When I talk about the shortcomings of sustainability-as-usual and why this mode is inadequate for the era of climate crisis, I’m often asked: What is the alternative? What should we replace sustainability-as-usual with? In my new book Rethinking Corporate Sustainability in the Era of Climate Crisis — A Strategic Design Approach, I share my answer to these questions, presenting a new vision I call awakened sustainability. This is part of a series of articles highlighting issues I discuss in the new book.

Credit: Thomas Hawk

“Eco-effective designers expand their vision from the primary purpose of a product or system and consider the whole. What are its goals and potential effects, both immediate and wide-ranging, with respect to both time and place? What is the entire system — cultural, commercial, ecological — of which this made thing, and way of making things, will be a part?” -Bill McDonough & Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

Why do we need a vision?

Companies like to use the term ‘vision’ when considering their future in general and in the context of sustainability in particular. Target, for example, just…

How do we fix corporate sustainability? Changing the focal point from corporate sustainability practices (normal matter) to the elements that underlie corporate sustainability (dark matter) is a good starting point. 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). You can find the other articles here, here, and here.

Credit: Dark matter visual — Wikipedia

Corporate sustainability is broken. It may not be easy to see it with the constant news on new net-zero pledges, innovative products, successful stakeholder resolutions, and ongoing ESG buzz. So, yes, companies are moving forward but too slowly and incrementally as they are still operating in what I describe in my book as a sustainability-as-usual mode. In this mode, efforts to make businesses more sustainable become common, but at the same time, they are still subjected to a shareholder capitalism mental model, which significantly limits the effectiveness of these efforts.

The problem with sustainability-as-usual is that it is an…

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?

Image credit: Zeronaut.be

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. …

Raz Godelnik

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

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