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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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  • 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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  • Experts feel the urgency of issues like food safety is on the increase but corporate performance is still lagging behind. Image © David W Oliver, Flickr

    What issues are sustainability experts most concerned about? How well is the private sector addressing these challenges? Which sectors are most accountable for tackling these vexing problems? After analyzing responses from nearly 900 sustainability experts in 91 countries, the recently released 2013 Issues Survey, Challenges, Performance and Accountability, dives into these thorny issues, with mixed results.

    It’s been nearly two years since The GlobeScan / Sustainability Survey explored how our international pool of sustainability experts see issues—ranging from climate change to food safety—and the urgency and corporate performance surrounding them. In 2011 our survey (Key Challenges and Industry Performance) found urgency regarding several leading issues was in a slightly downward trend, and industries received mixed reviews about their ability to manage the transition to sustainable development—with no sectors receiving high marks for sustainability performance. …

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  • Typhoon Haiyan Near Hainan Island, China. Image © NASA Goddard Photo and Video: Flickr.

    “But let us again be clear that we are witnessing ever more frequent, extreme weather events, and the poor and vulnerable are already paying the price.”

    Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, closed COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland — which took place Nov. 11 to 22 — with these harrowing words. Figueres puts a fine point on a key element within UN climate negotiations that have direct implications for the private sector.

    We are witnessing the early stages of a new normal in terms of climate impacts, and an increasingly public discussion regarding how we best prepare, who pays for “climate resilience,” and how we address the needs of poor and vulnerable populations most in harm’s way. Addressing these challenges will require the private sector to drive innovation toward problems that are still emerging, to help people with little money to spend. …

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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: iStockphoto

    Historically, most companies advanced their sustainability credentials through reporting, efficiency or even just good marketing. Approaches often involved streamlining processes or products to achieve a smaller environmental footprint.

    These innovations are worthwhile and move us closer to sustainable development, but they don’t address the underlying value structure of a company. They are incrementally better, but not transformative or good enough to change our take-make-waste economy….

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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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  • Greenpeace's recent scaling of London's Shard shone a light on the continuing lack of engagement by fossil fuel companies, but could targeting investors bring more tangible results? Photography courtesy of Sandison/Greenpeace.

    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.

    Fossil Fuel Divestment Gathers Momentum

    Last fall, climate activist Bill McKibben’s organisation, 350.org, supported the launch of fossil-free divestment campaigns across cities and college campuses. Modelled on the South Africa anti-apartheid divestment movement of the 1980s, the campaign has reached over 100 US cities and 300 colleges. Similar versions are also taking hold in Australia, the Netherlands and the UK.

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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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  • 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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  • Many multinationals, in the last few years, have ramped up their efforts to better understand their long-term future in a world where 9 billion people need to live amidst converging pressures on food, energy, and environment. Some, like GE, P&G, and Microsoft have turned to emerging markets to innovate new products, processes, and business models. Sustainability professionals looking for new solutions should also take note. Emerging markets provide a wealth of information, ideas and knowledge about how to thrive in the face of massively constrained resources …

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  • It is awfully tempting to ignore the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

    If you’ve been listening to the echo chamber of low expectations surrounding the summit, you can’t be blamed for doing so. Many companies and even some environmental NGOs are keeping their heads down.

    But it’s not in business’ best interest to ignore the summit. We’re in the midst of a tipping of …

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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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  • 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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  • Another year, another COP, another step closer to the brink. It must seem to the casual observer that the UN climate negotiations are an exercise designed explicitly to create gridlock and failure. Judging by many of the blogs, comments and tweets I’ve been reading since bleary-eyed delegates stumbled out of the Durban ICC on Sunday, the most recent episode has provoked some strong but mixed reactions: politicians claiming a triumph of multilateralism, NGOs decrying the lack of progress on issues of substance. Both views hold some merit. As someone who was present in Durban for the regulation fortnight – but missed the 36 hours of injury-time – I’d like to weigh in with my personal reflections.

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  • This is the last in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, three, four, five, and six.

    Back in the UK now and reflecting on the news filtering out this (Sunday) morning. Given the threat yesterday of a chaotic collapse, with echoes of Copenhagen, I was relieved to hear of the final outcome. The very best was never going to be equal to the full climate challenge we face, but this COP has made some major strides in securing a long-term mitigation roadmap with ‘legal force’.

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  • This is fifth in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, three, four, six, and seven.

    One of the joys of COPs is that strange things happen which make you realize that these grand UN events are as vulnerable to human foibles as a local school fete. I stayed on (and on) at the conference centre to join a business briefing by Jonathan Pershing, the US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change. He is a very approachable man of huge integrity whom I first met in Bali at COP 13 when he was still at WRI. When he was later sworn in to his new position as US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change under the Obama administration, I was delighted.

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  • SustainAbility and GlobeScan sat down to breakfast in New York recently in the fourth in a series of discussions on “Leadership, Trust and Value.” Over the last few months we’ve held several gatherings about sustainability aspirations with our clients and collaborators in London, DC and San Francisco. At this iteration, colleagues from Cisco, Context America, Goldman Sachs, IFF, Mission Markets, and the Overbrook Foundation joined us. The diversity of our group made our discussion—which volleyed from the evolution of the sustainability movement to “NGO lethargy” and the off-gassing of Styrofoam—all the more interesting.

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