Environmental Threats to Us and Mother Earth – Seven Trends to Consider…and Develop Solutions From the Forum for the Future

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

This week we are celebrating Earth Day.  The first (in 1970) observance became a catalyst for action – soon after the first of a series of environmental-focused Federal legislation began to change dirty air to cleaner and then clean, and more laws to address a very unhealthy state of affairs in the U.S.A. (The Environmental Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, RCRA, etc.). 

But…the challenges for society have not gone away. The list of “hot ESG issues” grows by the week. 

Once an ESG issue emerges and people begin to dive into the details, a range of sub-issues arises.  In this corporate proxy season we are seeing top-line issues in focus and the underlying questions that investors have as they bring their resolutions to the companies for inclusion in the broader shareholder-base voting.

Example: Where “political spending” began as a broad issue the investors moved on to ask from where the company money was being spent directly(corporate donations to political party or candidate or PAC) to now, indirectly (is the company’s money going to business industry groups that lobby against shareholder interest – which ones, addressing what issues, how much money?) 

Some environmental challenges of the 1970s are still with us (consider the continuing impact of coal-burning, the state of global plastics disposal, and questions about water treatment such as in animal husbandry and fracking). And more issues are in focus under the huge bundle we refer to as “climate change”.

The evolvement of ESG as an integrated approach for investor evaluation of companies has complicated life for many corporate managers. 

In the recent past, a large-cap would assemble the “top 10” issues list for the management team and their direct reports to address.  For 3M, as example, “highway safety” and related issues under the heading would be high on the list (the company’s important product offerings would be directly impacted by changes). 

Today, that Top 10 list is all about the materiality of the issue(s) for many investors and companies — and how those issues are being measured, managed, how risk is being addressed and opportunities seized — and then reported to stakeholders.

In many large-cap companies a broader-based team will be busily shaping ESG strategy, policy, sustainability team practices and addressing issues-associated risk management on a much wider range of topics and subtopics. 

Timothy McClimon, head of the American Express Foundation, brings us his views on seven global trends – and their relevant issues – that are impacting the sustainability movement today. (You can think about how the seven impact your organization through the 2020s, the focus of the research and perspectives shared.)

He reviews the Forum for the Future’s report in a Forbes commentary.  The report is “Driving Systems Change in Turbulent Times” – with major implications for “how” or even “if” we will be able to address current global “E” challenges.  (Are patterns of behavior, structures or mindsets shifting toward or away from sustainability?)  Consider:

First – the plastics kickback; we continue to produce and then dispose of eight million tons each year with no real change in sight. (We are adding tons of material that will go “somewhere” and have an impact on society.)

Second – Climate change and the impact on mass migration; large parts of the world are becoming less hospitable and more people will try to move to safer places. Mass migrations are ahead. Perhaps as many as 2 billion persons will be affected by climate change and migrating away from their homes.

Third – around the world, Nationalism Marches Again; this is leading to fragmentation, intolerance, competition for fewer resources… complicated by growing inequality and a range of old and new “S” issues.

Fourth – We Live in the “On-Life” – by the end of this year, half of the world’s 7-billion-plus will be online, with issues arising (mental health, social cohesion, personal interaction, privacy and security, and more).

Fifth – The Rise of Participatory Democracy; cities and states lead the way in combating rising levels of protectionism and nationalism, which may usher in a new era of more local decision-making and civic participation.

Sixth – Asia’s Changing Consumerism; China leads the way with India, Japan, South Korea and Thailand close behind in moving more people into middle class status.  But, we are losing our global capacity to sustain them as the pursue the good life.  Millennials may slow the trend in Asia (they’re more conscious consumers).

Seventh – Biodiversity is Now in Freefall; scientists see mass extinction of some plant and animal species and one-fifth of the valuable Amazon rainforest has disappeared. (Something has to give to make room for growing food to meet the needs of the growing Earth population.) Little is being done about this, say the report authors.

How can we meet these global environmental challenges – what principles can be adopted to preserve the good life so many of the citizens of Earth enjoy today?  Some are spelled out in the Top Story for you.

Author Timothy J. McClimon is president of the American Express Foundation and serves on not-for-profit boards. He also teaches at New York University and at Johns Hopkins University.

Click here for more on the Forum for the Future (not for profit).

Each of the 7 trends has a chapter devoted to the issues. 
Click here for the full report.


