Environmental Sustainability

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The Environmental Benefits of Digital Design

Executives are reimagining the value of nonfinancial assets for their own companies, the broader industry, and the environment by making product development more design- and information-intensive. The result: new digitally enhanced offerings that are reducing material use, lowering energy demands, and increasing revenues.

Digitizing Products for Sustainability’s Sake

Digitization opens opportunities for the world’s sustainability challenges, but it also transforms industries, holding out the possibility of dramatically improving their social and environmental performance. To capitalize on this development, an emerging area of opportunity is the digitization of physical products and production.

Critical Questions Live: Is It Up to Business to Save the Planet?

  • Video | Runtime: 0:59:42

  • Read Time: 6 min 

In this video, Andrew Winston, sustainability expert and author, and MIT professor Yossi Sheffi, director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics, debate the role of for-profit businesses in supporting — and investing in — sustainability goals. The session was moderated by Paul Michelman, editor in chief of MIT Sloan Management Review.

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Why the Business Case for Sustainability Will Win Out

U.S. corporations still have considerable incentive to move forward on their own climate plans, despite the softening of federal government support. Organizations as diverse as Anheuser-Busch, Duke Energy, and Timberland have robust programs in motion around renewable electricity, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and tracking the climate impact of manufacturing. These plans were built on tangible business cases, not just goodwill.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

How Sprint Negotiates Sustainability

As the head of corporate social responsibility at Sprint, Amy Hargroves has challenged the telecommunications company to “walk the talk” on sustainability, with significant success. But it hasn’t come easy by any means. In her interview with MIT SMR, Hargroves describes how she has partnered with Sprint’s legal and government affairs team to turn principles into practice.

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Human Rights: The Next Frontier

It is becoming more and more commonplace for companies to take human rights into account when sourcing materials or manufacturing processes. Guest blogger Olivier Jaeggi of ECOFACT explains why this trend has significance for sustainability — and how corporate standards are increasingly taking the position that paying attention to human rights is a necessity for companies’ risk management strategy, rather than an act of good will.

Delivering on the Promise of Green Logistics

The best way to reduce emissions and cut costs is to transport goods efficiently. So why aren’t more companies taking the steps that would get them there? In a set of three case studies, one of the key obstacle becomes clear: implementing logistics strategies to reduce emissions requires significant internal and external collaboration between companies, suppliers, and shippers. But as these case studies prove, undertaking complicated process changes can also produce significant rewards.

Why Making Money Is Not Enough

The authors, who include Ratan Tata, the former chairman of the Tata Group, argue that that “it is possible to build and lead companies that retain a deeper purpose.” Tata calls for companies to launch “corporate lifeboats” — such as new business experiments in next-generation clean technologies and serious business initiatives in the underserved space at the “base of the pyramid” — to transform their operations for sustainability.

Andy C Wales

A New Mix: More Sustainable Beer from Better Water Practices

It’s only natural that a beer company would be concerned about water. It takes five liters of water, on average, to manufacture one liter of beer. When SABMiller mapped its water footprint and found that it took 45 liters of water to produce one liter of its beer in the Czech Republic, and 155 liters in South Africa, the company changed its water practices to make its beer more sustainable. An interview with SABMiller’s senior vice president of sustainable development explains how they did it.

Image courtesy of Flickr user suneko.

New Ways to Engage Employees, Suppliers and Competitors in CSR

Timberland LLC, a global boot and outdoor apparel manufacturer, goes beyond simply telling the world about its sustainability work. According to Betsy Blaisdell, the company’s senior manager of environmental stewardship, it has creative new ways to involve employees and to partner with suppliers — and competitors. In this interview, Blaisdell talks about the environment “nutrition label” it’s developed for its footwear, and its partnership with 60 plus apparel and footwear brands, retailers, suppliers and NGOs (from Adidas to Patagonia to DuPont to the World Resources Institute) to develop an environmental index called the Higg Index.

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