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Evaluate Non-Profits on Impact, Not Overhead

I recently had a frustrating experience. It all started during a casual conversation with one of my mother’s friends. After hearing a bit about my role as CFO of the World Resources Institute, my mother’s friend informed me that she regularly contributes to charities. In fact, she stated proudly, she only donates to organizations with “low overhead”-- that is, to groups that spend the lion’s share of their funding on program expenses and only a small amount on fundraising and administrative costs. I couldn’t help but shake my head--not only because I disagreed with her, but because it’s a sentiment we hear all too often in the non-profit world.

Activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta articulated this problem well in his March TED Talk, “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.” Pallotta explained that there are separate rulebooks for for-profit and non-profit companies in the United States. For-profits are judged on their growth and the quality of their products—which have the cost of necessary infrastructure or overhead baked into the cost of each product. Non-profits are evaluated on how little they invest in infrastructure rather than the quality of their work.

At WRI--and at all non-profits, for that matter--scrimping on essential infrastructure is short-sighted. This practice negatively impacts our work, our growth, and ultimately, our ability to change the world.

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New Guidance Makes Corporate Value Chain Accounting Easier

An effective corporate climate change strategy requires a detailed understanding of a company’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Until recently, most companies have focused on measuring emissions from their own operations and electricity consumption, using the GHG Protocol’s Scope 1 and Scope 2 framework. But what about all of the emissions a company is responsible for outside of its own walls—from the goods it purchases to the disposal of the products it sells?

The GHG Protocol Scope 3 Standard, released in late 2011, is the only internationally accepted method for companies to account for these types of value chain emissions. Building on this standard, GHG Protocol has now released a new companion guide that makes it even easier for businesses to complete their scope 3 inventories. The guidance is freely available for download via the GHG Protocol website.

How Can Businesses Use the New Guidance?

Assessing GHG emissions across the entire value chain can be complex. For companies just beginning to assess their scope 3 emissions, it can be difficult to know where to start. This calculation guidance is designed to reduce those barriers by providing detailed, technical guidance on all the relevant calculation methods. It provides information not contained in the Scope 3 Standard, such as:

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New Integrated Reporting Framework Aims to Tackle Profit and Planet

This post originally appeared on The Guardian's Sustainable Business blog.

The way companies report on their financial status has changed little since corporate accounting standards were first created 80 years ago. Yet the world they operate in, and the risks and opportunities they face, have changed almost beyond recognition.

Global population has soared from two to seven billion, with human and manufactured capital now in abundance. Natural capital, on the other hand, has become scarcer and more precious. Once-plentiful forests, food, water, wetlands, minerals and metals are in short supply, creating supply chain and operational risks.

Today, a global coalition of regulators, investors, companies, and accounting organizations launched a new integrated reporting framework in six major cities, which aims to address this gap. The draft framework from the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), based on input from 85 pilot companies and more than 50 investors, represents a much-needed milestone in the evolution of corporate reporting.

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4 Lessons on Environmental Sustainability that Every Corporation Should Learn

This is the last of a five-part blog series, Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability. Each installment has explored key ingredients to help businesses overcome barriers that prevent them from integrating environmental sustainability into their everyday operations. Read the entire series.

This post also appears on Greenbiz.com.

Over the past month, we’ve discussed some of the key barriers that prevent companies from truly integrating sustainability considerations into their long-term strategies. Countless companies across the world struggle with these obstacles, such as: capital budgeting processes that fail to account for sustainability initiatives’ benefits; financial teams whose goals don’t align with those of the sustainability teams; and uncertainty about how to implement metrics that properly account for external environmental costs.

A handful of companies, however, are starting to identify effective ways to break these barriers down. Johnson & Johnson now allocates $40 million a year to a special fund that directs capital to greenhouse gas reduction projects, helping to lighten its environmental footprint while proving these projects generate good returns. AkzoNobel and Alcoa have elevated the role of the Chief Sustainability Officer in capital budgeting decisions to ensure the company is spending money to achieve financial and environmental results. And Natura is accounting for the environmental impacts of its suppliers and including those costs in its supplier selection process.

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Accounting for Environmental Externalities Is Good for Business and the Planet

This post also appears on Greenbiz.com.

This is Part Four of a five-part blog series, Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability. Each installment explores solutions to help businesses overcome barriers that prevent them from integrating environmental sustainability into their everyday operations. Look for these posts every Thursday.

David Roberts at Grist, the online environmental news organization, commented on Twitter last week that “people talk about ‘externalities’ like they are just bad vibes or something. But that money is real money. Those costs are real costs.” How real is that money? Dr. Pavan Sukhdev, author of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity and Corporation 2020, claims that these “externalities”—or costs to society from carbon emissions, water use, pollutants, and other byproducts of business activities—are more than $2 trillion.

