All posts by David Oldroyd

State of the World 2014

People, Planet, Profit:
The Rise of Triple-Bottom-Line Businesses
Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2014 explores the role of ethical capitalism in the quest for sustainable economies  
Entrepreneurs are beginning to challenge business as usual, infusing ethics into the notoriously ruthless corporate world. In State of the World 2014, contributing author Colleen Cordes discusses the small, but growing, impact of benefit corporations and other triple-bottom-line companies—   which strive to have positive social and environmental impacts, as well as to earn a profit—   in the transition to a sustainable economy (www.worldwatch.org).”Put simply, the conventional economic model—   amoral capitalism—   and the willingness of so many investors and consumers to tolerate it are two of the most challenging threats to preserving a livable human future,” writes Cordes, public policy consultant and director of outreach and development for The Nature Institute of Ghent, New York.

In the last few years, however, public restlessness has been growing as the environmental and social abuses of the conventional economic model are revealed. And while activists and labour groups, investors and consumers, and national and international non-profit groups are pushing for more corporate transparency, corporations themselves are still central to speeding the urgently needed transition to sustainable economies.

“A remarkable new breed of business is volunteering to be held publicly or even legally accountable to a triple bottom line: prioritizing people and the planet, while also promoting profits,” writes Cordes. Led mostly by small and medium-sized companies in the United States (and to a lesser extent in Canada and Chile), many of these companies have been pushing to be officially responsible for their social and environmental effects, not just their financial success.

Almost all of these companies are privately held, although a few major corporations have recently become connected to the triple-bottom-line movement through subsidiaries they have acquired. On the one hand, such acquisitions can expand the movement’s reach. On the other, they also raise questions about whether the movement’s identity and potential will be diluted if large corporations acquire smaller, triple-bottom-line companies but are not strongly committed to their new subsidiaries’ particular social and ecological values.

Given this and other challenges, the rise of companies seeking public accountability for their social and environmental impacts is a small revolution. But a few larger companies, like Patagonia and King Arthur Flour, have already joined the ranks. And there is considerable potential to entice other companies to enter the movement and to inspire the public to demand that other companies follow.

“Although it could take years for a Fortune 500 benefit corporation to emerge, such conversations—   and broader advocacy by citizens and public interest groups—   could begin now to firm up and speed up that possibility,” writes Cordes.

Worldwatch’s State of the World 2014 investigates the broad concept of “governance” for sustainability, including action by national governments, international organizations, and local communities. State of the World 2014 also highlights the need for economic and political institutions to serve people and preserve and protect our common resources. For more information on the project, visit http://www.worldwatch.org/state-world-2014-governing-sustainability.

The Oxfam Doughnut

The Oxfam Doughnut model, popularised by Kate Raworth, brings together research on planetary boundaries and human development with the concept of a ‘safe & just operating space’ for humanity. In this Oxfam blog, Katherine Trebeck introduces the model as it applies to the UK and finds that on many of the key indicators of planetary and social well-being, there are significant problems.:

The UK’s impact upon planetary boundaries is far beyond what its population size can justify. The UK significantly outstrips proposed boundaries in nearly all of the environmental domains identified … At the same time, inequalities in the distribution of the UK’s wealth are causing deprivation across many indicators as people find themselves out of work, unable to afford to heat their homes and forced to visit food banks or simply go without enough food.

The original 22-page report by Raworth was A Safe and Just Space for Humanity Oxfam Discussion Paper, February 2012. It is relevant reading as the UN’s  2015 Sustainable Development Goals are being formulated

Sustainable Development Goals 2015

“Beyond Cockpit-ism: Four Insights to Enhance the Transformative Potential of the Sustainable Development Goals”

This new publication from the Stockholm Resilience Centre offers proposals for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to be announced in September 2015. These goals will succeed the Millennium Development Goals that set targets to guided national policies on creating a more just and sustainable world up the to end of 2014.  This SRC publication proposes four ‘insights’ for the SDGs: planetary boundaries; safe operating space for humanity; energetic society; green competition.

An ‘energetic society’ implies multi-level action to address the pressing issues that Spaceship Earth is facing.  This is exactly the purpose of the CASE initiative and this website.

Planet or Profit?

This site is from the  progressive ‘alternative’ on-line news source Truthout that offers free access to readers who want an alternative view to what appears in the predominantly business-oriented corporate-owned press.  The link is to a collection of articles written by Truthout’s staff and contributors since September 2012.  They relate, with a North American slant,  to a wide range of issues relevant to concerns for the ways in which profit-driven human behaviours threaten the future of Spaceship Earth and its species:

As the global impacts of anthropomorphic climate disruption continue to intensify, corporations and the global elite continue to plunder our planet, subjecting areas of the planet that already face fresh-water scarcity issues and other environmental contamination problems to still greater risks from various forms of pollution.

