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  • Flick image of step pyramid by Ed Yourdon

    In 2004, the late CK Prahalad, an influential management professor and author, published The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, a book that urged companies to use a new lens to view the poor. Prahalad advocated for envisioning those at the bottom of the economic pyramid as producers and consumers of products, rather than merely as philanthropic beneficiaries.

    Ten years later, several large companies have adopted Prahalad’s ideas and, in the process, have demonstrated that serving the “base of the pyramid” consumer can make good business sense. I analyzed several of these “base of the pyramid” business models — what we call “Building a Marketplace” — in Model Behavior: 20 Business Model Innovations for Sustainability, a report that I co-wrote and released earlier this year….

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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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  • The EU has placed a moratorium on neonicotinoids, pesticides linked to declines in bee populations around the world that put at risk bees’ roles in pollinating three quarters of the world’s crops. Flickr image by nicora.

    This is post 10 of 10. See previous.

    For over 25 years, companies have valued our ability to serve as their early warning system—to interpret emerging issues and trends in the sustainable development agenda and help them anticipate, understand and respond to shifts in the business landscape. In 2013, SustainAbility re-launched a dedicated function to regularly track and interpret “what’s next”—our Ten Trends of 2013 series is the distillation and public output of our thinking over the year.

    More than ten years after the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) study of hormone-disrupting chemicals—commonly found in agricultural pesticides and household items like plastics and cosmetics—turned up “weak” evidence on the connection to human health, much has changed. In 2013, when WHO and UNEP refreshed their study, a panel of 16 scientists from 10 countries found “emerging evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes’ and mounting evidence for effects on thyroids, brains and metabolism.” The report concludes that we are now facing a “global threat” that all national governments should address.

    Some governments have heeded the warning, albeit slowly and in part. In 2013, we’ve seen the EU place a moratorium on neonicotinoids&, pesticides linked to declines in bee populations around the world that put at risk bees’ roles in pollinating three quarters of the world’s crops. What’s more, the European Food Safety Authority warned that neonicotinoids may harm the development of unborn babies and called for cutting maximum exposure levels. Beyond “neonics,” the U.S. FDA has proposed a rule requiring manufacturers to prove antibacterial soaps are safe. …

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  • Following a number of 2013 supply chain crises, such as the horsemeat scandal (which saw Findus and others forced into recalls), there has been an emergence of technologies which trace a product’s journey from source to store. Image © London Permaculture

    This is post 6 of 10. See next or previous.

    For over 25 years, companies have valued our ability to serve as their early warning system—to interpret emerging issues and trends in the sustainable development agenda and help them anticipate, understand and respond to shifts in the business landscape. In 2013, SustainAbility re-launched a dedicated function to regularly track and interpret “what’s next”—our Ten Trends of 2013 series is the distillation and public output of our thinking over the year.

    “There is no point in wishing the complexity away—it’s already here…” My colleague Lorraine Smith wrote this while assessing the state of transparency in the corporate sector today, evoking a thread that ties far-flung supply chain crises erupting in 2013–from the apparel sector’s Rana Plaza factory collapse to the food and retail sector’s horse meat contamination scandal. Technology to trace product supply chains from source to store has emerged strongly in 2013 as a pathway to understand and address the complexity, while foreshadowing its potential future role as an enabler of collaboration within and across companies’ value chains….

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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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  • Companies like Whole Foods have developed successful business models to meet particular environmental and social needs but it is not necessarily as straight forward for mainstream brands.

    “Innovation is most powerful when it’s activated by collaboration between unlikely partners, coupled with investment dollars, marketing know-how and determination. Now is the time for big, bold solutions. Incremental change won’t get us where we need to go fast enough or at a scale that makes a difference.” — Mark Parker, CEO, NIKE, Inc. at the LAUNCH 2020 Summit

    I recently finished Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, and came away with new perspectives on, and examples of, strong private sector leadership on environmental and social issues. The authors’ examples from Whole Foods – generous employee benefits, transparency and equity of salaries, etc. – are impressive and might be enough to soothe customers displeased by Whole Foods’ CEO Mackey’s candid views on topics such as health care, climate change and unions.

    Like others before them (see my blog on Creating Shared Value), the authors attempt to differentiate their concept with others such as sustainability, citizenship and CSR. Yet Mackey and Sisodia essentially offer the same thesis: companies that consider and manage a broad array of stakeholder interests (beyond meeting the needs of shareholders alone) will perform better financially over the long run. This viewpoint is now more or less commonplace amongst large, global companies, a development we should celebrate….

