Water Archives

January 6, 2011

Is Water the Next Carbon?

Note: This post is co-authored by Will Sarni (see bio below)

We all take water for granted. Even though water is critical for human life, ecosystems and as a major process or product input for industry, it's a resource that very few of us think actively about managing. And of all environmental issues, it's the least debatable; when there's no more water in a region, you don't need scientists to tell you.

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Companies need to develop strategies for managing this important resource as water stress becomes the norm in many regions of the world. As a starting point, some organizations are now conducting "water footprints" to figure out where in the value chain their businesses are vulnerable.

Doesn't this sound familiar? Haven't we been down this road before with energy and carbon emissions? It's very easy to describe water as 'the next carbon', and many have, but it's not really the same. Before we lay out some reasons why, let's look at a few recently released reports that highlight how businesses are beginning to approach this challenge.

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) has been extremely successful in compelling companies to assess their carbon footprint, develop carbon strategies, set reduction targets, and reduce their emissions. Now the CDP has turned its attention to water as well and recently released the results of its first Water Disclosure (WD) questionnaire (pdf).

Here are a few highlights from the 2010 CDP WD report, which went out to 302 of the world's largest companies. Of the respondents (and 25 unsolicited submissions)...

  • 50 percent of the companies foresee near-term risks (1 to 5 years), with 39 percent currently experiencing impacts such as disruption to operations from drought or flooding, declining water quality, and increases in water prices.
  • 67 percent already report on water related issues to the board or executive committee level.
  • 89 percent have developed specific water policies, strategies and plans
  • 60 percent have set water-related performance targets.


And the CDP WD is not alone — several key reports on water risk and opportunity have recently been released.


The bottom-line conclusions from all of these reports are in general these:

  1. Water demand is increasing
  2. Climate change will impact water availability
  3. Water quality is decreasing
  4. Price does not reflect the real value of water (which causes massive underinvestment in infrastructure, which we'll show in the next post)
  5. The public and private sectors need to collectively develop new ways to manage water.

Ok, so back to water and carbon. In the sense that businesses need to consider the risks and opportunities inherent in managing natural resource pressures, they represent similar challenges. But we see a few additional, fundamental differences between the two:

  • Carbon is fungible but water is not. The environmental issues stemming from emitting of a ton of carbon are fundamentally the same everywhere on the planet.
  • In contrast, geography and time are critical aspects of water availability and management. All water issues are local — any global water strategy is actually implemented within each and every watershed.
  • Water has a strong social and cultural dimension. Many people believe in a "human right to water" which makes pricing this resource even harder than putting a price on carbon.
  • Water is the ultimate renewable resource — we just need to price water according to value and ensure we do not continue to manage it as a throw away commodity.
  • Finally, to be overly obvious, water is desired, beneficial, necessary.


Given these significant differences, it would be tempting to say that companies need to develop a stand-alone strategy for water. But instead we recommend integrating water strategy into energy, carbon, and other resource strategies, all while navigating the differences between them.

The investors behind CDP understand the business imperative to managing water well, as do some of the companies with the most to gain in solving the problem. (Note: In part 2 of this post next week, we'll look at some companies both reducing water risk and also generating new business opportunities by helping others manage this precious resource.)

How aware is your organization of its own risks and opportunities? Now is the perfect time to answer this question. It's not too late.

Guest co-blogger Will Sarni is a director with Deloitte Consulting LLP and leads Enterprise Water Strategy for Deloitte's Sustainability Services. He is an internationally recognized thought leader on sustainability and is the author of the upcoming book, Corporate Water Strategies (Earthscan).

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

(Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @GreenAdvantage)

January 17, 2011

Innovation in Managing Water

Note: This post is co-authored by Will Sarni (see bio below)

Last week we asked, "Is Water the Next Carbon?". Although our short answer was "no," we believe that managing water will become a critical business skill for the 21st century. Need drives innovation, so this week we want to highlight some of what is happening in the new markets in water.

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First, even large companies are carving out new niches to help businesses and communities manage water scarcity.

For example, GE's investment in water technologies is well known, and its leadership stems from its ecomagination portfolio of products. GE not only recognizes the critical role technology plays in addressing water scarcity, it also understands the challenging interconnection between energy and water: increasingly, the world will be needing low-energy water treatment technologies.

Another major industrial company moving to address water risk is ITT, the world's largest supplier of pumps and systems to transport, treat, and control fluids. ITT has a stake in seeing cities and companies invest in water management, but the company is discovering a relatively low level of awareness of the need.

ITT conducted a survey titled "The Value of Water" highlighting both how much water we waste and exploring the critical gap between the current price and the real value of water. We spoke with Colin Sabol, a Vice President at ITT, about the survey and ITT's goals.

In the US, ITT tells us, about 650 water mains break each day at a cost of $2.6 billion per year. Our crumbling infrastructure on the whole loses 1.7 trillion gallons of water per year, equal to the water use of 68 million homes. On the positive side, approximately 95 percent of individual consumers said water was the most important service they received in their home. And consumers said they'd pay more for improved water infrastructure.

The business community was another story, however. Three-quarters of corporate respondents told ITT that they take clean water for granted. As Sabol says simply, "The infrastructure is literally out of sight, underground." That's why ITT has a big challenge in conveying to its customers the importance of investing in its services. But if this shift in thinking happens, the business opportunities are likely to be vast.

Secondly, it is often innovators who must lead customers down new paths, showing them new ways of managing a resource and saving money that they didn't know were possible. So in addition to large multinationals such as GE and ITT, there are a number of startups in the process of bringing new technologies to the water industry. Several of these innovators participated in recent competitions such as the annual ImagineH2O and the CleanTech Open. Both of these groups may play a crucial role in creating an ecosystem for water innovation.

This year's ImagineH20 finalists illustrate the diversity and imagination of the entrepreneurs paying attention to the opportunities in the water industry (here is a sample of these innovators — you'll see a couple themes, including capturing wasted energy in the water system).

  • Agua Via developed a nanotech membrane that enables desalination at a 66 percent energy reduction and 50 percent cost reduction, providing energy efficient purification and wastewater remediation.
  • BlackGold Biofuels recovers energy from wastewater streams, creating lucrative renewable energy assets from pollution liabilities.
  • FogBusters treats petroleum, biofuel and food processing wastewater "better, faster, cheaper, cleaner and greener" while capturing the FOG (fat, oil and grease) to make into biodiesel.
  • NLine Energy, Inc. converts wasted energy found in water transmission and distribution systems into renewable energy.
  • Puralytics, winner of this year's CleanTech Open, uses photochemical processes work to break down or remove contaminants from water.
  • Water Resources Management Co. helps water utilities realize the full benefits of their investments in advanced meter reading, system control and asset management.

To get a sense of what companies are doing about water, check out these and other ImagineH2O finalists as well as the work of ITT and GE — they all highlight the exciting business opportunities and challenges in the water industry. It's a space worth watching as these challenges are expected to become more pressing in the coming years.

Guest co-blogger Will Sarni is a director with Deloitte Consulting LLP and leads Enterprise Water Strategy for Deloitte's Sustainability Services. He is an internationally recognized thought leader on sustainability and is the author of the upcoming book Corporate Water Strategies (Earthscan).

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

(Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @GreenAdvantage)

November 28, 2011

Water's Economics as Muddy as Ever

(Note: This blog is co-authored with Andy Wales, Global Head of Sustainable Development for SABMiller plc, one of the world's largest brewers)

It's hard to put into words how dry and hot Texas was this past summer. "Off the charts" is both figuratively and literally accurate: the data for the last 100 years shows a tight regression of temperature and water availability in Texas...except for the 2011 drought, which is far off the line (three degrees hotter with an inch less rainfall than any previous year).

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The economic cost of the drought has been incredible; Texas lost $5.2 billion in agricultural production alone. With agriculture making up 9 percent of the state's economy, and water shortages already threatening growth in the state's energy industry, it's not a reach to suggest that the future of the Texas economy will be tied closely to water availability. And it's not a short-term problem, either. As Columbia University's Richard Seager told the New York Times this summer, "You can't really call it a drought because that implies a temporary change...You don't say, 'The Sahara is in drought.' It's a desert. If the models are right, then the Southwest will face a permanent drying out."

