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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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  • Business Model Innovation: Postcards from the Edge

    24 Jan 2014 – Melanie Colburn

    Flickr image by emersonquinn

    What will business look like in 2025 or 2050? How will successful corporations adapt to the mega trends stemming from the sustainability challenge?

    These questions hint at a few of the implications of SustainAbility’s current think tank work. Earlier this month, we tested some ideas from our forthcoming paper on business model innovation, entitled Model Behavior, at a roundtable event in San Francisco. Attendees included representatives from B Lab, Gap, GlobeScan, Impact HUB Bay Area, Levi Strauss & Co, PG&E, Safeway, SAP, and Vodafone, among other organizations. (Quotes from the discussion included below are edited to provide anonymity, unless attribution was granted.)

    Tell Me How to Move This Mountain

    As one roundtable attendee attested, ‘The last time [my company] went through a business model transition it didn’t go so well—either for [the company] or [its stakeholders]—but we know business model innovation needs to happen.” …

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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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  • Image: iStockphoto

    Historically, most companies advanced their sustainability credentials through reporting, efficiency or even just good marketing. Approaches often involved streamlining processes or products to achieve a smaller environmental footprint.

    These innovations are worthwhile and move us closer to sustainable development, but they don’t address the underlying value structure of a company. They are incrementally better, but not transformative or good enough to change our take-make-waste economy….

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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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  • “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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  • I was at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference last week. This annual event, where Fortune magazine “gathers the smartest people [they] know in sustainability,” is a cauldron of ideas and actions focused on finding “Sustainable Solutions,” this year’s conference theme. There is no shortage here of big ideas.

    Hannah Jones, Nike’s Vice President of Sustainable Business and Innovation, speaking on a panel titled “Pushing the Boundaries of Green,” summed up neatly …

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  • Companies continue to rank low among global institutions when it comes to sustainability leadership, though a few companies — mostly the usual suspects — continue to rise above the others, according to an annual survey being released this week.

    If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it is. According to the 2013 Sustainability Leaders survey, produced jointly by GlobeScan and SustainAbility, the private sector outperforms only the world’s national governments when it comes to effectively addressing sustainability challenges. That is to say, their second to last….

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  • In a blog posted in the fall of 2012 entitled, What’s the Big Idea, Chris Guenther and I explored the degree to which vision (a Big Idea) enables sustainability performance and leadership and vice versa. We concluded that it does to a very substantial degree, and that the current era is one suffering for lack of the kind of rhetoric that, when backed by appropriate strategy and operational excellence, paints a picture of the change required and provides inspiration that it can be realized….

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  • Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan. Marks & Spencer’s Plan A. GE’s ecomagination. Nike Better World.

    Feel like you can’t turn around without bumping into a big, brassy, branded, corporate sustainability program these days? Or at least a product campaign (think Nissan Leaf) that seeks to cast a green and otherwise sustainable hue over an organization? It seems we have entered the age of the Big (Sustainable) Idea, an epoch in which performance as well as leadership and influence are limited without membership in this club….

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  • 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?…

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  • Everywhere you look, it’s all about the Olympics!

    One of the earliest events, occurring the day after the opening ceremonies, was the men’s cycling road race – a 250 km route that finished through the streets of London.

    An avid cyclist myself (I am proud to say that I have completed three 100-mile races), I was happy to tune in to catch the end of the race.

    As I watched two competitors pull away from the main pack (otherwise known as the peloton) — and sprint toward the finish, I thought about what it takes to win a race like that and what parallels can be drawn for those of us in the sustainability field….

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  • Many multinationals, in the last few years, have ramped up their efforts to better understand their long-term future in a world where 9 billion people need to live amidst converging pressures on food, energy, and environment. Some, like GE, P&G, and Microsoft have turned to emerging markets to innovate new products, processes, and business models. Sustainability professionals looking for new solutions should also take note. Emerging markets provide a wealth of information, ideas and knowledge about how to thrive in the face of massively constrained resources …

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  • Despite the growing number of corporate leaders that recognize the importance of sustainability as a long-term business imperative, major challenges persist in closing the “execution gap” between strategy and actual performance. Closing this gap will require leaders to …

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  • The phrase “In praise of Barclays”, used during this, of all weeks, and with Wimbledon coming to a conclusion, surely elicits only one response: “You cannot be serious!!” Well, no, not exactly serious. In fact, most definitely not serious, because the company’s performance has been nothing short of woeful at best and disastrous at worst. So, why the headline?

    I will remodel it: “In praise of Barclays individuals that I know have worked patiently and diligently for over a decade or more to drive change against all the odds, and in praise of the tens of thousands of frontline Barclays staff who are being vilified daily by the media. They have surely felt …

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  • As global carbon emissions rise and fossil fuel demands drive resource availability, the need for leadership on climate and resource innovation and for institutions to act with urgency, addressing long-term constraints is increasingly critical. Prominent examples of leadership in this space, however, remain …

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  • Before the massive Rio+20 conference in Brazil earlier this month, Chris Coulter of GlobeScan, Dan Hendrix of Interface and I published Icebergs Near Rio? The article explored sustainable development progress since the original 1992 Earth Summit asked whether policymakers would seize the opportunity of the anniversary event to chart a future course capable of accelerating and scaling sustainability in the manner we believe necessary, or, like that fabled and fated ship, risk a Titanic …

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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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  • In the past few months, certain media articles have left me wondering what impact the mixed economic fortunes of various leading nations will have on sustainability leadership emanating from them.

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  • SustainAbility is now in its 25th year and as part of its celebrations launched The Regeneration Roadmap – a look backwards and forwards by some of the brightest folk from the frontline at the successes, failures, hits and misses of 25 years of “sustainability thinking”. From where I stand the glass could be half full or half empty, but what’s more important is “what’s next”? Are we making progress at the rate we need to? How can we accelerate? It’s not that we don’t have …

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