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  • An increasing number of workplaces are embracing future fit practices including flexible working and benefits for employees. © iStockphoto

    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. Our Ten Trends for 2015 series distills SustainAbility’s thinking over the past year and forecasts the issues that will shape the sustainable development agenda in 2015. This is the first in our series of blogs expanding upon these trends.

    Several developments last year—such as calls for banning zero-hours contracts in the UK, the escalation of the living wage issue in the US, UK, and parts of Asia, and initiatives by corporates to address root causes of inequality—have brought into sharper focus the question: What does the workplace—when it’s fit for the future—look like?

    The reality of an ageing workforce in developed economies is profoundly shifting how businesses reconfigure working practices and accommodate a multi-generational workforce. McDonald’s has warned that Europe faces a future of stunted growth unless employers take measures to bring young people and older workers into the labour force. Several companies that have focused on adapting their business practices to accommodate older workers are seeing financial returns and productivity gains. For example, since retailer B&Q began actively recruiting store clerks over the age of 50, its staff turnover is six times lower, while short-term absenteeism has decreased by 39%. Unilever UK estimates that it gains six euros in productivity for every one euro spent on a wellness program designed to prolong the working life of its older employees. …

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  • Flickr image by Greg Foster

    SustainAbility’s recently released research, See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance, proposes a solution to the somewhat stalled state of sustainability reporting and transparency. “See Change” highlights three key elements that must be addressed in order to gain the most value from transparency and reporting efforts: materiality; valuation of externalities; and integration. What follows is the first of a three-part series that will explore those elements.

    Most sustainability reports contain vast quantities of information about a company’s environmental and social impacts. While this generally means an increase in transparency, it also has led to lengthy, costly and minimally read reports. The resources devoted to gathering data and creating narratives ultimately are not bringing enough value to companies and their stakeholders. How can we improve these reporting efforts and ensure that the powerful data and narratives in these reports are leveraged to inform decisions? …

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  • Image © 38 Degrees

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    38 Degrees is one of the UK’s biggest campaigning communities, with over
    2.5 million members. Members link up online and offline to discuss and vote on which issues the organisation campaigns on together. Zoë Arden talked to Maddy Carroll, Director of Campaigns at 38 Degrees, about the rise of ‘people-powered’ movements.

    Zoë Arden: Can you tell me about how the organisation started?

    Maddy Carroll: 38 Degrees started in 2009 when the political establishment kept talking about widespread apathy amongst the British public. But the public wasn’t losing interest in politics, they were losing faith in politicians; they still cared very much about the issues. 38 Degrees came out of a model of campaigning that started in America with an organisation called MoveOn bringing large numbers of people together to campaign on issues they care about.

    The ‘Stop Forest Sell-Off Campaign’ that started in 2010 was a very big moment for 38 Degrees. It was a campaign that really went to the heart of so many people in the country – preventing the sale of national forests to private companies. …

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  • Flickr image by Wayne Wilkinson

    Labels can be tricky and distracting things. “Corporate citizenship,” “corporate social responsibility,” “shared value,” “triple bottom line,” “sustainable development,” and “sustainability” are just a few of the terms used by the broad array of professionals nudging business to play a positive role in society.

    It may seem a bit tenuous for someone in the full-time employ of an organization called “SustainAbility” to make such a pronouncement, but in keeping with the rose-by-any-other-name-would-smell-as-sweet philosophy, I suggest the discussion about labels be set aside for good and that 2015 be embraced as the year of The Obvious.

