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  • Blog post

    Water Risk to Business Is No Small Drip

    At the World Economic Forum in Davos two weeks ago, I was struck by how often the issue of water risk was raised by business executives. As the global economic turmoil is receding, many CEOs and global leaders are turning to other threats—and water is high on the list. For the second year in a row, water crises were named among the top four global risks at the WEF.

    It’s easy to see why. More than 1.2 billion people already face water scarcity. By 2025, two-thirds of the world population will experience water stress. That’s largely due to population increase and climate change, but also behavior patterns: Water use grew twice as fast as population growth in the 20th century. The “food-water-energy nexus” was one of the top four megatrends to watch in the recently released Global Trends 2030 report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council.

    CEOs increasingly recognize that water is essential for their business models and economic growth. Disrupted availability of affordable, clean water leads to business interruptions, increased commodity costs, and reduced earnings. The extreme drought gripping much of the United States is likely to cost up to one percent of GDP, potentially making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

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  • Blog post

    5 Sobering Realities about Global Water Security

    Some people say that water is the oil of the 21st Century. If only water were that simple.

    Water is very complicated. It’s affected by large-scale issues like climate change and globalization. International commerce moves virtual water (the water it takes to grow or produce a product) from farms in Brazil to grocery stores in China and Egypt.

    But water is also inherently local, impacted by site-specific weather, geography, and other environmental and land use conditions. Managing and using water, then, requires understanding it in its full geographic context.

    Today, WRI is launching its new Aqueduct mapping tool to do just that. Aqueduct provides businesses, governments, and other decision makers with the highest-resolution, most up-to-date data on water risk across the globe. Armed with this information, these decision-makers can better understand how water risk impacts them—and hopefully, take actions to improve water security.

    Share

  • Blog post

    Big Business and Sustainability: The Missing Links

    This piece originally appeared on The Guardian's Sustainable Business website.

    As another year begins, big business will continue falling well short of taking the leadership role on the sustainability the world urgently needs. While many chief executives now publicly identify sustainability as a key issue for their companies, walking the talk is proving more elusive.

    Successful bosses do not procrastinate. So why are boardrooms dragging their feet as sustainability challenges that have an impact on the private sector mount? As an observer of business trends for two decades, I see two interlinked problems hindering progress: first, corporate failure to embed sustainability into core business strategy, treating it instead as a standalone issue. And second, the lack of tools that allow corporations to make this leap in their day-to-day operations.

    Share

  • Blog post

    National Intelligence Council Report: Megatrends That Matter For Business

    This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

    Two-hundred page policy reports don’t normally sit on a CEO’s bedside table. But the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) wide-ranging new assessment of what the world will look like in 2030 is essential reading for smart, forward-looking corporate leaders.

    Most international media attention around Global Trends 2030, produced every four years, has focused on its geopolitical analysis—rising China, plateauing United States, and potential failing states. But the private sector should pay careful attention to the megatrends the report highlights. Many relate to the profound sustainability challenges facing a warming world that will house around 8 billion people in 2030.

    Below is my take on how four of these trends—resource scarcity, a booming global middle class, the rural-to-urban transition, and transformative information and communications technology—will impact businesses, and why corporate leaders should start preparing today.

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  • Presentation
  • Blog post

    New “sSWOT” Guide Can Help Boost Corporate Sustainability

    Sarah Cohen, an intern with WRI's Markets and Enterprise Program, also contributed to this blog post.

    Do you have colleagues who roll their eyes when they hear the words “environment” or “sustainability?” The sad truth is that environmental issues are not always a passion for everyone at every organization. However, climate change and other environmental challenges are shaping tomorrow’s markets—so how do you draw connections between sustainability and business value for those who may not see it right away?

