Sustainability

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Equipping the Sustainability Insurgency

Sustainability Insurgents are professional insiders who seek to align their organizations with a global vision of a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. This article explores how two insurgents, working for dramatically different organizations, developed a peer-to-peer network to help spread the sustainability insurgency.

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The Paris Agreement — It's Down to Business

The Paris Agreement signals the end of the fossil fuel era, shifting the entire world economy — with huge implications for business. Governments in 195 countries committed to climate goals, but the scale of the transition required is such that governments can’t do it alone. We need business to fully commit, too. And the mechanism for this commitment can be found in business by-laws and constitution statements.

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MIT for Managers: Can You Afford to Build Green?

How much more does it cost to make a building “green”? Most people assume it’s a lot. But John Sterman, MIT Sloan School of Management’s Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management and the director of the MIT System Dynamics Group, says that the premium to build MIT’s LEED-certified Sloan School building has been small. “MIT is a data-driven place,” Sterman says. “You have to make the argument with data before people will act.”

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How a Lack of Systemic Thinking Threatens a Sustainable U.S. Energy Policy

Even the best laid plans can cause unintended consequences. But organizations that operate at less-than-optimal performance levels and are unable to think systematically are especially prone to surprising outcomes. Consider the impact of U.S. ethanol legislation on energy supply chains. Supply chains are complex eco-systems that often span multiple industries and geographies. Changing the balance between supply and demand can have a profound impact on each link in the chain. Failing to appreciate these far-reaching consequences can be disastrous and very difficult to undo.

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Five Steps to Strategic Sustainability and Abundance

Kenyan mobile money pioneer M-Pesa is just one of many companies in developing economies that build virtuous cycles where solving ecological problems and building resilient communities opens new opportunities. Adopting an abundant perspective, argues author Jay Friedlander, provides concrete economic, social, and environmental objectives that unleash new possibilities.

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Tradeoffs in Sustainability-Oriented Innovations

The 1987 UN document Our Common Future notes that sustainability means ensuring that future generations inherit an intact planet. If sustainability is framed as a tradeoff between business and society, addressing this tradeoff for the short term may actually exacerbate long-term problems — compromising sustainability. Firms that find a win-win between profits and planet but fail to consider intertemporal tradeoffs may cost the planet in the long term.

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The Revolution Will Be Customized (and Recycled and Solar-Powered)

The director of Michigan Tech University’s Lab in Open Sustainability Technology, Joshua Pearce, says that while the manufacturing revolution offered by 3D printing may be in its infancy, the time isn’t far when printers — already available open-source — will be solar-powered and use 100% recycled raw materials. “I think people are going to start producing a lot of their own things, whether it’s kids’ toys or scientific instruments, purely based on the economics,” he says.

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Sustainability-Oriented Innovation: The More the Merrier

In the third in a four-post series on Sustainability-Oriented Innovation (SOI), the authors look at the SOI process and the key actors and roles involved. To facilitate and accelerate the complex process of SOI, the authors suggest the development of SOI centers of excellence and SOI communities of practice. With both, diverse networks of problem solvers can emerge and start managing the challenges of socially and environmentally complex issues.

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Environmental and Human Rights Assume a New Urgency for Boards

The G7 summit in June of 2015 and the G20 meeting in November both upheld the idea that businesses have a responsibility to respect environmental and human rights principles. As such concerns take center stage, business leaders must recognize their role in navigating the new regulatory environment. As environmental and human rights risks rise in importance, board members are at risk of being seen as negligent if they fail to ensure that their companies comply with the G20/OECD Principles and the standards to which the Principles refer.

Photo courtesy of Patagonia/Dylan Lucas Gordon.
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Why Sustainability-Oriented Innovation Is Valuable in Every Context

While the most basic form of Sustainability-Oriented Innovation has led to combining sustainability practices with revenue generation, more refined forms of SOI target innovation at different stages and in different contexts. Jay, the director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan, along with Gonzalez and Gerard, write that “SOI allows companies to push beyond their usual innovation boundaries and their typical business protocols.”

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The Killer App for 3D Printing? The Circular Economy

3D printing is currently a niche technology — but it has the potential to help us completely alter how we use and reuse materials to make custom goods. As a technology, it offers 3 factors that define sustainable systems: (1) materials parsimony, (2) power autonomy, and (3) value cycling. Guest editor Gregory Unruh explains how 3D printing represents a sustainability game-changer.

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Finishing School for Social Intrapreneurs

The Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program is focused on developing business leaders for a sustainable society. One of its fundamental founding questions was, “If we want business to operate in a way that’s attentive to long-term value creation and an array of stakeholders, what kind of leadership do we need?” The solution: Aspen’s “First Movers” program, cultivating creative intrapreneurs dedicated to products and management practices that enhance profitability without negative social and environmental impacts.

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Sustainability-Oriented Innovation: A Bridge to Breakthroughs

This blog post is the first of a four-part series on sustainability-oriented innovation (SOI). The authors explain what SOI is, where and how it can be used, its impact, and its challenges. While many businesses are aware of SOI, they are struggling to shed the traditional tradeoff model that they have come to accept and rely on. Achieving sustainability-oriented innovation means taking off blinders, shifting away from deeply embedded mental models, and working closely with a more diverse stakeholder base.

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What Companies Can Learn From Social Scalers

A new breed of social entrepreneurs has evolved. “Social scalers” focus on market-based solutions that can be scaled up to create social change. Their goal: transform social problems into business opportunities on a national or even global scale. The authors of Strategy and Competitiveness in Latin American Markets: The Sustainability Frontier (Edward Elgar, 2014) look at how companies seeking to address social issues can learn from these social scalers.

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The Changing Business Climate Is Causing Product Die-Offs

As sustainability becomes a driving force in the evolving marketplace, many products and technologies are unable to compete within the new parameters. The recent scandal involving Volkswagen’s falsifying of its diesel cars’ emissions is a case in point: If your business model can meet the ever-higher standards of sustainability only when customers reduce consumption of the product, it is by definition unsustainable. What does this mean for managers committed to products with questionable sustainability?

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Strategic Sustainability Uses of Life-Cycle Analysis

At its roots, life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to quantify total sustainability impacts — like resource use and environmental damage — over the entire life of a product, from “cradle to grave.” While there is informational value in the basic exercise, the real utility of LCA is comparison — that is, comparing one product’s sustainability impacts with another’s. Given the effort and cost involved, what are the strategic benefits of LCA? And should you be employing such a process?

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The Insurance Industry Wants a World That Is Sustainable and Insurable

Insurance companies are uniquely positioned to address challenges such as climate change and human rights issues in their roles as risk managers, risk carriers, and investors. The Principles for Sustainable Insurance (PSI) initiative launched by the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative in 2012 serves as a global framework for this effort. The PSI are now backed by more than 80 organizations worldwide, representing 20% of world premiums and $14 trillion (USD) in assets.

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Why Boards Must Look Beyond Shareholders

Shareholders are just one audience a board of directors considers when making decisions for the corporation. Others include employees, customers, suppliers, and NGOs. In the face of limited resources, directors must make choices regarding the significance of the corporation’s many audiences. Given obligations to multiple stakeholders, the authors suggest that boards of directors issue an annual “Statement of Significant Audiences and Materiality” to identify the company’s significant audiences.

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