This Week’s Top Stories

7 Global Trends Impacting The Sustainability Movement   
(Tuesday – April 16, 2019) Source: Forbes – the Forum for the Future advances seven trends that have major implications for how (or if) we will be able to address current global environmental challenges…

Cradle-to-Cradle Case History: Shaw Industries

Guest Commentary by Jennifer Moore – at the Conference Board

Content originally prepared for Certification in Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Strategies – on-line courseware by G&A Institute **

The early 21st century ushered in a new wave of heightened concern about resource scarcity and climate change. Consequently, consumers have been more concerned about the sustainability of the products they purchase and the effects they are having on the environment.

Businesses have also taken on the challenge of incorporating sustainability strategies into their business models. Many more companies are now integrating sustainability practices through product stewardship and their R&D activities.

These companies are focusing on life cycle assessments of their products and are aiming to achieve Cradle-to-Cradle status. As defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Cradle-to- Cradle school of thought is an important branch within the circular economy concept.

Cradle-to-Cradle focuses on products that have a positive impact and reduce the negative impacts on commerce through production efficiency (see footnote 1).

Cradle-to-Cradle and circular economy goes beyond the “reduce, reuse, recycle” campaign of the late Twentieth Century to focus more on the design and production of products, rather than on consumption by the consumer.

The authoritative work, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”,  authored by Michael Braungart and William McDonough called for a new era of production, wherein, companies should be focusing more on “doing more good,” rather than “doing less bad.”

The goal and focus should be on the end of the product’s lifecycle, and whether it will either be safely re-entered into the environment — or be recycled back into production.

Cradle-to-Cradle aims to achieve three things: (1) eliminate the concept of waste, (2) power with renewable energy, and (3) respect human and natural systems. (2)

This concept argues that resource consumption and economic growth should not be isolated from each other. In fact, they often go hand-in-hand. (3)

The private sector is not siloed; it has been highly influenced by the public sector and discussion forums. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), driven by public demand, have advocated for the advancement of a circular economy. The World Economic Forum, Oxfam International and the United Nations in particular have been vocal about transitioning to a circular economy.

Also, the emphasis of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) released in 2016 by the United Nations is on developing a more circular economy and seeking to implement sustainable development across the UN member states. (4)

While the SDGs are driven by politics and protecting human rights, the goals cannot be achieved without businesses and were developed with input from the private sector. There is business value for companies to align their strategy with the SDGs. (5)

Many companies have recognized the benefits of aligning their goals with the SGDs and the relationship between resource consumption and economic growth.

Consumers are now expecting companies to provide products that are eco-friendly and reduce resource waste. According to a survey conducted by Nielsen in 2014, “55 percent of on-line consumers indicated they were willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact, an increase from 50% in 2010 and 45% in 2011.” (6)

The Business Community’s Embrace of Cradle-to-Cradle

Businesses across all industries are now developing their product stewardship products to meet these consumer demands. Companies cite “customer demand for solutions that address global sustainability challenges, such as climate change and resource scarcity” as primary drivers of sustainable product initiatives. (7)

For example, 3M is striving for 40 per cent of their new products to be sustainable and Kimberly-Clark is developing solutions for used diapers. One exemplary model of sustainable product stewardship is Shaw Industries’ dedication to Cradle-to-Cradle.

The Shaw Industry Model

Shaw Industries is the largest producer of carpet tile in North America. While carpet tiles can have a lifespan of 10-to-25 years, commercial owners and tenants often update their facilities more frequently than that to reflect contemporary trends, resulting in a high-waste industry.

Historically, when the time came for flooring to be removed from businesses, schools, retailers, hospitals and other properties – whether for wear-and-tear or aesthetics, it was sent to landfills.

Recognizing the opportunity to create a better solution for customers and to create a product that would help advance toward a more circular economy, Shaw developed EcoWorx-backed carpet tile, which it introduced in 2008 and continues to optimize for sustainability performance.

The world’s first Cradle-to-Cradle Certified carpet tile — EcoWorx — was designed for reuse. To create a carpet tile that could be infinitely recycled with no loss of quality meant removing PVC, phthalates and other chemicals. As a result of its meticulous design process, Shaw understands what’s in its EcoWorx products and, therefore, what’s going into the next generation of its products.

Today, with 16 years and more than 3 billion square feet of EcoWorx installed, Shaw continues to optimize the product’s performance in alignment with Cradle-to-Cradle criteria – material health, material reutilization, energy, water and social responsibility.

Most recently, Shaw worked with one of its suppliers to remove an ingredient from its latex that was added to the list of banned chemicals within version 3 of the Cradle-to-Cradle Certified Products Program Standard.

Further, the company employs sustainable manufacturing practices – making efficient use of materials and natural resources, using alternative and renewable energy sources when possible, and designing and operating its facilities and manufacturing processes in accordance with widely recognized sustainability and safety standards.