    Today, WRI is releasing a guide to address this question and many more related to corporate sustainability. The guide—which was road-tested this summer by a dozen major companies like Target, Method, and Staples—adds a sustainability component to the traditional Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis that corporations have relied on for more than 50 years. Our sustainability SWOT, or “sSWOT,” is designed to help corporate sustainability champions engage colleagues, customers, suppliers, and even competitors to identify links to business risks and brainstorm new business opportunities.

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  • Blog post

    A Closer Look at Aqueduct's Forthcoming Global Water Risk Maps

    This story is part of the “Aqueduct Sneak Peek” series. Aqueduct Sneak Peek provides an early look at the Aqueduct team’s updated global water risk maps, which will be released in January 2013.

    New reports and articles are increasingly pointing to water risk as one of the biggest issues associated with climate change, energy production, food security, and human health. In an effort to better understand how and where these water risks are emerging, WRI published the first-ever Aqueduct water risk map two years ago.

    Today, the need for better information on where and how water can create risks for companies, investors, and communities is more apparent than ever. To address this need, the Aqueduct team has been working with our hydrological modeling partner, ISciences, on producing a brand new set of global maps of water risk.

    We’ll make this new data available in January 2013. A few of the improvements and refinements that make these new Aqueduct global maps the best available picture of water risk around the world include:

    Share

  • Blog post

    3 Companies that Are Making Money by Embracing Sustainability

    Superstorm Sandy and the subsequent Nor’easter were the biggest news this week and last. The combination of two powerful forces resulted in unprecedented and widespread damage. Our thoughts are with those who have been impacted.

    I can’t help but draw the connection between our recent extreme weather and businesses today—corporations are increasingly recognizing that they, too, are navigating two powerful forces. One force demands financial results, while the other requires increasingly sophisticated techniques to respond to climate, energy, resource scarcity, and other sustainability risks. The ways businesses navigate both these forces will determine whether they are truly viable over the long-term.

    3 Pioneering Businesses Focused on Profits and Environmental Stewardship

    On the eve of Hurricane Sandy, I moderated a Net Impact conference panel titled “Driving Bolder Investments in Sustainability.” This panel brought together representatives from Waste Management, Intel, and Pepsi to discuss how sustainability is no longer an add-on, but is becoming core to business planning. These three companies are incorporating environmental initiatives in order to shield themselves from business risk and boost their profits.

    Share

  • Blog post

    Companies and MBAs Test New Sustainability SWOT

    At last week’s Net Impact conference, WRI challenged teams of attendees to come up with what was essentially a “mashup” of megatrends and environmental challenges. The teams then engaged in a friendly competition to see who could create the most innovative corporate sustainability strategies for a hypothetical company modeled after LEGO.

    The teams began by looking at global environmental challenges (like clean energy, climate change, and waste removal); then connected these hurdles to other big trends (such as urbanization and social inequality); and finally, assessed strategic actions for the model company. The result was a handful of very clever corporate sustainability strategies. One team suggested that 3D-printing and materials science could enable the company to produce toys in growing markets using bio-based plastics, thereby reducing shipping costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Another team thought that creating visual instruction guides could help overcome language barriers and promote affordable green building design and construction. And the winning team proposed partnering with companies like Coca-Cola and non-profit organizations like 5 Gyres to reuse plastic waste in the world’s oceans (similar to what Method and United by Blue are currently doing).

    The proposals varied greatly, but all the teams had one thing in common: They used WRI’s new Sustainability SWOT (sSWOT) as a guiding framework to shape and communicate their strategies.

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  • Blog post

    Why Businesses Must Focus on Climate Change Mitigation AND Adaptation

    This week, Hurricane Sandy drew attention to the increasing climate-related risks for communities and businesses.

    More and more companies are recognizing and reporting on actions they’re taking to “mitigate” climate change, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through energy efficiency, renewable power, and cleaner vehicles. Now, businesses are finding they’ll also need to “adapt” to more volatile conditions and help vulnerable communities become more resilient. Adaptation means recognizing and preparing for impacts like water stress, coastal flooding, community health issues, or supply chain disruptions, among other issues.