The trend is clear globally as well. Due to rising population, coupled with increasing demands by the agriculture and energy industries (often referred to as the water-food-energy nexus), global demand for clean water will outstrip supply by an average of 40 percent by 2030. While this reality poses grave risks to thousands of communities, it is also the driver of a daunting, and often confusing, economic dilemma which businesses must prepare for. It's time for companies operating in the many dry regions around the world to equip themselves with the tools and mindset they need to navigate this new normal.

While access to water has been recognized as a basic human right, it is also increasingly clear to see that it is a commodity — a resource in high demand that should be valued according to its supply.

But for such a transparent substance, water's economics are anything but clear. Water is one of the world's most glaring commercial anomalies, with a price reflecting nothing more than the costs to extract and distribute it. The value is exempt from the ebb and flow of the market. Even as demand vastly outpaces supply, the market price is as static as a boulder in stream.

With such imprecision in the marketplace, companies must take it upon themselves to identify long term risks, quantifying the true value of water in order to steer clear of long-term hazards. Much of the leading work in understanding water risk has come from Coca-Cola. The beverage giant is now working with the World Resources Institute's Aqueduct Initiative and sharing its extensive global database of previously proprietary data on water availability and risk. By identifying these risks, Coca-Cola is providing a strategic resource for broader communities facing water shortages.

Many companies are now calculating their "water footprint," which adds up the water they use throughout the value chain. The first corporate water footprint was jointly published by SABMiller and WWF in 2009, and since then Coca-Cola, Nestle, and UPM-Kymmene, and others have published footprints for key product lines. However, while the problem affects people globally, water is inherently local, so a global corporate footprint is only so useful. What the calculation does do, however, is help companies highlight those specific, local dangers where a low water supply could disrupt both business operations and the surrounding community.

But managing the risk, and preparing for the 40 percent global supply gap, will require a tough balance of local and large-scale, collective action in cities and watersheds around the world. Andy Wales' company, SABMiller, recently invited businesses, NGOs and other organizations to join a global water initiative, the Water Futures Partnership, in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the German development agency (GIZ). This article is part of an ongoing invitation to companies and NGOs worldwide to join the partnership.

From SABMiller's experience — and the work of others across many business sectors — we have learned that once a company understands water's real economic value, both innovation and efficiency weave their way into long term water plans. MillerCoors, for example, has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to help farmers develop a tool to save potentially more than 400,000 gallons of water in every crop rotation - a saving of nearly 20 percent. This kind of deep supply chain work fits the model of "shared value" creation that strategy guru Michael Porter laid out in HBR earlier this year.

While some voices in Texas have called for more action from the government, the real opportunity for leadership will be in the private sector. The leading water-aware companies may be better attuned to slowly emerging water disasters and best equipped to help reduce the gap between supply and demand. They will avoid business disruptions and build more resilient enterprises. They will also, by recognizing the true value of water, help protect everyone's access to clean water.

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

(Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @GreenAdvantage)

Related Posts (with Will Sarni)
Is Water the Next Carbon?
Innovation in Managing Water

December 22, 2011

Top 10 Green Business Stories of 2011

Yes, it's December again somehow: time to look back on what we've learned and oversimplify into a handy list. Here's my take on the 10 big stories in sustainability and green business this year:

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1. The usual sustainability drivers got stronger
Ok, this one is cheating a bit, but on a fundamental level, the top themes in green business haven't actually changed too much (see the 2010 list). So, rather than take up valuable list real estate with these perennial favorites and big-picture drivers, I'll quickly list them in one big bucket of mega-trends:

  • The rise of the consumer around the world, related to...
  • China, China, and China. From relentless demand for resources to bamboo-like 9% growth to vicious competition for the technologies and industries of the future, China will be the big story for a long time.
  • The greening of the supply chain. Big organizations keep asking more of their suppliers.
  • Increased demand for transparency and its close partners, (a) the quest to define and develop useful sustainability metrics and (b) the growing sustainability data explosion.
  • The military continues to lead the way on energy and climate.
  • The ongoing failure of policy at a global level (with the important exceptions of some successes/workarounds such as new mileage targets for cars and trucks and a carbon tax in Australia).

These drivers underpin a number of stories from 2011, but a few new themes came out as well. Here's the rest of my top 10 stories, with callouts for companies and examples that typify the trend.

2. Malthus strikes back: Coca-Cola takes an $800 million hit on commodity costs
Coca-Cola was not alone in facing increasing costs in 2011; one of my clients, Kimberly-Clark, took an earnings hit from record pulp prices. These companies are notable victims of a new reality: resources are constrained and input prices are fundamentally rising.

For over 200 years, from Thomas Malthus to the Limits to Growth gang, many people have made the case that it won't be long before we'll run out of food, energy, materials, and on and on. It's an idea that has enthralled many, but has seemed to be wrong. But this year, something felt different as we hit 7 billion hungry, striving humans on the planet. While "running out" isn't really the right phrase, it's clear that delivering many commodities to market is getting harder and more expensive (we don't dig for oil a mile under the ocean for the heck of it). And the dangerous mix of supply crunch and rising demand is only increasing, across nearly all commodities.

In January, China "seized" its rare earth metals (meaning it wouldn't export them anymore). In June, the New York Times declared a warming world hostile to food production. The best analysis of the resource scarcity mega-trend came from asset manager Jeremy Grantham. His analysis of commodity availability on a finite planet is compelling, thorough, and absolutely fascinating. Here's the gist: after 100+ years of fundamentally declining resource prices, the data show a rising trend for nearly every input into our society. Business as usual is no more.

3. Climate Change Arrives: Texas weather triumphs over (some) ignorance
Climate change is here. The list of "once-in-a-century" storms, floods, and droughts this year is too long to list. I know, I know — no single storm or season "proves" climate change. Was a year like 2011 possible in a world without climate change? Of course. But please. Was a year like 2011 likely? Not at all. In the words of climate scientist Jim Hansen, we've loaded the dice in favor of extreme weather events.

From Thailand to Pakistan to Texas, some areas are deluged with water, while others have absolutely none. Please look at the numbers for how dry and hot Texas was this summer (I'll wait). The data speaks for itself: Texas' heat was literally off the charts this year. What was once temporary drought is looking more like permanent change. For another angle on a changing "normal," read Jeff Goodell's piece in Rolling Stone on "Climate Change and the End of Australia." Finally, if the immediacy of the "look out the window" method of gauging climate change didn't work for some, at least one major climate skeptic changed his tune based on longer-term data. Richard Muller ran the models himself and discovered that, surprise, the thousands of scientists before him had gotten it right. It's probably wishful thinking, but I believe the climate debate is actually over (and a solid majority of Americans agree).

4. High-profile "failures" shake up clean tech: Solyndra has its day in the, um, sun
What can one say about the failure of solar company Solyndra? It certainly has become a media darling for clean tech skeptics. Soon after this quasi-fiasco, a few other stories seemed to indicate that corporate America was backing off of green tech. Google stopped its high-profile pursuit of cheaper-than-fossil-fuel renewables, and California utility PG&E quietly pulled the plug on its carbon offset program. In my view, none of this is all that distressing. So one technology and company failed miserably (and perhaps the government made a bad investment choice). And some initiatives didn't work out as planned. So what. Whether it's government money, venture capital, or corporate initiatives, you gotta place lots of bets to get some winners. These were all experiments, and you always learn from what doesn't work. But the real reason I'm not too worried is that...

5. ...clean tech is rising fast: Renewable investment tops fossil fuels for first time
Markets have a remarkable way of sorting the wheat from the chaff. While the overall carbon emissions news is not good, the renewable energy market is growing very fast. The sector is larger than most people realize, with clean tech investment hovering around $200 billion globally. Total investment in new power generation is a good indication of where we're headed, and for the first time renewables beat fossil fuels globally. Right now, the U.S. and China are entering a trade battle over solar subsidies, which tells me it's a real market now. They wouldn't be arguing if the prize were not very large.

