Blog
What’s Next

Get RSS feed

  • 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. …

    Read more - Comments

  • Dallas, Texas is a city that's taken steps with legislation to effectively ban fracking. Image by sparkleplen_t, Flickr

    This is post 7 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.

    This year, the Brookings Institution, Benjamin Barber, Thomas Friedman and Paul Hawken, among others, have argued that city governments are now setting the standard for effective policymaking, referring specifically to prominent US examples, but articulating a trend that can also be seen in large cities from Europe to Latin America. We have written about cities as influential levers to sustainable development before, but are now aware of burgeoning interest from companies, more frequently asking how to work with cities, not why. That is in part because the why has become readily apparent, whether via decisive regulation (e.g. Beijing tightening car ownership quotas further to combat air pollution and congestion or Dallas, Texas effectively banning natural gas fracking) or expanding influence of trans-border urban partnerships on sustainability (e.g. C40, Urban Sustainability Directors Network, or Rockefeller Foundation’s upstart global network of Resilient Cities). The latter example, which will spur the creation of 33 ‘Chief Resilience Officers,’ a position that has no equivalent in national/local government or the private sector, is exemplary of the experimentation and capacity for disruption that is attracting the private sector to work with urban actors. Walmart, for instance, wants to dramatically increase waste diversion rates across the U.S. to help achieve its own sustainability goals and is working with city governments and across its value chain to do so. Meanwhile, Shell is using cities as a lens to explore ways to address the food-water-energy nexus globally. And automotive, energy and technology companies are coming together as part of WBCSD’s Mobility 2.0 initiative and will pilot sustainable mobility interventions across cities and companies. …

    Read more - Comments

  • Will the vital pollination provided by bees, which is currently at risk due to Colony Collapse Disorder and other stresses, be the next big eco-system issue? Image © bob in swamp: Flickr

    On December 3, I moderated WBCSD’s US Midwest meeting, a one-day conference held in Columbus, Ohio whose theme was to “scale up and accelerate the transition to a sustainable economy, in the US and beyond.” The meeting was packed with excellent speakers, panels and working sessions on a diverse set of topics, including: ecosystem services, reporting, communicating with investors, inclusive business, innovation and business leadership.

    At the end of the day I was asked to wrap up the meeting with a “Top 10 List” of the issues that stood out most for me. I ended up with eleven key words and phrases. Much as Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel’s amplifier that goes to 11 was “one louder” than most amps, my Top 10 List is “one longer” than most Top 10 lists.

    1. Responsibility. I didn’t expect this to be on my list, but it popped up several times during the day. Ohio State University President Joseph Alutto kicked off the conference by telling us that OSU has a responsibility to address sustainability in both its operations and its curriculum. One of our corporate speakers declared that it is time for the business community to step up and take responsibility for leading the transition to a sustainable economy. With most of the conversation these days focusing on the business case, it was significant to hear that responsibility remains an important motivator. …

    Read more - Comments

  • Solar energy generation is gaining momentum. Image courtesy of University of Saskatchewan 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.

    Improving Transparency to Tackle Corruption

    Transparency International’s latest report, Transparency in Corporate Reporting: Assessing Emerging Market Multinationals, evaluates the reporting practices of 100 companies in emerging economies including China, India and Brazil. The companies assessed in the study achieved an average score of 46% in reporting on their anti-corruption programmes with Chinese companies achieving the lowest scores….

    Read more - Comments

  • 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.

    Read more - Comments

  • Time is of the essence: Are investors failing to acknowledge long-term risks to their funds and overvaluing their assets?

    Earlier this month I attended two investor-related events – the launch of the new report published by the Carbon Tracker and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and the RI Europe 2013: Investor-Corporate ESG Summit. Both events recognised the challenges of incorporating ESG considerations into company valuations, and discussed the growing set of initiatives and approaches that investors are taking to resolve the situation.

    In the first report in the series – Unburnable Carbon: Are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble? – Carbon Tracker argued that if the world is to remain within the 2 degrees limit of tolerable global warming then it can only “afford” to burn approximately 20% of total known fossil fuel reserves, leaving 80% of assets technically stranded and meaning that investors who are valuing companies based on their ability to continue to burn these fossil fuels may be massively overpricing their assets….

    Read more - Comments

  • The politics of business: without a massive upswing in active support from the private sector, climate and energy policy simply doesn’t stand a chance of becoming law

    Having spent the last 4+ years deep in the sausage-making process that is federal and international climate and energy policy, I’ll admit that I’m biased: I firmly believe that climate change is the most important issue of our time. Of course, there is no shortage of critical topics that demand attention and urgent action. However, if we fail to address climate change, near-term progress on these other key issues will be undercut if not completely overshadowed by unrelenting runaway climate impacts.

