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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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  • Flickr image by Nic Taylor

    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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  • Flickr image by davebloggs007

    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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  • 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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