5b. Nuclear on the outs

Following the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, the once-resurgent nuclear industry is flatlining: generation actually fell globally in 2011, with Germany alone shutting down 8 gigawatts' worth. In September, Siemens, one of the world's largest nuclear power plant suppliers, exited the business. CEO Peter Loscher declared Germany's plans to move aggressively toward renewables "the project of the century."

6. Water rising — both literally and as a serious issue for business: Honda's supply chain gets slammed, Levi's gets creative
A list of floods that devastated lives, homes, and countries this year would be tragically long. So it's no wonder that business started to wake up to the serious danger that storms and shortages present to their operations, both from direct damage to property and from massive production interruptions (i.e., "business continuity"). Think back to the January floods in Australia which covered an area larger than France and Germany combined. The extreme weather seriously disrupted coal production, one of the most important economic engines in the country. At the microeconomic level, consider what Thailand's floods have done to the market for disk drives, or to supply chains for Honda and Toyota (which are dealing with a double flood hit from the tsunami as well).

On the use side of the water issue, companies with products that depend on water in production (beverages) or in use (shampoo, apparel) are also seeing the writing on the wall and getting creative. Levi's announced a low-water jeans production method, Unilever started asking customers to shorten showers, and beverage companies are working with farmers and NGOs to drive water use down throughout the value chain (see my last blog, co-written with Andy Wales from SABMiller). In 2011, the phrase "water footprint" became a lot more common.

7. Value chain and transparency partnerships growing: The apparel industry bands together
One of my favorite new partnerships is the new Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an impressive mix of powerful retailers, apparel manufacturers, and NGOs. The group is leveraging extensive data from Nike and the Outdoor Industry Association on supplier sustainability performance (energy, water, toxicity, etc.) for "every manufacturer, component, and process in apparel production." The goal: to reduce negative environmental and social impacts of the $1.4 trillion market for clothes and shoes.

The larger trend here is the continued growth of "open" — open data and open innovation, including new value-chain business partnerships and cattle-call contests inviting in any and all ideas. The movement has been building for years, from P&G opening up its product development pipeline early in the 2000s to the launch of the GreenXchange for sharing green patents early in 2010. But the trend accelerated this year, with GE's expanded Ecomagination Challenge and other coalitions and open competitions.

8. Valuing and internalizing the externalities: Puma Calculates its Environmental P&L
A few very cutting edge companies are starting to ask some deeper questions about the value they create and destroy in the world. Puma, in a surprise leap to the front of the sustainability leadership pack, commissioned TruCost and PwC (full disclosure: I have a partnership with PwC) to assess the value of its total environmental impacts from operations and supply chain, including carbon pollution, water use, land use, and waste generated. The total: 145 million euros. In a similar vein, Dow Chemical launched a 5-year, $10 million partnership with The Nature Conservancy to "value nature" (so called "ecosystem services") as an input into their businesses. It's unclear what companies can do with these numbers since externalities are by their nature, well, external to the regular P&L. But it's the beginning of something very important — companies are starting to understand the real value and costs of their businesses, to themselves and to society. Watch this space.

9. The people speak: Keystone and OWS
Speaking of getting companies and governments to think longer term about value and costs to society: against all odds and expectation, the protests against the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada — led most prominently by uber-environmentalist Bill McKibben — were successful (for now). And what can one say about Occupy Wall Street? The movement is, in part, about this larger question of value and values. Do we value the right things (equity, fairness, justice) or just promote growth and profit above all? Currently, our businesses are driven entirely by quarterly profits. Pursuing the short-term payback can cause a firm to deviate wildly from actual, long-term, sustainable profitability. This disconnect was bound to stir some passions eventually. Whatever your politics, ignoring or dismissing this movement is a big mistake. The concerns underpinning the anger out there stem from concern about what's good for the long-term, and what's truly sustainable. None of these questions are going away.

10. A path to sustainable consumption begins to emerge: Patagonia asks us to buy only what we need
Perhaps the most heartening business story of the year came from perennial thought (and action) leader, Patagonia. Its Common Threads campaign/business model questions consumption at its core. The company announced that it would take back its clothing and refurbish, resell, reuse, re-whatever. The website proposes a grand bargain - we make clothes that last, and you don't buy what you don't need. A holiday ad got more specific and demanded we "Don't buy this jacket." Patagonia is testing new ground and it's not a gimmick — it's a sign of the future.

Looking Forward to 2012 and beyond: New business models coming
Patagonia has always been at the leading edge; it was one of first companies to buy organic cotton or to turn recycled plastic into fleece. Now it's showing the way to new business models. I've written about this kind of heresy before, but the few examples out there are generally B-to-B (Waste Management, Xerox). Patagonia's move is a warning shot over the bow that the consumer-facing consumption question is coming. The near future will hold more questions about how businesses can and should operate in a resource-constrained, hotter, drier (or wetter) world. And companies will increasingly question the wisdom of focusing on quarterly profits. It won't all come to fruition in 2012, but it's on its way.

As usual, I'm sure I'm missing many great stories in my list. I look forward to your suggestions. Happy holidays and Happy New Year!

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

(Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @GreenAdvantage)

December 22, 2012

Top 10 Sustainable Business Stories of 2012

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It's time once again to try and summarize the last 12 months in a handy list. But before I dive in, some quick thoughts.

It was an odd year for green business, and it began with some mixed signals about how far companies were coming on sustainability. A GreenBiz report indicated that progress had slowed or even regressed, but MIT and BCG also declared that sustainability had reached a "tipping point" with more companies putting sustainability "on the management agenda."

In reality, both views were right. Corporate sustainability lost some of its sexiness from previous years, as it grew more entrenched in day-to-day business. Some parts of the agenda — eco-efficiency and resource conservation for example — are widely accepted now, and it's rare to find a big-company CEO who doesn't have sustainability on his or her radar.

The mega forces driving sustainability deep into business — such as climate change, resource constraints, and transparency — are getting stronger. We may not be keeping pace with these pressures, but leading companies continue to evolve more sustainable strategies and tactics. Let's look at some top macro- and company-level stories.

Macro Trends

1. Historic drought and Hurricane Sandy sweep away (some) climate denial
For many people this year, climate change moved from theoretical to painfully real. Mega weather took many lives and cost over $120 billion in the U.S. alone ($50 billion for the drought, $71 billion for Sandy). After Sandy raged across the eastern coast, Businessweek blared on its cover "It's Global Warming, Stupid." New York Mayor Bloomberg, a Republican, endorsed President Obama in the election, titling his open letter, "A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change."

As bad as Sandy was, the relentless drought across the middle of the country may prove more convincing in the long run. Corn yields per acre fell 19%, food prices rose, and water disappeared —the Mississippi River may soon struggle to support commerce. Individual companies are feeling the bite: analysts at Morningstar estimate that input costs at Tyson Foods will rise by $700 million — more than its 2012 net income.

Over one-third of the world's largest companies surveyed by the Carbon Disclosure Project arealready seeing the impacts of climate change on their business. So with life-and-death consequences and vast costs, we must have moved quickly to tackle climate change, right? Sort of...

The year ended with the failure, yet again, of the international community to come to some agreement on climate change. But country-level and regional policy moved forward: Australia passed a carbon tax, South Korea approved carbon trading, and California just began its own trading experiment.

Many countries also committed serious funds to build a clean economy: Saudi Arabia pledged $109 billion for solar, Japan declared that a $628 billion green energy industry would be central to its 2020 strategy, and China targeted $372 billion to cut energy use and pollution.

In the U.S., a backdoor approach to climate policy took over. The Obama administration issued new standards to double the fuel economy of cars and trucks, and the National Resources Defense Council (an NGO) proposed using the Clean Air Act to reduce emissions from power plants by 25%.