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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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  • Back in September, I discussed in a blog post the fact that open data was one part of a move for technology to help us become more open, collaborative, participatory, and connected. Open data is but one part of a wider suite of technologies currently being adopted for accountability in the value chain. We discussed these in a recent Engaging Stakeholders webinar featuring Leo Bonanni of Sourcemap. These technologies include RFID, apps, mobiles, and a number of different codes – alphanumeric, barcodes and QR codes. Collectively, this group of technologies …

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  • How can an organisation that buys one-half trillion dollars worth of stuff every year create a sustainable supply chain? That was the question posed to me and about 80 other guests who were invited by the White House to a meeting on March 30.

    The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the General Services Administration (GSA) co-sponsored a group brainstorm on what a Community of Practice for a Sustainable Supply Chain should look like. Put simply, a Community of Practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better through regular interaction.

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  • In March, a report from the Institute for Local Self Reliance was released, mentioning that Wal-Mart was nowhere near meeting the Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) that it had set out in late 2005 – that is, to be 100% powered by renewable energy, create zero waste, and …

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  • It’s hard to think about brand leadership without thinking about Apple, now neck-and-neck with ExxonMobil as the world’s biggest company by market cap.

    Last week, Apple was top of mind for many of us, with two major pieces of reporting: the UK release of Adam Lashinsky’s book, Inside Apple, which describes in part-admiring, part-unmerciful detail Apple’s tough organizational culture, and the New York Times’s excellent investigation into conditions in Apple’s supplier factories in China.

    This last piece spurred CEO Tim Cook …

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  • Sustainability labels should focus more on actual company performance

    When we talk about the “eco-label model” we’re really talking about a combination of three things.

    First, standards – a set of requirements, usually taking a consensus-based approach. Second, certifications – providing assurance of conformity against this standard. And, third, the eco-labels themselves – on-pack marks that indicate conformance with the standard.

    This model came into being over…

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  • “Fair” is in the current ether.

    There is the Occupy Movement, raising questions about the fundamental fiduciary responsibility of corporations and government, whether they are acting (or capable of acting) in the best interests of the public, and how to hold them accountable in any event.

    There is the ongoing Arab Spring, where another form of citizen power (itself a key inspiration for Occupy)…

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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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  • Sustainable consumption has been high on our agenda in recent months. Most recently, our latest report Signed, Sealed… Delivered? highlights the diminishing returns from sustainability labels and calls for sustainability to be ‘built-in’ rather than ‘bolt-on’ (or, in this case, labelled-on) to consumer brands.

    So with my antennae sensitised for unsustainable consumption, I was stunned to flick through the Financial Times‘ Weekend magazine Christmas Unwrapped and read endless exhortation of excessive consumption…

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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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  • The True Cost of Traceability

    29 Nov 2011 – LIz Muller

    SustainAbility’s recent paper – Signed, Sealed…Delivered? – provides thoughtful insight and constructive recommendations on ways to make large scale shifts to new models of production, which will result in more sustainable and socially beneficial conditions.

    My work is centered on linking market demands with improved raw material production through complex commodity supply chains and business realities. I believe that we must account for the true cost of a sustainability or ethical system and maximize…

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  • Influencing Consumer Behaviour

    16 Nov 2011 – Simon Lee

    As SustainAbility’s new report, Signed, Sealed… Delivered?, explains, certification marks can help build trust in brands and influence consumer behaviour. But they are not universally successful, for all people, in all circumstances. What alternative approaches can be usefully employed? Business in the Community’s Simon Lee explains the findings from their recent report, Influencing Consumer Behaviour – A Guide for Sustainable Marketing.

    Why aren’t people acting?

    Trust marks undeniably provide a quick, easy method to communicate a company or product’s sustainability credentials to consumers. Yet…

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  • Labelling has an important role to play in conveying information about sustainability to consumers, but it is by no means a panacea for all the ills of unsustainable consumption. Consumer awareness does not simply equate to consumer action; it must be accompanied by incentives, disincentives and, crucially, the phasing out of products and services that have the greatest impact.

    This logic does not only apply to the issue of sustainability. Research consistently points to the need for multi-pronged approaches to changing consumer behaviour in areas such as nutrition, financial services, and pharmaceuticals, to name but a few. All the evidence suggests that point-of-sale information alone is not enough change consumer behaviour.

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