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  • This interview was originally published in the summer issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 04: Better, Connected.

    At the end of 2013, SustainAbility was pleased to welcome The Partnering Initiative (TPI) to share its London office space. TPI is one of the leading organisations driving the theory and practice of collaboration between business, NGOs, governments and others.

    Rob Cameron recently spent a morning in conversation with TPI’s Executive Director, Darian Stibbe, discussing the challenges and opportunities that cross-sector partnership and collaboration can bring to business, NGOs and governments.

    Rob Cameron: Partnering is necessary for making progress in sustainability given the scale of the challenges we face. But it is surprisingly difficult to find great examples of partnerships that really deliver. How do you make partnerships successful?

    Darian Stibbe: Firstly, there has to be an alignment of interest. We sometimes talk about ‘Davos syndrome’ in which, for example, a CEO of a company and the head of a UN agency agree to launch a partnership, but when it comes down to making it happen on the ground, there is the realisation that there is insufficient overlap of interest between the two organisations. You have to start off with a clear and necessary overlap of interest and that can be a challenge in itself. …

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  • Flickr image by clairebear83613

    Which business model innovations have the most promise for sustainability? How are leading companies exploring them? What role can companies play in advancing more sustainable business models?

    These are a few of the questions posed by SustainAbility’s latest think tank work, Model Behavior: 20 Business Model Innovations for Sustainability. In March, we held roundtable events in London and New York with representatives from Barclays, Cisco, Estée Lauder, Ikea, L’Oréal, Mitsubishi and Vodafone, among other organisations. Below are a few of the ideas we discussed. (As we held the discussions under Chatham House Rule, quotes from the discussion included below are edited to provide anonymity.)

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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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  • Following a number of 2013 supply chain crises, such as the horsemeat scandal (which saw Findus and others forced into recalls), there has been an emergence of technologies which trace a product’s journey from source to store. Image © London Permaculture

    This is post 6 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.

    “There is no point in wishing the complexity away—it’s already here…” My colleague Lorraine Smith wrote this while assessing the state of transparency in the corporate sector today, evoking a thread that ties far-flung supply chain crises erupting in 2013–from the apparel sector’s Rana Plaza factory collapse to the food and retail sector’s horse meat contamination scandal. Technology to trace product supply chains from source to store has emerged strongly in 2013 as a pathway to understand and address the complexity, while foreshadowing its potential future role as an enabler of collaboration within and across companies’ value chains….

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  • Recently I attended an event as part of the United Nations Global Compact Leaders (UNGC) Summit entitled “Impact Investment in the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” that focussed on the practical steps needed to bring impact investing to scale. Given the size and systematic nature of issues that the current Millennium Development Goals seek to address, both for-profit companies and mainstream investors will need to play a key role in creating solutions. Recent reports by JP Morgan and the Rockefeller Foundation as well as the World Economic Forum (WEF) suggest that impact investing may provide the right platform to do so, but that this will require both collaboration and innovation from a range of stakeholders….

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  • Elon Musk's Hyperloop. Image: P.S.Lu via Flickr

    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.

    Traceability in Food and Apparel Sectors

    Two sectors recently tainted by supply chain scandals–apparel and food–are also witnessing a surge in traceability and transparency in an effort to communicate more openly and transparently with stakeholders.

    The emergence of companies that are promoting traceability and transparency in the apparel supply chain through digital platforms, including Everlane, Honest-By, and SumAll, has been complemented by the newly launched Zady, an online shopping portal that uses icons to convey to consumers if a garment is locally sourced, made from high-quality raw materials, or environmentally conscious. While the co-founders research the practices of every brand included on the site and have visited some factories, in many cases they rely on the brands to disclose the information, requiring owners to sign contracts verifying the authenticity of their claims about sourcing and production. …

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  • B Labs are creating a new kind of corporation for a new economy

    July 17, 2013 was a historic day, one that B Lab’s co-founders call “a tipping point in the evolution of capitalism” and the “coming home” of capitalism to its proper role of creating shared and durable prosperity. It was on this day that Governor Jack Markell of Delaware – a state home to 1 million businesses, including 50% of all publicly-traded companies and 64% of the Fortune 500 – signed Senate Bill 47, legislation that enables the formation of public benefit corporations (PBCs) in Delaware. In brief, this legislation allows PBCs to be managed for the benefit not only of stockholders, but also for public interest and those affected by the corporation’s activities.

    I represented SustainAbility (a Certified B Corporation – see our profile) at a celebratory event at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in New York City, where I caught up with Bart Houlahan, a co-founder of B Lab.

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  • The Zermatt Summit's location acts as a timely reminder of the scale of the challenges ahead. Image credit: CC license by yago1.com/Flickr

    Professor Guido Palazzo of Lausanne University, when opening a panel session at the Zermatt Summitt, paused and surveyed his audience, every member of which was, in some way or other, committed to the cause of sustainability. “You know who is responsible for an unsustainable economy” he began. “We are… all of us in this room” Taking a smart phone from his pocket he presented a litany of unsustainable attributes to be found in a simple object that we all take for granted. While there was nothing specifically new in his assertions, it was a timely reminder of realities that we all find it all-too-easy to forget.