2. The math and physics of a planetary constraints get clearer
Arithmetic had a big year: Nate Silver's nearly perfect predictions of the election gave him the oxymoronic status of rock-star statistician. The math and physics of sustainability got some serious attention as well.

Writer and activist Bill McKibben wrote a widely-read piece in Rolling Stone about climate math — how much more carbon emissions the planet can take — and followed it up with a national awareness-building tour. Based on similar numbers, both McKinsey and PwC UK calculated how fast we must reduce the carbon intensity of the global economy (PwC's number is 5% per year until 2050).

And on the resource constraint front, Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of the asset management firm GMO ($100 billion invested), continued his relentless numbers-based assault on the fallacy of infinite resources. In his November newsletter, he demonstrated exactly how much of a drag on the U.S. economy commodity prices have become.

Nobody can really deny that, in principle, exponential growth must stop someday. Grantham, McKibben, and many others are making the case that someday has arrived.

3. The clean economy continues to explode
The rapid growth of natural gas production (the biggest energy story of the year) and the high-profile failure of one solar manufacturer (Solyndra) have confused people about the prospects for clean tech. In reality, the clean economy is winning. The share of U.S. electricity coming from non-hydro renewables doubled to 6% in the last 4 years. On May 26, Germany set a world record when it produced 50% of its electricity needs from solar power alone. In a mini political tipping point, six Republican senators publicly supported an extension to the wind production tax credit in the U.S. (which will expire in days), and got an earful from a Wall Street Journal editorial.

It wasn't just energy. One auto analyst declared 2012 the "Year of the Green Car," with more high-MPG models, 500,000 hybrid sales in the U.S., and plug-in sales up 228%. To cap the year, the pure electric Tesla Model S was selected as the Motor Trend Car of the Year.

Company Stories

This year, there were countless eco-efficiency stories about companies saving millions of dollarsand developing new tools to make buildings, fleets (Staples and UPS, for example), and manufacturing much leaner. Aside from that overall theme, the following stories grabbed me because of their connection to larger trends.

4. The green supply chain gets some teeth: Walmart changes incentives for buyers
This year, Walmart finally added a key element to its impressive green supply chain efforts. The retail giant's powerful buyers, or merchants, now have a sustainability goal in their performance targets and reviews. For example, the laptop PC buyer set a goal that, by Christmas, all of the laptops Walmart sells would come pre-installed with advanced energy-saving settings. It was by no means a hiccup-free year on sustainability issues for Walmart, with deep concerns about corruption in its Mexican operations. But the subtle change in buyer incentives is a big deal.

5. Transparency and tragedy raise awareness about worker conditions
Early in 2012, Apple took some serious heat for the working conditions at Foxconn, the giant company that assembles a huge percentage of our electronics. Later in the year, tragedy struck Dhaka, Bangladesh when a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory killed or injured hundreds of people. The company that owns the factory serves Walmart, Carrefour, IKEA, and many others (but in fact,some companies didn't even know that Tazreen was a supplier). It's unclear if any of these human and PR disasters will affect the companies downstream, but transparency and knowledge about the lives of the people who make our products will continue to rise.

6. Data gets bigger and faster: PepsiCo and Columbia speed up lifecycle assessments
The rise of Big Data was an important theme in business in general this year, but especially in sustainability. And nowhere is good data needed more than in the onerous and expensive task of calculating a product's lifecycle footprint. PepsiCo has had great success with the method, finding ways to reduce cost and risk for key brands, but execs wanted to apply the tool across thousands of products. To make the exercise feasible and affordable, they turned to Columbia University, which developed a new algorithm for fast carbon footprinting. This isn't just a wonky exercise: As PepsiCo exec Al Halvorsen told me, "the real reason you do an LCA is improve the business, to put more efficient processes in place, and innovate in the supply chain."

7. Sustainability innovation opens up: Unilever, Heineken, and EMC ask the world for help
This new world of social media, where everyone has a voice, can be tough on companies. Consumers can gather around a green issue and pressure companies to change their behavior. Some notable change.org campaigns this year challenged Universal Pictures (about its green messaging around The Lorax), Crayola (recycling markers), and Dunkin' Donuts (Styrofoam cups). But companies can also use "open" innovation tools to generate new ideas and invite the world to solve problems together.

Unilever, which has my vote for leader in corporate sustainability right now, held an online discussion or "jam." Then the company posted a list of "Challenges and wants" and asked for ideas on solving big issues such as how to bring safe drinking water to the world's poorest regions.Unilever has received over 1,000 ideas and is "pursuing 6 to 7 percent of these with internal teams." Other notable open innovation models this year included Heineken's $10,000 sustainable packaging contest (which yielded some very fun ideas like a roving tap truck) and EMC's eco-challenge with InnoCentive on e-waste.

8. The economy gets a bit more circular: M&S, H&M, and Puma experiment with closing loops
On the heels of Patagonia's "Don't Buy This Jacket" campaign (one of my top 10 stories from last year), British retailer M&S began a program called "Schwop" that asked customers to bring back old clothes every time they bought new ones. This month, H&M also rolled out a global clothing collection and recycling effort.

Puma, after making last year's list with it's Environmental P&L, kept the momentum going andannounced a new "InCycle" collection with biodegradable sneakers and shirts, and recyclable jackets and backpacks. Remanufacturing has been around a long time, but closing loops is getting more popular every year.

9. Dematerialization gets sexier: Nike's knitted shoe shows off sustainable style
Keeping the apparel theme, um, running, check out Nike's new shoe with FlyKnit technology. The upper part of the shoe is constructed from a single strand, which greatly reduces waste and lightens the shoe dramatically. It's a great thing when a more sustainable design also coincides perfectly with customer needs. Enough said.

10. Zero becomes more the norm: DuPont, GM, and John Elkington show the way
The idea that organizations should send zero waste to landfill was once a niche idea, but it's quickly becoming the ante to enter the waste management game. Announcements on waste may not be exciting, but they demonstrate how companies can turn a cost center into a source of profit. DuPont's Building Innovation Products business reduced its landfill waste from 81 million pounds to zero in three years. GM announced that it would ramp up its already extensive waste reuse and recycling efforts, which are now generating $1 billion a year. And a plug for a fellow writer: In a new book, sustainability thought leader John Elkington made the case that the future would belong to the "Zeronauts," the "new breed of innovators determined to drive problems such as carbon, waste, toxics, and poverty to zero."

Five Questions For 2013

Some other promising stories are in the "too early to tell" stage, but bring up some key questions:

1. Can we standardize sustainability, which some smart folks began to do around rankings (GISR) and accounting (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board)?

2. Will we find a way to value externalities like ecosystem services and internalized, intangible benefits? (A focus of some of my work as an advisor to PwC US). For example, Microsoft launched an internal carbon tax and some major companies (Coca-Cola, Nike, Kimberly-Clark, etc.) pledged to value natural capital at Rio+20.

3. Will government get in the way or help, like when the U.S. Senate allowed the military to keep investing in biofuels?

4. Hertz and B&Q (Kingfisher) have delved into collaborative consumption (see WWF's Green Game-Changers report), but will the sharing economy make a dent on sustainability issues?

5. Finally, how much will we challenge the nature of capitalism, and what will that mean for how companies operate? (This is the focus of my next project.)

So many stories, so little time... on to 2013. Happy holidays and have a safe and wonderful New Year!

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

(Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewWinston)

January 9, 2014

Business Resilience Comes from Working with Nature

[Note: This post is co-authored with Michelle Lapinski, a senior advisor on valuing nature at The Nature Conservancy]

Hurricane Sandy, the superstorm that pummeled the U.S. northeast in October 2012, ranks as the second-costliest hurricane in American history, causing an estimated $68 billion in damages. One year later, the most powerful storm ever recorded to hit land devastated the Philippines.

