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Full day, full brain.

I spent today listening to and tweeting about Sustainability progress from leaders representing FedEx, Patagonia, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Campbell Soup, Abbott, Human Rights Watch and others at Ethical Corporation’s Responsible Business Summit USA conference in New York City.

We talked about the approaches and actions organizations are taking to measure their impact on the earth: tipping points and pressures, risks and opportunities, and thinking long-term in a quarterly dividend world.

A highlight for me today was hearing Bennett Freeman of Calvert Investments say, “Integrated reporting is coming.” Not today or tomorrow, he said to me, but his team has a “solid toehold” on models to integrate corporate responsibility measures with financial reports. So now the challenge shifts to scaling up and creating an environment where integrated reporting becomes pro forma. Investors will expect corporations to provide this richer, more complete picture of their company’s performance in the regular course of business.

Cristina Amorim from Life Technologies gave a tremendous presentation on the results her team has achieved with an all-in aggressive effort to streamline her company’s environmental footprint. The biotech tools company has transformed the traditional linear “take-make-waste” paradigm into a circular lifecycle of reduce, reuse, reclaim, recycle and recreate. Go steal ideas from Life Technologies’ award-winning Sustainability initiatives.

Considering her program’s emphasis on exact measurement and quantifiable results, it caught me off guard when Christina said that Zero Waste  doesn’t mean “no waste at all.” Rather than an absolute, Zero Waste is an aspirational goal that is generally accepted by her industry peers as 90 percent diversion from the waste stream.

In this case, ninety percent represents the very best that can be done without creating new problems.

That’s a truth worth keeping in mind.

Considering the overwhelming environmental, social and economic challenges facing the world,  we can’t afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

After all, doing the very best possible for all concerned is what drives Sustainable Business.

As Ray Anderson put it, “Doing well by doing good.”

There are none so blind as will not see.

A colleague in the Sustainability arena shared Gro Harlem Brundtland’s June 18 op-ed piece called “Earth Agonistes.”

Twenty-five years ago, she chaired the 1987 ground-breaking UN Brundtland Commission that created the Our Common Future report and brought Sustainable Development into global conversation.

Today, the op-ed’s title jumped out with its call-back to “Samson Agonistes,” John Milton’s later-life tragic play about the Greek hero who lost his way, his hair, his sight, and ultimately his life.

The word Agonistes means “One Who Struggles” or “Under Struggle.” But for modern readers who may not be familiar with the play, the word Agony serves the purpose.

Earth, in agony.

Unless we change now and start seeing things as they are.

We must choose to see the scientific truths of human-caused climate change and act decisively.

Via nytimes.com:

Earth Agonistes

Our central concern is that governments are currently refusing to make the transformative changes needed to resolve the global sustainability crisis.

The scientific evidence is clear that the environmental dangers are rising quickly. Based on current trends, we are likely to move toward a world warmer by 3 degrees, and we may well cross tipping points with potentially catastrophic consequences.

We are the first generation with scientific understanding of the new global risks facing humanity. We must respond decisively, equipped with the best available evidence as a basis for decisions.

What does front-and-center Sustainability look like?

Ford.

Via Greenbiz.com:

New Ford focus? Automaker says sustainability is Job One

The company’s global director of sustainability and vehicle environmental matters, John Viera, tells GreenBiz the issue of sustainability “has moved from the periphery to the center of our strategy for succeeding in the marketplace and helping to address global challenges.We understand that business practices focused on energy efficiency, sustainable materials, human rights and consumer safety are the key to the continued growth of our company and quality of life worldwide.”

This bold declaration for the future embraces a today-and-tomorrow strategy by making traditional fuel engines more efficient while also innovating new  electric technologies.

I’ll be following closely to see how pronouncements match up with reality.

 

 

 

Back to work.

While the UN’s conference on Sustainable Development failed to meet hoped-for progress on climate change, renewable energy, global economic disparities and human rights, the conference was not wholly without bright spots.

This Sustainable Business Forum post outlines some of  the positive outcomes, including progress on Sustainability reporting, high-visibility corporate commitments, and momentum towards sustainable business development goals.

And a few more from Environmental Leader: the Maldives will convert the whole country to a marine preserve and the UK announced mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reporting.

One thing’s for certain. There’s going to be a need for highly trained professionals to get these things done.

Via Huffingtonpost.com:

The Transition to a Sustainable Economy May Happen Without the U.S. Federal Government

Here at Columbia University’s Earth Institute we have over 100 people with doctorates studying every aspect of the climate problem. Wally Broecker, Mark Cane, Jim Hansen and scores of their colleagues have been working on these issues for decades. While the factual reality of their research seems to elude Mitt Romney and his politico pals these days, facts remain facts. It would be helpful if American national public policy and our elected officials could play a leadership role in moving the planet to a more sustainable path, but it has become clear that we will need to look elsewhere to address these issues.

The transition to a renewable, sustainable economy is underway; maybe not in Washington, but pretty much everywhere else.

Rio+20 ended today.

Read The Guardian’s coverage on how and why the conference was such a disappointment to so many.

