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  • Radar Issue 03

    The financial crisis has dominated headlines for several years. Now the talk has switched to recovery, which has led us to the question what type of recovery? There is an urgent need to reshape the global economic system—including financial markets—to better serve the needs of society, the environment and the wider economy. While we welcome signs of improved financial investment, rising incomes and profitability, we must also ensure that they are not at the expense of more sustainable development.

    In this third edition of Radar, we explore the issue of sustainable finance and ask what chance is there for change? In our lead article we outline the business case for banks to be the institutions that steer us into a new era of sustainable finance (Banking on Sustainability: Financing the Future). Rob Cameron interviews Leo Johnson about his new book and the signs he sees of a new form of capitalism emerging (The Unusual Suspects: Leo Johnson). …

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  • 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. …

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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….

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  • 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….

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  • Here’s the crux of the sustainability dilemma: What researchers and nonprofits deem “important” to the long-term health of companies doesn’t coincide with information that investors consider “material.” That’s how one investment professional described the current “epic battle” to our company, SustainAbility, in an interview for the latest edition of our “Rate the Raters” research, The Investor View.

    There’s a wide gap between what investors say is important and what they do with their money. For example, more than 1,000 investors, managing more than $30 trillion in assets, have signed on to the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investment….

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  • One of the perks of being a graduate student at the University of Michigan was access to football season tickets. With this, I learned the various rituals undertaken by the student section on game day, including chanting, “who cares?” when opposing team players’ names are announced before each game.

    This ritual still makes me smile for some reason, and is also a question many of us in the sustainability field ask during ratings and rankings season, which kicked off last week with the release of the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. These results, like those in previous years, sparked a flurry of press releases by proud companies, angst in companies who fell short, blogs debating the merits and shortcomings of ratings, and consultancies offering their services to improve company performance….

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  • Over the last decade, there has been an extraordinary growth in the number of ratings and award schemes designed to measure corporate sustainability performance. While these rankings play an important role in improving corporate performance, companies are struggling to keep up, and many question the time and effort required to respond to raters’ requests for information.

    Is it all worth it? Which ratings, if any, do people pay attention to? How much does a company’s score …

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  • Last week, leaders from government, business and civil society gathered in Rio de Janeiro for a United Nations summit—called “Rio+20” because it is now 20 years since the original Earth Summit in Rio—intended to address the slow pace of change on sustainable development and determine the best path forward.

    At business side events leading up to the event, executives repeated a refrain: We have the science. We have the …

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  • 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: …

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  • @brainstormgreen

    23 Apr 2012Mark Lee

    For five years, Fortune has sought “to gather “the smartest people we know” in sustainability from business, government, and NGOs” for what has become one of the leading events in this space – Fortune Brainstorm Green I attended each of the last three years, just returning from the latest version 48 hours ago. Having read Marc Gunther’s They Said it at Brainstorm Green this morning, I wanted to add my own honorable mentions for good content – and touch too what was not said.

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  • I recently had the pleasure of participating in the annual workshops of SustainAbility’s Engaging Stakeholders network. The theme for the workshops was “value.” That is, how companies can derive greater business value from their sustainability communications and engagement, and how they can deliver greater value to stakeholders and society via their efforts.

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  • Earlier this month, the Obama administration decided to delay the decision on approval of the XL pipeline until 2013, ostensibly to further study the pipeline’s potential environmental impacts.

    The fight over the pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude from Canada to US refineries in the Gulf of Mexico region, has become a symbol of a broader argument.

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  • “Ideate. Renovate. Validate. Kill.” These were the four rapid-fire imperatives imparted by Privahini Bradoo, CEO and Co-Founder of BioMine, at last month’s GreenBiz Innovation Forum in San Francisco. The first three received nods from the audience as straight-forward principles of innovation, but the fourth caused the audience to stir. Kill – not just weeding out bad ideas but rather killing good ones – is a principle Bradoo attributed to Steve Jobs, who said that good ideas were the greatest roadblocks to coming up with great ones.

    This has stuck with me as I’ve continued to follow the disruption now playing out in the food sector. Some of the most iconic food companies…

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  • I’ve just returned from a visit to Philadelphia and New York last week where I had the opportunity for in-depth conversation with students and faculty at Wharton Graduate School of Business, as well as business and thought leaders from Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, SAP, Unilever, Interbrand, Ogilvy, GRI, Corporate Responsibility, SustainAbility, The Economist and many others. All of these conversations touched on how we are unfolding our thinking about, and finding ways to measure, new forms of value that business might deliver to its customers and other stakeholders in the future. Underpinning these rich and varied conversations was the growing drumbeat, launched in New York, of #occupywallstreet. This growing movement is yet another indicator of the pressure on business to demonstrate its ability to extend its focus beyond profit to other forms of value creation for broader swaths of society.

    The fact that the focus of #occupywallstreet seems to center on “corporate greed” as the target of its aggregated angst is just one sign of disconnect between business and the stakeholders to whom business is supposed to be delivering value.

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  • Water surrounds me, both literally and figuratively.

    I am in Stockholm – a city of islands – this week to attend World Water Week, an annual conference sponsored by the Stockholm International Water Institute. I am here at the invitation of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and yesterday facilitated a fascinating workshop WBCSD sponsored on water risk and some of the tools being developed to assess and manage it…

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  • A question and answer with Wood Turner and Mike Bellamente of Climate Counts, one of the ratings profiled in SustainAbility’s Rate the Raters research series.

    1) Looking at the Phase Four paper of Rate the Raters, what resonates most with you?

    Now that corporate sustainability ratings have been around awhile, SustainAbility’s Rate the Raters project helps us gauge what the future holds. The phase four paper establishes that rating standards will require greater differentiation moving forward, and that raters will need to distance themselves from the overly saturated data compilation side of the business in order to remain competitive. We at Climate Counts certainly believe this to be true; indeed, if our goal is to point the business community in the direction of climate change awareness and leadership, it should be done with clarity and efficiency, not complexity and duplication.

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