With these once extraordinary events becoming more ordinary, it’s becoming clearer that businesses in vulnerable regions need to prepare. But how should companies go about building resilient enterprises that are ready to face extreme weather and other effects of climate change? One powerful, underleveraged option is to use nature to protect our coasts and physical assets — that is, to invest in so-called “green infrastructure” a term meant to differentiate projects from more typical “gray” or man-made infrastructure solutions (such as dams, levees, and water treatment systems) that we build to cool and purify water or defend our buildings and assets against the elements.

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Our natural world already provides immensely valuable services to make our economy and society possible. Most obviously, we get all our food, minerals, and metals from the ground, and forests provide wood and oxygen. But there are more subtle benefits: forests also clean our water and coastal wetlands and reefs provide natural defense from storms and floods. They can help us manage rainwater and wastewater. These services, which are not currently valued in the marketplace, protect both people and commercial and residential assets.

So a city or company looking to safeguard its water supply, for example, could invest in protecting or restoring lands instead of building a new water treatment plant (which is exactly what the New York City did when it bought land in the Catskill Mountains in 1997 — this initiative avoided up to $8 billion in costs for a new filtration facility and saved $200-$300 million in ongoing operation and maintenance costs).

But is this kind of green infrastructure approach generally as effective? Is it cost competitive? A recent paper by Shell, Dow, Swiss Re, Unilever and The Nature Conservancy concludes that frequently, it is.

Using standard cost-benefit analysis, the study compared some natural solutions to more traditional infrastructure investments. In all of the completed corporate projects, the green option won out toe-to-toe on capital expenditures and operational expenditures

Here’s one of the more compelling examples highlighted in the paper:

One of Shell’s joint ventures, Petroleum Development Oman LLC (PDO), uses constructed wetlands to treat produced water from oilfields. PDO’s extraction activities produce a lot of oily water as a by-product. After investigating alternative, low cost solutions to treat and dispose of the water, PDO built a natural wetland system that uses sunlight, reeds, and gravity (to flow water down in steps) in place of extensive water treatment and injection operations. The latter, gray option would have required significant electric power and produced high greenhouse gas emissions… and it would’ve cost a lot more.

On every important measure — capital expenditure, operational expenditure, and performance — the constructed wetland outperformed the traditional approach. Power consumption and CO2 emissions were reduced by 98%, which lowered operating expenses dramatically. And as a bonus, the wetland provides habitat for fish and hundreds of species of migratory birds.

In this particular case, PDO only needed the natural option, but the study concluded that hybrid solutions – combinations of green and gray infrastructure — may often provide the best mix of benefits. Together, green and gray solutions combine some of the resilience inherent in natural systems with the way an engineered solution can solve a specific challenge.

Shell isn’t the only company that discovered the savings from green infrastructure. The report includes case studies for Dow, which also utilized a constructed wetland at one of its facilities, reducing capex expense by a factor of 10. Today, Dow is exploring additional applications of green infrastructure and is engaged in a multi-year collaboration with The Nature Conservancy on valuing ecosystem services, which includes evaluating the viability of natural infrastructure at its largest production site.

Companies with common challenges can identify savvy, shared investments in green solutions for wastewater treatment, desalination, or coastal defense (using, say, wetland and reef restoration) and potentially collaborate on new green infrastructure opportunities at co-located assets.

Collectively, the companies in the report concluded that green infrastructure solutions should become a major part of the modern engineer’s standard toolkit: “Incorporating nature into man-made infrastructure can improve business resilience —and bring additional economic, environmental and socio-political benefits.” The report also provides an emerging set of performance metrics that managers can use to assess and compare green and grey infrastructure options.

As the damages from (and costs of) extreme weather and other disruptions soar, investing in resilience becomes a better deal. And nature can provide many of the solutions we need to both save money and protect our assets. So run the numbers on green infrastructure solutions. The calculations are likely to show that green options are the best investments.

(This post first appeared on the Harvard Business Review blog network.)

(Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewWinston)

February 27, 2014

It Just Got Easier for Companies to Invest in Nature

Nature is valuable. But figuring out how valuable has been challenging. By some measures, the services that nature provides business and society — clean water, food and metals, natural defense from storms and floods, and much more — are worth many trillions of dollars. But that number is not helpful to companies trying to assess how dependent they are on natural resources, or how to value them as business inputs.

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In recent years, many large companies have realized that they need to get a handle on these issues, and that doing it well creates business resilience. But figuring out what steps to take has been challenging. Into that void steps a new, very helpful tool, the Natural Capital Business Hub. The Hub is a project run by the Corporate EcoForum, The Nature Conservancy, and The Natural Capital Coalition (and built by Tata Consultancy Services). It builds off a partnership launched at the Rio+20 summit in 2012 with companies such as Alcoa, Coca-Cola, Disney, Dow, GM, Kimberly-Clark, Nike, Unilever, and Xerox. At the time, they produced a report with case studies showing how companies have managed natural capital issues. The Hub expands that effort, making much more information available and searchable.

The Hub basically does four things:

  • Provides case studies of corporate action for benchmarking and learning, which you can search by industry, region, ecosystem, or value-creation focus (cost reduction, brand building, etc.).
  • Offers perspective on how to make the business case internally by laying out how valuing natural capital helps business.
  • Gives us a framework for implementation and a thorough description of (or links to) the best tools for valuing and managing natural capital.
  • Opens up collaboration opportunities by listing programs that need more partners and builds a network of professionals (with 2Degrees Network) who are working on these issues.

The case studies are ostensibly the core of the site. Project managers, facility heads, executives who make capital decisions, sustainability managers, and many others can learn from the work that leading companies have done already. Managing natural capital is a young field, but Dow, for example, is now three years into its six-year partnership with The Nature Conservancy to “recognize, value, and incorporate the value of nature into business decisions, strategies and goals.” (The company just released the latest update on the partnership.) The Hub is a place to start your research and learn from Dow and many others.

On the site, you can find stories of completed projects or prospective collaborations that need more partners to get off the ground. In the first category, you’ll find stories like the one about Grupo Bimbo, the Mexican food company that owns Sara Lee, Hostess, and Pepperidge Farms. Bimbo needed to manage stormwater around a site in Pennsylvania. Using natural or “green” infrastructure such as rain gardens and forest buffers — versus “gray”, manmade systems like retention ponds and pipes — the company reduced ongoing operating costs and avoided the complications of burying pipes in sensitive ecosystems.

On a somewhat larger scale, consider Darden restaurants (owner of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and many more) and its efforts to save fisheries. As companies like Unilever and McDonald’s have long recognized, ensuring healthy fish stocks isn’t a philanthropic nice-to-have, but core to business survival: no fish, no fish sticks, lobster plates, or Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. Darden is working with the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and others to target valuable fisheries and manage them closely.

What’s interesting about the Darden case study, and the Hub in general, is that this project is just getting started — essentially, it’s an open call for collaboration. The Hub is innovative and helpful because of the partnership tools. Natural capital issues are not easy and cross many lines – every company, city, and home in a region, for example, depends on water and flood protection. No organization or region can act alone, and it shouldn’t. By listing the major collaborations that are actively searching for new partners, the Hub has done a great service.

(This post first appeared on the Harvard Business Review blog network.)

(Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewWinston)

July 8, 2015

The Best Quotes (and Key Themes) from the Pope's Environmental Manifesto (Part I)

I doubt you missed last month’s release of Pope Francis’ powerful “encyclical” on the environment. It’s sure to be considered a very important document in the history of sustainability – perhaps a turning point in the debate on climate change.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing. But it is a 180-page pdf (albeit with smallish pages and large font), and contains nearly 40,000 words (part of the reason this blog is a few weeks late). My goal here was to pull some critical and fascinating quotes, perhaps cutting the reading by 80 to 90% for you. But first, a few key takeaways and what I see as his big themes.

My takeaways

The Pope is trying to appeal to everyone. I can’t say I read a lot of papal proclamations, so maybe this isn’t unusual, but the language here is extremely accessible and fairly secular (or at least Judeo-Christian). Here’s a word cloud of the top 50 words in the document. Yes, “God” appears frequently (with a third of the mentions tucked into the final chapter), but “human” is the top word. Other biggies include world, all, life, nature, environment, and social. And Jesus doesn’t make the top 50.

