Blog
What’s Next

Get RSS feed

  • 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

  • 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….

    Read more - Comments

  • Experts feel the urgency of issues like food safety is on the increase but corporate performance is still lagging behind. Image © David W Oliver, Flickr

    What issues are sustainability experts most concerned about? How well is the private sector addressing these challenges? Which sectors are most accountable for tackling these vexing problems? After analyzing responses from nearly 900 sustainability experts in 91 countries, the recently released 2013 Issues Survey, Challenges, Performance and Accountability, dives into these thorny issues, with mixed results.

    It’s been nearly two years since The GlobeScan / Sustainability Survey explored how our international pool of sustainability experts see issues—ranging from climate change to food safety—and the urgency and corporate performance surrounding them. In 2011 our survey (Key Challenges and Industry Performance) found urgency regarding several leading issues was in a slightly downward trend, and industries received mixed reviews about their ability to manage the transition to sustainable development—with no sectors receiving high marks for sustainability performance. …

    Read more - Comments

  • Typhoon Haiyan Near Hainan Island, China. Image © NASA Goddard Photo and Video: Flickr.

    “But let us again be clear that we are witnessing ever more frequent, extreme weather events, and the poor and vulnerable are already paying the price.”

    Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, closed COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland — which took place Nov. 11 to 22 — with these harrowing words. Figueres puts a fine point on a key element within UN climate negotiations that have direct implications for the private sector.

    We are witnessing the early stages of a new normal in terms of climate impacts, and an increasingly public discussion regarding how we best prepare, who pays for “climate resilience,” and how we address the needs of poor and vulnerable populations most in harm’s way. Addressing these challenges will require the private sector to drive innovation toward problems that are still emerging, to help people with little money to spend. …

    Read more - Comments

  • Image courtesy of Christopher Chan ©2011

    “What unites us on an urban level is more unifying than divisive.” – Paul Hawken

    If you were to judge solely by the plenary sessions at VERGE, a conference uniting the sustainability and tech communities in San Francisco last week, you would be hard-pressed not to be hopeful that we are turning a corner on the greatest sustainability challenges of the 21st Century because of, not in spite of, business. The intersection points between business and society’s agendas are undoubtedly growing and this overlap is nowhere more apparent than in cities. …

    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

  • People worldwide are starting to connect the dots. Hurricane Sandy costing New York over 60 billion dollars with one of the largest insurance pay-outs in history. 85% of Dhaka submerged by recent flooding. 44 million people – many located in our cities – pushed into food poverty by food price spikes in 2010. And the costs of congestion bringing many urban centres to grid lock. In summary – cities worldwide need to take steps now to ‘future proof’ themselves if they are to avoid irreversible and costly damage to their environmental, social, and economic futures….

    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

  • As SustainAbility’s web and digital media manager, I’ve been looking at how online tools and technologies can be used to support our work on The Regeneration Roadmap.

    The ambitions for the project are high, and engaging the right people in the right way will be key. Online platforms can play a significant role here: today there are fewer barriers than ever in mobilising people from all backgrounds and geographies to shape and get behind a campaign. From video blogging and social discussion forums to idea generation and crowd sourcing websites, the options available are seemingly endless. But where do you start?…

    Read more - Comments

  • SustainAbility Council member Gary Kendall shares this report following a recent visit to China – in particular a portion of his journey featuring a cruise down the Yangtze River and through the locks at the infamous Three Gorges Dam.

    “That’s my new house” – my Chinese tour guide gestured toward a row of featureless apartment blocks beneath our vantage point overlooking the river – “and that’s where I used to live.” She showed me a photograph of a modest two-storey structure within the walls of the ancient city of Fengjie. It presumably remains intact, albeit more than 150 metres underwater.

    This stretch of the Yangtze – roughly 660km from Chongqing to Sandouping – is much less a river than a lake these days…

    Read more - Comments

  • 1. Transitions

    In a year that saw an Arab Spring take hold and unseat entrenched autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya (TBD on Yemen and Syria), the withdrawal of the last American troops from Iraq, a European Union on the brink of transformative change (and potential collapse), a titan of technological (and economic) innovation pass away, and the growing acknowledgement (in the form of the Occupy protests), that the entanglement of the American political and financial system is a Faustian bargain that must be actively fought and protested against, the theme of transition feels all too apt.

    So too in the sustainability field, where in a world of seven billion inhabitants and growing, the five most urgent issues on the sustainability agenda are all perceived less urgently than they were in 2009.

    Read more - Comments

  • 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.

    Read more - Comments

  • Copyright (c) Kyra Choucroun

    Despite years of thinking about the traditional model of economic growth, it wasn’t until I drove through rural Ghana that it truly hit me just how spectacularly it has failed to deliver on the promise of global prosperity.

    In my last blog I challenged the widely held belief that infinite growth is both necessary and viable. That piece generated a flood of responses, from howls of protest at one extreme to speaking invitations at the other. And it was one of those invitations that led me to Ghana in the first place, to share my views on how Africa can play a part in tackling the world’s most complex challenges at a youth-led conference in Kumasi.

    Read more - Comments

  • Last week we heard Clive Bloom – Emeritus Professor of English and American Studies at Middlesex University and author of Violent London: 2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts – _commenting on BBC Radio 4 about the systemic issues that underpinned the devastating riots in London this month. With many now searching for an explanation of the sudden and surprising violence that spread across London and other parts of the UK, Bloom argues that sociological factors – chiefly endemic poverty and the alienation of consumer culture – are the real culprits, and further, that failing to address the fundamental issues and resentments of the communities that spawned the riots will only guarantee their repetition. The point is essential as we face the likelihood of wider and more frequent social disruption in response to economic, social and environmental stresses in the decades ahead.

    Read more - Comments

  • With the backing of First Lady Michelle Obama and her campaign to end childhood obesity, Walmart announced a plan to open up to 300 new stores over the next five years in U.S. “food deserts”, wisely aligning its company’s growth plans with the high-profile, publicly-backed initiative. The company, which has reported falling same store sales in each of the past eight quarters, sees urban markets as a critical growth opportunity, and its push into food deserts is an important arrow in its quiver against recalcitrant community members that see only negatives in Walmart’s entry.

    Read more - Comments

  • Appetite for Change discusses one of the most critical challenges of our time – Food Security. In other words, how do we feed a growing and prospering population without going beyond ecological limits and ensuring that farming communities thrive? This multi-faceted challenge is further complicated by the vagaries of nature, market speculation and agriculture’s interconnected to other inputs like energy.

    The solutions currently being developed tend to focus on the market and consumers. This can be seen by the thousands of different standards and certification being developed – all with good intention but now in an unhealthy competition and creating confusion for consumers…

    Read more - Comments

  • In just the last few weeks, one of the worst E. coli outbreaks in history has killed 37 people and made more than 2,600 ill, academics concluded that climate change will have more negative consequences for agriculture than expected, and the UN’s Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization released a guide warning “world farming needs a ‘major shift’ to more sustainable practices as intensive crop production since the 1960s has degraded soils, depleted ground water and caused pest outbreaks.”

    Industry and food system experts interviewed for SustainAbility’s latest report, Appetite for Change, read trends such as these and conclude that the food industry is failing…

    Read more - Comments

  • 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 IfWeRantheWorld.com, 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…

    Read more - Comments

  • SustainAbility’s Kyra Choucroun chats with Vinay Gupta, founder of WhipCar, about the opportunity to exploit ‘idle assets’ like your neighbor’s car….

    Read more - Comments

  • SustainAbility interviews the founder of WhipCar, a new take on car-sharing that helps you rent your neighbor's car.

    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