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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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  • World Cup 2.0: When Football Meets Footprint

    12 Jun 2014 – James Wicker

    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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  • Does Sustainability Need to Cheer Up?

    19 Jun 2013 – Ryan Whisnant

    Image credit: CC license by Jason Hargrove/Flickr

    Earth Day 2013 came and went in April with the usual fanfare of green festivals, volunteer programs, company campaigns and reflections on the question, “How are we doing, anyway?” On this last point, the answer this year seemed to be a somewhat lukewarm, “Well…we’ve been better.”
    Certainly, we see a steady stream of what might be considered discouraging news. A sampling from just last month included a pessimistic outlook in Jeremy Grantham’s Q1 letter to investors, updates on the factory collapse in Bangladesh, new data on honey bee colony collapse, spiraling loss of Arctic summer sea ice, and global food shortages. To be fair, just as surely there are hopeful stories and a lot of good work being done. But the point is that those of us working in the sustainability realm, or frankly anyone taking a systems view on global topics, must grapple with some daunting issues that easily could lead to a doom-and-gloom perspective.

    Is the solution to buck up, put on a happy face and simply forge ahead? The answer seems to be yes — and no. …

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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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  • Apps like Buycott are enabling consumers to uncover details of a product’s corporate family tree and join user-created campaigns to boycott businesses that support questionable practices.

    Between traditional news channels, blogs, and social media, it can be hard to keep up with what’s happening in the field of sustainable development. In this roundup the SustainAbility team aims to cut through the noise with a handful of highlights that have caught our eye….

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  • The GRI Global Conference was a three day event with a mix of plenery, panel and round table sessions

    The GRI Global Conference held in Amsterdam last week brought together sustainability practitioners, finance professionals, consultants, and academics for what many had been eagerly awaiting – the unveiling of the new G4 reporting framework. Beyond discussions of the new reporting requirements, all present were keen to share ideas about how companies, governments, and investors need to act collectively on urgent issues such as climate change, supply chain accountability, and labor rights. After three days of debate the message was clear – there is a need for all actors who are a part of the sustainability puzzle to move beyond disjointed incrementalism towards enabling systemic, transformational change worldwide….

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  • On a recent in-flight experience, the airline’s CEO started off the safety video by saying in smoothly scripted terms that his company wants to make every passenger’s experience enjoyable and safe. Really? We had just stood in the jetway as “excess” carry on baggage was rerouted to be checked, after having waited at the gate as “an excess” of passengers were asked to forgo their seats in return for a voucher due to overbooking. These are admittedly First World problems, but they’re not enjoyable. Does the CEO know …

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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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  • I am perplexed by the fuss about integrated reporting. It seems obvious that a company ought to effectively measure and communicate aspects of its business that matter to key stakeholders, and to do it in a cohesive manner.

    Why it wasn’t done well in the first place is a discussion for another time and place, but here we are in 2012 knowing what’s at stake if we don’t take into account the impact we have on current and future generations’ ability to thrive. Surely we are ready to move …

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  • When we wrapped up phase four of Rate the Raters in July 2011, we expressed our desire to further understand how ratings were creating value for and being used by companies, investors and other key stakeholders. Throughout our research, we’ve heard a good deal from companies about the pain caused by ratings, and so we were keen to ascertain how much (if any) of this pain is worth it. We thus set off in phase five to explore this question of value, and spoke with individuals responsible for ratings at nearly 30 companies in the process….

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