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The essay is not remotely only about climate. Leading up to the release, much of the news coverage talked about an upcoming “climate declaration.” Yes, this is a core part of the discussion, but the Pope is clearly concerned with environmental conditions overall, including biodiversity and the sanctity of life in all its forms. And, importantly, he spends a great deal of time discussing the poor and issues of inequity.

It’s a sustainability manifesto, but without using the word. Ok, he says “sustainable” a handful of times, but only uses “sustainability” once, and that’s in quoting someone else. There’s a fascinating mix of modern views on our mega-challenges, with a serious theme of systems thinking (again without calling it that), and a bit of a dated view on the consumption side (everyone can just change their habits in the everyday choices).

In total, the big themes of the encyclical come out very clearly. Here are some of the largest of the Pope’s views with a bit of my perspective on how it comes across.

The Pope’s messages

Climate change science and impacts are clear. The Pope obviously believes that we know more than enough about the science (climate change is happening and humans are responsible) to act, and he calls out people for their denial (see section 59 below). This will be one of the most lasting impacts of his call to action – putting to rest the idea that there’s any real uncertainty on the major aspects of climate change. We may move quicker past debating the existence of the problem (at least in the U.S.) and start talking about solutions. Some pundits (and presidential candidates) have suggested the Pope should not wade into scientific debates, but that’s ridiculous given (a) his role, for 1 billion Catholics, as a spirit guide on how people should lead their lives and (b) the fact that the man holds a graduate degree in Chemistry.

We have serious equity problems. In keeping with the Pope’s core mission in his tenure thus far, he focuses like a laser on the challenges of the poor, and makes it clear that the environmental and social challenges are deeply intertwined. We must deal with them all as a system.

A modern technological society has some important drawbacks. Some critics have decried the encyclical as being anti-progress and technology. I have some quibbles in some places (such as his dislike for cities and contention that they are resource hogs), but overall the Pope does not really call for an end to progress. He’s asking us to reimagine of what we mean by progress, and suggests we take into account the health of the planet and of all its inhabitants in our investment and consumption decisions. This is another way of saying we need to value more than just short-term profit maximization.

The root of most of these environmental and social challenges is consumption, greed, and desire for stuff. Again, people may be uncomfortable with what sounds like an anti-progress, anti-modernity message, but it’s more balanced than that. And most of the language around this theme (mostly in the last chapter) fits the self-help, Oprah-like messages of simplicity, enjoying what you have and finding joy in the people and experiences in your life, living in the now, and so on. It’s clearly a message for those who have the basics (and then some) in life already, and it doesn’t sound radical.

We’re all connected (including nature and animals), which has profound implications for how we live our lives and build our economy and society. At core, this essay is about the interconnection between our big environmental and social issues, as well as their deep connection to our economy and ability to thrive. It’s about the systems thinking we need in our lives and policies. It’s really about the common good, which the Pope notably extends to “future generations.” He uses this interconnectedness theme to criticize modern economics and its element of selfishness, so this not-so-subtle call for “distributive justice” may make many readers uncomfortable. He’s launching a frontal attack on the powerful trend, especially in the U.S., of an “every man for himself” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” view of the world.

Saving the environment is good economics, but it’s about morals. The Pope tackles the contentious religious issue of humanity’s “dominion” over nature head on and makes it very clear that it’s core to spirituality and Catholicism to care for the environment. But for me, the bottom line of the essay is a quote that’s almost a throwaway line buried deep in the 5th chapter (of 6). Talking about the potential expense of bringing the clean economy to fruition, particularly in the developing world, the Pope throws this out there (in section 172):

“The costs of this would be low, compared to the risks of climate change. In any event, these are primarily ethical decisions, rooted in solidarity between all peoples.”

In other words, yes, we can do this all economically and it makes sense in terms of both risk reduction and prosperity. But in the end, we need to act because it’s the right thing to do for the common good.

In general, I found the Pope’s essay to be profound and on target. I don’t agree with every statement, and I certainly believe we need the scale of modernity and business to tackle our challenges, but I’m not going to have the audacity to pick apart the Pope’s essay line by line. Overall, this manifesto syncs well with my thinking in The Big Pivot. The topline logic is clear: we have some mega challenges – such as climate change, resource constraints, and inequity – and we need new thinking and life/business models to tackle them (such as circular, inclusive economies). So I for one – an American raised (mildly) Jewish – am thrilled to see this important, historic addition to the sustainability quest.

The remainder of what will be a very long blog (with 1 or 2 more to come over the next few days) will be mainly quotes. I’ve tried to put them into big themes (many of which the Pope established in the structure of the piece), and provided some thoughts in a few places. Each excerpt includes the paragraph number the encyclical uses (from 1 to 246). Enjoy.

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THE POPE ON CLIMATE, OUR BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES, AND A CRITIQUE OF MODERNITY

A. CLIMATE SCIENCE, IMPACTS, AND DENIAL

23. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon… a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases…released mainly as a result of human activity.

25. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.

59. ...we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a licence to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

161. Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world.

163. …the profoundly human causes of environmental degradation.

But…

188. …the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.

199. It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality.

200. Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well.

B. BEYOND CLIMATE

Nature and human impacts

1. …our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother.

2. …the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her…the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.

5. Saint John Paul II…warned that human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption”.

21. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.

Natural resources, waste

27. Other indicators of the present situation have to do with the depletion of natural resources. We all know that it is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries and wealthier sectors of society, where the habit of wasting and discarding has reached unprecedented levels. The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty.

106. …easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.

50. …we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor”.

Water

28. Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance

30. access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights [italics in original]

185. …we know that water is a scarce and indispensable resource and a fundamental right which conditions the exercise of other human rights. This indisputable fact overrides any other assessment of environmental impact on a region.

Biodiversity and inherent value of nature

AW comment: This strikes me as a kind of 50-plus-year bookend to Silent Spring. The Pope could drive a jump in consciousness on these issues like the historic book in 1962.

32-3. The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses… It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves…The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity…We have no such right.

34. …many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture: their disappearance will have to be compensated for by yet other techniques which may well prove harmful.

39. The replacement of virgin forest with plantations of trees, usually monocultures, is rarely adequately analyzed. Yet this can seriously compromise a biodiversity…

Oceans and coral reefs

40. Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures…

41. Many of the world’s coral reefs are already barren or in a state of constant decline.

174. The growing problem of marine waste and the protection of the open seas represent particular challenges. What is needed, in effect, is an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of so-called “global commons”.

C. MODERN TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY

Short-Termism

32. The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production.

36. Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation

178. A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term growth.

181. Results take time and demand immediate outlays which may not produce tangible effects within any one government’s term…politicians will inevitably clash with the mindset of short-term gain and results which dominates present-day economics and politics.


Consumer/Throwaway culture and self-centered culture

22. These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish.

55. People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more.

90. We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet.

162. Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centred culture of instant gratification

230. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms.

Progress, Power, and Ethics – The Good and Bad

AW Comment: I have some disagreement here. The Pope celebrates progress, but mostly worries about it’s impacts, which is fair. But saying that science/tech progress is not progress of humanity (113), or completely irresponsible (165), is not quite accurate. We have brought billions of people out of poverty with modern life. Yes, our mode of living and doing business must change, but we have seen immense improvement in quality of life.

102. We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change: steam engines, railways, the telegraph, electricity, automobiles, aeroplanes, chemical industries, modern medicine, information technology and, more recently, the digital revolution, robotics, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies. It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us, for “science and technology are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity.”

103-4. Technoscience, when well directed, can produce important means of improving the quality of human life… Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA, and many other abilities which we have acquired, have given us tremendous power. More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world… In whose hands does all this power lie, or will it eventually end up? It is extremely risky for a small part of humanity to have it.

105. …as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such. The fact is that “contemporary man has not been trained to use power well”,[84] because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience…we cannot claim to have…clear-minded self-restraint.

