Saturday, May 24, 2014

The 2014 Sustainability Leaders Survey

GlobeSan and SustainAbility launched The 2014 Sustainability Leaders survey. The longest-running opinion poll of its kind, this year’s annual report marks 20 years’ worth of tracking and analysis on the evolution of the sustainability agenda, and of the leaders and institutions most responsible for driving it forward.

One name stands out: Unilever. The brands following next include Patagonia, Interface, Marks & Spencer, Nestle and Natura.

Competitive pressure and green consumerism are perceived to be the biggest drivers of corporate sustainability over the next five years. In addition, technology and the private sector are seen as the biggest drivers of gains in the near future, while the economic aspects of sustainable development are anticipated to get more attention than environmental or social issues.

This survay is not an objective analysis of which companies, or any other institutions, are genuinely performing best. It only reflects the prevailing opinion of experts as to which few of the many high performing companies are viewed as leaders, and as such, it is profoundly interesting.

Read the report and learn about the survey's key findings:

Saturday, May 10, 2014

What does the future hold?

There's a very interesting chapter about what the future holds in the RIO+20 working papers from the UN Division of Sustainable Development (UNDESA). Here’s an extraction of this very alarming description of our future:

What does the future hold?

No one knows which path the world will take in the next 40 years. But there has been a strong consensus among experts about the major sustainability issues and the broad direction of trends. In contrast, big differences exist on the suggested policy solutions arising from different world views, grounded in different values.

Many “business-as-usual” (BAU) scenarios have explored the potential consequences of the world’s continuing its dominant development model. Most recent scenarios of this type are “dynamics-as-usual” (DAU) scenarios that assume across the board incremental improvements in technologies, for example for energy efficiency, following past dynamics. In principle, these scenarios are the closest to future projections. They provide a sketch of what the world could look like in 2050, if we were to continue the historical path of incremental improvements in reaction to perceived crises, instead of a shift toward a long-term perspective that aims to anticipate and avert serious – possibly catastrophic – environmental disruptions to human societies and economies.

Given the available evidence and scenarios, what can be said of the role of international cooperation in finding solutions to sustainable development challenges? First, a framework for international cooperation that aims to support sustainable development would necessarily put a heavy emphasis on three dimensions: (i) the need to eradicate poverty and hunger; (ii) the global ecological footprint of humanity; and (iii) the management of global commons.
Ideally, such a framework should be adapted to the challenges of the future. This raises a number of difficult questions, the answers to which all condition what international cooperation should look like. For example, what can we reasonably say about the extent and location of extreme poverty and hunger in the next 20-30 years?

7 Centers of poverty have shifted over time and are likely to continue to shift from middle-income countries to least developed countries and those in fragile situations. Another question for consideration is, how to break through current deadlocks in cooperative management of global commons? Yet another question is, how to integrate sustainability at all levels in the delivery of international cooperation (e.g., in international financing institutions)?

From this brief discussion, it follows that specific recommendations on changes needed in the framework for international cooperation are quite hard to produce, unless backed up by clear visions for the future and goals for sustainability.

This DAU world in 2050 is a more crowded, urban world, in which poverty and hunger persist among riches. While great progress is expected on making not only primary but also secondary education universal, one billion people remain without access to basic services.

Gross world product quadruples to US$300 trillion in 2050, with Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) alone accounting for 40% of the world economy. Income convergence across countries continues rapidly. However, some of the most vulnerable and poorest economies remain marginalized. This world would still be energy-hungry and powered by fossil fuels. Two thirds of world population would be living under water stress.

Competing demands for freshwater resources would pose increasingly difficult allocation problems and limit the expansion of key sectors, in particular food and agriculture. Major environmental trends would be accelerated: increase in GHG emissions and global warming; decreasing forest area and more land for agriculture at least until 2030; and unabated loss of biodiversity. By its sheer scale, human activity will have transgressed the majority of the planetary boundaries as defined by J. Rockström and colleagues in 2009, with unknown effects but increasing the long-term risk of global collapse of the earth’s ecosystem.

Sustainable development scenarios produced for Rio+20 by various research groups have explored a broad range of sustainability goals, most associated with major international development and sustainability goals that are either agreed or have been under discussion.

They are also grounded in (subsets of) existing mainstream scientific sets of goals, but clearly leave out elements of wider sustainable development perspectives that typically include community or society aspects, such as peace and social capital. The sustainable development scenarios describe a much “better world” than BAU/DAU, a world that is more sustainable in important environmental and social dimensions. Yet, even this world is not free from contradictions and confronts decision-makers with a number of unresolved trade-offs. They highlight the enormity of the global sustainable development challenge, and suggest that at some point in the future we may be forced to make much more drastic behavioral changes.

Rio+20 working papers (Nov, 2012)
Issue 1: Development cooperation in the light of sustainable development and the SDGs: Preliminary exploration of the issues

Division for Sustainable Development, UNDESA

View the full report here:

Understanding Rio+20

At the Rio+20 Conference, world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, came together to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want.