    WRI discussed why businesses need to embrace mitigation AND adaptation strategies at the recent Net Impact conference, where I sat on a panel entitled: “Climate Change Adaptation: Mitigating Risk and Building Resilience.” Dr. David Evans, Director of the Center for Sustainability at Noblis, moderated the panel. Other panelists included Gabriela Burian, Director for Sustainable Agriculture Ecosystems at Monsanto, and John Schulz, Director of Sustainability Operations at AT&T.

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The New Language of Sustainability: Risk and Resilience

On February 20, WRI President Andrew Steer participated in event with GreenBiz CEO Joel Makower at the annual GreenBiz summit in New York City. This post builds off that discussion.

Sustainability has become a major business buzzword in recent years. For many, though, it’s still viewed as a philanthropic initiative, disconnected from a company’s core goals, or even a burden that competes with other strategic priorities. That must change.

Fortunately, more leaders are recognizing sustainability risks. At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, leaders in business, government, academia, and civil society named climate change and water supply as two of the top five global risks facing companies today—and with good reason.

Extreme weather and climate impacts are becoming increasingly common and carrying a significant economic toll. According to the insurance group Munich Re, the number of weather-related loss events over the past three decades has quintupled in North America, quadrupled in Asia, and increased in Africa, Europe, and South America. In the United States alone, 11 events crossed the $1 billion mark in losses in 2012. Hurricane Sandy cost U.S. taxpayers more than $60 billion, striking at the heart of a heavily populated business and financial zone. And, drought in the United States is expected to cost 1 percent of the annual GDP, making it one of the most expensive natural disasters in the country’s history.

Likewise, water risks are increasingly on companies’ radars. More than 1.2 billion people are already facing water scarcity. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will likely experience water stress. According to a 2012 report by the Carbon Disclosure Project, the associated costs of water events for some companies reached $200 million, up 38 percent from the previous year.

So, how can companies link these risks to corporate strategy? How can they push the management of sustainability issues into the center of businesses’ strategic decision-making?

Share

Water Risk to Business Is No Small Drip

At the World Economic Forum in Davos two weeks ago, I was struck by how often the issue of water risk was raised by business executives. As the global economic turmoil is receding, many CEOs and global leaders are turning to other threats—and water is high on the list. For the second year in a row, water crises were named among the top four global risks at the WEF.

It’s easy to see why. More than 1.2 billion people already face water scarcity. By 2025, two-thirds of the world population will experience water stress. That’s largely due to population increase and climate change, but also behavior patterns: Water use grew twice as fast as population growth in the 20th century. The “food-water-energy nexus” was one of the top four megatrends to watch in the recently released Global Trends 2030 report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council.

CEOs increasingly recognize that water is essential for their business models and economic growth. Disrupted availability of affordable, clean water leads to business interruptions, increased commodity costs, and reduced earnings. The extreme drought gripping much of the United States is likely to cost up to one percent of GDP, potentially making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Share

5 Sobering Realities about Global Water Security

Some people say that water is the oil of the 21st Century. If only water were that simple.

Water is very complicated. It’s affected by large-scale issues like climate change and globalization. International commerce moves virtual water (the water it takes to grow or produce a product) from farms in Brazil to grocery stores in China and Egypt.

But water is also inherently local, impacted by site-specific weather, geography, and other environmental and land use conditions. Managing and using water, then, requires understanding it in its full geographic context.

Today, WRI is launching its new Aqueduct mapping tool to do just that. Aqueduct provides businesses, governments, and other decision makers with the highest-resolution, most up-to-date data on water risk across the globe. Armed with this information, these decision-makers can better understand how water risk impacts them—and hopefully, take actions to improve water security.

Share

Big Business and Sustainability: The Missing Links

This piece originally appeared on The Guardian's Sustainable Business website.

As another year begins, big business will continue falling well short of taking the leadership role on the sustainability the world urgently needs. While many chief executives now publicly identify sustainability as a key issue for their companies, walking the talk is proving more elusive.

