Tag Archives: Zero Impact Growth

Integral Thinking & True Materiality – Part 3/7: Purpose Defines Connectedness

This 7-part series has been first published on Sustainable Brands between late January and early March 2016 as a 6-part series and a follow-up by Bill Baue, co-founder of Convetit and the Sustainability Context Group. It captures the essence of my thinking I was able to gather through the extraordinary work of the Reporting 3.0 Platform, GISR and the ThriveAbility Foundation in 2015. What came out is a structure that I called a ‘new impetus embracing purpose, success and scalability for thriving organizations’. I am reposting the original 6 parts here and add a part #7 with reflections of others. This is part 3/7.

In Part One of this series, Diagram 1 showed an overview of the three main areas of the proposed change need for integral thinking and true materiality; Part Two explained why we need this new impetus. Part Three now tackles the upper section of the triangle – the need for chrystalizing purpose to better show connectness to the problems that need to be solved in interrelated ways.

Bildschirmfoto 2016-03-08 um 10.37.37Diagram 3: Integral thinking and true materiality need a renewed focus on the purpose of the organization and connectedness to the economy we want to live in.

It has been interesting to see how the discussion about ‚the purpose’ of an organization or an economy has moved into the forefront in the last 1-2 years. The 2015 numbers of the Global Footprint Network (GFN) or from UNDESA on population, consumerism and the environment [insert link] are just telling one striking story: as a species, we humans are on a slow death path.

The fact that the ‚human’ role in sustainability now gets back into the focus simply shows that it dawns on us that we forgot to take people on board of the sustainability journey, in companies as well as in private circumstances. Sustainability is not exciting for the majority of human beings. We see constant shoulderclapping about reports in which we are told how much less bad a reporting entity became, without any ‚North Star’ that could tell us what is ‚minimally good enough’, or what would lead to an envisioned future beyond just having a ‚zero negative impact’; this was sucked up by our frugality of installing sustainability departments that took care of policies, management systems, reporting and assurance. The ‚three gap problem’ as discussed in Part Two of this series led to a reduced understanding of sustainability in which essential aspects of sustainability like ‚people, planet and prosperity’ became ‚people, planet and profit’ and intergenerational equity fell by the wayside.

In consequence, Sustainability Context still remains the most neglected Content Principle of any GRI-based sustainability report. Seldom does a reader understand the ‚world view’ of a company, its leadership advocation to change the economic system towards serving a green & inclusive economy, and how the product & service spectrum offered makes a positive contribution (instead of less negative impact), alone or in collaboration / co-creation with others.

It is amazing to see how disconnected sustainability or integrated reports are with ‚the whole’ which we are contributing to (or not). Reporters typically claim it’s too complex to envision a different economic model, exploring a new level playing field in which market mechanisms can automatically work towards an aimed-at state of being regenerative and inclusive. Isn’t that what scenario analysis was invented for?

We developed our current economic model as one set of conventions, and it is up to us to change that for the better. Haven’t we already decided to aim for a green & inclusive economy at Rio+20 in 2012? So where are we with that? There are indeed some positive prompters here:

  • There is a whole set of macro datasets that show the ‚global pulse’ of our continued negative pathway, which means a better understanding of the interconnectedness of our doing and its effects on the planet is more and more possible. Various IT networks, data providers and technology firms work on making ‚the whole’ visible, up to artificial intelligence (AI) approaches (see a variety of these in the Reporting 3.0 2015 conference report, The main issue here is to translate that into data clusters that corporations can use for their ‚micro-macro’ impact interpretation.
  • A variety of companies and development organizations work with the idea of Creating Shared Value (CSV) as proposed and vividly defended by Porter and Kramer for years. While definitely a good learning approach, CSV doesn’t yet prove to be able to either move the concept beyond the ‚feelgood’ areas of collaboration and co-creation; the nasty issues aren’t really solvable since they need new ‚rules of the game’, a normative approach to global change. And secondly, CSV aims at optimizing within an existent frame of economic system boundaries. We won’t get to a sustainable or regenerative economy without also tackling those economic system boundaries to create new level playing fields in which industries can transform. Porter and Kramer, it seems, remain in the 1990s thinking of enlarging competitive advantage with creating (extra) shared value.
  • The Sustainable Development Goals are an interim step towards learning to understand thresholds in a context-based sense, leading to less-bad impact, probably a planet of ‚Zeronauts’ (to stress John Elkington’s brilliant book from 2012). The translation to apply and measure contributions in the corporate world, in local and regional circumstances as well as globally, is still to be developed. A plethora of initiatives are underway to find out, and hopefully it will be a training area to explore the possibility of thriveable, gross positive impact as the greatest innovation boost ever. Each company needs to define where they stay in the continuum that the ThriveAbility Foundation has offered, see the following diagram:

Bildschirmfoto 2016-03-10 um 11.13.50Diagram 4: The strategy continuum to assess a company’s position in a world that needs to leapfrog from surviving to thriving (Source: A Leader’s Guide to ThriveAbility, page 18).

  • Kate Raworth’s ‚Doughnut’ model, showing environmental ceilings and social floors, has given us a 2-dimensional picture of interconnectedness, but only good enough to get us from suffering to struggling – it misses the ‚operating system’ to create real thriving. This model needs adaptation to become 3-dimensional, adding the component of human transformation to accelerate positive change. This is what the ThriveAbility Foundation recommends to get us from stage 1-3 of the above diagram to stages 4 and 5, and in consequence appeals to a change from an ‚ESG Push’ towards a ‚GSE Pull’, addressing authority, decision-making and accountability in one stringent approach. This needs leadership in ways that until now only a Ray Anderson (Interface), Paul Polman (Unilever), Sir Ian Cheshire (ex-Kingfisher) and some other corporate leaders have shown. Only through this advocacy will we get to economic system boundaries change addressing the ‚macro-micro change area’, mainly though the combined integration of external effects into cost accounting, translation into pricing mechanisms, and counterbalancing those effects by a drastically changed tax and subsidies regime on a global scale. The work of Trucost, the True Price Foundation, Ex’tax and others in this area are therefore essential to get this masterplan done over time, together.

So, imagine a sustainability and/or integrated report that showcases a reporting organization’s contribution through a chapter on purpose and connectedness. What would a reader expect to see answered? The below are examples of what I personally would find substantial in that area.

On Contextualization:

  • Does the company have a ‘World View’ and a long(er)-term idea of positioning in the continuum from ‘Compliance’ to ‘Thriving’ when it comes to impacts and outcomes across the multiple capitals? Where does it want to be in the future?
  • Is there one strategy, or does the company have a separate sustainability strategy (which should be avoided, as it signals sustainability as a side issue)?
  • Is the corporate strategy based on affecting the root causes of global non-sustainability, or is the strategy just based on curing symptoms of non-sustainability (like the majority of companies do at this moment)?
  • Are there various scenarios in which the company is testing its possibilities to impact and gets addional insight into its long-term positioning?

