December 30, 2014

The 10 Most Important Sustainable Business Stories of 2014

Happy holidays and (almost) New Year.

For the 6th year now, I've taken a shot at summarizing the biggest themes in sustainable business over the last 12 months -- that is, stories about the biggest environmental and social challenges and how companies are navigating them. This year, given the incredible amount of activity on climate change, I devoted the first five themes to the biggest challenge of all -- the science, the costs and benefits (mostly the latter) of dealing with it, the deep impacts on energy and utility businesses, and so on.

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For the skimmers out there, here are the top 10 "headlines" I created...
1. The bad news — climate change is now.
2. The good news — tackling climate change is getting much cheaper.
3. The utility and energy businesses are changing fundamentally (well, some of them are).
4. Serious legislation like a carbon tax — even in the U.S. — is seeming possible again.
5. A powerful social movement on climate takes shape.
6. Strategy and mission start to gain the upper hand on short-termism.
7. Rivals embrace radical collaboration.
8. The absurd amount of food we waste gets more attention.
9. A teenager pressures Cola-Cola and Pepsi – and wins.
10. The fight against inequality finds new business allies.

The full article appears as usual on Harvard Business Review online, and began like this...

It’s been an amazing 12 months in the world of sustainable business. From climate change to inequality, the scope of humanity’s biggest environmental and social challenges came into much sharper focus this year — as did the scale and range of opportunities to do something about them. And citizens, using new social media tools and old-fashioned marches, rose up to drive change. Both in response and pre-emptively, the world’s leading companies continued to aggressively pivot their businesses toward more sustainable and innovative ways of operating.

To make sense of all of this activity, I made a list of the year’s big themes, looking for the bigger story across multiple examples. But I also ran across a few specific company stories that were just really compelling or cool. So here is my admittedly subjective look at the top 10 sustainability stories and themes of the year, with sustainability broadly defined as encompassing people, planet, and profits:

1. The bad news — climate change is now.
The subtitle of this year’s summary could be “reports, reports, reports,” with important and fascinating (no, really) studies from economists, government agencies, scientific bodies, and business coalitions — all making a compelling case for action on climate change.

Over the last two years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth, multi-thousand-page assessment of global climate science. But some new, more layman-friendly voices are telling the science story and explaining how costly to business a hotter world already is. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued the clearest document from scientists I’ve ever seen, a pithy report telling us that “What We Know” is the following: (1) “Climate change is happening here and now,” (2) the risks of irreversible, highly damaging impacts are high, and (3) the sooner we act, the lower the cost. Another report, the U.S. National Climate Assessment, led with the statement that climate change “has moved firmly into the present.”

Adding a business perspective, a group of heavy hitters, including billionaire Michael Bloomberg and former U.S. Treasury Secretaries Hank Paulson and Robert Rubin, issued the persuasive Risky Business Report. This short paper outlines how climate is “already costing local economies billions” and describes how hundreds of billions of property are at risk...

To see the rest of the discussion, the 50 or so links to interesting stories, and my 5 themes to watch out for in 2015, check it out here...

Have a great New Year!

(Andrew's new book, The Big Pivot, was named a Best Business Book of the Year by Strategy+Business Magazine! Get your copy here. See also Andrew's TED talk on The Big Pivot. Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewWinston)

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