There are 4 reasons why we are unsustainable as a society and in this Alexandre Magnin examines the root causes of unsustainability based on based on science, cycles of nature and social issues.
It’s safe to say we all agree that green efforts in any industry should be applauded and the same is true when it comes to finance. But while a desire for green finance continues to grow worldwide, how can investors and issuers best identify and evaluate risk when the industry has no standards?
It’s clear that the industry is seeing major growth. In 2017 the issuance of labeled green bonds (PDF) jumped to nearly $160 billion and the self-labeled U.S. green bond market more than doubled, powered by a mix of municipalities, states and large corporations. But as these new and innovative financing options are being established, it seems increasingly important that some mandatory standards be created to guide those working in the industry.
Standards in the world of green finance would be beneficial for both investors and for issuers. For investors who are building their green portfolios and need assurances of best practice and reliable ways to monitor the quality of green instruments — regardless of which geographies or industries they invest in — a sense of best practices and who is meeting them would clearly help with decision making. When it comes to issuers, common standards would clarify options in terms of issuance while also ensuring that deals are being appropriately structured and reaching the right investors for each project.
Standardization also serves to enable innovation because it establishes a level playing field. While ING was first to issue a sustainability rating-linked loan, they have since observed that other banks have embraced different set-ups. Five years ago, Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) and the International Capital Markets Association (ICMA) both set out to establish a voluntary set of guiding principles for participants.
The framework from both organizations was focused on the process that needed to be followed when issuing green bonds: how issuers should describe the allocation of proceeds to investors; how a second opinion should be obtained; and how they should set about reporting in a transparent way.
And as a way to help kick-start the market, these served as helpful principles that could reassure investors and facilitate the uptake of green bonds, without being overly prescriptive about the use of the finance.
But the market has greatly expanded since 2013 and questions related to the use of green bond proceeds — their so-called "content" — have inevitably arisen: Which projects will qualify in specific sectors? Where should the boundaries be set? Where should classifications lean towards green or social bonds?
While CBI and ICMA with the input of other banks and stakeholders have continuously refined their earlier standards, the fact that the principles remain voluntary means that issuers do not need to follow them. On the flip side, if the standards around the industry become too settled, it will be difficult for the market to support the wide range of investor who would like to participate.
Who are these investors? Well the green finance industry has groups coming from varying green backgrounds, including investors with dedicated mandates for green bonds, investors with diversified portfolios that include pockets of green, and investors who find green bonds attractive but don’t have a dedicated mandate in place.
Because of their varying levels of commitment to being green, the investors might have different standards. Those with a dedicated green mandate are going to put potential issuers under much higher scrutiny than others.
And this is where there is a fine line to maintain between what investors want and expect, and what issuers want and need. It’s simply a fact that different industries are moving at different speeds when it comes to sustainability and different industries will face distinct challenges along the way. Within the investor community, there are a range of perceptions about standards and the various investment opportunities available.
Chief executive of the Loan Market Association, Clare Dawson, summed up the need for green finance standards perfectly, "With any new market, establishing a general framework for the product such as the Green Loan Principles (GLPs), which we recently launched, is beneficial as it helps create a common understanding of what people are looking at. We will be seeking to develop the GLP further to accommodate a wider range of loan structures, including revolving credit facilities, to maximize the number of borrowers able to take out green loans."
While issuers and investors have managed admirably with a voluntary patchwork of existing guidelines this far, a fresh set of commonly adopted standards will be the key to allowing green markets to expand. If these standards put the emphasis on process over content, it should create better conditions for green markets to thrive in future. And that’s great news for everyone.
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Convincing employees to work hard and work well is a millennia-old management challenge. Hundreds of studies point to proven motivational tactics, such as goal setting, feedback, and incentives, but all of these tactics can (and will) backfire.
“Chances are that you (at least sometimes) are using the wrong tools under the wrong circumstances,” writes Juliana Schroeder, a behavioral economist and psychologist.
Using feedback effectively
- Use positive feedback to enhance personal commitment. For example, if you’re ramping up the arduous data collection process that goes along with a complex, detailed life-cycle assessment, that’s when you want to use encouraging words. We can do this!
- Use negative feedback when you’re nearing the finish line. So data collection starts off well with everyone ready to get going and get the project done, but you get into a lull midway as the engineers and logistics folks are tired of taking your calls, that’s when you might want to roll out some stern warnings about being a team player and calling your supervisor.
