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  • Blog post

    Why 2013 Could Be a Game-Changer on Climate

    This piece originally appeared on CNN.com.

    As leaders gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos today, signs of economic hope are upon us. The global economy is on the mend. Worldwide, the middle class is expanding by an estimated 100 million per year. And the quality of life for millions in Asia and Africa is growing at an unprecedented pace.

    Threats abound, of course. One neglected risk--climate change--appears to at last be rising to the top of agendas in business and political circles. When the World Economic Forum recently asked 1,000 leaders from industry, government, academia, and civil society to rank risks over the coming decade for the Global Risks 2013 report, climate change was in the top three. And in his second inaugural address, President Obama identified climate change as a major priority for his Administration.

    For good reason: last year was the hottest year on record for the continental United States, and records for extreme weather events were broken around the world. We are seeing more droughts, wildfires, and rising seas. The current U.S. drought will wipe out approximately 1 percent of the U.S. GDP and is on course to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Damage from Hurricane Sandy will cost another 0.5 percent of GDP. And a recent study found that the cost of climate change is about $1.2 trillion per year globally, or 1.6 percent of global GDP.

    Shifting to low-carbon energy sources is critical to mitigating climate change's impacts. Today's global energy mix is changing rapidly, but is it heading in the right direction?

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  • 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.

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  • Blog post

    5 Reasons India Needs a Green Power Purchasing Group

    With more than 400 million of its 1.2 billion citizens without access to electricity, India needs extensive energy development. A new initiative aims to ensure that a significant portion of this new power comes in the form of renewable energy.

    The Green Power Market Development Group

    Today, WRI and the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) launched the Green Power Market Development Group (GPMDG) in Bangalore, India. The group will help boost the country’s use of renewable energy like wind and solar power.

    The public-private partnership brings together industry, government, and NGOs to build critical support for renewable energy markets in India. For starters, the group will connect potential industrial and commercial renewable energy purchasers with suppliers. A dozen major companies belonging to a variety of sectors—like Infosys, ACC, Cognizant, IBM, WIPRO, and others—have already joined the initiative and have committed to explore options for increasing their use of renewable energy.

    The group also aims to make India’s clean energy development more mainstream. Green power buyers and generators in India currently face policy and regulatory barriers—such as high transmission costs and extensive approval processes. Through the GPMDG, the private sector will be able to work constructively with government agencies to instigate the types of renewable energy policies that will spur greater clean energy development.

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  • Blog post

    Empowering Environmental Entrepreneurs in Emerging Economies

    This is the fifth installment of a five-part blog series on scaling environmental entrepreneurship in emerging markets. In this series, experts in the field provide insights on how business accelerators, technical assistance providers, investors, and the philanthropic community can work with developing market entrepreneurs to increase their economic, environmental, and social impacts. Read the rest of the series.

    Here at WRI, our mantra is “making big ideas happen.” But these “big ideas” don’t need to come exclusively from “big” players like corporations and development banks. In 1999, we set out to prove a new concept—that entrepreneurs and the small and medium-sized businesses they create could make a profound impact on the health of the planet.

    Thirteen years on, the proof of our concept is demonstrated daily around the world. As engines of economic growth and laboratories for environmental and social innovation, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are helping to build modern economies that improve people’s lives while conserving natural resources.

    This is especially true in developing countries, where such businesses can account for as many as four in five jobs and almost one-third of GDP. Which is why, back in 1999, WRI chose Latin America and Asia as the focus of its pioneering New Ventures project to nurture environmental entrepreneurs.

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  • 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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  • Blog post

    Playing Together: Growing Environmental Entrepreneurship through Greater Collaboration

    This is the fourth installment of a five-part blog series on scaling environmental entrepreneurship in emerging markets. In this series, experts in the field provide insights on how business accelerators, technical assistance providers, investors, and the philanthropic community can work with developing market entrepreneurs to increase their economic, environmental, and social impacts. Read the rest of the series.

    What do development banks, impact investment funds, foundations, and business accelerators have in common? Each of these organizations plays a significant role in supporting entrepreneurs in developing countries, including those who are trying to solve environmental problems through commercial enterprises.

    But in most cases, these groups have traditionally occupied distinct niches in the support they provide. Development banks specialize in providing businesses with grants, loans, and technical assistance; impact investors provide debt or equity at market or near-market rates; foundations channel their philanthropy to create change; and business accelerators help entrepreneurs hone their business skills and attract investors.

    What would happen if these groups worked more closely together? As we discussed at a recent WRI event, if organizations were able to combine their respective strengths, entrepreneurs could capture greater benefits than if groups work alone.

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  • Blog post

    3 New Corporate Sustainability Strategies from this Year’s Mindshare Meeting

    The annual 2012 Mindshare Meeting of WRI’s Corporate Consultative Group (CCG) brought together experts and leading representatives from business partners to discuss cutting-edge issues at the forefront of corporate sustainability. The discussion embodied the ideas that can be generated when business works with non-profits to identify emerging issues and develop solutions to the planet’s most pressing challenges.

