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  • The promise of business-model innovation has long captivated the sustainability field, generating plenty of hype. But all the talk has yet to yield many real business-model changes.

    You might not know it to hear companies talk. Any business change can end up being classified as “business model innovation”. In a BCG and MIT survey of executives and managers earlier this year, nearly half of the respondents said their companies had changed their business models as a result of sustainability opportunities. However, the majority of innovations we see involve changes in companies’ processes and/or products, not underlying business models….

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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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  • While defending assets and markets against climate risks is the focus of most vulnerability assessments, few of us are inspired by an inherently defensive mission. Image courtesy of Digital_Third_Eye: Flickr

    Not that long ago, “adaptation” was a bad word among good environmentalists.

    That’s because it was seen as conceding defeat in the fight to put a price on carbon pollution, a distraction from the dramatic emissions reductions needed.

    But just a few years later, we’re seeing growing interest in “adaptation” — or its more pleasantly-named cousin, “resilience“ — from cities and corporations. Even so, few would argue that climate resilience is routinely prioritized at the necessary scale.

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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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  • 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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  • Mineral rich frontier economies like Myanmar are attracting a surge in investment but some are advising caution when looking to move into regions with a track record of human rights issues. Image credit: CC license by rhaddon/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.

    Social Investment Gathers Momentum

    In the UK, a number of developments in the social impact space are creating momentum around the departure of business as usual. Last year saw the establishment of Big Society Capital, a social investment institution that has been set up by the UK government to provide access to finance for social enterprises. In early June this year, the Social Stock Exchange (SSE), an investment of Big Society Capital, was launched as an online platform where listed companies are connected to investors who are looking for measurement of social and environmental credentials. To be listed on the SSE, companies have to produce social impact reports that are assessed by a panel of experts in the field. The SSE is supporting the shift to a broader definition of shareholder value by enabling companies to make their social and environmental impacts more transparent and ultimately, more quantifiable to investors. …

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  • Interdependence Day

    09 Jul 2013Mark Lee

    Increasingly it is initiatives which apply systems thinking and have business at their center (such as The Launch Partnership, pictured) that are providing the hope of meeting sustainability challenges.

    Last month saw the publication of Changing Tack, a report that is the final output of The Regeneration Roadmap, a project undertaken during the last 18 months by GlobeScan and SustainAbility to assess progress on sustainable development over the last 25 years.

    In a column providing an overview of the report, my colleague Chris Guenther suggested that “extended leadership” will be required to accelerate and scale sustainable development progress and ensure that present and future societies and ecosystems have equal opportunity to thrive. He spelled out the report’s point of view that the private sector has the opportunity to demonstrate “extended” leadership in order to accelerate progress. Six attributes of extended leadership were deemed most important: vision, goals, offer, brand, transparency and advocacy….

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  • The battle for a sustainable future will be won or lost in our cities. Image credit: CC license by art-dara/Flickr

    Although occupying only 2% of the Earth’s land surface, cities account for more than 60% of global energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions. Over 3.5bn people are city dwellers today, and by 2050 that number is projected to almost double. With figures like these, it’s not a stretch to say that our battle for a sustainable future will be won or lost in our cities.

    So how do we win that battle? Early in 2012 we started exploring this very question in Citystates: How Cities are Vital to the Future of Sustainability, and last week I had the opportunity to chair a panel on the subject at Convergence Paris. Joining me were two people with a lot of experience in this area: Peter Madden from Catapult Future Cities, and Sterling Hughes from Silver Spring Networks.

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  • The Zermatt Summit's location acts as a timely reminder of the scale of the challenges ahead. Image credit: CC license by yago1.com/Flickr

    Professor Guido Palazzo of Lausanne University, when opening a panel session at the Zermatt Summitt, paused and surveyed his audience, every member of which was, in some way or other, committed to the cause of sustainability. “You know who is responsible for an unsustainable economy” he began. “We are… all of us in this room” Taking a smart phone from his pocket he presented a litany of unsustainable attributes to be found in a simple object that we all take for granted. While there was nothing specifically new in his assertions, it was a timely reminder of realities that we all find it all-too-easy to forget.

    Palazzo was not the only speaker to call for a fresh view of the commonplace. Pressed on the potential need for new ways of “impact investing”, the thoughtful Martin Rohner of Alternative Bank Switzerland cut to the heart of the matter: all investments have an “impact”. The real way forward is to understand the true nature of this impact, in all its forms, and upon whom, in order that investors can take a more considered view than at present….

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  • Time is of the essence: Are investors failing to acknowledge long-term risks to their funds and overvaluing their assets?