106. We have to accept that technological products are not neutral…Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.

109. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration.

113. …scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history

114. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way…

136. …technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power.

165. …the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities.

Value of people and work in modern society
128. …the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines…to stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society.

129. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.

159. The notion of the common good also extends to future generations. The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity…[which is] not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us…“The environment is part of a logic of receptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next”. An integral ecology is marked by this broader vision. [italics added]

Scale of modern society (population, cities, agriculture, etc.)

AW comment: This is an area where I mainly disagree. The Pope is not a fan of cities and sees them as a cause of our environmental challenges. But cities usually are, and certainly can be, very efficient on a per person basis. We share infrastructure – in many cities people don’t need cars at all, for example. And it’s not clear that small-scale food production alone will be enough. We can do sustainable agriculture at scale, and given the Pope’s commitment to avoid population control of any kind, we’ll need to.

44. the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water.

149. In the unstable neighbourhoods of mega-cities, the daily experience of overcrowding and social anonymity can create a sense of uprootedness which spawns antisocial behaviour and violence.

129. …there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels…civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production.

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Tomorrow I'll post excerpts about the moral argument, the connection of environmentalism to Christianity, the Pope on the common good and inequity, and the solutions he suggests.

(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)

January 4, 2017

9 Sustainable Business Stories That Shaped 2016

In 2015, the world pivoted in a historic way toward sustainability. Debates about climate change melted away. Every country committed to action in the form of the Paris Agreement. Even the Pope spoke to the issue, reminding us that we’re all connected. It was a productive 12 months, to say the least.

Then came 2016.

Every year, I find big themes or specific company stories that I feel are impressive, important, or indicative of where the world is going. In 2016, two dwarf the rest: the election of Donald Trump and significant action on climate change. The context for sustainable business in 2017 may center on the competition between these two stories; that is, how will Trump and his team impact or impede progress on climate and other sustainability issues? So let’s focus on these two first, and then run quickly through seven other interesting stories.

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1. Trump Shocked the World

It’s not yet clear what Trump’s election means for issues that impact companies’ efforts to manage environmental and social issues. Climate change, building a clean economy, reducing inequality and raising wages, providing health care to support general wellbeing — all are big unknowns now. The early signs from the Trump team are not promising, in my view. He wants to appoint as head of the EPA a man who denies climate change and led legal battles against the EPA. His pick for Labor Secretary is staunchly opposed to covering overtime pay or increasing minimum wages (something many leading companies have been doing on their own since 2014. His choice for Secretary of State is the CEO of ExxonMobil, a company that has, for decades, attacked climate science when it knew better. A leaked memo from the Trump transition team shows an intention to move away from the Paris agreement and almost all climate and clean economy action.

In response to Trump’s election and his statements doubting climate change, many countries that signed the Paris climate accords in 2015 made it clear they would power on (China in particular — see story number three, below). Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy even proposed taxing U.S. goods if the country pulled out the Paris agreement. And throwing his weight in, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly declared that cities would fight on, with or without Trump. Finally, hundreds of companies signed the latest declaration from Ceres showing their support for Paris. This is all promising. For this and many other reasons, the sustainability journey in business will continue.

But given Trump’s likely stance, any global progress on climate will happen in spite of headwinds from the U.S. federal government. In the U.S., the action will have to move to states, cities, and the private sector. Businesses in particular will need to lead in a way they never have before — and they will.

2. Public and Private Sector Action on Climate Change Increased

For most of 2016, the world moved quickly on climate. I’ve already mentioned the historic Paris agreement, but there are more positive steps worth noting. With the support of chemical companies, more than 170 countries also agreed to phase out HFCs, the high global-warming-potential chemicals used in air-conditioners and refrigerators everywhere. The UN also agreed to slash emissions from the airline industry. Norway banned deforestation and both Norway and Germany moved toward banning fossil-fuel-powered cars. This week, Canada announced it would tax carbon nationally by 2018.

In the U.S., the Obama administration started to incorporate the “social cost of carbon” in decision-making and the Pentagon made climate change a military priority. President Obama, with his counterparts in Canada and Mexico, agreed to some aggressive regional targets on renewable energy and efficiency. At the state level, New Jersey passed a big new gas tax, and Oregon, Illinois, and California developed robust energy and climate policies. All of this will affect companies of all stripes.

Business itself wasn’t quiet on the climate front either. Many invested heavily in renewable energy (see number five on this list), and some big companies dove into policy debates this year. More than 100 companies called for action on the Clean Power Plan (Obama’s big move to reduce power sector emissions), with tech giants Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft even filing a legal brief in support of the policy. Nine big brands with operations in Ohio publicly pressed the state to reinstate energy efficiency and renewable energy portfolio standards. Many previously quiet companies, like food giant General Mills, spoke out about how important it was to their business to tackle climate change.

Why all this progress? First, evidence of a radically altered climate system has become crystal clear. After 2015 shattered climate records, 2016 got even hotter and more extreme, creating weather events that brought physical destruction, massive economic costs, and loss of life. Second, the financial world is getting better at evaluating what’s at stake. The World Bank estimates that $158 trillionworth of assets are at risk from increased natural disasters. The London School of Economics tells us trillions of financial assets are also vulnerable. And in the U.S. alone, floods in Louisiana and North Carolina caused $10 to $20 billion in damage.

3. China Stepped Up

While many countries accelerated their climate and clean economy work this year, China is a special case. Early in the year, China said it would halt new coal mine approvals, close 1,000 mines, increase wind and solar by 21% in 2016, and even eat less meat to control carbon emissions. But last month the country also indicated coal use would rise until 2020 (albeit at a slower rate than the growth of renewables). So it’s not totally clear where China’s emissions will head. But the country clearly wants to lead the world in the clean economy transition. Speaking from this year’s UN global climate meeting – which happened to coincide with the U.S. election — Chinese ministers sent a message to Trump that climate change is no hoax. Then China’s President Xi said he’ll be attending the annual bigwig gathering in Davos for the first time, with reports of China’s interest in filling trade gaps left by Brexit and possible leadership gaps on climate left by Trump.

4. Renewables Kept Growing and Getting Cheaper

Renewables have been trouncing fossil fuels for a few years as the costs of the newer technologies have dropped remarkably fast. The world record for cheapest solar plant was set in Mexico… and then broken within weeks in Dubai with a bid of 2.99 cents per kilowatt-hour. Countries with big investments in renewables are reaping the rewards. For four days in May, Portugal was 100% powered by renewables, and on a single windy day Denmark’s windfarms gave the country 140% of what it needed. The U.S. finally got into offshore wind near Rhode Island. In a subtle tipping point, the total global generating capacity from renewables passed coal this year.

As prices dropped, companies noticed, and corporate purchases and commitments to clean energy grew. Walmart set a 50% renewable target for 2025. In the last few weeks, Microsoft and Avery Dennison announced big purchases of clean power, and GM and Google said they’d target 100% renewable energy within a year. A growing number of companies signed the RE100 commitment to go for 100%. And in Nevada, both MGM and Caesars filed papers to stop purchasing power from their utility, NV Energy, because it doesn’t support renewables. New capital is still flowing to the clean tech — Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and some other business leaders just announced a $1 billion fund to invest in “next generation energy technologies.” All of this activity convinces me that Trump can’t stop the clean economy.

5. Investors Focused on Climate, Sustainability, and Short-Termism

Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock — the world’s largest asset owner — followed up his 2015 letter to S&P 500 CEOs with another treatise against short-term focus. He disparaged the “quarterly earnings hysteria” and asked companies to submit long-term strategy plans and address environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. BlackRock also issued a “climate change warning,” telling investors to adapt their portfolios to fight global warming. Many banks heeded the advice, pulling funding from coal. The London School of Economics also estimated that climate change could slash trillions from financial asset values. Because of this economic and systemic risk, a high-powered task force from the G20’s Financial Stability Board issued important guidelines for companies to make climate-related disclosures. To help investors evaluate their holdings, Morningstar launched sustainability ratings for 20,000 funds, and 21 stock exchanges introduced sustainability reporting standards. Finally, to educate the next generation of analysts, the CFA exam will now include a focus on ESG issues.

