The top six read articles 2016

2016 has been an exciting and challenging year for all of us. If there was one adjective that could describe it, I’d have voted for “uncertain”.


The world has lived in stormy times. We’ve seen the Western political establishments being shaken up with the rise of populism. Worldwide inequality levels were steadily increasing and many blame globalisation as its cause.


Despite the political turbulence business remained true to its promise and the world has seen ratification of the Paris Agreement.


Ranging from blockchain and modern slavery to food security and responsible tax, we’ve compiled a list of our top six read articles in 2016. We hope it will help our corporate sustainability community to navigate through uncertainty while preparing for 2017.



“The Global Goals represent probably the biggest set of BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) that the world has seen before”, argues Joe Franses of Coca-Cola European Partners. He shares his key take aways on how to break this down and run a successful Global Goals' workshop.



The Internet is missing one thing and the blockchain has it - trust. Jessi Baker, co-founder of Provenance, describes how a new technology called a blockchain might change how we trust companies,  information, and how it empower us as smarter citizens.



In the next 50 years as diets become richer, experts estimate that to feed a population of 9bn people, more food should be produced than has been during the past 10,000 years in total. Vincent Doumeizel of Lloyd's Register explores how to work together to produce safe and sustainable food.



Corporate tax avoidance has been a primary ethical concern for the British public since 2013, and businesses must increase transparency to regain public trust. Is it an ethics issue or a result of legal loopholes? Michael Solomon of Responsible 100 asks how far are we from a responsible tax society?



What would Brexit mean for the UK's environmental policy? In this exclusive blog, David Baldock, executive director at the Institute for European Environmental Policy, argues that the EU has made progress on environmental issues, and outlines the two main scenarios if the UK should vote to leave the EU. 



Forced labour and child exploitation have been guilty secrets lurking in international supply chains for centuries. With the voice of business carrying greater weight than that of conscience, business has a key role to play in addressing modern slavery, says Aidan McQuade of AntiSlavery International.


Photograph: Flickr/ victoriacarlson.

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Charities and tech: adapt or die?

Climate change tops the list of the four risks to the future of the human race as defined by The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. But technological advances bringing about seismic changes in the way NGOs and charities operate may hold a silver lining for us and the planet.


Local solutions to global problems


Current policy focusses on reducing use of fossil fuels. But such policies are time consuming and costly. In the meantime, there are cheap, practical ways to mitigate this grave risk. With proper management, tropical forests could remove significant quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere, giving us a ‘bridge’ of 10-15 extra years to eliminate fossil fuel use. Without tackling deforestation there is no way of limiting global warming to the necessary 2ºC.


While big government has done a fairly good job at tackling large scale clear cutting and industrial deforestation, 60-80% of deforestation is now on a small scale. Often linked to illegal gangs, and impossible to police, protecting tropical forests is becoming a tricky business. Local in its drivers and local in its scale, this type of destruction needs a local, and novel, solution. Charities and NGOs working on a village scale, with the people who are have most at stake, have the most success in keeping trees standing and carbon locked in.


Technological advances rip the rule book up about the way the world operates. In a few short years Netflix has disrupted an entire industry and forced traditional media outlets to adapt or die. Banks, once trusted intermediaries, are facing their own crisis with the arrival of blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin and crypto currencies. Having being around longer than television, they are finding it harder to adapt. Charities were also trusted intermediaries, doing vital work where the state can’t or won’t. With technological disruption and “ultra-transparency”, what is their future?


Are charities prepared to adapt?


The first big change will be in the way charities can operate. Massive investments in new platforms and technology has a trickle-down effect. Technology created to serve investors, advertisers and paying users will benefit those outside these circles too. Mark Zuckerberg plans to bring internet to the whole world. A cynic sees billions more dollars in advertising revenue for Facebook. A smart NGO sees a brilliant, pre-funded opportunity for stronger, easier links to beneficiaries, more transparent communications, and instant monitoring and evaluation of impacts. A connected world could mean digital tweets echoing the sounds of birds from even the deepest parts of the rainforest. 


Secondly, technology makes the world more transparent. Donors are not only able to see the problem more clearly, they are able to react immediately, picking up their phones to donate. They can and should also be increasingly demanding about having access to information about the impact of their donation.


We will start to see real time reporting, and blockchain technology used in philanthropy as well as commerce. Donors will be able to track their contribution as it moves from charity to beneficiary and precise details about the ‘bang for your buck’ will be readily available. The technology for this is already available in platforms like Rather than a certificate and a fluffy toy, donors will soon be demanding current GPS coordinates of ‘their’ polar bear and proof that their £2 a month is keeping it alive and well: something that traditional conservation charities may not be willing to provide.


Smart Donors


The third big change will be in the way people give. This is linked to transparency of impact and cost effectiveness. Charitable giving is largely based on an emotional response. A laser focus on impact means emotional choices about causes have less intellectual clout than rational ones. If you are shown hard proof that your $10 can either mitigate the most pressing risk to our species, or buy three tins of dog food for an already overfunded shelter, you might rethink which charity you give to. The logical conclusion of this is digital philanthropy, where smart machines emerge as a new kind of super-rational donor.


Whether this is a dystopian vision or a sensible response to the need to redistribute wealth fairly remains to be seen. But the ultra-transparency afforded by technological advances is already changing the way people give. The Effective Altruism movement asks people to reject emotional or personal reasoning (“my mother died of cancer”; “donkeys are cute”) when deciding who to give to. They recommend causes, and specific charities that will have the most cost-effective impact on the survival of our species, based on rigorous and objective evaluation. Climate change is one of those causes, and Cool Earth one of those charities.


Public trust in charities is at an all-time low, at a time when decentralised action and investment in critical causes is needed most urgently. Cool Earth believes the biggest benefit of the technological revolution will be that the traditional charitable model starts to dissolve. This will clear the way for new philanthropic mechanisms and new ways of spending and auditing public money. In the race to prevent deforestation and catastrophic climate change, it’s adapt or die. 


Chloe Rickard is communications manager at Cool Earth. 


Photograph: Cool Earth.

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