On Leadership:

  • Is the socio-cultural leadership gap addressed (part of the three-gap problem)?
  • Are company leaders assessing the transformation blockages in the sustainability gap (also part of the three-gap problem)?
  • How is sustainability visible in the organizational hierarchy? Is sustainability integrated in strategy and governance so that the sustainability team could veto non-sustainable corporate decisions?
  • To what extent is the leadership group aware about a responsibility for sustainability above and beyond the legal construct of the organization?
  • What does the company contribute to asks or campaigns to change the unsustainable boundaries of our current economic system, e.g. trade barriers, unsustainable subsidies, political lobbying, testing new ‘level playing fields’ through the combination of true costing, true pricing, true taxation?

On Ambition Level:

  • What’s the company’s view on growth? How does it differentiate sustainable from non-sustainable growth?
  • How does the company define its ambition level and how are short-term targets derived from succeeding its long-term ambition level (e.g. through back-casting)?
  • How are all employees included in defining the purpose and connectedness of the corporate strategy to sustainability?
  • How does the company differentiate efficiency gains, productivity gains and their respective rebound effects vis-à-vis the need for sustainable innovation?

It is these questions that build the ‚glue’ and segway into the vision of performance beyond just doing the minimum needed. It would add to the idea that current approaches don’t add up altogether and that technology alone won’t cut anything without the humans on board. This is tough work in hierarchical structures and even tougher in multinational companies. But it honestly the only way we can deliver. It is time for new conventions.

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Posted by on March 10, 2016 in Thriveability


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Interview in Belgian online magazine Argus: Ralph Thurm – Een stap verder dan duurzaamheid

The following interview was first published in ARGUSactueel on 24th of January 2013. It was done a couple of days before my keynote speech in Antwerp at the Belgian Global Compact Network meeting on January 30, organized in collaboration with VOKA (the Chamber of Commerce for Vlanderen), and the Antwerp World Diamant Center. The text is in Dutch language. I thank the organizers for the wonderful opportunity to talk in front of more than 80 careful listeners, connect to the Belgian frontliners in sustainability, and finally visit Antwerp!

Ralph Thurm – Een stap verder dan duurzaamheid

Op woensdag 30 januari komt Zeronaut Ralph Thurm naar Antwerpen. Hij is in ons land nog niet echt bekend, maar zijn systematische en holistische aanpak van MVO- en duurzaamheidskwesties maken hem tot een zeer boeiende vertegenwoordiger van de wereldwijde transitiebeweging.

Thurm staat voor een holistische aanpak van duurzaamheid en maatschappelijk verantwoord ondernemen en brengt dat in zijn twee jobs en in zijn manier van leven en werken in de praktijk. Hij is Directeur Collaborative Sustainability & Innovation bij Deloitte Nederland en runt daarnaast sinds september 2012 zijn eigen consultingbedrijf A|HEAD|ahead, waarmee hij meer radicale en experimentele duurzaamheidsoplossingen uitwerkt.

“Misschien kunnen dat wel toekomstige services van Deloitte worden,’ zegt hij. ‘Bij Deloitte zijn we al een paar jaar bezig om duurzaamheid een onderdeel van alle werkzaamheden te maken. Duurzaamheid is een cross-cutting issue dat overal in de organisatie te voelen en te zien moet zijn. Zo krijg je ook meer authenticiteit en een groter gevoel van ownership bij de mensen. Daarnaast trachten we duurzaamheid en innovatie dichter bij mekaar te brengen, omdat het twee kanten van dezelfde medaille zijn. Waarbij ik me tussen haakjes zelfs afvraag of je innovatie die niet duurzaam is, überhaupt nog innovatie kunt noemen.”

Van minder slecht naar goed genoeg

Is Deloitte er al in geslaagd om de hele organisatie doordesemd te maken van de duurzaamheidsgedachte? Ralph Thurm: “Nou, er is nog wel wat werk aan de winkel. Duurzaamheid is een reis. Het is kwestie om niet alleen intern de neuzen richting duurzaamheid te zetten, wat mede door het relatief grote verloop van personeelsleden heel wat werk vergt, maar ook de klanten er warm voor te maken nog voor ze er zelf aan denken.”

Bedrijven hebben de mond vol van maatschappelijk verantwoord ondernemen en streven naar duurzaamheid, maar wat bakken ze er in de praktijk van? Zijn internationale standaarden de oplossing om het onderscheid te maken tussen greenwashing en echte verduurzaming? Ralph Thurm: “Als je A en B wil vergelijken, moet je dat op dezelfde basis doen. Ja, standaarden, guidelines, technische protocollen en duidelijke indicatoren zijn nodig. Maar de eigenlijke vraag is: hanteren we wel de juiste standaard? John Elkington zei het me anderhalf jaar gelden als volgt: “Het enige dat we weten, bijna twintig jaar na Rio, is dat we minder slecht zijn geworden.” We weten eigenlijk niet wat het minimale is dat goed genoeg is voor onze planeet. We moeten evolueren van efficiëntie-gedreven indicatoren naar impact-indicatoren. Zeker nu we over steeds meer data beschikken, zoals de verschillende aspecten van de ecologische voetafdruk en het monetariseren van ecosysteemdiensten. To be less bad is not good enough anymore. We moeten leren meten wat minimaal goed genoeg is, zoals Elkington ook bepleit in zijn boek Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier.”

U pleit voor Zero Impact Growth (ZIG). Wat moeten we ons daarbij precies voorstellen? Ralph Thurm: “Het begrip Zero Impact Growth komt voort uit het zoeken naar wat nu wél goed genoeg is. Wat is het minimum dat alle industrieën elk op hun manier moeten bereiken om ons in staat te stellen op een bepaald welvaartsniveau binnen de planetaire grenzen van de Aarde te leven? Nu is het zo dat elke bedrijfstak zo’n beetje definieert wat hij denkt dat duurzaam is binnen zijn industrie. Men toetst midden- en langetermijndoelstellingen, maar werkt niet aan een onderling afgestemd adaptatieplan. De rode draad doorheen de gesprekken in Zeronauts van John Elkington is het streven naar groei met nulimpact. Maar daarmee begint het alleen nog maar. Eigenlijk moeten we meer willen: regenerative growth en positive impact growth (PIG): meer teruggeven dan wat wij van de planeet nemen. Anders zijn we vanwege de rebound effects door klimaatsverandering en bevolkingsgroei eenvoudigweg ten dode opgeschreven.”

Kan elk bedrijf in elke sector ZIG of PIG bereiken? Ook staalbedrijven, vliegtuigbouwers, mijnbouwbedrijven en bedrijven in de fossiele brandstofsector? Ralph Thurm:“Er is in ieder geval nog heel veel potentieel voor bedrijven in de energiesector om minder CO2 uit te stoten, in te zetten op hernieuwbare energie en om hun netwerken slimmer te maken. Betekent zulks dat ook een consumentenbedrijf als Unilever per se ZIG moet zijn? Dat is een afweging. De vraag is: wie doet wat het best en hoe kunnen wij met elkaar samen zo snel mogelijk successen boeken? Want tegenwoordig doet iedereen een beetje van alles. Belangrijk is dat wij afgestemd op elkaar een beeld van Zero Impact Growth moeten vastleggen, en dat is al zeer moeilijk.”

