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  • The fossil fuel divestment movement across cities and universities has grown faster than any previous divestment campaign in history. Flickr image by 350.org.

    This is post 4 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.

    “Civil society is being suppressed, governments are backsliding and the broad climate movement must now take action.” This was Anjali Appadurai of the youth-focused climate group Earth in Brackets after a number of environment and development NGOs, including Greenpeace, WWF, Oxfam and 350.org, walked out of climate change talks in Warsaw in November. Disgruntlement with the scale and pace of government action on sustainability is nothing new—our 2013 Sustainability Leaders survey found that perceptions of national government leadership in advancing sustainable development were the lowest they’ve ever been (corporate leaders fared better, but not by much). But what the walk-out may symbolize is what we can expect to see more of between NGOs, governments and businesses between now and 2015, the proverbial ‘closing window’ to avert climate-induced disaster at the COP summit in Paris: battle lines being re-drawn among and within actors, even while there are more calls than ever for greater collaboration of all kinds. …

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  • The expanding legitimacy of waste picking. Image of Filipino waste picker by Global Environment Facility, Flickr.

    This is post 3 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.

    From 1900 to 2000, global population increased just under four times, while the amount of waste produced by humans increased ten times. With waste set to double again by 2025, and the world facing a number of drivers (e.g. less space for landfills, urbanization, volatile commodity prices) that are already upending the status quo, a variety of actors are viewing waste as an enormous business opportunity….

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  • "The catastrophization of the future freezes people," said Paul Hawken at this year's VERGE SF conference. Image by net_efekt, Flickr

    This is post 2 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.

    “The catastrophization of the future freezes people.” If there was a common theme at the various sustainability conferences we attended this year it was an acknowledgment that collectively, the sustainability movement has failed at telling a compelling (read: positive) story of what a sustainable future looks like. This quote from Paul Hawken at the VERGE SF conference was followed by similar sentiments from Amory Lovins and Andy Revkin that we’ve had very little to show when deploying ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric. As Jo Confino of Guardian Sustainable Business summarized, “The greatest risk to the sustainability movement is that it is struggling, and so far failing, to articulate a vision of a future that is both prosperous while remaining within planetary boundaries.” …

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  • Beyond executive pay, we’ve seen the inequality conversation manifest itself into ‘living wage’ campaigns rippling through the service sector in 2013. Image by Ari Moore, Flickr

    This is post 1 of 10. See next.

    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.

    “‘How can it be,’ he wrote, ‘that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?‘” That was President Obama quoting Pope Francis in a wide-ranging December speech on income inequality, which he called the “defining challenge of our time.” It also represented a high water mark in what has been a remarkable year in raising the profile of inequality as not only an urgent societal issue, but also a critical business one….

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  • Experts feel the urgency of issues like food safety is on the increase but corporate performance is still lagging behind. Image © David W Oliver, Flickr

    What issues are sustainability experts most concerned about? How well is the private sector addressing these challenges? Which sectors are most accountable for tackling these vexing problems? After analyzing responses from nearly 900 sustainability experts in 91 countries, the recently released 2013 Issues Survey, Challenges, Performance and Accountability, dives into these thorny issues, with mixed results.

    It’s been nearly two years since The GlobeScan / Sustainability Survey explored how our international pool of sustainability experts see issues—ranging from climate change to food safety—and the urgency and corporate performance surrounding them. In 2011 our survey (Key Challenges and Industry Performance) found urgency regarding several leading issues was in a slightly downward trend, and industries received mixed reviews about their ability to manage the transition to sustainable development—with no sectors receiving high marks for sustainability performance. …

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  • Will the vital pollination provided by bees, which is currently at risk due to Colony Collapse Disorder and other stresses, be the next big eco-system issue? Image © bob in swamp: Flickr

    On December 3, I moderated WBCSD’s US Midwest meeting, a one-day conference held in Columbus, Ohio whose theme was to “scale up and accelerate the transition to a sustainable economy, in the US and beyond.” The meeting was packed with excellent speakers, panels and working sessions on a diverse set of topics, including: ecosystem services, reporting, communicating with investors, inclusive business, innovation and business leadership.

    At the end of the day I was asked to wrap up the meeting with a “Top 10 List” of the issues that stood out most for me. I ended up with eleven key words and phrases. Much as Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel’s amplifier that goes to 11 was “one louder” than most amps, my Top 10 List is “one longer” than most Top 10 lists.

    1. Responsibility. I didn’t expect this to be on my list, but it popped up several times during the day. Ohio State University President Joseph Alutto kicked off the conference by telling us that OSU has a responsibility to address sustainability in both its operations and its curriculum. One of our corporate speakers declared that it is time for the business community to step up and take responsibility for leading the transition to a sustainable economy. With most of the conversation these days focusing on the business case, it was significant to hear that responsibility remains an important motivator. …

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  • Typhoon Haiyan Near Hainan Island, China. Image © NASA Goddard Photo and Video: Flickr.

