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  • Uncertainty and anxiety are ubiquitous nowadays. The global economy remains fragile, and even where it does show some life, the continued volatility (and upward trajectory) of energy and other commodity prices is there to beat back any real sense of momentum.

    Meanwhile, progress on grand challenges like climate change, food and water security, and sustainable consumption is either halting or nonexistent, and there is declining confidence that large institutions, including governments, multilateral organizations, companies and even large NGOs, will lead the way in addressing them.

    That’s the general feeling at the global level, and across many countries. But look through the prism of cities…

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  • This year marks two especially significant milestones in sustainable development: the 20th anniversary of the United Nations’ Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the 25th anniversary of the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future.

    How far have we come since the concept of sustainable development was elevated to the global policy agenda?

    To put it simply,…

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  • Let me start by stating the obvious: The current trajectory of our society’s consumption of natural resources is not sustainable. I know it, you know it, NGOs know it, and policy makers and business leaders increasingly know it.

    Yet as the world prepares for the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June, two questions loom large:

    1. Why haven’t we made substantive progress towards sustainable development over the last 20 years?

    2. What do we need to do differently over the next 20 years to transition to a sustainable economy?

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  • The US Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), once the primary spokesman for the corporate sector on climate change in Washington, has gone dormant. Why? The reasons are multiple. Climate legislation is a nonstarter in Washington. The term itself has become toxic, that sharply divides the political left and right.

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  • 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.

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  • Fast-moving industries involved in the production of consumer goods, food, apparel and precious stones have all come under pressure about the provenance of materials, components and products in their supply chains. Many companies in these sectors have responded by developing mechanisms to assure customers and consumers that products can be traced and sourced with environmental and social considerations in mind. Such traceability has reshaped expectations of corporate accountability and transparency.

    Attention is now turning to oil and gas. The sector is already facing a reputational crisis following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the WikiLeaks disclosures and recent events around the Keystone XL oil pipeline and controversy in the UK over the European fuel quality regulation means that it is likely inevitable that there will be growing demand for greater transparency. As in other sectors, traceability will be a key feature of the rising tide…

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  • Another year, another COP, another step closer to the brink. It must seem to the casual observer that the UN climate negotiations are an exercise designed explicitly to create gridlock and failure. Judging by many of the blogs, comments and tweets I’ve been reading since bleary-eyed delegates stumbled out of the Durban ICC on Sunday, the most recent episode has provoked some strong but mixed reactions: politicians claiming a triumph of multilateralism, NGOs decrying the lack of progress on issues of substance. Both views hold some merit. As someone who was present in Durban for the regulation fortnight – but missed the 36 hours of injury-time – I’d like to weigh in with my personal reflections.

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  • This is the last in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, three, four, five, and six.

    Back in the UK now and reflecting on the news filtering out this (Sunday) morning. Given the threat yesterday of a chaotic collapse, with echoes of Copenhagen, I was relieved to hear of the final outcome. The very best was never going to be equal to the full climate challenge we face, but this COP has made some major strides in securing a long-term mitigation roadmap with ‘legal force’.

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  • This is sixth in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, three, four, five, and seven.

    As the high-level ministerial segment reaches its final day, there are many tired faces around the centre, including some needing a lunch time nap as in the picture below.

    A surprising exception is Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and responsible for getting a good set of outcomes in the next 24 hours. I have attended two progress briefings she has given. The first – and by far the more interesting – was a meeting with the youth groups…

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  • This is fifth in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, three, four, six, and seven.

    One of the joys of COPs is that strange things happen which make you realize that these grand UN events are as vulnerable to human foibles as a local school fete. I stayed on (and on) at the conference centre to join a business briefing by Jonathan Pershing, the US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change. He is a very approachable man of huge integrity whom I first met in Bali at COP 13 when he was still at WRI. When he was later sworn in to his new position as US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change under the Obama administration, I was delighted.

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  • Fourth in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, four, five, six, and seven.

    People who know me also know that I am a great believer in serendipity. As I was driven this morning to the city’s Botanical Gardens for The Durban Dialogue organised by B4E, I spotted a Nando’s restaurant and immediately thought of Sir David King who, when he arrived in Oxford to direct the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, agreed to meet me at their temporary offices. These were, as he explained to me as I called for directions, ‘behind Nando’s’. Amazingly, and serendipitously, standing near the registration desk a few minutes later was David himself. With surprise and delight, I told him of the Nando’s connection. He looked underwhelmed.

