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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.

Image courtesy of Nike, Inc.
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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). In it, we will 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 the 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.


Creating Effective Dialogue About Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate social responsibility initiatives run the risk of being seen as insincere. However, there are ways that companies can thoughtfully — and effectively — engage with the public about social issues. The authors make four suggestions for companies that are hoping to engage in a credible CSR dialogue with stakeholders. They include cultivating a balance between controlling and cocreating the dialogue, and creating platforms that invite stakeholders to influence the implementation of CSR initiatives.

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Why Sustainability Ratings Matter

The convergence of communications technology, big data and globalized markets make ratings based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance indispensable for B2B and B2C exchanges. Credible, transparent and timely ratings are a powerful enhancement in a fast-moving global economy. As ESG issues are recognized as material to investment decision making, the need for trusted, transparent ESG ratings will intensify.


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To Red-Card Corruption, You Have to Know What a Foul Is

Soccer’s governing body, FIFA, is in crisis over corruption — and MIT Sloan Management Review’s guest editor for Sustainability, Gregory Unruh, says the situation offers a useful case study for corporate social responsibility. By looking at the FIFA scandal, Unruh argues, managers can learn how to identify corruption from a systems perspective — and understand why it harms their business.


Why Corporate Social Responsibility Isn’t a Piece of Cake

Corporate Social Responsibility "is fraught with contradictions, subject to political challenges and demands deep commitment," argue José Carlos Marques and Henry Mintzberg. Responsible corporate behavior, they write, isn't simply “doing well by doing good.” Instead, six changes need to be considered, within and beyond our private institutions. These changes include fostering ethical judgment within the enterprise, rethinking compensation and acknowledging the benefits of regulation.

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Salary, Benefits, Bonus … and Being

At the 2015 Milken Global Conference, attracting and retaining talent is a hot topic. It used to be that the job negotiation formula was simple: salary, benefits and bonus. But that’s not enough anymore. The next generation wants something different from their work life than their predecessors — a more self-actualizing experience — and corporations are scrambling to decipher the keys to keeping employees engaged.

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Business Needs to Pay Off Its Climate Debt

As the world gears up for a new round of climate talks, companies need to step up and make sustained, multi-year commitments to absolute reductions in their carbon footprints. It’s been calculated that the U.S. business sector needs to reduce emissions by more than 3% per year to avoid the worst climate scenarios — but this option is surprisingly cost-effective. Although many of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases haven’t yet stepped up, Gregory Unruh argues that they must do so now — or face catastrophe.


Sustainability Reporting As a Tool for Better Risk Management

GRI is an international organization based in Amsterdam with offices around the world. It produces a set of standards used by organizations in over 90 countries and has become the global standard-setter for sustainability reporting. But as the organization’s Chief Executive, Michael Meehan, explains, sustainability reporting is not about writing a report; it’s the process by which organizations identify their risks related to important issues, like human rights, the environment, labor and other social issues.


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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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Integrated Reporting: Corporate Disclosure for China’s "New Normal"

The “new attitude” in China toward sustainable economic growth depends upon thoughtful management of six types of capital: natural resources, human resources, financial capital, manufacturing infrastructure, intellectual capital, and social relationships. Integrated reporting looks at the performance of all six types of capital and how the performance of each element is related to one another. The challenge for China: developing partnerships with business to make it work.

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MasterCard Pins Down the Cash Economy

When impoverished families in developing nations receive government subsidies in cash, the system is an easy target for abuse, fraud, and theft — and some of the world’s most vulnerable people suffer from economic insecurity as a result. MasterCard seeks to change that by helping governments move to a non-cash system. A 2012 initiative launched in South Africa highlights both short- and long-term benefits of the approach for the company, the government, and some of South Africa’s poorest citizens.


How Collaboration Advances Your Sustainability Efforts

In a webinar recorded in January 2015, the speakers present findings from the recent global study they co-authored, "Joining Forces: Collaboration and Leadership for Sustainability." The study, by MIT Sloan Management Review, The Boston Consulting Group and the United Nations Global Compact, shows that a growing number of companies are turning to collaborations — with suppliers, NGOs, industry alliances, governments and even competitors — to become more sustainable. The research found that companies are realizing that they can’t make the necessary impact acting alone.

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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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