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  • DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp via Flickr

    The continued downward slide of government leadership in driving the sustainability agenda forward, coupled with lackluster policy and advocacy engagement from the private sector, is the inconvenient truth revealed in this year’s GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey, The 2014 Sustainability Leaders.

    While a clear majority of experts see collaboration with governments as the “most effective” approach companies can take to creating pro-sustainability policies, less than a third believe companies will engage in this manner, as noted in our 2012 Collaborating for a Sustainable Future report. …

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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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  • 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. …

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  • 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. …

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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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  • The Zermatt Summit's location acts as a timely reminder of the scale of the challenges ahead. Image credit: CC license by yago1.com/Flickr

    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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  • 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….

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  • It was most definitely not a day like any other…Thursday June 13, 2013 saw the webcasted launch of Changing Tack, the culmination of our 18-month Regeneration Roadmap research program in collaboration with Globescan. The webcast was preceded by the annual Marks & Spencer Plan A Conference at which former U.S. Vice President Al Gore gave a barnstorming speech. Meanwhile, across London, the B Team launched its Plan B. Not a usual day by any means. Most certainly, something stirs…

    Our Regeneration Roadmap analysis sees us poised between a sustainable future and catastrophic collapse. So Changing Tack recognizes the intensely pressing need to accelerate progress towards sustainable development. No less than transformation is needed. The enabling context for such transformation is trust, collaboration and leadership. …

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  • Sustainable Brands 2013

    I had occasion this week to be in San Diego for Sustainable Brands 2013, where I offered opening remarks on the first full day of the conference, June 04. Conclusions from Changing Tack, the final output of The Regeneration Roadmap, were top of mind as I did so.

    Sustainable Brands’ theme this year was “From Revolution to Renaissance.” I love the implications behind the words. To me, it suggests that we have broken through into a creative, hyper-productive phase of sustainable development progress and the role brands will play. But, as in the title above, I put the theme to the conference audience as a question – not to query where we are going, but to allow us to step back and look at where we are on the journey, and to consider how we can chart a path forward. And, based on Changing Tack’s conclusions, I suggested that we need to incite still far more people toward revolution at the same time as we push forward the renaissance….

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  • Collaboration for sustainability: Nike is working with its competitors to develop a systems change programme to eliminate hazardous chemicals from supply chains.

    As the Guardian’s Jo Confino wrote at the close of the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012, “the most often used phrases in the many meetings I attended [were] the need to create ‘coalitions of the willing’ and a recognition that ‘all issues are inter-connected’ and cannot be viewed in silos.”

    Collaboration is widely acknowledged as vital if we are to address global challenges at the scale and speed we need, but the current rhetoric often fails to acknowledge how hard it is to …

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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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  • 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 …

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  • As global carbon emissions rise and fossil fuel demands drive resource availability, the need for leadership on climate and resource innovation and for institutions to act with urgency, addressing long-term constraints is increasingly critical. Prominent examples of leadership in this space, however, remain …

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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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  • Copyright (c) Unilever

    It looks as though Unilever’s Paul Polman decided to take Rio very seriously and has been an active participant in many events here. If anyone doubts his sincerity, they would just need to hear him talk about how the current market system has failed so many on this planet. He spoke at Rio+20 at an event organised by Avoided Deforestation Partners. APD’s founder, Jeff Horowitz is an amazingly self-deprecating man who has had a major influence on the movement to have forests valued as natural capital and thereby avoid deforestation….

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  • I’ve been in Rio de Janeiro for six days now for the Rio+20 Earth Summit, and something struck me this morning as I entered the last official day of business-focused meetings: We have not asked enough of governments.

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  • I have been in Brazil since last Wednesday, participating in the madness that is Rio+20. The insanity is part logistics (the main event sites are scattered far apart and moving from one to the other can take literally hours), and the apparent lack of progress at government level on any meaningful negotiated agreement is certainly maddening, but it is also that the sheer number of people (50,000?) and events (hundreds daily) create a kind of ‘opportunity overload.’

    Midst everything, one of the guidewires I’ve followed has been the activity associated with the release of UNEP’s “Business Case for a Green Economy …

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  • Having pretty much recovered from having my iPhone, iPad and laptop stolen (and having also pretty much recovered from one of the worst bouts of flu in my life), today in Rio was, on balance, a great day. People often ask me whether I am optimistic generally on the sustainability front and I find myself repeating that I wake up an optimist and go to bed a pessimist. And so it looks today.

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  • In the past few months, certain media articles have left me wondering what impact the mixed economic fortunes of various leading nations will have on sustainability leadership emanating from them.

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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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