“Typically, a shorter distance between you and your goal is more motivating than a longer one,” writes Schroeder. “It feels within reach, and it’s easier to feel that you’re making progress. This means people should set closer targets or sub-goals.”
Using the same example from above, don’t kick off your LCA talking about the mountains of data we shall climb, instead map out with a consultant who has experience with LCA reporting a reasonable set of milestones for data collection inside of various processes identified. And when you see a big knot to untangle, break it into smaller pieces and set goals based on achieving the sub-goals.
“Focusing on the least amount of distance—either from the start or from the end of your project— is more motivating,” said Schroeder.
This means, don’t look up when you’re at the bottom, and don’t look down when you’re at the top.
Focus on the middle stages
“Research has found that people are more likely to slack off or behave unethically around the middle of a project,” said Schroeder.
Take this into consideration when project planning. If your team can quickly identify what the onerous parts of the job will be, and take on those early wince folks will still be motivated to perform well. In the middle, focus on the low-hanging fruit, like collecting the utility or transportation data or info you can get from third party vendors. If big obstacles pop up in the middle, try and work around them and save them to the end to tap into the motivation folks feel right as a project is wrapping up.
If your company has the structure to provide incentives, don’t hesitate to use them. But don't go overboard.
“People will work harder for incentives they can get sooner—even if they are smaller than those they would get after waiting longer. The lesson here is simple: To motivate people, use immediate incentives,” said Schroeder.
If a team has a goal, structure small incentives for the manager or team member that help validate the hard work put in. Consider an extra day off for completing the work on time or a group luncheon after every major milestone.
“People also seem to value intrinsic incentives more when they are in the middle of pursuing a goal than when they have not yet started,” said Schroeder.
When working on sustainability projects, help frame the work in terms of the intrinsic benefits to the team members, to the company, and to company strategy focused on reducing environmental impact. Ideally this will already be a part of the company’s strategic plan, but capitalize on the feeling that employees have when they can take pride in working on a project that goes beyond the bottom line.
Selecting motivational tools can be complicated, especially keeping them fresh and appealing to meet the changing needs of employees. But, if you haven’t yet taken a strategic look at motivation, now is a great time to start.
Need to launch a life-cycle assessment or carbon footprint in 2018? We can guide you through the process and help keep your team motivated along the way.
Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites:
Andrew Dent is hitting all the right notes in this talk about reducing our waste creation. Dent believes there should be no such thing as throwing things away because no matter what it is — used take out containers, broken toys or an old pair of undies — it inevitably ends up in a landfill if we dump it. It’s time to get smarter about the way we make, and remake, products. Dent’s focus is centered on the idea of thrifting, basically avoiding the purchase of anything new. His talk also explores advances in material science, like electronics made of nanocellulose and enzymes, which can help make plastic infinitely recyclable.
In this white paper from GreenBiz, you can learn more about how Facility Managers are prioritizing energy, water, and waste efficiency initiatives in response to current market conditions.
Key sustainability findings from surveyed facilities professionals and market insights on topics including: How Facility Professionals are Utilizing Energy Data to Drive Low/No Cost Efficiency Initiatives; The Role of Right-Sizing and Right-Streaming in Driving Toward Waste Reduction Goals; Go-to Strategies for Water Conservation and more.
When it comes to sustainability, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to focus on making choices that benefit the community if you don’t actually care about the people in it. So the recent announcement by Hershey that it will be launching a Shared Goodness Program aiming to make a positive impact on people’s lives, while also meeting the demands of customers and investors, is admirable.
Here’s the thing, anyone can talk the talk, but when companies show that they can actually walk the walk it’s a call for other major corporations (and smaller businesses, too) to take note that focusing on people over profit can work.
“[We] believe – and prove – that you can be a fierce competitor in the market while operating in a compassionate way…,” said Michele Buck, Hershey’s CEO. With the Shared Goodness Promise, the company pledges to be successful in a way that makes a positive difference.
This desire to improve sustainability isn’t simply driven by wanting to be a good corporate citizen, it is also inspired by other needs such changing consumer preferences in terms of help AND sustainable knowledge. Transparency toward supply chains, packaging and responsibly sourced ingredients are also motivating companies to adjust their methods. For example, Hershey is reimagining some of its core snacks while also working to use more sustainably sourced ingredients – such as cocoa, palm oil, sugar and coconut – and providing consumers with more information by utilizing QR codes on their packaging.
