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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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  • Flickr image by Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia

    Rice paddies and colorful tractors are common sights in remote parts of south India. So, too, are small shanties, brightly painted shops and coconut palms. But nowadays, in some villages, solar panels have also become part of the landscape, covering shingled roofs and competing with the palms for sunlight.

    The panels are helping to catapult energy-poor villagers – who previously had no, or only very limited, electricity – into a more sustainable future. This leap to renewable energy is the result of an innovative business model that’s being rolled out to low-income communities in the state of Karnataka.

    The company behind this new model is Simpa Networks, a technology company that aims to make sustainable energy affordable to all – even those who make less than $2 a day. In particular, Simpa targets customers who have limited access to electricity and use kerosene lanterns, which can pose health and safety risks, to illuminate their small homes. It also targets customers with little, if any, disposable income, who can’t afford to buy its solar products for $200 to $400 each – even though Simpa claims its system could yield significant savings over its 10-year lifespan. …

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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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  • Crowd-sourced models enable individuals to invest directly in solar projects and novel partnerships will finance solar projects. Image by Activ Solar, Flickr

    This is post 8 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.

    In the wake of the 2007/8 financial crisis, the phrase “financial engineering” has come to have a negative connotation, conjuring images of math wizards creating esoteric financial products that brought our global financial system to its knees. While such engineering is showing signs of a gradual rebirth, we see a new form of financial engineering happening–one that promises beneficial social and environmental outcomes. …

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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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  • Speakers highlighted the electrification of cities as a major opportunity for cutting carbon emissions. But collaboration between city administrations and ICT intelligence providers will be critical to harmonizing electricity supply and demand.

    Last week, I attended the ‘Business Day’ event held by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) as part of World Climate Summit 2013 during COP19 in Warsaw. The mission of the day was to explore WBCSD’s ‘big ideas’ to avoid the trillionth ton of carbon. For WBCSD, the big ideas are business solutions, the core of their recently launched Action 2020. The Action 2020 framework for action builds upon Vision 2050 and considers nine priority areas, including climate change, which addressed together will bring about transformative change….

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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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  • Many business leaders find themselves stuck in a plateau on their ascent towards “Mount Sustainability,” unable to scale at the pace required to address global challenges, says the CEO Study on Sustainability” by the U.N. Global Compact and Accenture. The report is an important read for anyone working in the sustainability profession, and the results show how far corporations have come in their journeys towards sustainability, as well as how far we have to go….

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  • Mineral rich frontier economies like Myanmar are attracting a surge in investment but some are advising caution when looking to move into regions with a track record of human rights issues. Image credit: CC license by rhaddon/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.

    Social Investment Gathers Momentum

    In the UK, a number of developments in the social impact space are creating momentum around the departure of business as usual. Last year saw the establishment of Big Society Capital, a social investment institution that has been set up by the UK government to provide access to finance for social enterprises. In early June this year, the Social Stock Exchange (SSE), an investment of Big Society Capital, was launched as an online platform where listed companies are connected to investors who are looking for measurement of social and environmental credentials. To be listed on the SSE, companies have to produce social impact reports that are assessed by a panel of experts in the field. The SSE is supporting the shift to a broader definition of shareholder value by enabling companies to make their social and environmental impacts more transparent and ultimately, more quantifiable to investors. …

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  • Prominent business sources have been making the business case for equal marriage rights on both sides of the Atlantic.

    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.

    The Business Case for Gay Marriage

    John Browne, former CEO of BP wrote a piece in the Financial Times expressing his support for gay marriage in the UK, framing the argument in economic terms: “Anything that fosters an inclusive environment makes good business sense.” He contended that gay marriage will “eliminate one more barrier to a true corporate meritocracy and deserves recognition as a matter of strategic importance in the global market for talent.”…

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Image: USFS Region 5 (Flickr)

    “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is now.” Chinese proverb

    If planting a tree is a metaphor for taking action on climate change, the old Chinese proverb is wise advice for our present day dilemma. We are, of course, a couple of decades late in taking meaningful steps to transition to the low-carbon economy necessary to safeguard the quality of life and economic prosperity that businesses, governments and individuals strive to achieve and maintain. But just because we should have begun long ago does not mean we should not take action now. Indeed, urgency has been added to necessity, and adaptation has been added to mitigation, as the implications of a warmer world are becoming clearer with each passing year….

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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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  • As I look ahead to joining VERGE at Greenbuild in San Francisco November 12-13, and begin to get my head around a brief One Great Idea presentation patterned on the ways my colleagues and I believe cities are vital to the future of sustainability, I have something to admit: Blade Runner is …

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  • The momentum around fair and responsible tax practices continues to build. I was struck by a recent comment from Britain’s highest paid executive who decided he should support responsible tax practice by disclosing that he pays all UK taxes with minimal tax avoidance (i.e. the legal ways of reducing tax bills). He believes, he says, ‘that if you want to be accepted in society you have to be seen to be paying your fair share’. His disclosures come hard on the heels of public denouncements of aggressive tax avoidance by David Cameron as ‘morally wrong’ and by a Treasury minister as ‘morally repugnant’. Nor is this issue restricted to the UK. Personal tax affairs feature strongly in the US Presidential elections. And the French billionaire CEO of Louis Vuitton was widely pilloried for seeking to shift his domicile to Belgium – allegedly to avoid the new 75% tax rate….

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  • Among the myriad challenges facing the human species in the early years of this century there is one that shows up on every political and business agenda from Pretoria to Paris, Lusaka to London, and Windhoek to Washington: how to sustain economic growth. So dominant is this discourse that those who dare to question it can be readily dismissed as lunatics, so far outside the mainstream as to appear out of touch with reality. Can’t they see? We need to create jobs…

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  • Rio+20 or Rio-20?

    03 Jul 2012Geoff Lye

    At the end of the Rio+20 Summit Ban Ki-moon agreed to meet the 9 ‘major groups’ who have a formal role in the preparatory process and the conference, they include business, trades unions, scientists and young people’s NGOs. In practice, only four representatives of the groups were invited to speak. I was struck by the pointlessness of this process, …

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  • In order for the world to transition to a low-carbon economy the economics of energy must change. It must become cheaper to both generate and consume energy with a lower greenhouse gas intensity. And while the private sector plays a critical role in facilitating this transition, public policy that encourages low-carbon forms of energy and discourages high-carbon energy is also required.

    Companies that understand the market opportunities that a low-carbon economy represents are making major investments in R&D in energy generation, developing products that use less …

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