    The science is clear: we have a very brief window to limit global emissions if we are to avoid the most dangerous of climate scenarios. It is similarly clear that a significant upswing in corporate action is required in order to shift the economics and politics around this issue if we have any hope of meeting this goal. Congressional staffers are often happy to meet with environmental NGOs. Yet in the dozens of meetings I’ve participated in on Capitol Hill, everyone in the room knows the score: without a massive upswing in active support from the private sector climate and energy policy simply doesn’t stand a chance of becoming law. Even President Obama’s recently unveiled climate plan, a serious step in the right direction, is clearly not enough….

    Read more - Comments

  • “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….

    Read more - Comments

  • Bilderberg Hotel in the Netherlands, name-giving location of the first conference in 1954

    Thursday 6 June, 2013

    Dear Bilderberg members

    For 59 years you have been meeting regularly to discuss the issues that most affect Europe and the USA. Looking back to the mid-50s, your original inspiration, to promote an “Atlanticist” approach to help bridge the gaps between the two continents, was no doubt well conceived as the wearisome post-war recovery period dragged on.

    But it was not this aim that was most prescient. Your founders realized the potential of a cross-sector approach to international challenges. This approach brings policy makers, business, and civil society together in ways not possible in the normal discourse. As we look to the challenges the world faces now, it is clear that this is the very type of collaboration that is so badly needed – one that cuts across traditional boundaries….

    Read more - Comments

  • The GRI Global Conference was a three day event with a mix of plenery, panel and round table sessions

    The GRI Global Conference held in Amsterdam last week brought together sustainability practitioners, finance professionals, consultants, and academics for what many had been eagerly awaiting – the unveiling of the new G4 reporting framework. Beyond discussions of the new reporting requirements, all present were keen to share ideas about how companies, governments, and investors need to act collectively on urgent issues such as climate change, supply chain accountability, and labor rights. After three days of debate the message was clear – there is a need for all actors who are a part of the sustainability puzzle to move beyond disjointed incrementalism towards enabling systemic, transformational change worldwide….

    Read more - Comments

  • 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….

    Read more - Comments

  • In a blog posted in the fall of 2012 entitled, What’s the Big Idea, Chris Guenther and I explored the degree to which vision (a Big Idea) enables sustainability performance and leadership and vice versa. We concluded that it does to a very substantial degree, and that the current era is one suffering for lack of the kind of rhetoric that, when backed by appropriate strategy and operational excellence, paints a picture of the change required and provides inspiration that it can be realized….

    Read more - Comments

  • 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….

    Read more - Comments

  • “How might our businesses serve our humanity, and how might our humanity serve our businesses?” (Raphael Bemporad, BBMG speaking at Sustainable Brands, London)

    Sustainable Brands finally came to London, in November, a long way from its most recent home in balmy San Diego. The organisers may not have brought us sunshine but the event did bring a strong call for more humanity, heart, purpose, bravery and honesty in brands and business….

    Read more - Comments

  • When we wrapped up phase four of Rate the Raters in July 2011, we expressed our desire to further understand how ratings were creating value for and being used by companies, investors and other key stakeholders. Throughout our research, we’ve heard a good deal from companies about the pain caused by ratings, and so we were keen to ascertain how much (if any) of this pain is worth it. We thus set off in phase five to explore this question of value, and spoke with individuals responsible for ratings at nearly 30 companies in the process….

    Read more - Comments

  • 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….

    Read more - Comments

  • Two decades ago, business and NGOs sat poles apart, wary of each other’s intent and aims. Twenty years on — and with the realization of the need for collective action on environmental and social issues that play out across geographical, political, market and ecosystem boundaries — we see a shifting landscape. But has this move towards a focus on partnerships and collaboration overshadowed …

    Read more - Comments

  • In 2001 the International Business Leaders Forum and SustainAbility analyzed the power of corporate boards and identified steps for “mobilizing board leadership to deliver sustainable value to markets and society”. Boards operate with little transparency, so it is hard to tell which, if any, boards adopted those recommendations and the opacity of board activity limits our ability to characterize current good practice. However, it is terribly obvious when boards trip up, and the last decade has been characterized by momentous failures of corporate governance and corporations themselves….

    Read more - Comments

  • 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, …

    Read more - Comments

  • If you’ve been watching any of the news coming out of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, you would not be blamed for thinking that it will ultimately fail. Many have decried the final Rio outcome document as weak and watered down. Several leaders have spoken out against the final version expressing dismay that it does not offer a more ambitious agenda. United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said in his opening remarks to the general assembly earlier this week, “Let me be frank: …

    Read more - Comments

OR JOIN

You must have an account with us to gain unlimited access to our ever-growing library of research reports, issue briefings and members-only presentations on the latest sustainability challenges and opportunities for business.

Join now