Rio+20 - the short name for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that toke place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012 - was an historic opportunity to define pathways to a safer, more equitable, cleaner, greener and more prosperous world for all. Nearly 100 heads of state and government gathered to establish "sustainable development goals," a U.N. drive built around economic growth, the environment and social inclusion.

While some governments were reasonably satisfied with the outcome document for the Rio+20 summit, others were disappointed and even angry with a perceived lack of ambition and sense of urgency to deal with the problems arising from rises in consumption, population and industrialization.

Twenty years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, where countries adopted Agenda 21 - a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection - the UN is again bringing together governments, international institutions and major groups to agree on a range of smart measures that can reduce poverty while promoting decent jobs, clean energy and a more sustainable and fair use of resources.

The objective of Rio+20 was to find ways to move away from business-as-usual and to act to end poverty, address environmental destruction and build a bridge to the future.


A follow-up to the Rio+20 summit of the same scale in 10 years or even another 20 years has not been set, but many observers at the summit say progress on some of the issues in Friday's agreement needs to be measured.

Some of the timelines in the Rio+20 agreement are so far into the future that measures may be too late to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and globalization.

"We don't have 20 years or even 10," said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International. "History tells us little will happen in real terms and definitely not at the timescale of urgency climate science tells us is needed," he added.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Carbon [Credits] [Trade] [Offset] [Footprints]

The dramatic imagery of global warming frightens people. Melting glaciers, fre­ak storms and stranded polar bears -- the mascots of climate change -- show how quickly and drastically greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are changing our planet. Such graphic examples, combined with the rising price of energy, drive people to want to reduce consumption and lower their personal shares of global emissions. But behind the emotional front of climate change lies a developing framework of economic solutions to the problem. Two major market-based options exist, and politicians around the world have largely settled on carbon trading over its rival, carbon tax, as the chosen method to regulate GHG emissions.

Carbon Credits:

The carbon market can be divided into two: the voluntary market and the regulatory (compliance) market.

In the compliance market, carbon credits are generated by projects that operate under one of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) approved mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Credits generated under this mechanism are known as Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs)

In the voluntary market, carbon credits are generated by projects that are accredited to independent international standards such as the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). These credits are known as Verified Emission Reductions (VERs).

Carbon credits are an immediate answer to reducing the amount of Green House Gas (GHGs) emissions in the atmosphere. The generation and sale of carbon credits funds carbon projects which would not have gone ahead. Carbon credits also help lower the costs of renewable and low carbon technologies as well as assisting in the technology transfer to developing countries.

Carbon Trade:

Carbon Trade Exchange supports the trading of both voluntary and compliance credits. It is important to note that carbon credits differ from carbon allowances although the term carbon credit is interchangeably used to represent both. Although in most cases they both represent one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, allowances do not originate from carbon projects but are allocated to companies under a ‘cap and trade’ system such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – therefore, they represent the right to emit.

Mandatory Carbon Trading

Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty on climate change that came into force in 2005, dominates the mandatory carbon market. It serves as both a model and a warning for every emerging carbon program.

In the early 1990s, nearly every member state of the
United Nations resolved to confront global warming and manage its consequences. Although the resulting United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) international treaty recognized a unified resolve to slow global warming, it set only loose goals for lowering emissions. In 1997, the Kyoto amendment strengthened the convention.

Under the Protocol, members of the convention with industrialized or transitional economies receive specific reduction targets. Member states with developing economies are not expected to meet emissions targets -- ­an exception that has caused controversy because some nations like
China and ­India produce enormous levels of GHG.

The Protocol commits members to cut their emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. But because the Protocol does not manage the way in which members reduce their emissions, several mechanisms have arisen. The largest and most famous is the European Trading Scheme (ETS).

The ETS is mandatory across the European Union (EU). The multisector cap and trade scheme includes about 12,000 factories and utilities in 25 countries [source:
Europa]. Each member state sets its own emissions cap, or national allocation plan, based on its Kyoto and national targets. 

Countries then distribute allowances totaling the cap to individual firms. Even though countries distribute their own allowances, the allowances themselves can be traded across the EU. Independent third parties verify all emissions and reductions.

There has been, however, some question as to whether the ETS has actually helped reduce emissions. Some people even call it a "permit to pollute" because the ETS allows member states to distribute allowances free of charge
. The ETS also excludes transport, homes and public sector emissions from regulation. And as with all cap-and-trade schemes, governments can essentially exempt influential industries by flooding them with free allowances.

The ETS allows its members to earn credits by funding projects through two other Kyoto mechanisms: the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI). CDM allows industrialized countries to pay for emissions reduction projects in poorer countries that do not have emissions targets. By funding projects, countries earn certified emissions reduction (CER) credits to add to their own allowances.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 2001, and are referred to as the "Marrakesh Accords." Its first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012.

