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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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  • World Cup 2.0: When Football Meets Footprint

    12 Jun 2014 – James Wicker

    Image © Juan Tan Kwon via Flickr

    World Cup season is upon us! The global event that football fans around the world have all been awaiting has started. All eyes are on the 32 national teams that will be competing in Brazil for the next five weeks.

    I was 11 years old when my country, France, hosted and won the World Cup in 1998. The national pride when Les Bleus lifted the trophy before the eyes of millions of people around the world was overwhelming. Surely any event driving this much passion globally should never be called into question? But my grown-up self now wonders if all this enthusiasm could be used to drive much needed positive environmental change?

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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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  • 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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  • Overturning longstanding gender norms is an imperative for global food security given that female farmers “feed more and more of the world”. Image of Women Farmers Network in Chakwal. ©Anduze traveller, Flickr

    This is post 5 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.

    “One of the issues that has emerged most strongly…is the need to tackle inequalities and structural discrimination in the new [post-2015] development agenda, especially gender inequality and gender-based discrimination which was identified as underpinning and reinforcing all other forms of inequality.”UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri, September 2013….

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  • Image courtesy of Christopher Chan ©2011

    “What unites us on an urban level is more unifying than divisive.” – Paul Hawken

    If you were to judge solely by the plenary sessions at VERGE, a conference uniting the sustainability and tech communities in San Francisco last week, you would be hard-pressed not to be hopeful that we are turning a corner on the greatest sustainability challenges of the 21st Century because of, not in spite of, business. The intersection points between business and society’s agendas are undoubtedly growing and this overlap is nowhere more apparent than in cities. …

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  • Gulu, Uganda - Copyright (c) Livia Martini

    My junior year of college I spent a year living between Northern Uganda and Rwanda. Like most twenty-something liberal arts school students who graduate from an international studies program, I was convinced I would change the world and that living abroad would show me how. I returned to the United States disheartened; ashamed at myself for being naïve enough to think I had the answers, and convinced that poverty was unsolvable. Three years and many life turns later, I’ve begun to rethink the issue of poverty alleviation….

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  • Copyright (c) Heather Mak

    Recently returning from a trip to Guangzhou to visit my grandmother, I found it remarkable how quickly the city had changed from when I was a little girl visiting for the first time, almost 25 years ago. I recall farmer’s fields with bumpy dirt roads that now, have magically transformed into eight lane highways. Small alleyways of hutong houses have been replaced by shiny new office bulidings and condominiums. Rickety bicycles carrying 10 times their weight? They’ve turned into luxury SUVs. Each time I go back, it is not …

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  • Uncertainty and anxiety are ubiquitous nowadays. The global economy remains fragile, and even where it does show some life, the continued volatility (and upward trajectory) of energy and other commodity prices is there to beat back any real sense of momentum.

    Meanwhile, progress on grand challenges like climate change, food and water security, and sustainable consumption is either halting or nonexistent, and there is declining confidence that large institutions, including governments, multilateral organizations, companies and even large NGOs, will lead the way in addressing them.

    That’s the general feeling at the global level, and across many countries. But look through the prism of cities…

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  • SustainAbility Council member Gary Kendall shares this report following a recent visit to China – in particular a portion of his journey featuring a cruise down the Yangtze River and through the locks at the infamous Three Gorges Dam.

    “That’s my new house” – my Chinese tour guide gestured toward a row of featureless apartment blocks beneath our vantage point overlooking the river – “and that’s where I used to live.” She showed me a photograph of a modest two-storey structure within the walls of the ancient city of Fengjie. It presumably remains intact, albeit more than 150 metres underwater.

    This stretch of the Yangtze – roughly 660km from Chongqing to Sandouping – is much less a river than a lake these days…

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  • I spent the week before last at the annual BSR conference, held in San Francisco, CA. It is among the year’s biggest confabs of corporate responsibility and sustainability experts, practitioners and aspirants. While I am not a serial or veteran attendee of the conference, I heard (and agree with) a consensus that it was better than others in recent memory. The crowd was generally upbeat and engaged, and that level of energy was both reflected and driven on by a series of lively keynotes, most notably the opening address by Al Gore, who took aim at the ‘insanity’ of short-term thinking, praised attendees for their efforts to advance sustainability, and…

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  • Last week we heard Clive Bloom – Emeritus Professor of English and American Studies at Middlesex University and author of Violent London: 2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts – _commenting on BBC Radio 4 about the systemic issues that underpinned the devastating riots in London this month. With many now searching for an explanation of the sudden and surprising violence that spread across London and other parts of the UK, Bloom argues that sociological factors – chiefly endemic poverty and the alienation of consumer culture – are the real culprits, and further, that failing to address the fundamental issues and resentments of the communities that spawned the riots will only guarantee their repetition. The point is essential as we face the likelihood of wider and more frequent social disruption in response to economic, social and environmental stresses in the decades ahead.

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  • Get Well Soon

    13 Jul 2011Caren Holzman

    The Lancet recently published a major international study revealing that 347 million adults worldwide suffered from diabetes in 2008 – a number that has doubled since 1980 and exceeds that shown in previous studies. As it was a scientific study, it doesn’t address the staggering economic implications of this number in terms of lost productivity and exorbitant healthcare costs for treatment and support. However, a study also published in June in Value in Health contends that nearly one in five people with diabetes are regularly unable to attend a full day at work due to disruption caused by episodes of dangerously low blood sugar. And one in every ten healthcare dollars in the US is spent on diabetes and its complications.

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  • Lindsay Clinton is in Mumbai to round off 18 months of research on sustainable solutions to urban poverty.

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  • New Year, New Life

    19 Jan 2011Mark Lee

    Population numbers are staggering, but the answer, in terms of how many is too many, is more complicated.

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  • Reflections, observations and trends (in no way exhaustive) from 2010.

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  • And why companies who fail to prepare for a Gen Y world are preparing to fail.

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  • While Qatar is admittedly one of the riskiest World Cup selections ever, it’s also one of the most important.

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  • Why has the projection of a world of 9 billion people by 2050 become such a resilient piece of conventional wisdom?

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  • Had breakfast this morning with Frances Cairncross, now Rector of Exeter College, Oxford...

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