simply as “how we do things around here.” To fully integrate sustainability issues into the company’s decision-making, employees need a clear set of values and shared understanding. And the company’s leadership will be critical too when it comes to enhancing or diminishing a shared understanding of sustainability.

    As many of us have experienced, culture can be resistant to change, even with the best strategy and leadership in place. As oft attributed to Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for lunch”. But whilst culture can be deep-rooted and slow to evolve, our research indicates that it is possible for corporate cultures to adapt. Moreover, given the
right conditions, progress can be made even within corporate cultures that do not have a deeply shared understanding of sustainability.

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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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  • Adam Huawei, Director of Sustainability Programs, Huawei

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

    Huawei is a global information and communications technology solutions provider headquartered in China. In November 2015 it published a research paper – Digital Enablement – aimed at accelerating progress in giving people access to digital information and resources. Adam Lane, Director of Sustainability Programs at Huawei, spoke to Alicia Ayars about the report.

    Alicia Ayars: What are the main findings of the report?

    Adam Lane: The core finding was that while more people are gaining access to the Internet those who are offline (upwards of four billion people) are getting further and further behind. While the digital divide is narrowing, it’s closing less quickly than it has in the past.

    Looking at those in extreme poverty, there is going to be real difficulty in connecting the last two to three billion to broadband internet — even though they are the ones who could benefit the most. It is clear that the problem is complicated and varied, but at the heart is the issue of business models that enable the provision of connectivity and the life-changing services the internet facilitates.

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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 second of a five-part series, which was originally published on GreenBiz, we focus on putting materiality to use.

    Most large companies have identified their most critical sustainability issues, including human rights, water, customer privacy, climate change and beyond. Identifying and prioritizing those social and environmental issues, such as a materiality assessment, helps companies allocate resources, set goals and focus their strategy.

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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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  • With the arrival of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the COP21 agreement (or ‘Paris Agreement’) on climate change at the end of 2015, there has been a rush of new and renewed calls for cross-sector collaboration to implement them. The last of the 17 SDGs – “Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development” – underscores this and lays out a broad collaborative agenda in the realms of finance, technology, capacity building, trade and systemic factors. And it’s working. At COP21 and again at the World Economic Forum in Davos, new and ambitious collaborations were announced left and right. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, The New Deal on Energy for Africa, The Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development and Champions 12.3 are just a few of the high-profile initiatives launched recently.

    Of course, this represents just the latest chapter in many years of increasing interest and activity (and also some hype) concerning such collaboration. At conferences, in articles and books, on social media and elsewhere, we remind each other repeatedly of the need for more and better collaboration, especially among business, government and civil society, to drive progress on sustainability, and we tout the variety of initiatives that our organizations have joined or helped create. At SustainAbility, we’ve long been advocates for this kind of enhanced engagement between and among companies and society, and we’ve been proud to play supporting roles in efforts ranging from Nestlé’s Creating Shared Value convenings to the recently launched Sustainable Coffee Challenge.

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  • Image by Geoff Lye

    As the dust settles after the negotiation of an ambitious global agreement in Paris, Geoff Lye offers his assessment of its significance.



    23 years ago, I left Rio full of optimism – confident that a range of Earth Summit agreements, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, would set us on a sustainable path well before I would have any grandchildren. When I got back to the UK, I made a video to persuade clients of the company I was then building to take environmental issues more seriously. In practice, not only were many of my forecasts simply wrong, but my spirit of optimism was misguided. In 1992 I had four young children. Returning for the Rio+20 conference, I had four young grandchildren – and I was struck by how little progress we had made; worse, on most measures, we had tracked significantly in the wrong direction.

    So, on a train to London as COP 21 finally closed with a truly ambitious agreement, I was – in contrast to the first blog of this series – once again seeing the climate glass as half full. In fact, I see it as much more than half full. This agreement – voted on behalf of over six billion global citizens – fires the starting gun on a quest to deliver a carbon neutral economy within the lifetimes of our grandchildren. It would be easy to highlight the many potential loopholes and future roadblocks in the agreement, but the agreement does, I believe, change the nature of the debate and shifts the framing of decarbonising our economies irreversibly.

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  • Flickr photo by Alisdare Hickson

    As COP 21 gets underway, Geoff Lye considers the role of business to help deliver the decarbonisation needed to avoid breaching the 2°C threshold – the ultimate goal of the Paris climate talks.

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  • This article was first published in GreenBiz and was co-written by Aiste Brackley, Trends and Research Manager at SustainAbility and Alex Lewis, Senior Research Analyst at GlobeScan.

    In some respects the Volkswagen emissions scandal could not have come at a worse time. Unfolding two months before the historic COP21 climate summit in Paris, the revelations that the car giant cheated emissions tests reinforced long-held suspicions among some skeptics that the private sector’s buy-in over climate change was superficial. The 2015 Climate Change Survey, GlobeScan and SustainAbility’s most recent survey, reveals that international sustainability experts continue to view the contribution of business as modest. However, if we are to see meaningful long-term progress, national governments as well as the private sector will have to step up, as the two institutions will be critically important for the implementation of the post-COP21 framework.

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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 WorldFish

    This article was co-written by Lindsay Clinton and Rochelle March.

    As São Paulo, Brazil, suffers from the worst drought in its history, multinational pulp company Fibria, which is headquartered in the city, is one of many that has felt the pinch. At times, water has been shut off to 40% of the city and even now, after the rainy season, only 6-13% of the city’s reservoir’s capacity has been filled. In response, the company is working to reduce the amount of water it uses for forest irrigation.

    This isn’t the first time that Fibria has had to adapt to a shifting environment. Over the last several years, the rising scarcity of several essential resources – including water, fertilizer, labor and land – has pushed the company to reconsider its business model. It has diversified into renewable energy, biofuel production and sustainable real estate development. Fibria’s goal is to make these portfolio additions 20% of total free cash flow by 2025, making the company less pulp-dependent and giving it alternative options for future business growth in light of looming sustainability challenges.

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  • Flickr image by Melanie Holtsman

    Our economies in their present forms are unsustainable. Our planet has been subjected to the Great Acceleration of humankind’s impact, which presents immense risks to the health of the biosphere and our civilization. Our impact is directly linked to global economic growth.

    At SustainAbility, as we argued in our report Changing Tack, business can be a great driver of change but the present rules of engagement in business, finance and markets are largely unchanged since the 19th century. Meanwhile, global growth has stalled and, eight years after the financial crash, many developed world economies continue to be moribund. A change in how we run our economies and business is urgently needed. And for that we need leadership.

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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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