    It is obvious, for example, that soiling your home—literally the dwelling in which you live, or figuratively the community from which you and others draw water, breathe air, produce food, and go about day-to-day life—with toxic substances that can quickly or slowly kill you is, well, a pretty bad idea. …

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  • Flickr image by Dennis Wilkinson

    Reporting on an unsustainable business model

    As I was reviewing the selections for “best report” for Corporate Register’s 2015 Reporting Awards I found myself thinking, enough is enough. The most recent round of finalists includes British American Tobacco (BAT). It is true that the company is doing progressive things and has long been used as an example of a highly transparent company in a challenging industry. But if we want to create a sustainable future, can we continue to give plaudits to companies that lead in transparency and disclosure yet have fundamentally unsustainable business models? …

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  • Sustainability reporting is stalled. Companies are spending too much time and too many resources creating lengthy reports that few read. However, sustainability reporting and transparency have also brought many benefits, helping companies manage key environmental and social impacts and build trust and credibility with stakeholders. And yet, we are failing to tap into the potential value of reporting and transparency – value that could provide vital information to more directly inform decisions that drive better business and societal outcomes.

    Our latest research which launched today, See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance, proposes a solution. Informed by over 50 interviews and a survey of nearly 500 sustainability practitioners, See Change features three key elements of transparency, six case studies, and a practical tool. Specifically, the Transparency Advancement Tool guides companies to develop their transparency efforts by focusing on what is strategically important (i.e., materiality), valuation of externalities, and integration….

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  • Flickr image by d2s

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    California’s Silicon Valley, a global epicenter of the high tech industry, is becoming the central focus of a national debate around the representation of women and minorities in technology companies. …

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  • Flickr image by andres musta

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    Global human rights violations have risen in the last decade and unless governments act to introduce stronger binding mechanisms and companies start viewing human rights compliance as an essential part of corporate accountability, progress on human rights will remain slow. …

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  • Flickr image by nachof

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    A series of scandals have shaken food companies sourcing and selling in China, bringing into the spotlight persistent safety concerns and forcing corporations to review traceability tools and consider working more closely with suppliers to address the problems. …

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  • This interview was originally published in the summer issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 04: Better, Connected.

    At the end of 2013, SustainAbility was pleased to welcome The Partnering Initiative (TPI) to share its London office space. TPI is one of the leading organisations driving the theory and practice of collaboration between business, NGOs, governments and others.

    Rob Cameron recently spent a morning in conversation with TPI’s Executive Director, Darian Stibbe, discussing the challenges and opportunities that cross-sector partnership and collaboration can bring to business, NGOs and governments.

    Rob Cameron: Partnering is necessary for making progress in sustainability given the scale of the challenges we face. But it is surprisingly difficult to find great examples of partnerships that really deliver. How do you make partnerships successful?

    Darian Stibbe: Firstly, there has to be an alignment of interest. We sometimes talk about ‘Davos syndrome’ in which, for example, a CEO of a company and the head of a UN agency agree to launch a partnership, but when it comes down to making it happen on the ground, there is the realisation that there is insufficient overlap of interest between the two organisations. You have to start off with a clear and necessary overlap of interest and that can be a challenge in itself. …

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  • Image © CC Ilias Bartolini

    An abbreviated version of this piece was originally published in the summer issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 04: Better, Connected.

    Although a proposed increase in the US minimum wage stalled in Congress in early 2014, inequality has not lost momentum, and if anything, is poised to remain high on the global agenda. The Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard held a webinar on “Income Inequality and the Potential Risk to Investors” earlier this year, concluding that any company that furthers inequality could face substantial revenue losses from disengaged employees, lawsuits and reputational costs. McDonald’s echoed this sentiment by including inequality as a material risk in its latest 10-K. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund has become an unusual, though strong advocate of the need for countries to address income inequality because of the “dark shadow it casts across the global economy.”…

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  • Janet Voûte, Global Head of Public Affairs, Nestlé

    This interview was originally published in the summer issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 04: Better, Connected.

    After 15 years in strategy consultancy with leading firms Bain and Company and The Boston Consulting Group, Janet Voûte moved into public health as CEO of the World Heart Federation. She then spent two years as Partnerships Adviser at the WHO and became Global Head of Public Affairs at Nestlé in December 2010.