Een nieuwe generatie van transparantie

De impact van ZIG/PIG voor het milieu en het klimaat is duidelijk. Wat betekent het voor de groei en de winstgevendheid van de bedrijven? Ralph Thurm: “Zero Impact Growth betekent niet Zero Growth. We hebben groei nodig, maar dan wel groei naar dingen of situaties die we met zijn allen willen hebben. Het betekent ook precies kunnen meten wat precies de situatie is op deze planeet. Zo lang niemand dat echt kan zeggen, blijven alle inspanningen veel te incrementeel en komen wij ook niet verder met duurzame regelgeving voor een nieuw economisch stelsel en incentivesysteeem.”

Moet ZIG/PIG op termijn wereldwijd de norm worden? Ralph Thurm: ‘We moeten komen tot nieuwe spelregels in de economie waarbij het niet anders kan dan juist te handelen. Moet dat via regels en wetten? Waarschijnlijk wel. Maar het is ook meer dan dat. Momenteel zitten de incentives verkeerd in ons economisch bestel. In het vaarwater van een  Zero Impact Growth-adaptatieplan moeten we komen tot true costing, true pricing en true taxation. De prijzen moeten de werkelijke totale kosten weerspiegelen, we moeten komen tot een internalisering van externe kosten.”

Hoe kan de internalisering van externe kosten worden geïmplementeerd? Ralph Thurm: “Er zijn meer dan genoeg consultants die dat kunnen berekenen. We moeten het nog wel eens raken over de juiste standaarden die uitgaan van correcte gemiddelden en niet opnieuw appelen met peren vergelijken. True costing heeft enorme effecten op de profit- en loss-accounts van de bedrijven en de prijzen van de producten. Om dat op een sociaal aanvaardbare manier te regelen, zal de overheid de taxatie anders moeten aanpakken. Daar is alle reden toe, want op dit moment wordt het meest waardevolle, de menselijke arbeid, het zwaarst belast. Terwijl dingen die bedreigend zijn voor de toekomst van onze planeet nauwelijks of helemaal niet worden belast. Als je erin slaagt om dat op orde te krijgen, is het niet langer de vraag of een bedrijf meedoet of niet: iedereen wordt gewoon meegesleurd. Maar je moet het mondiaal aanpakken, met aandacht voor lokale verschillen, of je hebt geen eerlijke concurrentie. Ook moeten wij het zo regelen dat de totale kosten voor de consument ongeveer gelijk blijven en niet tot nieuwe sociale spanningen leiden.”

Klinkt aanlokkelijk, maar is dat geen illusie? Zijn grote bedrijven niet machtiger en meer eensgezind dan alle regeringen van de wereld samen? Ralph Thurm: “Het is enorm moeilijk omdat we in een andere economische en kapitalistische logica leven. Toch zijn er vandaag in alle industrieën een aantal leidende spelers die stellen dat we nu moeten handelen als we niet over twintig jaar met zijn allen ten onder willen gaan. Zo heeft Puma zijn eerste environmenal profit & loss account opgesteld en zijn ze bezig aan een tweede die nog meer aspecten omvat, niet alleen CO2, energie en water. Met het risico dat ze door iedereen bekeken worden en dat er heel wat gevoelige informatie bekend gemaakt wordt. Ze doen dat zodat iedereen zou begrijpen waarom ze het doen en zodat men hun voorbeeld zou volgen.”

Makkelijk, zo’n environmental profit & loss account, als je de externe kosten niet echt moet betalen. Ralph Thurm: “Dat is een veelgehoorde kritiek. Maar dit is een case die enorm wordt onderschat. Niet alleen vanwege de ongeziene transparantie, maar ook door het aanscherpen van het bewustzijn binnen het bedrijf van zijn echte impact op het milieu. Het blijkt bovendien een enorme drijver voor innovatie, omdat Puma ervan overtuigd is dat die externe kosten ooit echt wel zullen moeten worden betaald. Vandaar de beslissing om nu al volledig leervrij te worden: 70 tot 80% van de ecologische voetafdruk van Puma situeert zich in de landbouwsector en heeft te maken met CO2-uitstoot bij de productie van leer. Het is een zeer holistische aanpak, gebaseerd op een nieuwe generatie van transparantie. Dit versnelt ook de innovatiekracht van zo’n bedrijf, ze trekken de toekomstige internalisatie van externe kosten naar het nu. En het maakt een einde aan de statische “Ja maar”-discussies waarin zoveel milieukwesties verzeilen.”

Het voordeel van een crisis

Verwacht u in de toekomst een geleidelijk proces van verandering naar meer duurzaamheid of een grote revolutie? Ralph Thurm: “Ik verwacht niet één grote ommeslag, maar wel relatief veel aardbevingen en aardverschuivingen. Het zal niet allemaal soepel en lekker verlopen. We staan aan het begin van een transitiefase. Het interessante is dat aan het merendeel van de maatschappelijke en economische transitiefases in het verleden een financiële crisis is voorafgegaan. Zeker als blijkt dat je de crisis niet alleen met financiële ingrepen kunt oplossen. Daarnaast spelen nog veel andere domino-effecten mee, zoals de voedsel- en de klimaatcrisis. Je ziet nu echt ook een mentaliteitsverandering optreden.”

Hoe zou u die mentaliteitsverandering precies omschrijven? Ralph Thurm: “Consumenten willen meer informatie over de duurzaamheid van de producten die ze kopen. Het marktaandeel van de LOHAS – een acroniem voor Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability – neemt toe. In Duitsland gaat het over een actieve community van een half miljoen mensen. Ze streven niet alleen naar gezonder eten, maar kiezen er ook voor om meer tijd met familie en vrienden door te brengen en wensen uitdrukkelijk een bijdrage te leveren aan de maatschappij. Auteur Paul Hawken beschrijft de wereldwijde shift naar duurzaamheid, die veel groter is dan je denkt, treffend in The Blessed Unrest. Ik denk dat we technologisch gezien over alle middelen beschikken om de Duitse Energiewende (de systematische overstap op groene energie, red.) ook in andere landen te laten plaatsvinden. Volgens mij ontbreekt het ons alleen nog aan een intelligente en meeslepende manier om iedereen mee te krijgen.”

Op uw blog hield u onlangs een pleidooi voor Thrivability – een Nederlands woord is altijd welkom – als een stap verder dan MVO en duurzaamheid. Wat verstaat u daar precies onder? Ralph Thurm: “Ik vrees dat ‘sustainability’, ‘the ability to sustain’ de mensen niet genoeg aanspreekt. Wat is de overtreffende trap? ‘Thrivability,’ ‘the ability to thrive’ in het Nederlands nog het best te vertalen als ‘de zoektocht naar tevredenheid en geluk.’ Is dat niet de diepste wens van de mens? Met zijn allen gelukkig zijn. Kunnen zeggen dat we een moeizame maar waardevolle bijdrage hebben geleverd. Er bestaan ook mooie modellen op het gebied van het menselijk bewustzijn, zoals Theory U van Otto Scharmer of het werk van Ken Wilber. Het gaat tenslotte niet alleen over systeeminnovatie, maar om mensen mee te krijgen: individuele en culturele innovatie dus. Als mensen begrijpen wat systeemgrenzen zijn, dan komt de rest van de innovatie eigenlijk vanzelf. Dat hoop ik tenminste. Ik denk dat de volgende twintig jaar enorm moeilijk maar super-interessant zullen zijn. Het wordt enorm boeiend om deze innovatie-wave mee te maken, ook omdat ze alomvattend is, van systeeminnovatie en culturele innovatie naar proces-, product- en service-innovatie. Veel megatrends bieden aanzienlijke uitdagingen, maar dragen ook enorme mogelijkheden in zich.’