6. Business Defended Employees’ and Customers’ Human Rights

Companies are getting more vocal on human rights issues for many reasons. For some, it’s about the commercial opportunity to appeal to a new or growing market of rights-focused consumers. Others want to attract and retain diverse talent. But in general, society is expecting companies to broaden their mission. In one survey, 78% of Americans agreed that “companies should take action to address important issues facing society.” Millennials feel even stronger. A global survey this year showed that 87% of Millennials around the world believe that “the success of business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.” This generation — which will be 50% of the workforce by 2020 — seeks employers that share their values.

And so, after a divisive U.S. election, many CEOs felt the need to email employees, restating their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Earlier in the year, when Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina passed a bizarre law to control which bathroom transgender people use, many companies spoke up. The CEOs of dozens of big brands — including Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Citibank, IBM, Kellogg, Marriott, PwC, and Starbucks — signed an open letter to defend “protections for LGBT people.” Paypal and Deutsche Bank canceled plans to expand and hire in the state, and the NCAA actually relocated some championship events. (In an important side note, after costing the state $600 million in business, the law is widely credited for losing McCrory his reelection bid.)

7. More Evidence Emerged That Economies Can Grow Without Increasing Carbon Emissions

So far this century, more than 20 large countries, as well as 33 U.S. states, have “decoupled” GDP growth from GHGs. One energy hog, the IT sector, has managed to level off energy use in data centers. There’s serious talk again about “peak oil” — not of supply, but of demand.

We’re seeing a fundamental shift in our relationship with energy for many reasons, including the improving economics of efficiency and clean tech (see #5). But companies are also getting more systematic, strategic, and fun — yes fun — in slashing energy. More organizations are using some old tools like “treasure hunts” and reimagining them as “energy marathons” (26.2 days of innovation). Others are competing to slash energy use — see Hilton and Whole Foods energy teams go head-to-head in a streaming reality show.

8. Levi’s Shared What It Knows about Water

Big themes are great, but periodically a specific example of leadership seems worthy of extra attention. In this case, Levi’s had spent a decade identifying great ways to cut water use in the apparel value chain. Realizing that water issues are too big to tackle alone, Levi’s celebrated World Water Day this year by open sourcing its best practices in water management. In essence, the company decided to promote system change and even invited competitors to its innovation lab for the first time in its history.

9. The Circular Economy Inched Closer

With a growing population and ever-rising demand for resources, it’s becoming necessary to find ways to eliminate waste and reuse valuable materials endlessly. We’re seeing some interesting innovation in policy and business practice. Sweden is planning to offer tax breaks for fixing things instead of throwing them away, and six EU countries started a four-year project to help small and medium-size enterprises move to circular models.

A number of companies also made moves into this space. A supermarket opened in the UK filled with only food that would’ve been thrown out. IKEA is expanding its circular offerings like reselling used furniture and creating new products from leftover textiles. More than 25 companies in Minnesota, including 3M, Aveda, and Target, launched a circular initiative to share expertise. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Kering both created curricula in circular thinking for fashion and design students. And finally, the Closed Loop Fund, which invests in recycling infrastructure (using funds from some large retail and CPG brands), reported on substantial progress, including launching single stream recycling across Memphis.

What’s in Store for 2017?

Given how far off pundits and prognosticators were this year, I have to proceed with caution. Who really knows what a Trump presidency will bring to the U.S. and the world, or what the corporate sustainability agenda will look like with so much uncertainty?

I do believe companies will expand their horizons, looking more at systems, not just their operations and value chains. They will increasingly partner to tackle big global targets like the UN’s Sustainable Development goals. Demands for more transparency about how everything is made — from consumers, employees, investors, and other stakeholders — are unlikely to slow down. The food and agriculture sectors in particular will feel even more pressure to cut carbon and food waste and simplify ingredients.

And no matter who’s in charge politically, macro trends are hard to stop — a changing climate; increasing challenges around water and other resources; higher expectations of companies; rising concern about inequality and wages; and technological disruption from AI, machine learning, and autonomous everything. These trends will continue and companies will need to adapt — fast.

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Review online.)

If you enjoyed this article, please sign up for Andrew Winston's RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewWinston)

(Andrew's 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.

May 17, 2017

The Regulated Industry Protection Agency

(Last week was filled with fresh new offenses coming from the White House. But right before the president fired his FBI director -- and then gave away state secrets -- his EPA also dismissed scientists who advised the agency. This is bad news, and it got lost in the shuffle. The EPA has turned its back on its core mission. I posted this on Medium.)

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The Environmental Protection Agency has a clear, one-sentence mandate: “The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.” But EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his boss, President Trump, seem to think the EPA should mainly defend business from too much environmental protection. They’re confused and they’re missing a fundamental reality: there is no economy without the environment.

The purpose of the EPA has always been to defend the commons.

The latest attack on the EPA from within came last week. Pruitt dismissed members of a scientific review board to make room for industry representatives.

A spokesperson, according to the New York Times, indicated that Pruitt would “consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate.” The hen-in-the-henhouse approach would make sense if business were somehow locked out of the process. But does anyone seriously believe that business and industry are underrepresented in government decision-making?

The Cabinet already includes the Small Business Administration and significant representation of business interests within the departments of transportation, agriculture, and energy. And, of course, the Commerce Department itself, which “serves as the voice of U.S. business within the Cabinet.” The private sector has massive, unprecedented influence as well, through thousands of government relations executives, countless lobbying firms, and uber-powerful trade groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

With that backdrop, the purpose of the EPA has always been to defend the commons -- that is, our air, water, climate, and much more. When President Richard Nixon established the agency, he was clear that he wanted to fill a gap: “Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food. Indeed, the present governmental structure for dealing with environmental pollution often defies effective and concerted action.” He created the agency to organize environmental protection, not focus on economic growth and industry needs.

But besides misunderstanding the mission of the EPA, the Trump administration has fallen prey to a massive misperception. They clearly believe that regulatory protections always come at the cost of business and economic growth. This misplaced narrative has thoroughly infused our public discourse; the word “regulation” rarely appears without the modifiers “burdensome” or “job-killing.”

Of course, many regulations on air and water (and food, products, or workplace conditions) cost some companies money. Complying with regulations can be an ugly and expensive process. They can slow down some kinds of innovation. So, yes, regulations are hardly perfect. So stipulated.

But acting like they are only an impediment to business is a straw man. Regulations are, most of the time, based on a real need to protect us. Safe food and drugs, clean water and air, workplaces that don’t threaten lives, and even a stable climate — these are not nice-to-haves, but prerequisites for a thriving life and economy.

And the value to society (including business) of strong protections is high — protecting air quality alone has been worth many trillions of dollars in avoided health care costs and quality of life. Business does better when its employees and customers thrive. So slashing health, environmental, and societal protections is only “pro-business” in the narrowest of terms, and only in the short-run. Business does not operate in a vacuum, separate from the natural world. Far from it, as the economy depends entirely on the human and natural resources that power it.

Most government departments make these connections explicit. One of the five “strategic goals” of the Commerce Department is called, simply, “environment.” They gather “actionable environmental intelligence” to help business understand environmental change, prepare for it, and even profit by “developing environmental and climate informed business solutions.” At the USDA, “Natural Resources and Environment” is one of seven mission areas. The Pentagon has called climate change a “threat multiplier,” and Trump’s own Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, says it’s a national security issue.

Many branches of government, along with many private sector leaders, want to protect the environment and build a clean economy. But the one agency tasked with defending the environment (and human health) explicitly is sprinting away from its duty. Since the economy, our food system, and our security all depend on a strong environment, Pruitt and Trump’s misguided attempt to help a narrow group of business interests will fail miserably. Sadly, we’ll all pay the price.

If you enjoyed this article, please sign up for Andrew Winston's RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewWinston

Andrew's 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.