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  • Tech Companies and the ‘War for Talent’

    21 Mar 2016 – Rebecca O'Neill

    Image by iStockphoto

    This article was originally published in Radar 09: Inside the Machine.

    Competition for high performers in the tech sector can drive sustainability practices in companies, but may lead to negative societal impacts elsewhere.

    The digital transformation that is underway across all industries, from automakers to journalism to agriculture, is leading to mind boggling growth in the technology sector. New products and services are in high demand, as companies realise that shifting their business models to incorporate more sophisticated technology can often lead to more efficient supply chains, better customer services and, ultimately, higher profits.

    The growth of the tech sector in our economy has complex sustainability ramifications, from data privacy, cyber insecurity, e-waste and obsolescence to human rights and labour issues in the supply chain. But on the whole, tech companies have played active roles in the ongoing corporate sustainability movement, often leading in key issues such as shifting to 100% renewable energy.

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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

    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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  • Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. – Albert Einstein

    What comes to your mind when you hear the word “failure?” Which sort of feelings does the sound of it engender within you? Not very good ones, probably.

    As a society, we have been systematically wired and re-wired to abhor failure – F’s on quizzes, exams and science projects when you were younger were embarrassing…

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  • “We’re here to put a dent in the universe.” Steve Jobs

    Steve Jobs has passed away at the age of 56, having transformed the way we use and think about technology. Those of us working toward a more sustainable world would be wise to pay attention to how he did it.

    I was working in the mobile phone industry in January 2007, when Jobs stood up on stage and revealed the iPhone to the world. Many of my colleagues looked on unimpressed – sure it looked good, but it was too expensive, too big, too slow for internet browsing, too hard to type on… in fact too just-about-everything. The consensus seemed to be that Jobs, as an ‘outsider,’ just couldn’t understand the complexities of the mobile landscape we all inhabited. What my colleagues missed was that Jobs wasn’t looking to find his own place in that landscape; he was planning to terraform it. And terraform it he did. Five short years ago very few people outside the industry had ever heard the term “smartphone,” but now it seems that every other handset you see is either an iPhone or an imitation of it.

    What does all this mean for the business of sustainability? Well, Apple may not be known as a leader on environmental or social issues, but its winning formula serves as a great model for those who aspire to be. Jobs built an organisation that actively sought to shatter the status quo in every market it entered. The iPhone is just one of a number of successess – Macintosh, iTunes, iPad, and so on – that prove how a single company can really change the game if it thinks differently.

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  • I’ve blogged recently on roundtable discussions that SustainAbility hosted in Washington, DC and London. We organized these sessions in order to connect some of our corporate and civil society partners in more intimate conversation than fits the conference circuit – smaller, more focused, more relaxed; all discourse, no presentation – and yet capable of creating more diversity and dynamism than possible when we only meet bi-laterally. A simple added benefit has been the experience of talking to people who are all of one place, in cities where we have offices ourselves. Our work so often takes us far afield, or into meeting environments built around destinations convenient to all but endemic to few, that it is easy to forget how both content and tone change when everyone has a common geography.

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  • I am in the United Kingdom presently, spending time with colleagues at SustainAbility’s Holborn office in central London. I spent the two weeks immediately prior to this trip on a blissfully quiet vacation with family and friends. Plugging back in, I find myself somewhat reeling trying to comprehend the various forms of volatility which erupted while I was away: in the markets, on the streets of this city and in other urban centers around Britain, and in Libya, where the opposition’s final advance into Tripoli proved so rapid as to stun most observers, leaving online media scrambling to post headlines like Qaddafi’s Final Hours while such hours still existed…

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  • On the heels of the launch of Appetite for Change, our team has spotted a number of developments and received interest in working together to transform our food system. And the overall theme of access to good food remains in the limelight, most recently with…

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  • Although the concept of social entrepreneurship to many is much more appealing and sexy than mainstream commercial business, we need the power of both to push the field of socially responsible and socially innovative companies forward…

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  • This past Friday, July 15th in Washington, DC, my colleagues Jeff Erikson, Michael Sadowski and I hosted a breakfast roundtable on leadership, trust and value. With guests from Areva, Chevron, the Environmental Defense Fund, Johnson Controls, the International Finance Corporation, Molycorp, the Nature Conservancy and WWF, we explored the intersection and interdependence of these topics as well as their influence on the sustainability agenda.

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  • Cindy Gallop is a force. She is a magnetic, dynamic character that oozes positivity and passion in ways I have never encountered.

    An ex-advertising queen, she recently founded, an incredibly innovative micro-action platform designed to turn good intentions into concrete action. Based on a crowd-sourcing principle, Gallop’s venture is meant to motivate people to do things by partaking in micro-actions that can effect great change in the world…

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  • Lindsay Clinton tracks emerging themes in social enterprise, from this year's Skoll World Forum.

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  • Here’s a message for corporate executives: your stakeholders are still searching for transformative sustainability leadership. Only 24% of experts and practitioners believe that corporate leaders advanced the sustainability agenda last year, according to the latest GlobeScan/SustainAbility survey. The rest of us are clamouring for more.

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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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  • Bit by Bit

    30 Nov 2010Mark Lee

    Focusing on transformational system change may distract from the efficacy of cumulative incremental change.

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  • Jennifer Biringer recaps her panel at the SoCap Conference, and links to the broader state of biodiversity.

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  • Seven reasons why we think Better Place is one of the best examples of a 21st-century enterprise out there.

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