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corporate sustainability

Asia Pulp & Paper's Anti-Deforestation Pledge: Sign of a Changing Industry?

Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest paper companies, announced earlier this month that it will no longer cut down natural forests in Indonesia and will demand similar commitments from its suppliers. The announcement was received with guarded optimism by Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, World Wildlife Fund, and other NGOs who have waged a persistent campaign to change APP’s forest policies.

Indeed, APP’s new policy—which includes sourcing all material from plantation-grown trees, ceasing clearing of carbon-rich peatland, and engaging more with local communities—is significant, both for the business world and forest conservation. APP and its suppliers manage more than 2.5 million hectares of land in Indonesia and produce more than 15 million tons of pulp, paper, and packaging globally every year. Strong action by APP could indicate that the industry is heading for a more sustainable future.

The question is whether APP will follow this positive announcement with action. The company does not have a strong track record, having defaulted on past commitments to end deforestation.

But APP has something else going for it this time around. A rapidly evolving world of improving corporate practices and powerful technology could provide the right enabling environment for APP’s commitment—and others like it—to succeed.

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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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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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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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Farewell, 2012. You Taught Us Much.

This year has been one of those worst-of-years and best-of-years. In its failures, there are signs of hope.

An unprecedented stream of extreme weather events worldwide tragically reminded us that we’re losing the fight against climate change. For the first time since 1988, climate change was totally ignored in the U.S. presidential campaign, even though election month, November, was the 333rd consecutive month with a global temperature higher than the long-term average. A WRI report identified 1,200 coal-fired power plants currently proposed for construction worldwide. The Arctic sea ice reached its lowest-ever area in September, down nearly 20 percent from its previous low in 2007. And disappointing international negotiations in June and December warned us not to rely too much on multilateral government-to-government solutions to global problems.

But 2012 was also a year of potential turning points. A number of new “plurilateral” approaches to problem-solving came to the fore, offering genuine hope. A wave of emerging countries, led by China, embraced market-based green growth strategies. Costs for renewable energy continued their downward path, and are now competitive in a growing number of contexts. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that global investment in renewable energy was probably around $250 billion in 2012, down by perhaps 10 percent over the previous year, but not bad given the eliminations of many subsidy programs, economic austerity in the West, and the sharp shale-induced declines in natural gas prices. And the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, coupled with the ongoing drought covering more than half of the United States (which will turn out to be among the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history) may have opened the door to a change of psychology, in turn potentially enabling the Obama Administration to exhibit the international leadership the world so urgently needs, as many of us have advocated.

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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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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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sSWOT

A Sustainability SWOT

The sustainability Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats analysis (sSWOT) is designed to help drive action and collaboration on environmental challenges, creating business risks and opportunities. sSWOT helps individuals engage and motivate colleagues—particularly those with limited...

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.

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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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