    Business leaders from almost all of the 36 CCG companies attended this year’s meeting. With nearly $3 trillion in combined annual sales, this group’s reach and influence has a significant impact on people and the planet. Joined by WRI’s Board Chair Jim Harmon and WRI directors Robin Chase, Alison Sander, Tiffany Clay, and Clint Vince, the MindShare Meeting generated some big ideas to help inform decisions that are smarter for both business and the environment.

    3 Ideas to Boost Corporate Sustainability

    We had a stimulating two days with corporate leaders. Three major ideas that emerged from our conversations included:

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  • Blog post

    Entrepreneurs in Mexico City Turn Water Risk into Opportunity

    This post was co-authored with Jose Carlos Lombana, co-founder of Sistemas de Captación de Agua Pluvial (SCAP).

    This story is part of the “Aqueduct Sneak Peek” series. Aqueduct Sneak Peek provides an early look at how various stakeholders can use Aqueduct’s updated global water risk maps, which will be released in January 2013. Read more posts in this series.

    A study by scientists at The Nature Conservancy and other institutions estimates that by 2050, more than 1 billion city dwellers may be living on less than one bathtub’s worth of water a day. While this and other water risks are undeniably troubling, they can be overcome in many cases. With the right data and innovation, entrepreneurs can turn these risks into business opportunities.

    Rainwater Harvesting Solutions in Mexico City

    Mexico City, the biggest metropolis in the Western hemisphere, faces significant water shortages, leaving many domestic, agricultural, and industrial users exposed to severe water-related risks. The city was built on the foundations of the Aztec capital, on the bed of Lake Texcoco. Today, centuries later, its groundwater supplies are rapidly diminishing, and it relies on a network of reservoirs and decaying infrastructure to pump in water from hundreds of miles away. Furthermore, urban growth and climate change are pushing Mexico City’s water supply to the edge. Reservoirs were dangerously low during the 2009 drought, leading the government to cut off water in some areas of the city.

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  • 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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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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What's the Big Idea? Measuring and Mapping Water Risk

Water scarcity is one of the defining issues of the 21st century. In its Global Risks 2013 report, the World Economic Forum identified water supply crises as one of the highest impact and most likely risks facing the planet.

Finding the Money: How Businesses Can Fund Environmental Sustainability Projects

This post also appears on Greenbiz.com

This is Part Two 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 for the next four weeks.

As companies tackle environmental sustainability initiatives—such as developing a climate change strategy—early steps involve getting the CEO on board and committing to public goals. But the process doesn’t stop there. In fact, that’s only the beginning. Companies also need to find the money to implement projects and make good on the promised goals—all while delivering financial results.

Finding the Money: A Case Study from Johnson & Johnson

Finding the funds for environmental sustainability initiatives can be a tall order, especially since many companies’ sustainability decisions are made separately from its financial ones. Johnson & Johnson experienced this conundrum firsthand. Back in 2004, the company had a public greenhouse gas reduction target, but was not on track to reach it. Although the emission-reduction projects it identified could save energy and operating costs, managers were having difficulty getting approval for the capital they needed. Core business priorities like new product development were competing with the money the company had earmarked for its sustainability efforts.

Managers, therefore, decided to re-think the way the company allocates internal capital. Johnson & Johnson started putting aside $40 million each year for “win-win” projects—greenhouse gas (GHG)-reduction initiatives that also reduce operating expenses, such as solar photovoltaics. Projects like these sometimes require more upfront capital, but benefit from more predictable returns and lower operating costs than conventional energy systems. The strategy reduces the company’s risk exposure over time and lowers its operating budget.

Fast forward to today and this approach has enabled Johnson & Johnson to reduce its GHG emissions by more than 138,000 metric tons through projects that have an average return of 19 percent. This emissions-reduction is equivalent to the electricity use of approximately 21,000 homes. The company met its initial GHG-reduction target in 2010 and renewed its commitment with a new 20 percent absolute reduction target by 2015.

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4 Barriers to Overcome in Achieving Corporate Environmental Sustainability

This post also appears on Greenbiz.com.

This is Part One of a five-part blog series, “Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability.” Each installment will offer solutions for businesses to better integrate environmental sustainability into their everyday operations. Look for these posts every Thursday for the next four weeks.

Implementing corporate environmental sustainability strategies is increasingly becoming standard practice. For example, more than 300 of the S&P 500 report their greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories each year to the Carbon Disclosure Project, and companies from the Fortune 100 and S&P Global 100 are investing billions of dollars to reach renewable energy procurement targets. Some companies are going further and taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of their products, services, and supply chains.

Despite this encouraging progress, a confluence of global environmental challenges is putting more pressure on corporate environmental sustainability strategies to get to scale quickly. Not enough global businesses have integrated environmental sustainability into their long-term decision making. And, as it stands today, existing practices are not enough to protect the natural resources that society and businesses depend on.

WRI examines this gap between existing corporate sustainability practices and the environmental protection needed for the 21st century in our new report, Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability: Stories from Industry. We interviewed sustainability managers from AkzoNobel, Alcoa, Citi, Greif, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Natura, and Siemens to better understand why strategies that are good for both business and the planet are not getting to scale.

We identified four barriers in these discussions, as well as ways companies can overcome them:

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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?

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