U bent al 20 jaar actief in de duurzaamheidssector en mag nu de eretitel Zeronaut dragen. Bent u zelf ook een groene en geëngageerde consument? Ralph Thurm: “Als ik vlieg, zorg ik altijd voor een CO2-offset. Die betaal ik zelf. Ik probeer altijd zoveel mogelijk van thuis uit te werken. Ik rij met een heel zuinige kleine auto. Ik zet mijn schouders met plezier onder heel wat maatschappelijk werk, zoals voor Global Compact en de Turntoo Foundation in Nederland, maar bijvoorbeeld ook  in het Midden-Oosten met het Arabia CSR Network.”

Wat was uw oorspronkelijke motivatie om u te verdiepen in duurzaamheid? Ralph Thurm: “Mijn studies economie vielen samen met de eerste conferentie van Rio. Ik vond economie zoals we het aangeleerd krijgen te weinig holistisch en te veel patchwork. Toen mijn vrouw en ik aan kinderen begonnen, nam ik me voor een goed voorbeeld te zijn voor mijn kinderen. Ik wou later kunnen zeggen: “Ik heb mijn best gedaan.” Daar zit ook een persoonlijke reden achter. Mijn vader, die vorig jaar overleden is, is geboren in 1930. Aan het einde van WOII moest hij verplicht naar een school van de Hitlerjugend. Ik wou zo veel mogelijk over die tijd weten, maar elke discussie die ik met hem voerde over hoe dat allemaal mogelijk was, liep vast op “Ich habe es nicht gewusst.” Dat was zijn manier om niet in detail te treden over de vreselijke dingen die hij heeft meegemaakt en waar hij ook niet altijd het fijne van afwist. Ongeveer drie jaar geleden zei mijn zoon me: “Als we over twintig jaar praten over het soort oorlog dat jouw generatie nu met deze planeet voert, is dat alvast geen argument dat jij tegen mij zal kunnen gebruiken.” Dat was een zeer emotioneel moment. Weten dat het niet goed zit met de wereld geeft je een grote verantwoordelijkheid, en daar een goed antwoord op trachten te geven, blijft een zeer sterke motivatie.”


Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Thriveability


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Stopping ‘Dilbertarian Sustainability’ – time to be ‘steered by the stars’

End of July 2012 Deloitte published the report ‘Toward Zero Impact Growth – Strategies of Leading Companies in 10 Industries’, summarizing outcomes of the work of Deloitte Innovation and John Elkington (Volans) around describing the need for a new breed of industrialists, called the ‘Zeronauts’, and a new measurement regime around ‘Zero Impact Growth’. It was clear that Elkington’s new book would become a megaseller, but the Deloitte report that focused more around the measurement of sustainability performance has clearly hit a nerve too – thousands of hits and report downloads on the website  just within a couple of weeks already send a clear message. Why has the report has attracted so many readers:

The call for a green and inclusive economy has never been so loud. In the run-up to the Rio +20 conference the UN Global Compact called for a ‘quantum leap’, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development was asking their 200+ members to ‘change the pace’ as necessary precondition on how to get there in a timeframe until 2050, with many crucial decisions to be taken way earlier, many of them in the next couple of years. However, how would we know that we are successful, quick enough and effective in this transition, ensuring a new economic model that allows growth in the future as well (demographics simply demand that), but that this growth balances with the planetary limits and human well-being (or should we be more drastic: human survival)? Honestly, not one industry, not one company on earth is able to tell us that at the moment!

Our current appetite for radical transformation surely isn’t the way forward. Looking at the time span between the first and second Rio conference, we have altogether learned how to be ‘less bad’, without knowing what is actually ‘good’ overall performance. We are flying blind on many levels while we clap shoulders for marginal efficiency improvements, and even often don’t know if our improvements are causing extra burdens for fellow human beings. The current reporting regime – the GRI G3.1 Guidelines – asks for sustainability context information in order to be able to define report content, but reporters dramatically fail to report on them due to many reasons. If it is the fact that the GRI indicators only ask for ‘less bad’ while leaving sustainability context to the foreword of the board or CEO (which normally do not deliver on that task), the fact that report boundaries are in most cases limited to the annual report boundaries and not to real impact (the Guidelines still offer a sneak-out ‘and/or’ option), or simply due to the fact that often stakeholders too do not understand the sustainability context of a reporter’s actions and therefore materiality is way too ‘negotiable’, it is becoming painfully clear that this is not enough. What we need is a North Star benchmark, a joint paradigm that allows all industries (and companies as part of them) to identify, adapt and perform towards that common vision. The Deloitte report offers ‘Zero Impact Growth’ to be that North Star, with the necessary Zeronautics as measurement regime. This is not yet fully developed and needs the involvement of all industries and stakeholder groups. Elkington’s book not only shows a set of mental mindsets on how to get there (the 5-step ‘pathway to zero’ model), it also shows ample examples of organisations and individuals that already work towards Zero Impact Growth. The paradigm embraces ideas like the circular economy, cradle-to-cradle, bottom-of-the-pyramid or shared value creation as practical concepts in the need to speed up, whilst Zero Impact Growth and the Zeronautics help to assess the effectiveness of their partial contributions towards the overall targeted North Star.

Based on the pathway to zero model Deloitte developed a maturity model and has assessed 65 leading companies on how far they are in this mental journey. All of these companies are either part of the GC Lead program, the C4C or Water mandate campaign. The outcome of the assessment in 10 industries is described in Deloitte’s report, both as a complete outcome as well as the single performances of the 65 companies. Figure 1 illustrates the outcome in the 5 categories.

Figure 1: Results of the Zero Impact Growth Monitor 2012

Furthermore the report also reveals 4 major gaps that were visible through the ZIG Monitor: a major comparability gap (that is why all rankings and ratings tell us different stories about best-in-‘their’-class performance), major gaps between the overall strategy of organizations towards Zero Impact Growth and furthermore the real capabilities of sub-strategies to deliver on the organization’s overall strategy (it simply doesn’t add up in many cases), and finally gaps in the balance of sub-strategies and major performance gaps in and between industries. And all of that while the report only assessed companies that see themselves as leading in sustainability.

The Deloitte report gives us a baseline picture of where we really are, but also assesses the brakes, the accelerators and the options for a ‘joint flight’ towards adapting Zero Impact Growth as the new basic and minimum paradigm that we all together need to agree on, recognizing that there is a whole world to win behind Zero Impact Growth, some call it regenerative or restorative growth. It’s a process that can be a door-opener for cross-industry fertilization, for social entrepreneurship, for collaborative action to develop true costing, true pricing and true taxing initiatives (so true valuation of resources, goods and services) as part of the Zeronautics we need desperately and that can be breakthroughs to real ‘integrated reporting’ (in which the sustainability context gap is finally closed).