The final The Future We Want outcomes document shows few solid, significant commitments.

And that despite months of review and negotiations at pre-conference events.

For months, the outcomes document negotiations were plagued by parenthetical “nopes” and “can’ts”  and “won’ts.”

So it really wasn’t that much of a surprise.

(To see how partisan and political interests worked in action, read this Treehugger post on how women’s reproductive rights were essentially scrubbed from the document.)

An on-the-ground wrap-up:

Via treehugger.com:

Rio+20 Ending: Saying Goodbye to All That

Thinking about going to Riocentro, I checked my e-mail when a Wi-fi signal miraculously appeared and saw a press conference call: “‘Inclusive’ Green Economy Given a Go Ahead by Heads of State at Rio+20,” “New Indicator of Wealth Beyond GDP.” Those were good headlines. But then the words: “if embraced over the coming months and years,” “nations agreed that such a transition could be ‘an important tool’ when supported by policies,” “nations wishing to forge ahead.” The inverted commas on Inclusive and An important tool are not mine.

It stopped being funny to criticize this. To think about the amount of money spent in business class flights and five star hotel rooms and silver lining at dinners and venues rental and flyers to make this happen is simply depressing, and is a waste that exactly contradicts everything this conference should stand for.

And another wrap-up post, with some excellent links to other summations. Well worth clicking through beyond the amusingly sarcastic first paragraph:.

Via sustainablebusinessforum.com:

Rio+20: The Future We Want

Rio+20 is done and dusted. And the wrap-up? If the future we want is anything like the 49 page document of the same name compiled by Summit leaders, it’s full of fluffy bunnies, rainbows and birthday parties. In other words, a whole lot of ephemeral motherhood statements and not much substance.

Tchau, Rio.

Sometimes you have to go back to go forward.

With few solid promises expected from the Rio+20 main stage, let’s look instead at a Side Event report that picks up the energy from the 2000 Millennium Summit.

Remember 2000? The world’s leaders came together at the “dawn of a new millennium” and vowed to end poverty by 2015.

Here’s the inspiring original United Nations Millennium Declaration.

And how the environment fared:

Respect for nature. Prudence must be shown in the management of all living species and natural resources, in accordance with the precepts of sustainable development. Only in this way can the immeasurable riches provided to us by nature be preserved and passed on to our descendants. The current unsustainable patterns of production and consumption must be changed in the interest of our future welfare and that of our descendants.

Elsewhere: to “intensify,” “strive,” and “spare no effort.” I like that.

(To properly frame this positive momentum, the September Millennium summit was held two months before the U.S. Presidential election, and three months before the U.S. Supreme Court handed the election to G.W. Bush. It was probably the worst-year ever for Vice President Al Gore and a huge thud of dismay for millions. “An Inconvenient Truth” was still six years away.)

Now, where was I? Right. 2012 edition.

Via GreenLaw, with thanks:

Global Environment Outlook: Environment for the future we want

The United Nations Environment Programme recently released its fifth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5), a report on world progress towards the environmental aspects of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For those who lack the time to absorb all 525 pages of the report, UNEP provided a shorter trending report, Measuring Progress, which uses approachable charts and succinct text to show the state of global environmental goals (GEGs). The report was featured at a Rio+20 side event last week, and UNEP created a briefing document for policymakers.

The new Global Environmental Outlook offers scant really good news, scarcer great news. But it does show progress towards the environment–and future–we want.

As GreenLaw author and Pace University dean Lin Harmon recommends, it’s a worthwhile read.

So most people writing today think that Rio+20 will be long on talk, short on solutions.

Sigh. I still wish I were there.

Here’s the most final-final version of the Rio+20  negotiated text document for conference outcomes.

As one who has often endured the seven hells of the corporate iterative editing process, this could not have been any fun.

Via Grist.org and author Matt McDermott:

Rio+20 Final Draft Text Recognizes Our Problem, Proposes Scant Few Concrete Solutions

After going through all 283 points of the document my initial impression is that the whole thing correctly “recognizes” the problems—or “acknowledges,” or “notes” them—but does precious little to actually lay down concrete actions to solve them, or even, really, attempt to meaningfully change the underlying economic, social, and environmental thinking that has gotten us to this point.

Still, pathological optimist that I am, I’m positive good will come of it. Perhaps from here?

That didn’t take long. Here you go.

So what are we to make of this?

Amid feverish Trenton negotiations that the solar sky is falling, NJ’s first-quarter 2012 solar installation numbers look great.

As in leading-the-nation great.

Via the 1Q2012  Solar Energy Industries Association website and Report: (click for bigger)

1Q2012 U.S. Solar Installs

 

As usual, Tom Johnson does a stellar job of framing the issues and laying out competing stakeholder viewpoints.

Via NJSpotlight.com:

Solar In NJ Not So Dim After All, As Installations Boom
More than 18,000 solar systems came on line in the first three months of the year, the report said, or a total of 506 megawatts in the U.S. It marked the second highest quarter ever in the U.S., according to the study.