Successful bosses do not procrastinate. So why are boardrooms dragging their feet as sustainability challenges that have an impact on the private sector mount? As an observer of business trends for two decades, I see two interlinked problems hindering progress: first, corporate failure to embed sustainability into core business strategy, treating it instead as a standalone issue. And second, the lack of tools that allow corporations to make this leap in their day-to-day operations.

Share

National Intelligence Council Report: Megatrends That Matter For Business

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Two-hundred page policy reports don’t normally sit on a CEO’s bedside table. But the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) wide-ranging new assessment of what the world will look like in 2030 is essential reading for smart, forward-looking corporate leaders.

Most international media attention around Global Trends 2030, produced every four years, has focused on its geopolitical analysis—rising China, plateauing United States, and potential failing states. But the private sector should pay careful attention to the megatrends the report highlights. Many relate to the profound sustainability challenges facing a warming world that will house around 8 billion people in 2030.

Below is my take on how four of these trends—resource scarcity, a booming global middle class, the rural-to-urban transition, and transformative information and communications technology—will impact businesses, and why corporate leaders should start preparing today.

Share

New “sSWOT” Guide Can Help Boost Corporate Sustainability

Sarah Cohen, an intern with WRI's Markets and Enterprise Program, also contributed to this blog post.

Do you have colleagues who roll their eyes when they hear the words “environment” or “sustainability?” The sad truth is that environmental issues are not always a passion for everyone at every organization. However, climate change and other environmental challenges are shaping tomorrow’s markets—so how do you draw connections between sustainability and business value for those who may not see it right away?

Today, WRI is releasing a guide to address this question and many more related to corporate sustainability. The guide—which was road-tested this summer by a dozen major companies like Target, Method, and Staples—adds a sustainability component to the traditional Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis that corporations have relied on for more than 50 years. Our sustainability SWOT, or “sSWOT,” is designed to help corporate sustainability champions engage colleagues, customers, suppliers, and even competitors to identify links to business risks and brainstorm new business opportunities.

Share

A Closer Look at Aqueduct's Forthcoming Global Water Risk Maps

This story is part of the “Aqueduct Sneak Peek” series. Aqueduct Sneak Peek provides an early look at the Aqueduct team’s updated global water risk maps, which will be released in January 2013.

New reports and articles are increasingly pointing to water risk as one of the biggest issues associated with climate change, energy production, food security, and human health. In an effort to better understand how and where these water risks are emerging, WRI published the first-ever Aqueduct water risk map two years ago.

Today, the need for better information on where and how water can create risks for companies, investors, and communities is more apparent than ever. To address this need, the Aqueduct team has been working with our hydrological modeling partner, ISciences, on producing a brand new set of global maps of water risk.

We’ll make this new data available in January 2013. A few of the improvements and refinements that make these new Aqueduct global maps the best available picture of water risk around the world include:

Share

3 Companies that Are Making Money by Embracing Sustainability

Superstorm Sandy and the subsequent Nor’easter were the biggest news this week and last. The combination of two powerful forces resulted in unprecedented and widespread damage. Our thoughts are with those who have been impacted.

I can’t help but draw the connection between our recent extreme weather and businesses today—corporations are increasingly recognizing that they, too, are navigating two powerful forces. One force demands financial results, while the other requires increasingly sophisticated techniques to respond to climate, energy, resource scarcity, and other sustainability risks. The ways businesses navigate both these forces will determine whether they are truly viable over the long-term.

3 Pioneering Businesses Focused on Profits and Environmental Stewardship

On the eve of Hurricane Sandy, I moderated a Net Impact conference panel titled “Driving Bolder Investments in Sustainability.” This panel brought together representatives from Waste Management, Intel, and Pepsi to discuss how sustainability is no longer an add-on, but is becoming core to business planning. These three companies are incorporating environmental initiatives in order to shield themselves from business risk and boost their profits.

Share

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