I once sadly noted and called our current way of acting ‘Dilbertarian Sustainability’, it’s now time to have the courage and the willingness to go beyond: ‘It’s time to be steered by the stars, not by the light of each passing ship’, as mentioned by Omar Bradley many decades ago. It’s time we start doing exactly that. Be part of the ‘joint flight’ and see where you are by applying the Zero Impact Growth Monitor to your own organization.

[This blog was originally published in the ACSRN newsletter for October 2012]

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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Towards 'sustainomics'


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John Elkington’s Zeronauts ‘Roll of Honor’ – Interview with Ralph Thurm

In May John Elkington’s book ‘The Zeronauts – Breaking the sustainability barrier’ got published and since then gets a lot of attention in the sustainability community and beyond. In his book about the new breed of inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, investors, managers, or educators who promote wealth creation while driving adverse environmental, social, and economic impacts toward zero, John Elkington has come up with an inaugural ‘Roll of Honor’, 50 Zeronauts that are examples for this new breed, coming from different constituencies. John admits that some of them didn’t even know that they were infected with the ‘zero-gen’ and simply did what the did because it made complete sense. I am very humbled and happy to be amongst the chosen few, however I am thinking that my journey to zero has also just begun. Please find below a short interview that explains my rationale, intentions and beliefs for the ‘zero agenda’. You can find many more examples on and in John’s blog with 2degreesnetwork, to be found at

Ralph, you have become a leading proponent of Zeronautics. Why?

“My journey towards Zeronautics began in 2005/2006 when I was working with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and saw a growing gap in the area of Sustainability Reporting.  My question: How could you assess the positioning of a given company’s sustainability performance against a real benchmark?”  (This issue was addressed by the Sustainability Context Principle in GRI G3.)

“The indicator section of G3 wasn’t able to capture this need due to the lack of globally accepted and applicable ‘denominators’. To date, we can only measure efficiencies and relative levels of performance, and can only get a sense of whether organizations have become ‘less bad’ in their material focus areas.  What is missing is a core definition of what is actually ‘good’.”

But why is zero-based thinking needed?

“We are all somehow flying blind. I was immediately excited when I heard about the Zeronauts book project, at a GRI event in Rome in late 2010. Since then Deloitte Innovation and Volans have worked together to work out how to implement the book’s agenda into the day-to-day world of companies.”

“Much is going on that seems to be headed towards the idea of what the book dubs a 1-Earth Economy, with buzzwords and phrases like ‘sustainable capitalism’, ‘beyond GDP’, the ‘circular economy’, to mention just a few. I came up with the term ‘Zero Impact Growth’ as the minimum ‘North Star’ for our work, a door opener and conversation starter as we work towards measurable and commonly accepted denominators.”

“I especially like the embracing character of the emerging discipline of Zeronautics, which I see as a complementary development to the many existing initiatives in the ‘Sustainability Quilt’. I value the opportunity to use Zeronautics as a reality check in terms of individual and organizational effectiveness. The goal has to be a jointly agreed upon Zero Impact Growth Framework.”

“We need many more Zeronauts, in all areas of society and in the corporate world. As Yogi Berra once said: ‘You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.’ A first step will be our Zeronauts Symposium in Rotterdam on 5 June 2012, Earth Day.  Encouragingly, the event is more than sold out.”

—end of the interview

In the meanwhile the mentioned Zeronauts Symposium at Deloitte’s Dutch headquarter took place on June 5, 2012. I will come back with a longer blog on that fantastic event in due course. So stay tuned.

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Posted by on July 11, 2012 in Towards 'sustainomics'


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Ralph’s articles from forum Nachhaltig Wirtschaften 4/2011 and 1/2012 now available online (in German language)

Here are the last two article that were published in forum Nachhaltig Wirtschaften, editions 4/2011 and 1/2012, now available online:

Zero Impact Growth – Auf der Suche nach einer klaren Orientierungshilfe

describes the search towards a new minumum benchmark that industries will need to develop together and accepted by other stakeholders in order to be able to assess what GOOD or BAD performance in sustainability actually really means. Unfortunately, not many companies really want to know and the article mentions some of the reasons why. Too big the vision, too much effort needed? Or just the normal dilemma between short- and long-term. Decide yourself!

Die langfristigen Konsequenzen der Kurzfristigkeit

covers aspects of intragenerational and intergenerational equality, and describes that the second will not be possible if we don’t seriously work on the first. The interdepending conflicts of food, energy, climate and water security illustrate how aspects of intragenerational maldoing already screw up intergenerational equality opportunities today. Not acting now has uncurable effects.


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The decline of progress in sustainability and how to escape latent cognitive dissonance

Joel Makower is a great guy. Day-in day-out he pushes the agenda of sustainability & innovation forward bit by bit. Every day (except weekends ;-)) I am receiving his GreenBiz newsletter and see his friendly face besides the text in which he explains to me that another success story could be told in sustainability, another great social entrepreneur has been found who has developed something of great value, or another company with unseen innovations that have the potential to make the world a better place. Change is here – let’s shout it out to the world!

Last week, on the occasion of the launch of the 2012 State of Green Business Report (click to download the report), for the first time since I follow Joel’s efforts, his head seemed to be hanging down. Yes, sure, a lot of good things were happenening (in the U.S. mainly, since the 2012 State of Green Business Report is U.S.- based), but he also alerted us that for the first time in five years there was a visble ‘decline of progress’, and this phrase really touched me. His following words even hit me harder, let me quote some important parts here:

“Each year, we take the pulse of sustainable business through the lens of 20 indicators of progress, or lack thereof. […] For the first time, we saw a significant decline in progress—not just in one indicator, but several. Cleantech investments, energy efficiency, green office space, packaging intensity, toxic emissions, and toxics in manufacturing — all of these trend lines leveled off or reversed course in 2011. Only one indicator — green power use — markedly improved. What’s to blame? Simply put, sustainable business is suffering a recessionary hangover.

For much of the past few years, many of our indicators moved in positive directions. Combined with the commitments we were seeing, as well as our surveys of sustainability leaders in large corporations — which told us that their budgets, staff, and goals were holding steady or growing during the recession — we concluded that the economic turmoil, at least in the United States, wasn’t putting a damper on companies’ efforts to improve their environmental performance. The results could be seen each year in the continued progress measured by the GreenBiz Index. We were, shall we say, irrationally exuberant.

The reality is this: Much of the progress we saw in our 2010 and 2011 reports were lagging indicators based on work done with pre-recessionary budgets. As the economic realities have set in, environmental progress has stagnated, or worse.[…]

It’s not all bad news. This year, like all years, we find many promising developments in the world of corporate sustainability, as more companies make more commitments related to their products or operations. As we have in the past four reports, we pick 10 promising trends, from the rise of sustainable consumption, to the growing engagement of chief financial officers in companies’ sustainability initiatives, to the fact that clean technology, contrary to the political narrative, is alive and well, even flourishing. There is much reason for hope.