Putting a financial value on these environmental costs can help businesses make better informed decisions about how they manage their environmental risk. Not all companies recognize this—and even fewer actually know how to value these externalities correctly. But a few corporations are starting to show us the way.

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The Private Sector and International Development: A Love Affair, or Cold Feet?

The private sector is a crucial partner in advancing sustainable development, and bilateral aid agencies are grappling with ways to learn from and leverage the activities of companies and markets. As the worlds of business and of aid increasingly intersect—and as development budgets are reined in even as demands on them grow—the pressure is to do more in partnership with the private sector. The real challenge, though, is to do better.

This was the headline message from a recent roundtable discussion with representatives from nine bilateral donor agencies and invitees from the private sector, co-organized by WRI and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London (see notes from the roundtable).

Both sides desire a strengthened relationship. Donor agencies see the private sector as an indispensable partner for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of aid. Agencies are looking for important sources of ideas, technology, and financing to scale up development solutions.

One example is the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), which is funded by the Australian, British, Danish, Dutch, and Swedish aid agencies. AECF is improving livelihoods of poor people in rural Africa by supporting innovation and new business models to help small-scale farmers adapt to climate change and promote investment in the generation of low-cost, clean, renewable energy.

Private sector actors seek clearer policy signals and more consistent support from donor agencies, particularly in understanding and navigating local politics. They also seek opportunities to develop new products and new markets, benefiting from the “de-risking” role that the public sector can play.

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Navigating the "Vast Sea of Unknowns" of Water Risk

This piece was co-written with Dr. Larry Brilliant, president of the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

This piece also appeared in McClatchy News and the Huffington Post.

We know less about one of world's most pressing challenges today than we did 10 years ago. It's no secret that water - or the lack thereof - will be one of the defining issues of the 21st century. And yet, the United Nations World Water Report, in 2009, stated that when it comes to water, "less is known with each passing decade."

The World Economic Forum recently named the water supply crises as one of the top risks facing the planet - edging out issues like terrorism and systemic financial failure. Water risks permeate almost every aspect of global society. We got a taste last year with crops scorched by drought, shipping lanes threatened and energy plants shut down by low water levels, and coastlines devastated by flooding. Exacerbated by climate change and population growth, such crises will become more common and costly. Yet, the world largely lacks the data we need to monitor, understand, and respond to these water challenges. We are flying blind when it comes to global water issues.

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In the Face of Growing Risks, Every Day Is a World Water Day

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first World Water Day, an international celebration designed to draw attention to the importance of freshwater resources. However, for a large and growing proportion of the world’s population, every day is a World Water Day. Difficult, complex water challenges including drought, groundwater depletion, pollution, and clean drinking water availability are growing in urgency and seriousness all around the world. Some even argue that we should boycott World Water Day – that our water problems are too serious to try and confine to a single day.

Although it’s true that we must keep water in mind during the other 364 days of the year, World Water Day can be useful. It helps raise awareness and serves as an annual reminder of the water problems we must collectively solve. Plus, picking a single theme – this year’s is cooperation – helps break down a very complex topic into more accessible, comprehensible pieces.

In keeping with the theme of helping make complex issues more approachable and understandable, WRI is marking this year’s World Water Day by launching the first in a new series of videos we’re calling “What’s the Big Idea?” These brief videos will feature WRI staff members explaining some of the complex, global challenges we are working to understand and solve. Our first “What’s the Big Idea?” video explains the concept of water risk and the array of challenges it poses. We also highlight a potential solution: WRI’s Aqueduct mapping tool, which helps companies, investors, governments, and others better understand and manage their water risks.

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Factoring Sustainability into Financial Decision-Making

This is Part Three of a five-part blog series, Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability. Each installment explores solutions to help businesses overcome barriers that prevent them from integrating environmental sustainability into their everyday operations. Look for these posts every Thursday.

This post also appears on Greenbiz.com.

A large, multi-national company likely spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year on new projects. How these projects are designed, constructed, and operated clearly impacts costs in the short-term, but also poses huge implications for a company’s “sustainability footprint” in the long-term.

A major challenge is that most corporate sustainability experts within a business are not involved in capital budget requests at the outset. A company’s financial leaders make investment decisions with upfront costs and projected revenues in the front of their minds. They are far less likely to take into account a project’s potential environmental risks and benefits. Not coordinating financial and sustainability decisions can lead to projects that are cost-efficient to build today, but may not hold up to sustainability pressures over their lifetime. For example, a company might invest in a factory that is inexpensive to build, but then realize that it’s in a location that locks them into buying only fossil fuel-based energy sources.

The lack of integration between financial and sustainability-related decision-making is a main barrier to scaling truly impactful corporate environmental sustainability. But as WRI found in its new working paper, Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability: Stories from Industry, there are companies who are starting to show us ways of overcoming this challenge.

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