And Hershey is not alone. A recent post from GreenBiz highlighted the ways in which General Mills, McDonalds and Kering are also setting credible, courageous sustainability goals.
Making bold choices when it comes to sustainability goals is not only a wise business strategy, but also a positive stewardship policy. And there are a lot of ways that businesses can move toward making more sustainable choices.
While many companies have been focused on establishing SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based), Jon Dettling the US Director for Quantis, believes that the corporate world should re-evaluate this process and instead creating SMARTER goals (Science-based, Moving the pack, Ambitious, Relevant, Timely, Earth-bound and Reaching out).
Dettling believes that meaningful sustainability goals shouldn’t be focused simply on the individual companies, but also all the partner organizations that they do work with. That means inspiring your suppliers and clients to make changes, too.
McDonald’s announced its first science-based target this year, covering restaurants, offices and supply chain. The commitment covers franchisees, which account for the bulk of McDonald’s-branded restaurants. Since McDonald’s doesn’t produce goods, they can only achieve these goals by working with supply chain partners.
General Mills’ Jeff Hanratty said, "It’s scary to share a goal with someone, and in the same sentence tell them you’re not sure how you’re going to achieve it. But this is science. We didn’t pull it out of the air, it’s what Mother Nature needs from us."
Scientific understanding and data evolve and can be relatively fluid, which means targets must be as too. McDonald’s Rachael Sherman agreed, noting that once people understand the concept, they are much more comfortable with shifting goals.
As big businesses start to embrace these sustainable movements and encourage their partner organizations to do the same, it’s a powerful opportunity to inspire other companies to make meaningful changes to the way they operate. It’s not just about saving money, it’s also about saving the world around us.
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According to a recent press release by the Environmental Business Journal (EBJ), the U.S. environmental industry grew 3.9% in 2014. Although the data will take another 10 months to come together for 2015, it’s fairly safe to say the sector saw growth again last year as the economy held steady.
EBJ reports on 14 business segments divided into three categories, all three categories showing upward trends in 2014.
The largest single growth area in 2014 was a double-digit gain in environmental software and information systems.
The industry has seen many environmental, health, safety and sustainability software vendors disappear as quickly as they appear, but every industry sees the tech start-up side get red hot, cool off, and heat up again.
With evolving needs, evolving science, and evolving technology capabilities, it is not at all surprising that many start-ups struggle in this field.
Complicating matters is the fact that many of the customers that a software company in the environmental software and information systems field would need to acquire aren’t fluent in what they actually need to purchase (or how to use it).
Environmental reporting and data management systems are a lot like complicated legal matters or the tax code: companies likely need a specialist, and we haven’t reached a tipping point in the business community where enough companies have specialists.
Companies might buy a software license from a promising start-up with good software, yet not know how to actually collect the appropriate data and end up not using the tool to its potential. By the time they’ve got the team in place and are ready to ramp up, the software tool they’ve purchased needs an expensive upgrade because of changes in the science, regulations, or standards of sustainability reporting. You can see how the CEO might balk on a second wave of investment when the first wasn’t a huge success.
It’s not that start-ups are struggling in a silo, it’s more likely that we just haven’t reached a critical mass of companies with the in-house resources that can gain maximum value from a well-built environmental software tool. Combine that with a standard of reporting that itself is a moving target, and it is really difficult to gain traction as a environmental software company.
If you know your company is ready to do begin sustainability reporting, but don’t have the in-house team to manage the software tools on the market, contact us. We work with leading software programs for tracking and reporting on environmental data, and help companies determine what might will for them.
In a world that seems more divided with every passing day, the thought of finding a way to minimize conflict is incredibly appealing.
In the recently published Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? MIT scientists Henry Lieberman and Christopher Fry examine why there are wars, mass poverty and other social ills. Their main thesis is that our world is oversaturated with a competitive spirit and this is holding people back from cooperating and working toward solutions to the world’s major problems. But the authors also believe they have found a possible way to turn everything around — by using modern technology to address the root of the problem.
Lieberman and Frye believe that scarcity drives the world’s competition, but thanks to recent technological advances — think 3D printing and artificial intelligence — widespread scarcity could come to an end.