In Doha, Qatar, on 8 December 2012, the "
Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol" was adopted.

Most of the world’s industrialized nations support the Kyoto Protocol. One notable exception is the United States, which releases more greenhouse gases than any other nation and accounts for more than 25 percent of those generated by humans worldwide. Australia also declined.

Carbon Offsets:

It's a concentrated effort to produce less waste and use more renewable energy. After reduction has reached its limit, or its comfortable threshold, carbon offsets can make up for the rest.

Carbon offsets are a form of trade. When you buy an offset, you fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The projects might restore forests, update power plants and factories or increase the energy efficiency of buildings and transportation. Carbon offsets let you pay to reduce the global GHG total instead of making radical or impossible reductions of your own. GHG emissions mix quickly with the air and, unlike other pollutants, spread around the entire planet. Because of this, it doesn't really matter where GHG reductions take place if fewer emissions enter the atmosphere.

Carbon offsets are voluntary. People and businesses buy them to reduce their carbon footprints or build up their green image. Carbon offsets can counteract specific activities like air travel and driving or events like weddings and conferences.

Some environmentalists doubt the validity and effectiveness of carbon offsets. Because the commercial carbon trade is an emerging market, it's difficult to judge the quality of offset providers and projects. Trees don't always live a full life, sequestration projects (for the long-term containment of emissions) sometimes fail and offset companies occasionally deceive their customers. And voluntary offsets can easily become an excuse to overindulge and not feel guilty about it.

Carbon offsets do, however, raise awareness about lowering the GHG world total.

Carbon Footprints:

Footprints offer clues about where we came from and where we're headed. Their impressions tell us something about the animals that leave them. But while actual footprints offer details on size, weight and speed, carbon footprints measure how much carbon dioxide (CO2) we produce just by going about our daily lives.

A drive to work, a flip of a light switch and a flight out of town all rely on the combustion of fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas. When fossil fuels burn, they emit greenhouse gases like CO2 that contribute to global warming. Ninety-eight percent of atmospheric CO2 comes from the combustion of fossil fuels [source: Energy Information Administration].

People concerned with the environment and global warming usually try to reduce their carbon output by increasing their home's energy efficiency and driving less. Some start by calculating their carbon footprint to set a benchmark -- like a weigh-in before a
diet. A carbon footprint is simply a figure -- usually a monthly or annual total of CO2 output measured in tons.

Most people try to reduce their carbon footprint, but others aim to erase it completely. When people attempt carbon neutrality, they cut their emissions as much as possible and offset the rest.

Some companies have started to include footprints on their labeling. Carbon labels appeal to consumers who understand and monitor their own carbon footprints and want to support products that do the same. The labels estimate the emissions created by producing, packaging, transporting and disposing of a product. The concept is similar to life cycle analyses, the more intricate forerunner of carbon footprints. Life cycle analyses or assessments evaluate all of the potential environmental impacts that a product can have during its existence -- they're a more focused version of a carbon footprint.

But life cycle analyses require teams of researchers who plot and compile data from every aspect of production, transportation and disposal. Personal carbon footprints are less precise but still give a quick, general idea of CO2 output.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Business Model Innovations for Sustainability

Here's a great report about business model innovation launched by SustainAbility - since 1987, a Company that have worked to provide solutions to sustainable business.

Model behalvior
20 Business Model Innovations for Sustainability, Feb 2014

"The idea of business model innovation — that a company could launch a new business model never conceived of before, or transform an existing business model — has long captivated business leaders. Yet, executives are often held back by vested interests in their current approach: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But as global trends — environmental, social, political, technological — continue to shift the foundations of our current business models, incremental innovation will become less effective in enabling companies, industries and whole economies to adapt and succeed. There is an urgent need for fundamentally different approaches to value creation."

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Defining "sustainability"

According to the dictionary:

Sustainable: Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources; capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment.

Yes, but there's more!

The term "sustainable" is often used for environment matters but it's also fundamental for social and economic development.

Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other
requirements of present and future generations.

There are 3 pillars of sustainability: Environmental, social (people) and economic. Another way to look at this is through the concept of the Triple Bottom Line — People, Planet and Profit.

It is the integration between them that will drive
sustainability, highlight opportunities for innovation and reduce duplication of efforts.


There's a 4th pillar that is being integrated in this concept: the cultural pillar - the promotion of human well‐being through enhancing both quality of life and quality of place.

To understand how those pillars are essential for the development of the society, I invite you to read this article:

“Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.” - Environmental Protection Agency

A Sustainable World: Inspiring People to Act

National Geographic explorers Katey Walter, Thomas Culhane, and Jon Waterman discuss how the success of their projects depends upon good communication and relationships with the surrounding community.

-Saving earth starts at home! -Think outside the box! -Find another way to see the world!