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  • Flick image of step pyramid by Ed Yourdon

    In 2004, the late CK Prahalad, an influential management professor and author, published The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, a book that urged companies to use a new lens to view the poor. Prahalad advocated for envisioning those at the bottom of the economic pyramid as producers and consumers of products, rather than merely as philanthropic beneficiaries.

    Ten years later, several large companies have adopted Prahalad’s ideas and, in the process, have demonstrated that serving the “base of the pyramid” consumer can make good business sense. I analyzed several of these “base of the pyramid” business models — what we call “Building a Marketplace” — in Model Behavior: 20 Business Model Innovations for Sustainability, a report that I co-wrote and released earlier this year….

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  • This article originally appeared in Radar Issue 03: What Chance Change? Exploring Sustainable Finance.

    As the world’s multinational banks move, lend, invest and protect money for customers and clients in the decades to come, they can play a major role in the context of sustainable development.

    They must for three main reasons. First, they can enable sustainable growth. The unique capabilities of multinational banks, principally the large universal and investment banks, make these entities key enablers in the shift to more equitable distribution of income and the long-term investments needed to support more sustainable development.

    They can also contribute to financial stability. The health of the global economy is inextricably linked with banks’ success. By better managing their own health, banks can contribute to a strong, resilient global economy that protects jobs and livelihoods, avoids collapse in the face of external shocks, and in doing so, provides a platform for more sustainable forms of growth. …

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  • Flickr image by Melissa Wiese

    This interview originally appeared in Radar Issue 03: What Chance Change? Exploring Sustainable Finance.

    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 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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  • 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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  • Flickr image by matthewthecoolguy

    At the end of 2013, we asked a select group of clients and experts from our network what they thought would be on the horizon for sustainability in 2014. We published over 20 responses in the most recent edition of Radar and from time to time, we’ll highlight those responses on our blog.

    “I see the emergence of a new approach to sustainable marketing, an approach that is in tune with how consumers shop: moving away from the ineffective approach of just giving consumers information to constructing a shopping environment that will help consumers notice, remember, see and ultimately buy sustainable brands.”
    — Daniel Vennard, Global Sustainability Director for Brands, Mars Inc.

    “An increased focus on ESG materiality assessment as a mainstream corporate responsibility practice (with the new focus on materiality in the GRI G4 guidelines, SASB, and IIRC efforts).”
    — Steve Lippman, Director, Corporate Citizenship, Microsoft …

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  • Rob Frederick is Vice President and Director of Corporate Responsibility at Brown-Forman, a global producer of spirits and wines including brands such as Jack Daniels, Finlandia, Herradura and Woodford Reserve. Prior to joining Brown-Forman, Rob helped define and implement sustainability strategy at Ford Motor Company.

    Rob was a client of SustainAbility at Ford and continues to work with us at Brown-Forman. Michael Sadowski, VP at SustainAbility, leads this work and recently spoke with Rob to discuss his corporate experience to date and the most material issue for a spirits and wine company – responsible drinking.

    Michael Sadowski: You were at Ford during the early days of its corporate responsibility (CR) efforts and helped start Brown-Forman’s CR program. How do you compare your experiences at Ford and Brown-Forman?

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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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  • In December we wrote about the top trends that our team tracked in 2013. If you missed them, here’s a summary to help you navigate to the main articles….

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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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  • The expanding legitimacy of waste picking. Image of Filipino waste picker by Global Environment Facility, Flickr.

    This is post 3 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.

    From 1900 to 2000, global population increased just under four times, while the amount of waste produced by humans increased ten times. With waste set to double again by 2025, and the world facing a number of drivers (e.g. less space for landfills, urbanization, volatile commodity prices) that are already upending the status quo, a variety of actors are viewing waste as an enormous business opportunity….

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  • Solar energy generation is gaining momentum. Image courtesy of University of Saskatchewan 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.

    Improving Transparency to Tackle Corruption

    Transparency International’s latest report, Transparency in Corporate Reporting: Assessing Emerging Market Multinationals, evaluates the reporting practices of 100 companies in emerging economies including China, India and Brazil. The companies assessed in the study achieved an average score of 46% in reporting on their anti-corruption programmes with Chinese companies achieving the lowest scores….