If so, a post-scarcity world, premised on cooperation, would emerge. Sure it sounds great, but is it actually possible?
Unfortunately we believe there are a few issues that make this concept infeasible. While new technologies can be incredibly beneficial in many ways, they are usually only available to consumers as finished products that must be exchanged for money. Lieberman and Fry’s principle ignores the fact that many of these technologies exist at the expense of other humans and environments in our global economy. The intuitive belief that technology can manifest from money alone, anthropologists tell us, is a culturally rooted notion that ignores the fact that the scarcity experienced by some is linked to the abundance enjoyed only by a few.
We have had a few decades to experience some pretty dramatic technological advances and during this time it has become clear that super-efficient technologies typically encourage an increased use of raw materials and energy, not a reduction in them. Data on the global use of energy and raw materials indicate that absolute efficiency has never occurred: both global energy use and global material use have increased threefold since the 1970s. Therefore, efficiency is better understood as a rearranging of resources expenditures, such that efficiency improvements in one end of the world economy increase resource expenditures in the other end.
So if we aren’t on the verge of solving the problem of our competitive society, what are the next steps we need to take in order to improve the way we take care of the global economy and the natural world?
Within each of us are two “beings:” the self-interested being that has been programmed to maximize profit and the more altruistic being who loves to communicate, work for the betterment of others and share. As Lieberman and Fry highlight, our current society is geared toward the first being and our idea of a good life is centered on monetary power. But for the betterment of all society — and our natural resources — we have to move toward the power of our inner altruist.
When it comes to this focus on technology as a way to connect in this global economy, companies need to make a better effort to recognize the environmental cost of technology. Our “digital society” is based on a material- and energy-intensive infrastructure and we must work toward minimizing the negative impacts on the lives of current and future generations by unwittingly encouraging serious environmental instability and associated social problems.
And as more interconnected commons-based businesses continue to emerge around the world, we can work to creating new forms of businesses that empower individuals. As members of this global community it is vital that we become more aware of how the abundance of some is dependent on the work of others, as well as the stability of our natural environments.
While our solutions might not be the same as Lieberman and Fry, we are heartened to think that many among us want to figure out a way to live in a less competitive, more inclusive society. It’s clear that we are connected with our fellow citizens of earth — near and far — and the only way forward is together.
We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from June.
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While we have been recycling certain products for a long time, there have been some pretty amazing innovatinos when it comes to building products on the market. These new materials are taking the idea of a sustainable approach to building to a whole new level. Take for example the creation of luxury building materials from waste. One truly great feature of this upcycling trend is that the new materials are being developed by designers who will use them, which means that they are actually attractive as well as useful.
These new materials are being used as substitutes for conventional woods, plastics and stone, and often come in sheet or tile form that are ready to be cut, shaped and manipulated by architects and designers.
Really, a Danish company at the forefront of this movement is focused on taking used textiles and transforming them into a sheet material similar to plywood.
In fact, companies around the world are coming up with some pretty clever new building materials turning items as basic as bottles and as strange as dirty diapers and sanitary products into materials that can be used for construction.
When it comes to embracing sustainable living, those are thinking well outside the box and turning products — like the notoriously hard to recycle plastic grocery bags — into building materials are making incredible strides. In Building with Waste, which compiles these unique new materials, the authors speculate that, in future, we could end up re-using pretty much everything. This would be pretty darn helpful since we are on track to double municipal waste output by 2025. That’s a pretty terrifying thought.
And it isn’t just building materials, there are products being made with carbon dioxide. Collecting CO2 from the world’s smokestacks is hard, but once it has been collected what can be done with the carbon? To address this problem, people have invented technologies that convert captured CO2 into new products — crazy in a great way, right?
Solutions so far have included a lot of creative ideas such as converting carbon dioxide into carbon fibers which can be used as lighter-weight alternative to metal to make products like wind turbine blades, race cars, airplanes and bicycles. A company in Calgary is combining CO2 with waste products, such as fly ash left over from burning coal or petroleum coke, to create nanoparticles that can be used as additives for concrete, plastic and coatings to enhance performance and increase efficiency.
These innovations and more prove that many in this world are working toward a more sustainable future. We must continue to find creative solutions for reducing waste in order to take care of our most precious resource — the earth.