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  • Is CSR Dead?

    16 Oct 2015John Elkington

    John Elkington at the SustainAbility London office

    John Elkington, SustainAbility co-founder and honorary chairman, launches an occasional series on the business agenda.

    ‘Turkeys vote down Christmas.’ That’s one way of reporting the result of a Barclays debate on 8 October, in which I was pitched head-to-head against Mark Kramer of the Shared Value Initiative. The key question: ‘Is CSR Dead?’

    There was a crackle in the air as the debate began. #TeamMark was ably supported by Janet Voûte, Global Head of Public Affairs at Nestlé, while my #TeamJohn partner was Covestro CEO Patrick Thomas. Long story short, Patrick and I won with 75% of the vote. But short stories can mislead.

    When Barclays first suggested the theme, both Mark and I protested. The question felt tired. But the intense social media buzz soon proved us wrong. People clearly wanted to discuss whether CSR was dead or alive. (And that was even before the wheels came off VW.)

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  • Flickr image by Melanie Holtsman

    Our economies in their present forms are unsustainable. Our planet has been subjected to the Great Acceleration of humankind’s impact, which presents immense risks to the health of the biosphere and our civilization. Our impact is directly linked to global economic growth.

    At SustainAbility, as we argued in our report Changing Tack, business can be a great driver of change but the present rules of engagement in business, finance and markets are largely unchanged since the 19th century. Meanwhile, global growth has stalled and, eight years after the financial crash, many developed world economies continue to be moribund. A change in how we run our economies and business is urgently needed. And for that we need leadership.

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  • How can we transition to a sustainable economy?

    This article was co-authored by Rob Cameron and Lindsay Clinton.

    The UK election was fought largely on the issue of the economy. The Conservatives, with its surprise majority have promised to reduce the deficit by £30 billion. Fixing the economy and balancing the books is undoubtedly of great importance for the economy—as long as it is done sustainably.

    It’s a simple fact: the economy is a sub-system of our ecosystem. And yet, it has become commonplace to believe that the opposite is true – that the economy is the dominant system.

    The consequences of prioritising the economy and GDP above all else have become all-too visible: climate change, water scarcity, deforestation, soil depletion, resource shortages—but it is not only the environment that is paying a heavy price. The current economic model can be tied to rising workplace stress and illness, obesity, malnutrition, increasing inequality, and more.

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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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  • Is CSR really dead?

    Prognoses and Prognostications
    As 2014 closed and 2015 began, there were numerous “top,” “best” and “most important” lists marking notable 2014 occurrences and forecasting what to expect in 2015. SustainAbility entered these sweepstakes with our 10 Trends for 2015, which distills our thinking from the past year and predicts the issues that will shape the sustainable development agenda in the 12 months ahead.

    Our 10 select issues include – as headlines and subtext – global warming and climate activism, water, marketplace disruption, business model innovation, workforce diversity, ongoing efforts to eradicate slavery and more. The breadth of topics illustrates how varied this field has become and hints at the complexity any organisation faces in terms of managing such numerous and disparate issues well. …

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  • Flickr image by Bill Keaggy

    From economists to politicians, from consumers to scientists, plenty of people agree that the current approach of many businesses is not sustainable.

    We’ve talked about the sheer obviousness of this point, as have many other thinkers and doers working on this challenge. But when it comes to discussing this with people responsible for key decision within these companies, it is frankly a bit awkward. Even for consultants like us who are engaged specifically to talk about this stuff, it doesn’t always feel okay to come right out and say it.

    We can discuss the most material issues, engage diverse stakeholders, or develop ambitious goals, all with the intent of nudging decisions in the right direction. But rarely do we come right out and say: Enough already. If significant talent and money at this company aren’t directed towards addressing the challenge and adapting, we’re not going to make it.

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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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  • 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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  • 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 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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