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  • Adrian Henriques in the SustainAbility London office

    The SustainAbility London office regularly invites practitioners from within our network to speak to the team over lunch to share insights from their own work as well as their perspective on the sustainability landscape at large.

    We were delighted to welcome Adrian Henriques, independent adviser on corporate transparency, public sector accountability, and civil society development. Adrian is an experienced sustainability professional with more than 15 years in the field. He independently researches and advises both the private and public sectors – for the likes of M&S, Camelot, GRI and social enterprises – and is a Visiting Professor of Accountability and CSR at Middlesex University Business School.

    With a long career in sustainability and the accountability agenda, we were interested to hear Adrian’s perspective that “optimism is quite dangerous” in regards to the evolution of corporate sustainability and CSR over the last 15 years. Below are the highlights from our discussion.

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  • Flickr image by fauxto_digit

    SustainAbility’s recently released research See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance proposes a solution to the stalled state of sustainability reporting and transparency. See Change highlights three key elements that must be addressed in order to gain the most value from transparency and reporting efforts: materiality, valuation of externalities and integration. This is the last in a three-part series that explores those elements.

    Earlier in this series we explored how materiality and the valuation of externalities enable companies to focus their transparency efforts and leverage the value of sustainability reporting. This final article discusses how companies can apply materiality and externalities valuation to integrate sustainability across the business.

    True integration of sustainability means that material issues effectively are addressed within business functions and seen as critical to the company’s viability. Integration enables companies to understand internally, and — where relevant — communicate externally, how they create value and to better manage performance on critical issues.

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  • Flickr image by Greg Foster

    SustainAbility’s recently released research, See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance, proposes a solution to the somewhat stalled state of sustainability reporting and transparency. “See Change” highlights three key elements that must be addressed in order to gain the most value from transparency and reporting efforts: materiality; valuation of externalities; and integration. What follows is the first of a three-part series that will explore those elements.

    Most sustainability reports contain vast quantities of information about a company’s environmental and social impacts. While this generally means an increase in transparency, it also has led to lengthy, costly and minimally read reports. The resources devoted to gathering data and creating narratives ultimately are not bringing enough value to companies and their stakeholders. How can we improve these reporting efforts and ensure that the powerful data and narratives in these reports are leveraged to inform decisions? …

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  • Flickr image by Wayne Wilkinson

    Labels can be tricky and distracting things. “Corporate citizenship,” “corporate social responsibility,” “shared value,” “triple bottom line,” “sustainable development,” and “sustainability” are just a few of the terms used by the broad array of professionals nudging business to play a positive role in society.

    It may seem a bit tenuous for someone in the full-time employ of an organization called “SustainAbility” to make such a pronouncement, but in keeping with the rose-by-any-other-name-would-smell-as-sweet philosophy, I suggest the discussion about labels be set aside for good and that 2015 be embraced as the year of The Obvious.

    It is obvious, for example, that soiling your home—literally the dwelling in which you live, or figuratively the community from which you and others draw water, breathe air, produce food, and go about day-to-day life—with toxic substances that can quickly or slowly kill you is, well, a pretty bad idea. …

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  • Flickr image by Dennis Wilkinson

    Reporting on an unsustainable business model

    As I was reviewing the selections for “best report” for Corporate Register’s 2015 Reporting Awards I found myself thinking, enough is enough. The most recent round of finalists includes British American Tobacco (BAT). It is true that the company is doing progressive things and has long been used as an example of a highly transparent company in a challenging industry. But if we want to create a sustainable future, can we continue to give plaudits to companies that lead in transparency and disclosure yet have fundamentally unsustainable business models? …

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  • Sustainability reporting is stalled. Companies are spending too much time and too many resources creating lengthy reports that few read. However, sustainability reporting and transparency have also brought many benefits, helping companies manage key environmental and social impacts and build trust and credibility with stakeholders. And yet, we are failing to tap into the potential value of reporting and transparency – value that could provide vital information to more directly inform decisions that drive better business and societal outcomes.

    Our latest research which launched today, See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance, proposes a solution. Informed by over 50 interviews and a survey of nearly 500 sustainability practitioners, See Change features three key elements of transparency, six case studies, and a practical tool. Specifically, the Transparency Advancement Tool guides companies to develop their transparency efforts by focusing on what is strategically important (i.e., materiality), valuation of externalities, and integration….

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  • This interview was originally published in the summer issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 04: Better, Connected.

    At the end of 2013, SustainAbility was pleased to welcome The Partnering Initiative (TPI) to share its London office space. TPI is one of the leading organisations driving the theory and practice of collaboration between business, NGOs, governments and others.

    Rob Cameron recently spent a morning in conversation with TPI’s Executive Director, Darian Stibbe, discussing the challenges and opportunities that cross-sector partnership and collaboration can bring to business, NGOs and governments.

    Rob Cameron: Partnering is necessary for making progress in sustainability given the scale of the challenges we face. But it is surprisingly difficult to find great examples of partnerships that really deliver. How do you make partnerships successful?

    Darian Stibbe: Firstly, there has to be an alignment of interest. We sometimes talk about ‘Davos syndrome’ in which, for example, a CEO of a company and the head of a UN agency agree to launch a partnership, but when it comes down to making it happen on the ground, there is the realisation that there is insufficient overlap of interest between the two organisations. You have to start off with a clear and necessary overlap of interest and that can be a challenge in itself. …

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  • Sustainability reporting is stalled. That is, reporting is simply not driving as much impact as it could.