Indeed, that’s where the cognitive dissonance sets in: We report on so many promising developments each week, so many companies that are engaging more thoughtfully and holistically than ever with what it means to integrate sustainability into their operations, products, and services. We watch as clean technologies become competitive, as markets for organic foods and efficient vehicles reach into the mainstream, as companies achieve zero-waste factories and replace toxic ingredients with safer ones.

But for all of the good work being done, it’s simply not good enough. Can we simply pass this off as a byproduct of a bad economy, and cross our fingers that progress will accelerate when times get better? Or is it time for companies to dig deeper, and for their employees and customers to get more engaged? What will it take to make real progress?” [End of quote]

So, what will it take to make REAL progress? Is work done SIMPLY NOT GOOD ENOUGH? Well, nobody really knows, that’s the blunt truth, we are all somehow muddling-through. Two factors keep us in the mist and not let us see the real challenge: huge amounts of debt money and lack of a good benchmark. A couple of words on both of them: 

Is Joel’s observation just true for the U.S.? Well, most likely not. We are still in a financial crisis that was only smoothened in 2008-2010 due to immense capital injections by governments around the world (2.400 billion USD was the last figure I saw) and that our kids for the rest of their lives will not be able to pay back (and don’t think that a currency reform or massive inflation will solve the issue as those have other severe knock-on effects). Some of the progress (or just the stagnation)  in the sustainability data landscape in 2010 and partially in 2011 was simply possible due to artificial growth, funded by taxpayers money, or should we better call it more socialized debt? Some of that money supported special infrastructural upgrades or repair in the energy and building sector and allowed for a continuation of pre-crisis programs, keeping jobs or even helped adding capacity. That was good for the moment, and for the data (with some of the environmental indicators looking of course better simply due to the decrease in economic activity and production). But this ammunition is more or less gone, and the decline of progress seems to now have started, the lack of additional plaster now reveals the open wounds. Governments have consequently turned around and spending cuts are becoming the new reality, which in fact will more likely lead to an increase of the decrease of progress. At the same time we also saw in 2011, although still quite a bit away from the peaks of earlier industrial production, the biggest increase of CO2 emissions ever measured and an the amount of natural disasters that were (partially) caused by human activity was at an all-time high. Social unrest in many parts of the world rounds up the picture. We are nearing a Catch 22 situation in which e.g. the shift to innovation on renewables can’t be given the necessary substantial support due to spending cuts, short-term repair and increasing social costs, while technologically being the only way out of the crisis, at least in the Western world. China already says thank you and India and Brazil might join the choir.

But then, how much is GOOD ENOUGH? How can we break through the latent cognitive dissonance that Joel’s observing so well? Well, we need to start defining our common success factors, both on macroeconomic level as well as on organizational level. We need to understand that no single industry can remain in their comfort zone (not even if enlarged by supply chain policies and product take-back arrangements) if they want to be successful, and by that I mean: survive. I do observe that only the best in sustainability have began to understand that the last 30% of climbing Mount Sustainability is much more dependent from developments in many other industries than what they can achieve themselves! Singular company programs or collaboration within an industry is not good enough since it undermines cross-fertilization between industries and still blocks unlocking the real potential of sustainable innovation. I love the example of what telecommunication has done for the agricultural industry and the social development of farmers and communities in many SEA countries (apart from democratization and education), and much more of this is needed, and quicker. However, in order to be able to achieve this cross-fertilization, way more synchronization of activity and adaptation planning is needed, and that will only work with a common paradigm to work towards. John Elkington’s Volans and myself at Deloitte Innovation are advocating for Zero Impact Growth as the minimum synch to work towards, with the Deloitte/Volans ZERO HUB as an open innovation platform to help us get there (starting this year). Defining the ‘Zeronautics’, working on a joint adaptation plan, discussing the roles and responsibilities of the different players for their individual adaptation plans, and working on the tools to measure what the implementation success of the joint roadmap really is, are the challenges we need to tackle. Only if we have a joint and accepted benchmark (with zero impact growth as the necessary ‘North Star’) we can start doing and measuring what is at least GOOD ENOUGH. Sustainability performance must be measured in context, anything else keeps us in the mist!

Joel Makower is a great guy, I wrote in the beginning. His own answer to these challenges is VERGE, another platform to get sustainable innovation further aligned, with dots connected and the real needs discussed. It’s these kind of paradigm-oriented, outcome-oriented and muti-industry based (open innovation) platforms like the ZERO HUB and VERGE that we need to help deliver, closing the wounds and cure from the blindness! Plato already said: ‘The part can never be well until the whole is well’.


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Where’s the compass for 2012 – what about Zero Impact Growth?

It’s been more than half a year since I last posted a blog on A|HEAD|ahead. I simply wanted to take a break because I wanted to observe for a while and not add to the wave of guessing about what all the incidents and movements that happened in the world (and in parallel) really meant. I had the idea that we seemed to have reached a crucial turning point for some of the most urging questions in our economic, environmental and social agenda. But have we?

So, what has happened in the last 6-12 months if you take a look at it from a sustainability perspective? Undoubtedly, too much went into the wrong direction:

  • In North America, the ‘buck bug’ continued to infect the political leadership: a month-long soap opera about the national debt cap question was orchestated, with a result that was clear from day one onwards: a continuation of increasing the burden on future generations, and no questioning of the systemic flaws. It also made the rest of the world think how nuts the American political leadership went, using this debate already as a platform to start their election campaigns for 2012. As we’ve seen just recently, the ‘Super Commission’ that was tasked to find 1.200 billion USD savings potential – at least a soft try to also stop the ever growing national deficit – was just the continuation of that earlier super disaster. So this political soap (‘Take a sip with the Tea and the Coffee Party’) goes on to compete with ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘the Kardashians’. Immensly unsustainable, full of systemic flaws!
  • Europe didn’t do better with the discussions on how to save Greece, part of the Siesta-belt, by some called PIGS countries, expecting that Portugal, Italy and Spain would follow suite. The muddling-through, throwing more good money at already poisoned assets of banks and unrealistic country budgets has in the meanwhile at least led to the sudden epiphany that without a proper haircut the European currency union would now most likely officially be dead already, and that good governance and a financial and economic union are needed as well to support a currency union to work. But still a lot of questions remain and there is uncertainty if the capital markets will decrease pressure on the other PIGS countries, and let’s also not forget Ireland as well. The newly created superfund (a name that nobody can pronounce) has not yet given us any relief.It also became clear that relying on ratings by three (anything but independent) North American rating agencies (with the hidden agenda to see money transfers to North America) isn’t helping at all. Immensly unsustainable, full of systemic flaws!
  • In Japan, it became just brutal reality that we are still vulnerable towards the elements and that whatever promises were made by corporations or the authorities around nuclear energy, Fukushima told us all the truth: Bluntly believing any of these promises can be deadly. The knock-on effects on corporations and the government from the Fukushima desaster are immense and have created a general feeling of distrust, not only in Japan. Many officials there already needed to step down. The swing towards renewable energies remains a difficult undertaking, and it needs governments to reassess and reverse their strategies towards renewables. I am particularly proud of my home country Germany that did reverse a big mistake that was made in the last political coalition-building and that now continues to shut down nuclear power plants by 2022. The cost to move on with nuclear and oil are in my view not overseeable, the risk too high, a total cost picture including all externalities does favor a shift renewables! For now, again, the current situation is immensly unsustainable, full of systemic flaws!
  • The outcomes of the Durban COP 17 remind us that it will be business, and business alone, to proactively guide us into a sustainable environmental 1-planet balance, and simply because of one reason: survival of the companies will only be possible in a sustainable context. Whatever global governance can help us with on that transition is fine and welcome, but it’s simply always too late. The reality is that we now have another ’empty shell’, at least an empty shell that is carried by all (am I sounding cynic?). Well, the WBCSD in their latest update said that the Durban platform content: a) does not have any ambition levels other than what came out of Cancun (i.e. + 2°C by 2050). Given the timeframe for the Durban Platform and what science and the IEA are saying, this makes the 2° target unrealistic; b) confirms the GCF (Green Climate Fund), but we do not know how it is going to be funded nor how the funds will be used; c) also confirms the Technology Mechanism, but its modus operandi is to be developed; d) is extending the Kyoto Protocol for a second commitment period, but with the EU, Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand, Ukraine and Kazakhstan as the only countries with targets, representing about 15% of global emissions (and let’s not forget the shameful step of the Canadian government two days after the closing of COP 17); e) The process of voluntary national pledges for emission reductions that were initiated at COP15 in Copenhagen will continue and follow up will be reported to UNFCCC and verified on a biannual basis. One more time: immensly unsustainable, full of systemic flaws!