    Earlier this month I attended two investor-related events – the launch of the new report published by the Carbon Tracker and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and the RI Europe 2013: Investor-Corporate ESG Summit. Both events recognised the challenges of incorporating ESG considerations into company valuations, and discussed the growing set of initiatives and approaches that investors are taking to resolve the situation.

    In the first report in the series – Unburnable Carbon: Are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble? – Carbon Tracker argued that if the world is to remain within the 2 degrees limit of tolerable global warming then it can only “afford” to burn approximately 20% of total known fossil fuel reserves, leaving 80% of assets technically stranded and meaning that investors who are valuing companies based on their ability to continue to burn these fossil fuels may be massively overpricing their assets….

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  • Prominent business sources have been making the business case for equal marriage rights on both sides of the Atlantic.

    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.

    The Business Case for Gay Marriage

    John Browne, former CEO of BP wrote a piece in the Financial Times expressing his support for gay marriage in the UK, framing the argument in economic terms: “Anything that fosters an inclusive environment makes good business sense.” He contended that gay marriage will “eliminate one more barrier to a true corporate meritocracy and deserves recognition as a matter of strategic importance in the global market for talent.”…

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  • The politics of business: without a massive upswing in active support from the private sector, climate and energy policy simply doesn’t stand a chance of becoming law

    Having spent the last 4+ years deep in the sausage-making process that is federal and international climate and energy policy, I’ll admit that I’m biased: I firmly believe that climate change is the most important issue of our time. Of course, there is no shortage of critical topics that demand attention and urgent action. However, if we fail to address climate change, near-term progress on these other key issues will be undercut if not completely overshadowed by unrelenting runaway climate impacts.

    The science is clear: we have a very brief window to limit global emissions if we are to avoid the most dangerous of climate scenarios. It is similarly clear that a significant upswing in corporate action is required in order to shift the economics and politics around this issue if we have any hope of meeting this goal. Congressional staffers are often happy to meet with environmental NGOs. Yet in the dozens of meetings I’ve participated in on Capitol Hill, everyone in the room knows the score: without a massive upswing in active support from the private sector climate and energy policy simply doesn’t stand a chance of becoming law. Even President Obama’s recently unveiled climate plan, a serious step in the right direction, is clearly not enough….

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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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  • Nearly every global metric indicates we are heading in the wrong direction. Can business lead the turnaround and do so at the required speed?

    Each year, the Worldwatch Institute publishes its flagship State of the World report. The 2013 edition is organized around whether sustainability is still an attainable goal. In the opening chapter, Worldwatch President Robert Englemen asks starkly, “In the wake of failed international environmental and climate summits, when national governments take no actions commensurate with the risk of catastrophic environmental change, are there ways humanity might still alter current behaviors to make them sustainable? Is sustainability still possible?”

    This is similar to the starting point for a new report from SustainAbility and GlobeScan, Changing Tack: Extending Corporate Leadership on Sustainable Development. The report is the final, summative output of The Regeneration Roadmap, an 18-month project designed to assess progress on sustainable development during the last 25 years, and to consider how to more thoroughly accelerate and scale such progress in response to the growing urgency of economic, social and environmental challenges today….

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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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  • It was most definitely not a day like any other…Thursday June 13, 2013 saw the webcasted launch of Changing Tack, the culmination of our 18-month Regeneration Roadmap research program in collaboration with Globescan. The webcast was preceded by the annual Marks & Spencer Plan A Conference at which former U.S. Vice President Al Gore gave a barnstorming speech. Meanwhile, across London, the B Team launched its Plan B. Not a usual day by any means. Most certainly, something stirs…

    Our Regeneration Roadmap analysis sees us poised between a sustainable future and catastrophic collapse. So Changing Tack recognizes the intensely pressing need to accelerate progress towards sustainable development. No less than transformation is needed. The enabling context for such transformation is trust, collaboration and leadership. …

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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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  • Bilderberg Hotel in the Netherlands, name-giving location of the first conference in 1954

    Thursday 6 June, 2013

    Dear Bilderberg members

    For 59 years you have been meeting regularly to discuss the issues that most affect Europe and the USA. Looking back to the mid-50s, your original inspiration, to promote an “Atlanticist” approach to help bridge the gaps between the two continents, was no doubt well conceived as the wearisome post-war recovery period dragged on.

    But it was not this aim that was most prescient. Your founders realized the potential of a cross-sector approach to international challenges. This approach brings policy makers, business, and civil society together in ways not possible in the normal discourse. As we look to the challenges the world faces now, it is clear that this is the very type of collaboration that is so badly needed – one that cuts across traditional boundaries….

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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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