Sustainability: Where Rubber Meets the Road

April 16, 2016

In an interesting series from The Guardian, the newspaper covers how corporate sustainability ideals are actually being put into practice (or not).  Generally, there has been a shift from why to how:

“Over the past 10 years, a lot has changed, and in some ways not enough has changed,” explains Laura Gitman, a vice president at BSR, a corporate sustainability network and consultancy. “I’d say that certainly the conversation used to be about ‘why is [sustainability] really important?’ and while that question does still come up sometimes, now we’ve moved on to the ‘how’.”

And, while still not entirely commonplace, sustainability is receiving support from top-level CEOs, even at the expense of profit:

At Apple’s 2014 annual meeting, an incensed Cook rebuffed a question from climate deniers about investing only in profitable projects – in other words, shifting Apple’s focus away from renewable energy and other sustainability efforts. “When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI,” Cook told Justin Danhof of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a climate-denier network. “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

Other articles in the series include The good, the bad and the ugly: sustainability at Nespresso, which offers a fascinating peak into some of the complexity surrounding sustainable choices in the coffee industry. For example:

The least impactful coffee might actually be instant. A 2009 lifecycle analysis provided to the Guardian by Nespresso found that instant coffee “uses less energy and has a lower environmental footprint than capsule espresso coffee or drip filter coffee, the latter having the highest environmental impacts on a per cup basis”. However, this analysis was done by a consulting firm for Nestle, which also makes Nescafe instant coffee.

An independent 2011 study came to a different conclusion: “If one assumes that in the case of filter coffee the whole pot is drunk and in the case of soluble [instant] coffee only as much water is boiled as necessary, then these two methods of making a cup of coffee are by far the most environmentally friendly.”

Social Impact, Systems