Enough doom. Fortunately, at the same time as we see systems continue to derail, some positive developments happened as well, and partially as a response to the truly unsustainable situation described above:

  • In the shadow of the financial crisis in Europe and North America, China earlier this year published its new 5 year plan, announcing drastic investments in leapfrogging technology and moves towards renewable energy. Is it just me, or does it also dawn on you, that (apart from many areas where we want to still see change in China), there is new sense of leadership that indeed does have a plan and will rigorously follow this plan? China is of course in a position to use currency reserves to invest heavily and now sees it’s one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use the weakness of all the other blocks for development. If it continues like that it is just a matter of one decade until China will dominate the renewable energy market.
  • In Germany, the government made a 180 degrees turn in nuclear politics, correcting a mistake that was made only months earlier as one of the compromises in the coalition-building with the Liberal Party and to please the energy lobby. It took Fukushima to make clear that the German population didn’t appreciate the earlier turn towards nuclear, so back to start. And the discussion in France, where 90 % of all energy comes from nuclear sources, has only just begun.
  • The Arab Spring spread over many countries in Northern Africa and parts of the Middle East – and still ongoing in Syria and Jemen, now with first signals that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia will possibly be next? What will happen with Iran still remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: the nuclear issue will be the trigger for change, in one way or the other. Still open are the developments in Iraq where the American armed forces just left the country and the coalition between the sunits and shiits is extremely shacky; the terrorism just returned to the streets of Baghdad (and elsewhere in the country). The Arab spring now seems to have a hot summer, where the basic democratic processes and parties still need to prove how much they are willing to be part and not dominate in the democratic setup. It will also be a crucial test in how far conflicts between tribes, religious groups and past economic opportunists of old regimes will embrace the developments.
  • Although becoming a bit quiet again (due to financial dry-out), we saw the revelations of Wikileaks and the huge amount of effort of corporations and governments to stop the outflow of information. Whatever we all think about legal issues around Wikileaks, it’s clearly that there is an appetite of the global public that illegal, unethical and corrupt behavior of anybody anywhere is unacceptable and nobody can be sure that this sort of behavior won’t be discovered and publicized, so better not do it from the very beginning. Sunlight is the best desinfectant, it’s as simple as that.
  • We saw the first moves of what emerged to be the ‘Occupy’ movement, starting at Wall Street, and spreading all over the world in the last couple of months. Seen as a leaderless movement (‘We are the 99%’), it is not yet really seen as a serious and lasting endevour by the remaining 1%, but as soon as a clearer frame for areas of change will emerge from Occupy and the collaboration between the different decentralized Occupy communities leads to spokesmanship, this can really become a serious counter-initiative to the crusted existing political community. It is great to see that ‘fairness’ as the underlying theme is starting to be addressed by economists and even some of the super-rich.
  • 2011 also saw the birth of ‘Shared Value Creation’, a new direction for capitalisms, coined by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in HBR 1/2011 (but didn’t I see this vocabulary at Nestlé before?). First presented as ‘CSR and sustainability are dead, long live shared value creation’, Porter has recently been more embracing and describes shared value creation as the logic next development step. I would have personally wished his shared value concept to be promoted as part of sustainable capitalism, and not describing shared value creation as something opposed to sustainability. A lot of discussion has started around this article and it’s time to thank the most heard strategy guru to have now embraced our global issues and giving hope that a new form of capitalism will help solve them. I am particularly thankful that the question of ‘scope and purpose’ of business is now finally (back) on the table. The downside of this discussion for me still is that there is a certain notion that our current unsustainable growth paradigm isn’t addressed enough and that Porter’s new capitalism could be successful without working in parallel towards a jointly developed and globally accepted Zero Impact Growth paradigm. Part of this doubt led John Elkington and Deloitte Innovation to start the ZERO HUB (see below).
  • The European Commission came up with their new communication on CSR in October in which they defined the the term CSR more broadly than in 2006, now it’s ‘the impact of an organization on society an the environment’. This definition now finally turns away from the earlier notion that CSR is what companies do beyond the legislative needs, which sounded too philanthropic and hasn’t achieved a lot more than endless discussions over many years. There are also signs that the EC would finally come up with ‘processes’ to demand sustainability reporting, following early examples of France, Denmark and Sweden. If that means regulation remains to be seen, but observing the developments towards integrated reporting and the overall transparency agenda the EC should be proactive instead of reactive now to allow for a smoother transition in the years to come.

As you may expect from me, many of the incidents and movements we saw and still see in 2011 are in my view just additions to the ever mounting evidence of the start into the ‘sustainability era’. Finally, you may say! However, our biggest problem is that sustainability is still an often misused and bulky expression of a general ‘sort of’ way forward, to live in harmony with planet earth as human race. I have to admit that interpreting all of the above without a more proper definition of what they really mean and if we were are to be successful on that path towards sustainability, is some sort of guessing as well. So, do we need a better and more reliable compass? I think we do!

Are we living in a world without compass? Well, at least a world that still doesn’t really understand sustainability as the only paradigm for the successful implementation of globalization and a possible route to bring into context and cluster the issues, the dilemmas, and the opportunities, allowing us to finally and fully analyze e.g.