    SustainAbility has been working with Nestlé since 2006 on Creating Shared Value reporting, stakeholder engagement and strategy, and most recently arranged the company’s fourth stakeholder convening in London. Rob Cameron spoke with Janet about the increasing importance of speaking the language of both business and NGOs and Nestlé’s stakeholder engagement journey.

    Rob Cameron: How would you characterise stakeholder engagement when you arrived at Nestlé?
    Janet Voûte: I arrived a few years after the terminology and thinking around Creating Shared Value (CSV) at Nestlé had been launched, and the focus on being the leading nutrition, health and wellness company had been clearly defined. Additionally, the Chairman and the Public Affairs team had also agreed upon nutrition, water and rural development as priority areas for action. …

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  • Philadelphia increased its residential recycling by nearly 20,000 tons after partnering with Recyclebank. Flickr image by Bob Snyder

    Imagine if you got rewarded every time you rode your bike instead of driving, or if you received a tangible benefit whenever you made a greener choice. Would this change how you go about your day? And could that change be a stimulus to speed up advances in global sustainability?

    Convincing consumers to change their behavior is a significant component of the sustainability agenda. But for the most part, these efforts have been based in apps and campaigns, such as Alcoa’s Aluminate can recycling app or Bank of America’s Keep the Change savings program. By comparison, business models designed to stimulate sustainable behavior change are a relatively new – and largely unproven – concept.

    However, given the growth of smart technology and social media, expect to see behavior-change-focused business models in the future. If these models can generate profit and scale, they could help drive an economy decoupled from resource use. …

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  • Flickr image by Creativity103

    The long-awaited framework from the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) was released late last year, offering a set of guidelines to more deeply integrate sustainability into corporate objectives and to holistically account for the value businesses create. Integrated reporting (IR) is on its way to becoming the new norm for reporting.

    At the integrated reporting launch in December in London, the Prince of Wales’ comment that IR has the potential to “communicate value for the 21st century” echoes this sentiment. As described in an earlier blog post, the framework helps solve a number of problems presented by conventional sustainability reporting, such as the failure to account for all sources of value and impact, the overwhelming length of reports, and the challenge to communicate the important link between sustainability and financial performance to stakeholders. …

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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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  • 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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  • Recently I attended an event as part of the United Nations Global Compact Leaders (UNGC) Summit entitled “Impact Investment in the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” that focussed on the practical steps needed to bring impact investing to scale. Given the size and systematic nature of issues that the current Millennium Development Goals seek to address, both for-profit companies and mainstream investors will need to play a key role in creating solutions. Recent reports by JP Morgan and the Rockefeller Foundation as well as the World Economic Forum (WEF) suggest that impact investing may provide the right platform to do so, but that this will require both collaboration and innovation from a range of stakeholders….

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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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  • Lego's female scientist minifigure. Image courtesy of BrickTsar / YouTube

    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.

    Challenging Gender Norms Through Product Marketing

    In early September Toys ‘R’ Us pledged to drop gender labeling for its products in UK stores, and in the long term, it has indicated plans to remove explicit references to gender in its store signage. The move followed pressure from Let Toys Be Toys, a consumer group that campaigns for gender neutrality in toys. The campaign highlights the social cost of gendered marketing to children— from influencing personality development to shaping world views. Other UK retailers including Boots have agreed to remove “boy” and “girl” signs from their stores after receiving social media pressure from consumers….

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  • Many companies are waking up this morning to find out their sustainability scores, but could the scoring systems themselves be improved?

    Today, two heavyweights of the ratings world – the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) and CDP – released their 2013 results. DJSI and CDP, according to polled sustainability experts in SustainAbility’s Rate the Raters research, are the 1st and 2nd most familiar ratings respectively in the corporate sustainability field, and are among the top three in terms of credibility.

    The annual release of these ratings generates a considerable amount of attention, including praise from companies that have done well (Siemens has again been ranked the world’s leading industrial company in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index) as well as critique. (Congrats to Bank of America on their inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index … wait, hang on, WHAT?!)….

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