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  • The second in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, three, four, five, six, and seven.

    In the lift to my hotel room this morning, I was embarrassed to be sweating profusely after a run along Durban’s beach promenade under a blue sky in 25 degrees with high humidity (yes, hard work at these COPs!). As the lift doors closed, a delegate from a COP 17 side event leaped in. ‘It’s freezing in the conference,’ she said, ‘I’m heading for my room to get a jumper.’ The irony was not lost on others in the lift, but it did highlight for me the continuing disconnect between the rhetoric and action. And Durban does not look remotely well set to close the gap between the two.

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  • This is the first in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: two, three, four, five, six, and seven.

    Durban will briefly be in the climate spotlight just months before the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit. Few of us at Rio in 1992 would have believed that so little progress would be made in the intervening years. At the time, I had four children of school age. Frankly, the UN process has served neither them, nor my four grandchildren, well since. Climate procrastination has put future generations (with over two billion ‘climate innocents’ to be born by 2050) at severe risk of increasingly dangerous climate disruptions. We have seen how national and international governments and institutions responded to the 2008 financial crisis in just two crucial days, but also how, in two crucial decades, they have achieved very little on the much deeper climate crisis. Nature neither defers decisions nor haggles; nor, as widely observed after the financial crisis, does nature do bailouts.

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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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  • I’ve blogged recently on roundtable discussions that SustainAbility hosted in Washington, DC and London. We organized these sessions in order to connect some of our corporate and civil society partners in more intimate conversation than fits the conference circuit – smaller, more focused, more relaxed; all discourse, no presentation – and yet capable of creating more diversity and dynamism than possible when we only meet bi-laterally. A simple added benefit has been the experience of talking to people who are all of one place, in cities where we have offices ourselves. Our work so often takes us far afield, or into meeting environments built around destinations convenient to all but endemic to few, that it is easy to forget how both content and tone change when everyone has a common geography.

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  • 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.

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  • This post was co-authored by Mark Lee (SustainAbility) and Chris Coulter, (GlobeScan) and originally appeared on Guardian Sustainable Business on 15 September 2011.

    It’s tough now to be optimistic about policy, the economy or their combination. The eurozone is reeling in the face of defaults and potential defaults as well as lack of shared vision about managing and paying for future challenges. US stock markets entered August downbeat after the bitterly partisan deficit showdown. They then suffered major declines by the month’s end, while the job-creation numbers released at the start of September suggest American economic malaise will linger. Emerging economies remain vibrant, even boisterous, but questions about inflation in Brazil and elsewhere are amplifying, debate over corruption has taken centre stage in India and pundits wonder how China can maintain torrid growth while its western export markets remain in the doldrums.

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  • In GlobeScan and SustainAbility’s latest survey of sustainability experts, we notice a worrying trend emerging: the sense of urgency to address critical sustainability issues is in decline across the globe.

    In fact, the five most urgent issues on the sustainability agenda – climate change, water scarcity, food security, poverty, and biodiversity loss – are all perceived as less urgent challenges than they were in 2009…

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  • I am in the United Kingdom presently, spending time with colleagues at SustainAbility’s Holborn office in central London. I spent the two weeks immediately prior to this trip on a blissfully quiet vacation with family and friends. Plugging back in, I find myself somewhat reeling trying to comprehend the various forms of volatility which erupted while I was away: in the markets, on the streets of this city and in other urban centers around Britain, and in Libya, where the opposition’s final advance into Tripoli proved so rapid as to stun most observers, leaving online media scrambling to post headlines like Qaddafi’s Final Hours while such hours still existed…

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  • In the first in a series of blogs on economic growth, Kyra Choucroun set out the problems of an economy predicated on infinite economic growth. Here, guest author Ramon Arratia, Sustainability Director at InterfaceFLOR, sets out his vision for how we can begin to challenge established assumptions by decoupling economic growth from environmental impact. (Note: A version of this piece first appeared on InterfaceFLOR’s Cut the Fluff blog in June 2011.)

    Recently I participated in a very interesting Guardian Sustainable Business debate on decoupling economic growth from environmental impact…

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