The climate crisis requires us to challenge our taken-for-granted assumptions, including the need to make the business case for sustainability. In this article, I explain why we should start asking instead: What’s the sustainability case of business? This is part of a series of articles highlighting issues I discuss in my upcoming book “Rethinking Corporate Sustainability in the Era of Climate Crisis — A Strategic Design Approach” (July 2021).

Credit: Ron Mader

In an online event on the circular economy organized by the New York Times last week, Andrew Ross Sorkin asked Matt Dwyer, VP of Product Impact & Innovation at Patagonia about the expensive price of Patagonia products. Dwyer replied: “it is expensive and for a good reason…it’s not just about using recycled materials, it’s things like fair trade, it’s carving a path towards regenerative organic agriculture, and proving that we can run a very healthy sustainable business at the same time.”

Patagonia is indeed a healthy sustainable business with annual sales of over $1 billion. Earlier this month it…

This is the second in a series of articles I publish in preparation for the release of my upcoming book “Rethinking Corporate Sustainability in the Era of Climate Crisis — A Strategic Design Approach”. This time I focus on the narratives we need to have in place to move companies away from sustainability-as-usual.

Credit: Times Up Linz

There is one thing that both President Biden and Republicans share when it comes to climate change — understanding narratives. President Biden understands the need to frame the fight over climate as a way to improve people’s lives here and now. This is why he focuses on jobs when talking about the climate crisis (“For too long we’ve failed to use the most important word when it comes to meeting the climate crisis: Jobs. Jobs. Jobs”). His opponents try to do the exact opposite, which is why they falsely frame his plan as an effort to ban hamburgers.


I’m starting today a series of articles in preparation for the release of my upcoming book “Rethinking Corporate Sustainability in the Era of Climate Crisis — A Strategic Design Approach(Palgrave MacMillan, July 2021). The first piece is about the signs we can already see of the (hopefully near) end of sustainability-as-usual.

Credit: New Georgia Project

If you look around corporate sustainability seems bolder and more promising than ever with new commitments of companies for net-zero emission targets, efforts to create global standardization for sustainability reporting, circular economy innovations, greater attention to social justice issues, and so on. Furthermore, there is increasing recognition at the C-suite level that the climate crisis is a critical issue for business, as reflected in Larry Fink’s latest letter to CEOs, where he noted: “There is no company whose business model won’t be profoundly affected by the transition to a net zero economy.”

And yet, when we take a closer look…

We see a flood of corporate climate change plans and commitments, but are companies go far enough, or is it just a mirage of corporate responsibility? Right now it is impossible to tell, but a new framework, which evaluates climate change plans with just five multiple-choice questions, is here to help.

Almost every day now we have an announcement of a company presenting a new climate change plan and/or commitments. This is supposed to be good news, right? After all, it shows that companies pay attention and respond to the climate crisis. At the same time, we need to remember…

What do we do when we have a new Democratic President who wants to pursue a bold climate agenda and a Senate that is not that interested in big climate policies? One option is to work harder to elect politicians who are committed to fighting climate change. Another option is to expand our theory of change and focus on changing companies, not just politicians.

Image credit: Marcia Cirrilo

This week’s elections are nerve-wracking for everyone, but it seems to be especially difficult, not to say devastating to those of us who had high hopes for a new course of action on climate change. The anticipation was that President Biden, with the help of a Democratic-led Congress (and a push from its progressive wing of the party), will help overcome four years of destruction and move forward quickly and swiftly to advance a bold climate agenda.

Now that the Republican party seems to keep its hold of the Senate (pending two runoff Senate elections in Georgia in January), this…

We will reach soon the milestone of 1,000 companies committing to a science-based target to cut their emissions in line with a 1.5C future, but is this strategy effective? I suggest that there is one critical piece missing from this strategy that needs to be addressed or else we lose the war on climate change.

Senate Democrats unveiled last month their plan to tackle climate change. The 255-page report paid close attention to the connections between politics and business. One of the key points in the report could be found on its last page: “The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has pointed out that corporate America’s most powerful tool in the fight against climate change is its political clout. Internal corporate sustainability measures alone will never avert the crisis.”

This sentiment was also echoed in a 2019 report of the watchdog group InfluenceMap, which assessed the impact of influential companies on climate policies worldwide. It…

These are not regular times. The multiple crises we face require us to challenge almost every assumption, idea, and practice we have. The circular economy is no different. Can a non-inclusive, growth-based strategy be a viable sustainability strategy for business in 2020?

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Over the last couple of years, the circular economy became a key solution in the fight to fix the dysfunctional ‘take-make-waste’ linear model dominating our economy for a long time. Still, looking at the current challenges we deal with — COVID-19, racial injustice, massive unemployment, and of course climate change, one could not wonder if the circular economy is still the way forward, i.e. should it still be a leading sustainability strategy for companies?

According to the 2020 State of the Green Business report, “the idea of a circular economy is growing up fast,” moving quickly “into the boardrooms…

The corporate response to the George Floyd protests indicates that with all the progress made on corporate social responsibility, companies didn’t move too far from business as usual. In this piece, I explain what’s wrong with this “sustainability-as-usual” approach, and what companies can do to go beyond it.

Image credit: Geoff Livingston

In 1970 Milton Friedman made the case that the “only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits”. This view may seem to no longer represent the dominant mindset in the business world, which got more involved in social and environmental responsibility. However, the response of companies in the U.S. to the protests following the death of George Floyd suggests that these efforts are far from enough. …

This is the story of Flight Zero, an experiment with a new recipe for change that works to effectively connect the dots between individual lifestyle changes and collective action to fight the climate crisis

Chapter 1: The Early Days (remember 2019?)

It’s amazing to think how quickly everything can change. On February 10th, the first day of “Flight Zero”, the number of commercial flights worldwide was 100,456 according to Flightradar24. On May 11, 2020 the number of flights went down by almost 70 percent to 32,009. These numbers could bounce back quickly, but the scope and pace of change in the number of flights due to COVID-19 proved how the unthinkable can quickly become reality.

In 2019 the story of flying was very different. Greta Thunberg’s travel to the U.S. on a sailboat as part of her no-flying commitment, together…

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is challenging many of the assumptions we have about almost everything, including the role and value of design. We listen to doctors, health experts, politicians, economists and businesspeople, but not (yet?) to designers. We share thoughts and questions on what this moment may mean for designers and their role in and beyond the coronavirus crisis.

By Peter Friedrich Stephan and Raz Godelnik

Photo credit: Chad Davis

Spaceship Earth is Shaking

Spaceship Earth as Bucky Fuller calls our planet has been traveling in recent months into the “unknown unknowns” territory, making fun of any assumptions, plans, strategies and intentions we had prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Having so many people around the world shaken by a virus they probably never heard about until a month or two ago is a good reminder that we still don’t have the instruction manual for this spaceship. It is also a reminder that we need to be humble about the assumptions we have on how the world…

Raz Godelnik

Assistant Prof. at Parsons School of Design. Working on new book: Rethinking Corporate Sustainability in the Era of Climate Crisis — A Strategic Design Approach

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