    “But let us again be clear that we are witnessing ever more frequent, extreme weather events, and the poor and vulnerable are already paying the price.”

    Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, closed COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland — which took place Nov. 11 to 22 — with these harrowing words. Figueres puts a fine point on a key element within UN climate negotiations that have direct implications for the private sector.

    We are witnessing the early stages of a new normal in terms of climate impacts, and an increasingly public discussion regarding how we best prepare, who pays for “climate resilience,” and how we address the needs of poor and vulnerable populations most in harm’s way. Addressing these challenges will require the private sector to drive innovation toward problems that are still emerging, to help people with little money to spend. …

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  • Speakers highlighted the electrification of cities as a major opportunity for cutting carbon emissions. But collaboration between city administrations and ICT intelligence providers will be critical to harmonizing electricity supply and demand.

    Last week, I attended the ‘Business Day’ event held by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) as part of World Climate Summit 2013 during COP19 in Warsaw. The mission of the day was to explore WBCSD’s ‘big ideas’ to avoid the trillionth ton of carbon. For WBCSD, the big ideas are business solutions, the core of their recently launched Action 2020. The Action 2020 framework for action builds upon Vision 2050 and considers nine priority areas, including climate change, which addressed together will bring about transformative change….

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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 courtesy of .craig on Flickr

    In late October, Net Impact’s 2013 conference gathered nearly 3,000 students and professionals interested in advancing corporate sustainability in San Jose, CA under the theme “Change Starts Here.”

    The personal dedication to making a difference implied by the conference refrain was on display in the experiences shared during the “Driving Sustainability into Core Business Strategy” panel I moderated on October 25th with Jonathan Atwood, VP Sustainable Living & Corporate Communications, Unilever; Lynelle Cameron, Senior Director Sustainability & Philanthropy, Autodesk; and Vincent Stanley, VP Marketing, Patagonia. With some eight decades of experience among them, they’ve had long turns at the wheel on the journey to make sustainability core to the private sector. …

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  • Image courtesy of Christopher Chan ©2011

    “What unites us on an urban level is more unifying than divisive.” – Paul Hawken

    If you were to judge solely by the plenary sessions at VERGE, a conference uniting the sustainability and tech communities in San Francisco last week, you would be hard-pressed not to be hopeful that we are turning a corner on the greatest sustainability challenges of the 21st Century because of, not in spite of, business. The intersection points between business and society’s agendas are undoubtedly growing and this overlap is nowhere more apparent than in cities. …

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  • Many business leaders find themselves stuck in a plateau on their ascent towards “Mount Sustainability,” unable to scale at the pace required to address global challenges, says the CEO Study on Sustainability” by the U.N. Global Compact and Accenture. The report is an important read for anyone working in the sustainability profession, and the results show how far corporations have come in their journeys towards sustainability, as well as how far we have to go….

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  • Recently I attended an event as part of the United Nations Global Compact Leaders (UNGC) Summit entitled “Impact Investment in the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” that focussed on the practical steps needed to bring impact investing to scale. Given the size and systematic nature of issues that the current Millennium Development Goals seek to address, both for-profit companies and mainstream investors will need to play a key role in creating solutions. Recent reports by JP Morgan and the Rockefeller Foundation as well as the World Economic Forum (WEF) suggest that impact investing may provide the right platform to do so, but that this will require both collaboration and innovation from a range of stakeholders….

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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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  • Lego's female scientist minifigure. Image courtesy of BrickTsar / YouTube

    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.

    Challenging Gender Norms Through Product Marketing

    In early September Toys ‘R’ Us pledged to drop gender labeling for its products in UK stores, and in the long term, it has indicated plans to remove explicit references to gender in its store signage. The move followed pressure from Let Toys Be Toys, a consumer group that campaigns for gender neutrality in toys. The campaign highlights the social cost of gendered marketing to children— from influencing personality development to shaping world views. Other UK retailers including Boots have agreed to remove “boy” and “girl” signs from their stores after receiving social media pressure from consumers….

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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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  • Many companies are waking up this morning to find out their sustainability scores, but could the scoring systems themselves be improved?

    Today, two heavyweights of the ratings world – the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) and CDP – released their 2013 results. DJSI and CDP, according to polled sustainability experts in SustainAbility’s Rate the Raters research, are the 1st and 2nd most familiar ratings respectively in the corporate sustainability field, and are among the top three in terms of credibility.

    The annual release of these ratings generates a considerable amount of attention, including praise from companies that have done well (Siemens has again been ranked the world’s leading industrial company in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index) as well as critique. (Congrats to Bank of America on their inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index … wait, hang on, WHAT?!)….

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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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