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  • Image by ravensong75 via Flickr

    Transparency on the rise

    Corporate transparency is a wide and complex terrain, including everything from legally required disclosures to employee tweets, much of it having nothing to do with sustainability. However, an increasing number of transparency initiatives are focused on social and environmental outcomes, from the rise in sustainability reporting over the last twenty years, to more recent bursts of open innovation. This increase in transparency represents a tremendous opportunity for business, the environment, and society at large if six key elements are done right.

    Transparency spreads far beyond reporting

    With the generation and capture of ever-larger streams of data, many sustainability professionals are asking, “What is the future of reporting?” Given the pace and nature of the changes afoot, that might simply be the wrong question for those working to drive the sustainability agenda forward.

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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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  • 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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  • Does Sustainability Need to Cheer Up?

    19 Jun 2013 – Ryan Whisnant

    Image credit: CC license by Jason Hargrove/Flickr

    Earth Day 2013 came and went in April with the usual fanfare of green festivals, volunteer programs, company campaigns and reflections on the question, “How are we doing, anyway?” On this last point, the answer this year seemed to be a somewhat lukewarm, “Well…we’ve been better.”
    Certainly, we see a steady stream of what might be considered discouraging news. A sampling from just last month included a pessimistic outlook in Jeremy Grantham’s Q1 letter to investors, updates on the factory collapse in Bangladesh, new data on honey bee colony collapse, spiraling loss of Arctic summer sea ice, and global food shortages. To be fair, just as surely there are hopeful stories and a lot of good work being done. But the point is that those of us working in the sustainability realm, or frankly anyone taking a systems view on global topics, must grapple with some daunting issues that easily could lead to a doom-and-gloom perspective.

    Is the solution to buck up, put on a happy face and simply forge ahead? The answer seems to be yes — and no. …

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  • Sustainable Brands 2013

    I had occasion this week to be in San Diego for Sustainable Brands 2013, where I offered opening remarks on the first full day of the conference, June 04. Conclusions from Changing Tack, the final output of The Regeneration Roadmap, were top of mind as I did so.

    Sustainable Brands’ theme this year was “From Revolution to Renaissance.” I love the implications behind the words. To me, it suggests that we have broken through into a creative, hyper-productive phase of sustainable development progress and the role brands will play. But, as in the title above, I put the theme to the conference audience as a question – not to query where we are going, but to allow us to step back and look at where we are on the journey, and to consider how we can chart a path forward. And, based on Changing Tack’s conclusions, I suggested that we need to incite still far more people toward revolution at the same time as we push forward the renaissance….

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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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  • “How might our businesses serve our humanity, and how might our humanity serve our businesses?” (Raphael Bemporad, BBMG speaking at Sustainable Brands, London)

    Sustainable Brands finally came to London, in November, a long way from its most recent home in balmy San Diego. The organisers may not have brought us sunshine but the event did bring a strong call for more humanity, heart, purpose, bravery and honesty in brands and business….

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  • At the risk of showing my age, when I was very young I was fascinated by the man that passed by our house every other week with his horse and cart letting out the cry of “any old iron!” He was a rag and bone man and one of the last of a dying breed that made their living collecting anything that people wanted to get rid of – metal or not. “Put it outside for the rag and bone man” was a familiar refrain in our house.

    The rag and bone trade came to my mind towards the end of the first Global Sharing Day, another step forward in the emergence of the “sharing economy”. …

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  • The phrase “In praise of Barclays”, used during this, of all weeks, and with Wimbledon coming to a conclusion, surely elicits only one response: “You cannot be serious!!” Well, no, not exactly serious. In fact, most definitely not serious, because the company’s performance has been nothing short of woeful at best and disastrous at worst. So, why the headline?

    I will remodel it: “In praise of Barclays individuals that I know have worked patiently and diligently for over a decade or more to drive change against all the odds, and in praise of the tens of thousands of frontline Barclays staff who are being vilified daily by the media. They have surely felt …

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