Do you believe the mainstream holds the key to a sustainable future? Is it only through engaging and motivating them en-masse we create the commercial impetus to deliver new business-models?
Or, will it be through visionary leadership and new ways of thinking that we deliver change? After all, the internet was created by the vision of a few, and then adopted by the mainstream because it offered a better world.
For this special end-of-year debate, we explored four very different schools-of-thought.
Steven Kotler (via Video-link from the US) - Steven and his partner, Peter Diamandis, caused a storm when they published “Abundance” in 2012, arguing we have the ingenuity to overcome climate change and population growth.
Joanna Yarrow - Consumers need to experience a sustainable world for them to want it. An expert in making green living attractive, Joanna will share learnings from her BBC3's Outrageous Wasters series, the Ariel 30 campaign, and her work with Unilever.
John Elkington - From 0 to 100: The Power of Stretch Thinking. One of the gurus of sustainability explored what can be achieved with stretch targets, and how breakthroughs come from a relatively small group in society rather than the mainstream.
Dr. Michael Braungart - The co-creator of Cradle to Cradle thinking, Michael explained why closed loop thinking is redefining business models, and helping companies to find advantage from thinking differently. Responding were two people who have an unparalleled understanding of current mainstream opinion.
David Aaronovitch - Author, Tweeter and Columnist for The Times
Greg Nugent - Brand, Marketing & Culture Director for the London 2012 Olympics
It's 2017, and a new generation of sustainable supply chain strategies have emerged from the uncertainty of 2012. This table will look back on the drivers, tools, technologies and leadership that enabled this success.
With reports suggesting that current rates of decarbonisation point to 6°C of warming, our collective strategy of “incrementalism” looks inadequate. How should organisations respond and what role can the carbon markets play to drive reductions and stimulate investment?
1. The picture is worse than the question asserts as incrementalism is not even mainstream. Whilst there are some shining lights and examples of genuine commitment, most companies are not doing anything let alone enough. Even if we assumed that improvements were incremental, we would need to break the ISO14001 culture of continuous improvement to deliver the step change required.
2. To deliver the step change required, we need organisations to take the solution to the customer, as customers are unlikely to do it themselves. To do this sustainability professionals need a new alliance with entrepreneurs and core business strategists / marketers developers to drive innovation and become core/relevant.
3. However, regulation is still needed and needs to be consistent. The collective failure to perform is a market failure which requires both carrot and stick – hence a role for regulation.
A number of leaders are recognising that making significant strides towards sustainability is unlikely to be funded through efficiencies – in the short term at least. Does this table agree with this perspective, and how can the business case be made for sustainability through longer term arguments around business model change?
In a world where consumers have become cynical of corporate claims around sustainability, how can companies restore a belief in sustainability claims? The table may consider issues such as transparency, honesty, new regulatory solutions etc
1. Build trust by applying good risk management to ensure you are not vulnerable, and earn goodwill by demonstrating good intentions. Putting these foundations in place helps win the confidence of stakeholders who can influence your reputation. E.g. Establishing a good relationship with NGOs such as Greenpeace can give companies an early warning system and time to solve problems, rather than going straight to reactionary stance.
2. Make sustainable product claims relevant to people by selling them the benefits and telling stories about the product and brand, rather than focusing on features alone. E.g. turn to 30 degrees worked well because it saves you money and makes your clothes last longer, not because it lowers energy consumption and GHG emissions.
3. Raising awareness alone doesn’t change behaviour – this is done by building relationships over time. Communications need to be effective more than efficient – certifications and labels might inform, but do they inspire change? In fact, most people just want the companies they buy from to ‘act for me’ – to make the right choices on their behalf. They don’t want to compare and choose between multiple options – they just want to know that the product on the shelf was responsibly sourced and produced.
3-D printing is becoming a reality. Boeing is already printing 300 plane parts. But how big is 3-D printing going to be, how sustainable is it and which sectors should see it as part of their sustainability strategies?
Social sustainability is rising up the business agenda, driven by issues such as rising youth unemployment and weaker state spending. Why are companies such as O2 stepping into the breach, and what are the key ingredients of social sustainability strategies? How big should businesses social responsibility become?
1. What is social sustainability? Employees, customers, community? Supply chain? Important for each company to work out what it stands for. Ask your CEO what legacy they want to leave?
2. What are the metrics to measure it? Embryonic and not as clear cut as environmental sustainability. However, some businesses starting to look at social sustainability as a specific area. Fundamentally its about understanding the impact that the business has on society and what society's expectations of business are but it needs to be clear and increasingly measurable. Start basic with metrics and build up.
3. What does it bring to the business. Again not very clear in terms of ROI however license to operate increasingly important (e.g Starbucks boycott over tax issue)
Electricity Market Reform or Environmental Mayhem Reinvented? This table discusses the EMR in layman’s terms and considers how companies should respond.
1. If Government has created environmental mayhem, it is by not defining policy sufficiently. The recent EMR announcements have not provided a clear view on long term prices (for renewables, the capacity market, CRC price etc.) or what carbon emission limits will be.
2. End users are moving to decentralised energy to save money and avoid pass through costs, but are they best placed to become generators? Often this is outside core business, something that policy should acknowledge and tackle (e.g. in the way it allows purchased renewables to be reported).
3. Is the EMR making the UK less competitive in Europe? Compensation for energy intensive users does not capture all those with a high energy spend. Increasing energy bills are a material risk for UK businesses.
Are product sustainability programs approaching a tipping point? From O2’s Eco Rating to Puma’s product E P&Ls, there is a growing interest in the potential of product-based measures to impact supply chains relative to organisation-wide measures. Does the table see it as the future?
Mainstreaming sustainability: how do we move beyond the 10% who care? Discussion points could include actively shaping mainstream opinions, using technology, rewarding behaviour, language etc
Will natural capital be factored into core business processes within the next 5 years? This table looks at the milestones that could mainstream this issue.
IKEA recently set a goal to generate 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Does the table see this strategy as an exception or a glimpse of the future, and what other energy-related target should companies be considering?
1. Companies need to have a broader strategy than just renewables. Energy consumption and the alignment of incentives – particularly with regards to purchasing decisions - need to be key parts of the sustainability strategy.
2. Government has an important role to play – positively and negatively in getting requirements and incentives so that the IKEA goal is not just an outliner.
3. the IKEA goal of 100% renewable energy by 2020 is a reality driven by financial viability, government, CSR reporting and other market/not market drivers.