It is not clear whether we have already passed a tipping point such that human survival beyond the next few decades cannot be assured, but what is overwhelmingly clear is that capitalism – and the drive for profits no matter what the threat to the ecosystem all humanity depends upon – is a force for global destruction.

In this space, we’ll gather the work of Truthout writers and contributors as they investigate the overall systemic threats to the ecosystem, how they are imbricated in the organization of our society, possible forms of mitigation, and how specific environments and communities suffer from transglobal corporate profit-seeking.

The Global Calculator

This new tool has been produced by the UK Department of Environment and Climate Change to help people see how the 40 ‘levers’ that will determine carbon emissions might be used to control these emissions in order to hold global temperatures to within the additional 2 degree centigrade limits to global warming agreed by world governments.

The 1% to own 50% global wealth by 2016?

Prior to the Davos World Economic Forum of the super-rich and super powerful, the accelerating concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands has been again headlined by researchers.  This article in today’s Guardian describes the startling trend:

Oxfam’s research, published today, shows that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the least well-off 80% currently own just 5.5% … on current trends the richest 1% would own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016 …  just 80 people own the same amount of wealth as more than 3.5 billion people (down from 388 people in 2010).
 [This BBC website article explores the statistical basis of this and other types of  assertions and Jeremy Williams’ blog has a link to the Oxfam Report]
It is worth considering how this distribution of wealth might relate to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals starting January 2016. 

Eating away our life support systems

The Guardian today has yet another warning of the self-destructive impact of humans on their planet. It revisits the planetary boundaries research of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and emphasises the unprecedented rate of ‘eating away’ that scientists are now recording as economic growth remains the driving force in modern science.

Since 1950 urban populations have increased seven-fold, primary energy use has soared by a factor of five, while the amount of fertiliser used is now eight times higher. The amount of nitrogen entering the oceans has quadrupled.

Will Steffen of the SRC  is quoted:

“We are clearing land, we are degrading land, we introduce feral animals and take the top predators out, we change the marine ecosystem by overfishing – it’s a death by a thousand cuts. That direct impact upon the land is the most important factor right now, even more than climate change.”

On the same day this headline article in the New York Times reported another scientific meta-analysis of research that reveals the extreme effects of human activity under the title “Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction”.

A more extreme press item on the same report is here. It places the blame on 60 years of neo-liberal capitalism and uses rhetorical language such as ‘breaking our planet’.

2015 International Year of the Soil

According to The Land Institute, soil is every bit as non-renewable as oil, and it is essential for human survival. Healthy soil is the foundation for food, fuel, fiber, and medical products, and is a vital part of ecosystems. It stores and filters water, provides resilience to drought, plays an important role in the carbon cycle, and is the foundation of agriculture and food production.

According to plant geneticist and president of The Land Institute Wes Jackson, and farmer and author Wendell Berry, “our present ways of agriculture are not sustainable, and so our food supply is not sustainable. We must restore ecological health to our agricultural landscapes, as well as economic and cultural stability to our rural communities.”

The United Nations is recognizing and trying to educate the passengers of Spaceship Earth about our vital dependence on this thin layer of mineral and organic matter on the surface of the lithosphere. Therefore the UN has declared this year the IYS.  Just how much impact this  move will have remains to be seen.  if the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development that has just ended is anything to go by, the IYS will not feature greatly in public discourse!

For an article elaborating this Food Tank post see here.

2014 is the hottest year on record

Jeremy Williams blogged this piece today with yet more confirmation of what so many now accept as scientific consensus. The BBC website on the same day carried this article  about how much and where fossil fuel will need to be left in the ground by 2050 as ‘unusable resources’ to ensure that global warming does not exceed 2 degrees Celsius. However, there are still those who see the issue of climate change as unresolved, particularly because of the dependence on computer modelling. One site worth looking at is that made by Judith Curry of Georgia State University. This article ‘Will a return of rising temperatures validate the climate models?’ by Donald C. Morton offers a scholarly and reasoned note of scepticism.

Recommended books

Jeremy Williams is one of my favourite bloggers who, like this case4all.info blog and resource platform, is providing material that aims to raise awareness and promote action on behalf of a sustainable future on Spaceship Earth for all its organic passengers and support systems, though he prefers the ‘make wealth history’ title for his blog rather than the spaceship metaphor. Here is an annotated list of five books that he recommends as 2014 draws to a close. They can be added to ‘Catalogue of Resources: Books’ on this website.