  • the scope and purpose of the financial markets in a real-world economy that strives towards a 1-planet economy;
  • the role of governments in framing and supporting the markets towards a 1-planet world, in which the illusion of externalisation of effects of wrong-doing would be stopped;
  • how corporations in all their industry sectors would understand and play their role and responsibilities according to a vision of what their sectors are really good for in a 1-planet world (while also understanding their issues and remaining life-span if they don’t change);
  • the role of the totally underestimated, but in reality more and more forceful civil society movements that started to globally ‘vote with their feet’, while consolidating and building communities to effectively collaborate and co-create with corporations towards a 1-planet world. A world in which social entrepreneurship becomes the maxime and where making money while exploiting other capitals would be a complete no-go.
  • what is success and how have we achieved it altogether, on micro level and on macro-level!

Seeing my kids grow up in more and more uncertainty and a dimension of externalities that is less and less manageable by them, 2011 has at least for me been a turning point: I am becoming more and more impatient about the slow level of speed towards needed systemic change, more radical in the focus of what I like to help develop (means making more choices towards a specific focus), and less willing to support ‘less bad’ muddling-through.

In that regard two new movements have gotten a lot of my attention this year: The Deloitte/Volans ZERO HUB and the KATERVA awards. We need ‘epic wins’, and both initiatives have the potential to instigate change, so 2012 will be an even more important year to see how far we can get – with all your crucial support!


This is an open innovation platform by Deloitte Innovation and John Elkington’s sustainable innovation incubator Volans, to work with companies in six different industry clusters to develop a clear vision on zero impact growth. The Zero Hub is based on the methodological and sustainability know-how of Deloitte Innovation and the thought-provoking guidance that John Elkington publishes in his new book ‘The Zeronauts – Breaking the sustainability barrier’ in spring next year, also the starting point of season 1 of the ZERO HUB.

Based on a facilitated process, simulating a space flight, we will co-create a zero impact growth vision, the related zeronautics (how to measure success on micro- and macro level), a joint adaptation plan (how to get there altogether), company-specific adaptation plans (clarifying roles and responsibilities of the various cluster industries) as well as necessary tooling (measurement, communication, change, social media, advocation, etc.). By that the ZERO HUB builds on work that the WBCSD has started with their Vision 2050, and the work of existing Zeronauts like (the recently passed away) Ray Anderson or Gunter Pauli (ZERI). It is complementary to existing company-specific programs and will increase the evaluation of the effectiveness of these programs.

The time must come where all industries and companies have a North Star to follow and in which we finally have a good view on what a company does is actually ‘good’, or ‘bad’, or ‘good enough’, or ‘not good enough’. This is not to name or shame, this is to co-create and cross-fertilize between industries, with a clear focus on how certain sustainability issue areas are helped by their joint activities. I recently spoke with Thomas Rau, a leader in sustainable architecture, and he gave me the ultimate reason for the ZERO HUB: ‘If we don’t know altogether what to achieve, every step we might individually take could be wrong’.

Current GRI sustainability reporting doesn’t cut through this, and that is because there is a big gap between sustainability context as a principle, and the reported information through indicators. Too me this is also the biggest challenge for G4, a new version of the GRI Guidelines, to be published in 2013, and in place until at least 2020 (the time when we will have reached ‘peak everything’ if we don’t act very quickly). As a former GRI staff member I hope that my ex-colleagues and the working groups tasked with the new development will be able to close this gap, and that GRI’s governance bodies and its stakeholders will not accept a new version of the GRI Guidelines that don’t deliver here. My hope is that the ZERO HUB can create inspiration for this agenda point.

John Elkington has decribed his rationale for the ZERO HUB  this week in his latest Guardian blog, see Is your company willing to take this next necessary step, then mail me at You will be part of a group of 8-12 companies, and while we see great takeup in the financial sector and the manufacturing sector, we still seek companies in energy, transportation/logistics, consumer business, waste management and IT.

To me, the ZERO HUB rollout process has so far been a litmus test in how far companies are either stuck with their leadership, culture, programs, short-termism, and excuses to keep on doing ‘less bad’, or their willingness to co-create, think out-of-the-box, and get senior management/board committment for intended cross-fertilization. There has been a lot of shadow and some light so far, the coming double-dip scenario again leads to corporate ‘cocooning’, and all companies that so far committed to take part needed – amazingly enough – board resolutions for freeing the capacity.

The KATERVA Awards

Deloitte Netherlands has been a contributor and sponsor of Katerva, and my personal experience leading our team involved in the Awards – called already the ‘Nobel for Sustainability’ by Reuters – has been very enriching. The Katerva Awards ( are the pinnacle of global sustainability recognition. Through them, the best ideas on the planet are identified, refined and accelerated toward impact at a global level. Katerva Award nominees must undergo a rigorous evaluation process to be eligible for the grand prize. The practical, strategic, scientific, social and commercial aspects of each project are thoroughly analyzed through a meticulous eleven month review process. More than 600 individuals participate in the nominee identification and adjudication process including six filtering phases and twelve stages of focused review.

As the review process indicates, Katerva isn’t looking for ideas that will improve the world in small increments. They are looking for paradigm-busting ideas. Award winners don’t simply move the needle when it comes to efficiency, lifestyle or consumption, but rather they change the game entirely. This is a celebration of radical innovation and an acceleration of much needed change.

The winner of this (inaugural) year’s award – Sanergy – will receive over $500,000 in in-kind services from a variety of top-tier global service providers, along with global media exposure and access to the global network of thought and business leaders, academics and institutes, political and celebrity figures, and activists the world over. The Prize Jury in 2011 was composed of a distinguished group of global leaders, including Jean-Michel Cousteau, Mary Robinson, Dr. J. Craig Venter, Marina Silva, Gunther Pauli, Jeremy Rifkin, Lord St. John of Bletso and John Elkington.

For the 2012 Awards cycle Katerva now looks for interested experts in the 10 Award categories to joining the so-called Global Spotter Network which plays the important role of helping to identify and nominate the best sustainability programs on the planet for recognition and award. All that is asked of the spotters is that they make Katerva aware of any ‘paradigm-busting’ sustainability ideas they come across. That’s it. No phone calls. No meetings. No real effort required. Just one or two emails a year informing of something that has caught their attention. Of all the sustainability-related ideas that you may be exposed to every year, you filter out all those that you may find interesting but not truly revolutionary, and then feed into Katerva the one or two that you feel has the potential to become a true ‘game-changer.’ Terry Waghorn, Founder and CEO of Katerva, would be happy to see your willingness to help, contact him [+1.619.618.0464 (direct), Skype: terry.waghorn, mail:].

2012 – a very important year

2012 will be a very important year. Not only do we see a series of key anniversaries, but Rio +20 as one of them will give us another summary of the state of the world and our ability to jointly solve them. ‘As the years teach me what the days never knew’ (to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson) I am hoping that 20 years after I decided that sustainability would be the focus of my business life, the recognition is finally there that we reached the point of no return. The slow death path that we are on is no solution any longer and we have only another decade (or two) to finally fix the damage.

I’d like to finish my 2011 review with Vaclav Havel, who showed us that change is possible, even in the worst of all possible system conditions: “Vision is not enough. It must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs!”.

How many steps of the staircase will you take in 2012?

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Posted by on December 24, 2011 in Towards 'sustainomics'


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