It completes the sustainable manufacturing process by delivering its products using the most efficient mode of transportation feasible while meeting customer deadlines.

Shaw has committed itself to embracing Cradle-to-Cradle practices and has lead the way in carpet reclamation in the flooring industry. Today, 65 percent of its products – commercial and residential – are Cradle-to-Cradle Certified, with a goal of designing 100% to Cradle-to-Cradle principles by 2030.

Not only is Shaw committed to upcycling within its own operations, it also looks for opportunities in other industries.

For example, the company converts plastic drink bottles into residential carpet through a joint venture with DAK Americas: The Clear Path Recycling Center in Fayetteville, NC produces 100 million pounds of clear flake each year, recycling approximately three billion plastic drink bottles annually.

Furthermore, in 2016 alone, Shaw supplied more than 200 million pounds of post-industrial waste to other businesses for a variety of recycled content needs. For instance, the wood flour – waste fiber from hardwood flooring operations – is used by a major producer of composite decking and the minimal waste from its resilient manufacturing facility is used to make garden hoses.

The Future for Cradle-to-Cradle in Industry

Today, sustainable leadership companies, like Shaw, can strive to achieve cradle-to-cradle production through the certified program by the Cradle-to-Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

The Institute examines certifiable products in five (5) quality categories – (1) material health, (2) material reutilization, (3) renewable energy and carbon management, (4) water stewardship, and (5) social fairness. (Footnote 8)

Sustainability managers must partner with their design and strategy teams to develop sustainable solutions to the products and services their company offers. Not only are these products essential ecologically and socially, they are also drivers of revenue growth.

If managers are concerned about getting [internal] corporate buy-in to fund ESG R&D, they are able to present the business case of how other companies — especially like Shaw Industries with the illustrations here in this case study — have seen Cradle-to-Cradle’s positive impact on their revenue. (9)

According to The Conference Board, “revenues from sustainable products and services grew at six times the rate of overall company revenues.”

In order to address Earth’s ecological crisis, companies must lead the way by ensuring they are designing eco-friendly products and services that respects the finite resources available on the planet. Sustainability managers can look to Shaw as one company that is leading by example.

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Jennifer Moore is Manager, Executive Programs, Sustainability & EHS at the Conference Board. She engages with senior executives from Fortune 250 companies to understand their needs and help solve their business issues. She oversees and executes all aspects of 15 roundtables per year.

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**  Information about the G&A Institute on-line course:

http://learning.ga-institute.com/courses/course-v1:GovernanceandAccountabilityInstitute+CCRSS+2016/about

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Footnotes:

(1) Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Cradle to Cradle in a Circular Economy – Products and Systems. Retrieved March 5, 2017. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/schools-of-thought/cradle2cradle

(2)  Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Cradle to Cradle in a Circular Economy – Products and Systems. Retrieved March 5, 2017. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/schools-of-thought/cradle2cradle

(3) Strahel, W. (2015). The Performance Economy. Palgrave MacMillan: 2006

(4) United Nations. United Nations Economic and Social Council. Millennium Development Goals and post-2015. Development Agenda. Retrieved March 5, 2017. http://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/about/mdg.shtml.

(5)  Yosie, T. Is There Business Value in the UN Sustainable Development Goals? Retrieved March 5, 2017. http://tcbblogs.org/givingthoughts/2017/02/07/is-there-business-value-in-the-un-sustainable-development-goals/#sthash.L0MLUAN7.xHIHNvHZ.dpbs

(6) Singer, T. Driving Revenue Growth Through Sustainable Products and Services. New York: The Conference Board, 2015. p. 17.

(7) Singer, T. Driving Revenue Growth Through Sustainable Products and Services. New York: The Conference Board, 2015. p. 8.

(8)  C2C Product Certification Overview – Get Certified – Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Retrieved March 5, 2017. http://www.c2ccertified.org/get-certified/product-certification

(9)  Singer, T. Driving Revenue Growth Through Sustainable Products and Services. New York: The Conference Board, 2015. p. 6.

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Attention Boards & CEOs: The Conference Board Has Important Insights to Share To Help Your Company…Survive and Succeed!

by Hank Boerner – Chairman, G&A Institute

The Conference Board is one of the most prestigious and important (for corporate managements) of our membership business associations, as well as credible research think tank on management issues and topics. The Board has long had corporate governance in focus and has been a major factor in helping to advance effective, responsive, accountable governance in the USA.