    This is not to say that reporting has not evolved since its early days or led to important and useful information and action. It certainly has. Companies that have been monitoring and reporting on an array of social and environmental issues spanning many years have created numerous baselines, data sets, subject-matter expertise and collaborative relationships upon which to build.

    Impact-wise, reporting has enabled efficiency gains, informed stakeholders about key issues, enhanced corporate reputations, and started to inform some investor decisions. …

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  • image © x_tine, Flickr

    This post has been co-authored by Michael Harvey and Margo Mosher.

    Materiality has taken the main stage of the sustainability agenda – and for good reason. The practice of identifying and prioritising the sustainability issues that matter enables a company to make better decisions overall. When business leaders make decisions that recognise both financial and sustainability material issues, and the relationships between them, they can position their businesses to effectively manage operations and set strategies for the long term.

    Conducting a robust materiality assessment that focuses on the most strategically material issues and engages corporate strategy teams in the process involves understanding:

    • How can the materiality assessment process better serve the changing needs of a company?
    • How can the outputs of a materiality process be integrated into the business?
    • What is the best way to communicate the outputs of a materiality process, internally and externally?
    • Who needs to know about these issues from the company’s perspective, and how can they use this information?

    SustainAbility has revised its own approach to materiality to help companies achieve greater integration of the outputs within this process. This approach – or “materiality 2.0” – addresses the above questions in a way that builds on existing good practice and reflects what we see as representing the next step in the evolution of materiality approaches. …

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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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  • Image © Juan Tan Kwon via Flickr

    World Cup season is upon us! The global event that football fans around the world have all been awaiting has started. All eyes are on the 32 national teams that will be competing in Brazil for the next five weeks.

    I was 11 years old when my country, France, hosted and won the World Cup in 1998. The national pride when Les Bleus lifted the trophy before the eyes of millions of people around the world was overwhelming. Surely any event driving this much passion globally should never be called into question? But my grown-up self now wonders if all this enthusiasm could be used to drive much needed positive environmental change?

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  • This article originally appeared in Radar Issue 03: What Chance Change? Exploring Sustainable Finance.

    Jessica Fries helps companies integrate sustainability into core business processes and activities. Denise Delaney, based in SustainAbility’s London office, caught up with her on the latest initiatives by A4S and IIRC.

    Denise Delaney: Why establish a CFO Leadership Network?

    Jessica Fries: The CFO Leadership Network is part of The Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S). A4S’s primary focus is on the role of the finance and accounting community in creating sustainable business models and a sustainability economy. We did some research in 2012, which really highlighted the perception among different groups that CFOs were unconvinced that there was a commercial rationale for integrating sustainability into the running and operation of the business. We had been working with a number of CFOs who felt very strongly that the commercial case was clear and were interested in developing practical ways to integrate sustainability into financial decision-making, understand what others were doing to advance thinking and convince their peers of the imperative to act. The CFO Leadership Network emerged. …

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  • Flickr image by liakapelke

    When our recent report Changing Tack asked: “What will it take to accelerate and scale systems-level sustainability solutions?” the answer helped define what we believe leadership will need to look like. Changing Tack presents the six attributes of leadership as follows: …

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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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  • Flickr image by Creativity103

    The long-awaited framework from the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) was released late last year, offering a set of guidelines to more deeply integrate sustainability into corporate objectives and to holistically account for the value businesses create. Integrated reporting (IR) is on its way to becoming the new norm for reporting.

    At the integrated reporting launch in December in London, the Prince of Wales’ comment that IR has the potential to “communicate value for the 21st century” echoes this sentiment. As described in an earlier blog post, the framework helps solve a number of problems presented by conventional sustainability reporting, such as the failure to account for all sources of value and impact, the overwhelming length of reports, and the challenge to communicate the important link between sustainability and financial performance to stakeholders. …

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  • 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….

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  • Image by ravensong75 via Flickr

    Transparency on the rise

    Corporate transparency is a wide and complex terrain, including everything from legally required disclosures to employee tweets, much of it having nothing to do with sustainability. However, an increasing number of transparency initiatives are focused on social and environmental outcomes, from the rise in sustainability reporting over the last twenty years, to more recent bursts of open innovation. This increase in transparency represents a tremendous opportunity for business, the environment, and society at large if six key elements are done right.

    Transparency spreads far beyond reporting

    With the generation and capture of ever-larger streams of data, many sustainability professionals are asking, “What is the future of reporting?” Given the pace and nature of the changes afoot, that might simply be the wrong question for those working to drive the sustainability agenda forward.

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  • Elon Musk's Hyperloop. Image: P.S.Lu via 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.

    Traceability in Food and Apparel Sectors

    Two sectors recently tainted by supply chain scandals–apparel and food–are also witnessing a surge in traceability and transparency in an effort to communicate more openly and transparently with stakeholders.

    The emergence of companies that are promoting traceability and transparency in the apparel supply chain through digital platforms, including Everlane, Honest-By, and SumAll, has been complemented by the newly launched Zady, an online shopping portal that uses icons to convey to consumers if a garment is locally sourced, made from high-quality raw materials, or environmentally conscious. While the co-founders research the practices of every brand included on the site and have visited some factories, in many cases they rely on the brands to disclose the information, requiring owners to sign contracts verifying the authenticity of their claims about sourcing and production. …

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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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  • “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….

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