Business & The Environment

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Investing For a Sustainable Future

Investors see a strong link between corporate sustainability performance and financial performance — so they’re using sustainability-related data as a rationale for investment decisions like never before.

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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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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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What’s Your Strategy for Supply Chain Disclosure?

How much information should a company disclose about its supply chain? In addition to having to be lean, agile, and sustainable, today’s supply chains are increasingly the focus of growing attention from a variety of external stakeholders. These stakeholders often want information beyond what the company is legally obliged to disclose. But many companies have limited visibility of their supply chain information and have not fully considered their disclosure strategy.

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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.

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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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Closing the Trade Finance Sustainability Gap

Environmental sustainability has moved into the limelight when it comes to supply chains. Companies look closely at how their goods are produced and sourced. But a gap exists when it comes to the finance and insurance industries. ECOFACT’s Olivier Jaeggi and Gina Santos take a closer look at how the enablers of global trade — the banks and insurers who finance it — are starting to become accountable for their part in sustainable economic growth.

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Sustaining Sustainability

Steve Zaffron, CEO of the Vanto Group, has worked with diverse organizations — from rocket-scientist NASA to labor-intensive mining — to achieve a culture where sustainability focus runs deep. His experience shows that leaps in human performance come less from tangible investments in automation, equipment or compensation schemes, and more through intangible transformations in the way people in organizations see themselves and others. “It’s not an easy thing to change the way in which people see the world and themselves,” says Zaffron “It takes time to develop.”

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Image courtesy of Flickr user worldwaterweek.

To Conserve Water for Agriculture, a Solution from the Desert

Both economic and climate change have brought increasing concerns about agriculture — particularly with respect to water. Farmers worldwide are beginning to explore ways to stretch what may become an increasingly limited resource. In a Q&A, Netafim’s chief sustainability officer Naty Barak explains how his company’s origins in arid-zone agriculture became a springboard to a wider market for agricultural producers to maximize water efficiency, and how the company’s partnerships with NGOs brings the technology to small farmers in the developing world.

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Why It Pays to Become a Rule Maker

Managers in some leading companies have pioneered a new approach to sustainability. In this approach, businesses have the potential to be rule makers as well as players in establishing environmental regulations. “There is an expression in Washington,” says DuPont’s Michael Parr, “that it is better to be at the table than on the menu.” Indeed, by engaging with government on the structure of the phaseout of air conditioning chemicals, DuPont helped bring an end to one profitable product life cycle and spawn another.

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Are Firms and Managers At Risk When Contributing to Climate Change?

At what point do corporate executives become personally liable for their companies’ failure to take action on climate change? This question is moving into focus as more company executives are being held accountable for business practices and decisions that harm the public. Climate activists look at precedents in the tobacco industry and asbestos manufacturing as the potential basis of legal action against the fossil fuel industry’s leadership.

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Asia Pulp & Paper and Greenpeace: Building New Directions, Together

When two organizations are on opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to sustainability issues, it may seem like there’s no hope of ever reaching agreement. Such was the case when Greenpeace and Asia Pulp sat down to negotiate a truce after Greenpeace’s hard-hitting campaign to change Asia Pulp’s forestry practices, which Greenpeace saw as destroying endangered rainforest habitat. But as Asia Pulp’s Aida Greenbury explains, it’s possible even for two polar opposites to find areas of common ground and work together for sustainable business practices.

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No Free Market for Energy

The idea that energy is a “free-market good” is a myth that needs to be abandoned. Subsidies for energy exist for good reason. The authors argue that in order to wean ourselves off hydrocarbon dependence, U.S. and global policies that subsidize oil and gas production at higher rates than renewable energy production need to be changed to reduce the bias in favor of hydrocarbons.

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