While debate continues about the pace of global warming and its cause, reliable estimates show that the environmental and social problems of energy use and population growth are immense.
According to the UN, the world’s population will grow from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 9.1 billion by 2050. Rising numbers of people, along with increasing affluence, will place significant strain on critical resources. The UN also reported recently that global consumption of resources will triple by 2050, thereby creating “an unsustainable future in terms of both resource use and emissions, probably exceeding all possible measures of available resources and assessments of limits to the capacity to absorb impacts.”
As one executive told us, “The numbers are very scary. We simply cannot maintain the same quality of life if we continue to consume the way we do.” Executives, politicians, and representatives from NGOs have all agreed in recent conversations that the issue of energy and other resource consumption requires public/private solutions driven by a focus on innovation.
Though the scale of the problem has encouraged action and innovation, success has been greatly limited by factors ranging from individual motivations and philosophical differences to a lack of coordination and no shared framework of the problem or necessary solutions. There is much distrust among key parties. The public sector is wary of the private sector. The private sector is divided, and variously wary of the public sector. The social sector is skeptical of everyone.
As another executive pointed out, “We all focus on our own needs, but we rarely get together … to find new technologies, and we don’t get together with the potential providers of new technology as a group. Even though we are competitors, we all benefit from innovation.”
Tapestry Networks has been exploring these issues since 2007 in discussions with directors, executives, regulators, politicians, NGOs, and other subject matter experts.
Business opportunities and risks in sustainability
Several audit committee networks held dialogues in spring 2012 with Brendan LeBlanc and Steve Starbuck from Ernst & Young on business opportunities and risks in sustainability. Important stakeholders are driving corporate engagement on sustainability, and leading corporations are enhancing their sustainability reporting. Boards can add real value to corporate sustainability programs by understanding management's sustainability objectives and encouraging sustainability champions.
Environmental risk and reporting
Members discussed the mounting pressure to address environmental risks, the varying responses of companies and boards to these pressures, and the emerging standards and practices for environmental reporting.
The sustainability journey: From compliance, to opportunity, to an integrated business strategy
Sustainability is rising up corporate executive and board agendas, due not only to compliance-related risks, but also to the business opportunities that sustainability initiatives present.
The governance of sustainability
How are companies responding to increased pressure from a range of stakeholders to ensure that sustainability-related risks are being mitigated and business opportunities optimized? To find out, Tapestry interviewed more than 20 audit committee chairs from leading companies in the United States and Europe in the fall of 2007.