The Conference Board was one of the early organizations serving boards, C-suite and key functional managers to expand the governance research and advisory services to include social and environmental issues & topics: ESG is on the of the agenda for many aspects of Board operations.

Members of boards and CEOs and C-suite-ers receive Director Notes on key topics and issues with practical advice needed to improve performance and better serve society.

Today’s issue of Director Notes is worthy of close reading — and re-reading — by sustainability professionals: “Navigating the Sustainability Transformation.” The introduction is bold:

“CEOs and Directors making key business decisions regarding the company’s strategy for the year ahead and beyond would be well-advised to change the current boardroom conversation. Driven by factors tied to sustainability, over the next 15 years, every company in every industry sector will need to transform itself to survive and succeed. Board members, CEOs and he executives advising them need to ask: “How should we plan for this major transformation?” (emphasis mine)

The report describes a four-stage model for companies to progress from engaging initially with sustainability to accelerating, leading, and ultimately transforming their business.”

Addressing the practical aspects of corporate sustainability (board style), the report focuses attention on a host of corporations that are embracing sustainable strategies, actions, programs, engagements.  These include “new brands” such as Airbnb, Google, Tesla, and Uber — all of which have disrupted old business models and achieved leadership – fast! — in their categories (Airbnb vs. the hotel business, Tesla vs. old line auto manufacturers, etc.).

Established companies — some dating back a century or more — are featured in the report, with explanations of how they have achieved success (and frankly, heartily survived) in a business environment (and investment mindset) where disruption is prized over proven models.  These old-line companies have succeeded by being transformation, often disrupting their own cash cows!

Examples include:  3M; General Electric (with its Eco-magination); BMW; DuPont; Dow; Unilever; Michelin; HP; SC Johnson; Nike; Kimberly Clark; McDonalds; Wal-mart Stores; Starbucks; NRG Energy; Newmont Mining; Coca-Cola Company; IKEA; Interface; Sony; BT; Tesco; Azko Nobel; Xcel Energy; and Waste Management;.

Waste Management’s transformation from a traditional waste hauler to strategy and service provider to corporate customers is one highlight of the report.

Sustainability professionals will want to read The Conference Board report’ views on the 4 stages of progression for companies. I think this could become a top-of-agenda discussion in board rooms and C-suites in the weeks ahead.

The stages are (1) engagement with sustainability; (2) accelerating progress; (3) leading (sector, industry, peers, etc); (4) transforming.  There are many companies at stages 1 and 2, a few moving on to 3, and very few to point to as stage 4 (yet).  Many companies exhibit characteristics of stages 1 and 2 — these are examples in the report.

Moving into the transformation stage is challenging, of course. Given the dramatic upheaval in so many businesses, in such a short period of time, will make looking ahead 10 or 15 years to the critical period to 2030 and beyond…daunting, for sure.

But there are practical, realistic things going on in our world that make such exercise ( closely examining where your company is in the 4 stages of sustainability) necessary.  Natural resources (“natural capital to many) grows more scarce in many parts of the world.  It looks like there will be stranded assets on many corporate balance sheets (and in investment portfolios) as we shift away from fossil fuels. (We won’t always have plentiful, easy-to-access USD$48 crude oil available!)

The Conference Board report found a few examples of what could pass for stage 4 companies: “Few companies today are solidly at 4, but a growing number of leaders have one or more stage 4 attributes.  Airbnb, Google and Uber are ‘sharing economy’ companies; DuPont, Novelis, Unilever, and Waste Management are examples of long-established enterprises…”:

The 4-Stage Model is explained in the report.  We can see this having a powerful impact, similar to Professor Michael Porter’s work with Mark Kramer: “Creating Shared Value” (Harvard Business Review, January 2011).

the Conference Board makes the report(s) available for your reading — information is at:  https://www.conference-board.org/publications/publicationdetail.cfm?publicationid=2885

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The Director Notes are a series of publications the Board engages experts from various disciplines to contribute to, including experts in leadership, corporate governance, risk oversight, and sustainability.

The current issue was authored by Gilbert (Gib) Hedstrom, principal of Hedstrom Associates.  Content includes excerpts from his coming book, “The Sustainability Scorecard TM Handbook/”  Hedstrom is director of the Conference Board’s Sustainability Council.  He invited me to be guest presenter on corporate sustainability reporting and related topics at a recent Council meeting in Washington, D.C.

Matteo Tonello is managing director for corporate governance at The Conference Board; he is editor of the Director Notes series.

Melissa Aguilar is a researcher in the corporate leadership department of the board and is executive editor of the series.

Conference Board information is at: http://www.conference-board.org/