    Palazzo was not the only speaker to call for a fresh view of the commonplace. Pressed on the potential need for new ways of “impact investing”, the thoughtful Martin Rohner of Alternative Bank Switzerland cut to the heart of the matter: all investments have an “impact”. The real way forward is to understand the true nature of this impact, in all its forms, and upon whom, in order that investors can take a more considered view than at present….

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  • The politics of business: without a massive upswing in active support from the private sector, climate and energy policy simply doesn’t stand a chance of becoming law

    Having spent the last 4+ years deep in the sausage-making process that is federal and international climate and energy policy, I’ll admit that I’m biased: I firmly believe that climate change is the most important issue of our time. Of course, there is no shortage of critical topics that demand attention and urgent action. However, if we fail to address climate change, near-term progress on these other key issues will be undercut if not completely overshadowed by unrelenting runaway climate impacts.

    The science is clear: we have a very brief window to limit global emissions if we are to avoid the most dangerous of climate scenarios. It is similarly clear that a significant upswing in corporate action is required in order to shift the economics and politics around this issue if we have any hope of meeting this goal. Congressional staffers are often happy to meet with environmental NGOs. Yet in the dozens of meetings I’ve participated in on Capitol Hill, everyone in the room knows the score: without a massive upswing in active support from the private sector climate and energy policy simply doesn’t stand a chance of becoming law. Even President Obama’s recently unveiled climate plan, a serious step in the right direction, is clearly not enough….

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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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  • It was most definitely not a day like any other…Thursday June 13, 2013 saw the webcasted launch of Changing Tack, the culmination of our 18-month Regeneration Roadmap research program in collaboration with Globescan. The webcast was preceded by the annual Marks & Spencer Plan A Conference at which former U.S. Vice President Al Gore gave a barnstorming speech. Meanwhile, across London, the B Team launched its Plan B. Not a usual day by any means. Most certainly, something stirs…

    Our Regeneration Roadmap analysis sees us poised between a sustainable future and catastrophic collapse. So Changing Tack recognizes the intensely pressing need to accelerate progress towards sustainable development. No less than transformation is needed. The enabling context for such transformation is trust, collaboration and leadership. …

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  • Bilderberg Hotel in the Netherlands, name-giving location of the first conference in 1954

    Thursday 6 June, 2013

    Dear Bilderberg members

    For 59 years you have been meeting regularly to discuss the issues that most affect Europe and the USA. Looking back to the mid-50s, your original inspiration, to promote an “Atlanticist” approach to help bridge the gaps between the two continents, was no doubt well conceived as the wearisome post-war recovery period dragged on.

    But it was not this aim that was most prescient. Your founders realized the potential of a cross-sector approach to international challenges. This approach brings policy makers, business, and civil society together in ways not possible in the normal discourse. As we look to the challenges the world faces now, it is clear that this is the very type of collaboration that is so badly needed – one that cuts across traditional boundaries….

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  • Companies like Whole Foods have developed successful business models to meet particular environmental and social needs but it is not necessarily as straight forward for mainstream brands.

    “Innovation is most powerful when it’s activated by collaboration between unlikely partners, coupled with investment dollars, marketing know-how and determination. Now is the time for big, bold solutions. Incremental change won’t get us where we need to go fast enough or at a scale that makes a difference.” — Mark Parker, CEO, NIKE, Inc. at the LAUNCH 2020 Summit

    I recently finished Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, and came away with new perspectives on, and examples of, strong private sector leadership on environmental and social issues. The authors’ examples from Whole Foods – generous employee benefits, transparency and equity of salaries, etc. – are impressive and might be enough to soothe customers displeased by Whole Foods’ CEO Mackey’s candid views on topics such as health care, climate change and unions.

    Like others before them (see my blog on Creating Shared Value), the authors attempt to differentiate their concept with others such as sustainability, citizenship and CSR. Yet Mackey and Sisodia essentially offer the same thesis: companies that consider and manage a broad array of stakeholder interests (beyond meeting the needs of shareholders alone) will perform better financially over the long run. This viewpoint is now more or less commonplace amongst large, global companies, a development we should celebrate….

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  • Image: OiMax (Flickr)

    We are reminded constantly that humanity faces unprecedented challenges: climate change, resource constraints, economic volatility, over and under nutrition, widening inequality, and political conflicts that are increasingly aggravated by these issues. Yet, even as awareness of the causes and potential solutions to these challenges has never been higher, overall progress remains frustratingly slow or non- existent. Understandably, many of us have looked to national and international leaders, multinational companies, universities and other large scale institutions to provide leadership but, while their efforts have been earnest and sometimes substantial, they have so far failed to make very much difference….

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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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  • 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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