New Jersey installed a total of 174 megawatts of solar systems in the first quarter of 2012, or nearly one-third of the total arrays put in across the country, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight, a publication put out by the Solar Energy Industries Association, an industry trade group.

All right then, so how does this party square with plummeting SREC prices?

Two things.

One, the 1Q2012 installs represent the fulfillment of 2011 orders and long-term contracts.

And two:

Costs to install solar continue to drop, falling by an overall average of 17.2 percent nationwide, although solar executives said the decline in New Jersey is more in the range of 30 percent because of the intense competition here.

Demand is driving innovation, which should be music to the ears of legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Happy Summer Solstice. Hot enough for you?

With temps soaring into the 90s for the next few days on the U.S. eastern seaboard, let’s look at a new TEDx video* by Dave Roberts of Grist.org.

This sharable, linkable, discussable video & blog post lays out the facts simply and clearly.

Via Grist.org:

Climate Change is Simple

We do something or we’re screwed.

Since money talks, I like Dave’s penultimate slide:

Every year of delay adds $500 billion to the investment required.

This figure is from the IEA as well, but again, the specifics aren’t as important as the structure of the problem. Delay raises the inevitable costs. Solutions are “expensive,” but not nearly as expensive as inaction.

There’s no time to waste.

*I highly recommend all the TEDx videos from this April 16, 2012 event.

 

 

Not attending this week’s Rio+20 UN Sustainable Development conference?

Me either.

So I was especially glad to attend the June 15 Institute for Sustainable Enterprise breakfast seminar at Fairleigh Dickinson University for an informative, engaging conversation with three speakers about what’s happening in Rio and the likely outcomes from it.

The Rio+20 conference brings together participants from government, business and civil society worldwide. The goal is to create “The Future we Want” through building green economies and eliminating world poverty.

Host and ISE Senior Advisor Jeana Wirtenberg welcomed the full  room of attendees by saying that “we have an historic opportunity to get it right” and asking the room to commit to Sustainable action in our personal and work lives.

First up was Ira Feldman, president of Greentrack Strategies. He gave an overview of  what Rio+20 is all about and what key stakeholders bring to the table.

He cited three key reasons UN-watchers and the Sustainable Business community have generally low expectations for this year’s event, compared to the inaugural Sustainable Development conference 20 years ago in Rio and the follow-up meeting he attended 10 years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa. These reasons are: the world’s gloomy economic state, the slow and noncommittal progress pre-conference on the policy-oriented Negotiated Outcome Document, and a sense from business and industry participants of weak governmental leadership.

Ira aptly described the challenge of concurrent policy negotiations, 560 side events (which he likened to a World’s Fair), and protests, all packed into three days, as a three-ring circus. The challenge, he said, “Is how do you think about all the Sustainability issues, what is the mental map, with everything in play?”

As a partial answer to this question, Ira explained how Sustainability has evolved in the past 20 years from philanthropic action to a core business strategy, and is now poised to transform into “Sustainability to Scale.” (Ira referenced the World Business Council for Sustainable Development‘s work on this idea.)

Realistically, Ira said, conference outcomes will include negotiated and specific language on GDP alternatives that will be used to guide future discussions.

Next up to speak was Amanda Nesheiwat, who will attend the Rio+20 conference as a UN Youth Delegate representing young people. (Her other hats include being a student representative for the Foundation for Post Conflict Development and a founder of the NJ Sustainable Collegiate Partners.) During pre-conference negotiations at the UN, she said one of her frustrations was repeatedly hearing the words”We cannot commit to…” from delegates.

In Rio, she said she will bring the youth’s perspective that world leaders must move beyond short-term thinking and lack of creativity, commit to “more action, less talking,” and move on Climate Change. I have no doubt she will be a powerful, insistent voice for change in Rio and continue this work when she returns home.

(As a side note, I found it refreshing that Amanda mentioned the need for creating and living with “sustainable consumption.” I personally believe that Sustainability means using less as well as using the world’s resources more efficiently.)

ISE Research Fellow Bill Russell capped the presentations with his thoughts on engaging citizens to meaningful action. He talked about attending the March 2012 Citizens’ Summit to Address Sustainability held at Yale University and his dismay at seeing Old Guard Thinking on stage instead of new participants with new ideas. Bill echoed the low expectations for Rio+20, offering his viewpoint that dominant government players are not working interdependently with business, NGO and citizen stakeholders. His call-to-action for himself and breakfast seminar attendees was to commit to staying engaged.

In the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations, ISE Fellow Matt Polsky touched on Sustainable Business in New Jersey with a reminder about the 2010 policy brief prepared by ISE for the Christie Administration called Developing and Implementing a Sustainable Growth Strategy for New Jersey.

The event ended on a positive note with audience contributions about restoring  equity to the Sustainability conversation; the emergence of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) and sustainable accounting; the work of ecological economist Herman Daly; and innovation as a new mindset.

I was extremely sorry to miss the post-seminar roundtable discussion. Thanks to the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise for hosting this year’s breakfast seminars and I look forward to the series’ return in the fall.