The Sustainability Imperative

As organizations struggle to define a strategy that balances purpose and profit, opportunities are increasingly emerging to take the lead in sustainability initiatives. Front-line advances in areas such as net-zero emissions, AI-powered solutions for the underserved, precision agriculture, digital healthcare, and more are delivering business benefits, while simultaneously contributing to the realization of the UN’s 17 SDGs. We provide the expert thinking, debate, and guidance to help your organization reposition and transform in the era of sustainability.

Subscribe to the Sustainability Advisor

Recently Published

Himanshu Shekhar suggests a framework of “aligning with macro and accomplishing in micro” for controlled and sustainable future growth. Many businesses operate on the assumption that resources like clean air, water, and predictable weather are freely provided by nature. However, the planetary boundaries framework vividly shows that natural systems are limited in their capacity to provide these natural resources and ecosystem services. The combined impact of business activity is exceeding the limits on many of these systems. Businesses must update their assumptions about what nature provides “for free” and act to address growing scarcity concerns.
Saeed Rahman, Natalie Slawinski, and Monika Winn examine how pioneering companies in agriculture, agri-food, and other sectors can build and leverage ecological knowledge (knowledge about the very ecosystems they rely on) to develop innovative practices that help regenerate social and natural systems. In doing so, these companies can reap benefits for their business and help turn our unsustainable agricultural systems into systems that sustain a growing human population without severely degrading or destroying ecological systems necessary for agriculture and other industries.
P.J. Stephenson and Judith Walls call for a “new biodiversity paradigm for business.” They show that current corporate guidelines for engaging on biodiversity are inconsistent and confusing, leaving companies unable to manage nature-based risks, capture nature-based opportunities, and prevent disruptive climate change. To correct these inconsistencies, they identify fundamental issues that businesses and other actors must resolve in the links between market systems and the nature systems that generate biodiversity.
This issue explores how to make needed changes happen by examining three systems change topics. First, how can we use the linkages between environmental and economic systems to change market structure and, consequently, how actors compete? Second, how do we redefine waste to alter how market actors impact the natural environment through producing and disposing of materials? Third, what system changes can we accomplish through innovation or by using technologies like IT, artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain to address unsustainable practices?
The right hemi­sphere of the metaphoric brain of firms will track and reflect changes in its employees’ brains, so firms must introduce new practices requiring mastery of the right hemisphere. As that shift occurs, the negative conse­quences of the firm’s actions should begin to abate.
In this Executive Update, we explore taking a process perspective to show how concepts such as sustainability and the circular economy look in the physical world. Making these concepts concrete reveals a singular criterion for achieving a circular economy: every output generated by every process should have a consumer who uses it productively. This criterion provides managers with actionable steps and ways to measure their organization’s progress toward sustainability.
Material desires instigate purchases intended to bolster significance, which fosters increased materialism. Purchases increase GDP, which creates jobs and financial well-being and facilitates more purchases. Increased production to raise GDP uses carbon-based resources and further depletes them. This interdependence has locked society into what psychologists call a “social trap,” in which the pursuit of short-term individual gains leads to a loss for the group as a whole in the long run.
Helen Chen brings our focus on process and mechanisms to the domain of market-based social activism (MbSA), in which a business seeks to align its activities with moral principles to drive positive change at the society scale. Chen presents the Pyramid of Forces for Good framework that can be used to better organize MbSA to develop a “market for virtue” in which morally sound business activities outcompete those that are morally questionable. A market for virtue applied to green performance is based on three building blocks: (1) valid and reliable green-performance measurement, (2) fair and equitable green-performance valuation, and (3) efficient and scalable green-value apportionment. Establishing a market for virtue would make green practices economically profitable, fundamentally changing the economic system that currently makes unsustainable practices more economically profitable than green practices.