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Sustainable Futures

Is global cotton at risk unless brands help farmers save water?

Published September 09, 2014
Is global cotton at risk unless brands help farmers save water?

CottonConnect warns that more support is needed for cotton farmers as they grapple with the effects of water scarcity. The company calls for the cotton supply chain to help take farmer training to scale to increase yields and reduce the water footprint in cotton-growing regions in the developing world.

Basic interventions such as farmer training and knowledge-sharing on basic agricultural practices have resulted in 30 percent reductions in water use among smallholder farmer and installing simple technologies, such as drip irrigation systems, have resulted in water savings of up to 60 percent.

CottonConnect, a business with a social mission to help retailers and brands create a more sustainable cotton supply chain, has issued a new report [PDF] which looks at how brands can work with smallholder farmers.

It says that to protect the cotton industry, brands need to get involved in supporting smallholder farmers in the developing world, where over 100 million smallholder farmers are responsible for 90 percent of the world's cotton production.

Three steps to a better supply chain

CottonConnect suggests brands collaborate on these three goals:

1. Map and ensure greater transparency and closer relationships across the supply chain;

2. Support farmer training programs for basic interventions to reduce water footprints;

3. Collaborate and help to fund initiatives to help drive cotton supply chain sustainability at scale.

"Through farmer training program, working closely with more than 130,000 farmers, we have learned that many do not have access to basic information and training," said Alison Ward, CEO of CottonConnect.

"But implementing simple measures farmers can improve their yield and make significant water savings. With these sorts of findings and with the knowledge that there are more than 100 million farmers involved in cotton production, we know we need to scale up these efforts to dramatically reduce the water footprint in the cotton industry. But we cannot do that without the support of brands.

"Brands selling cotton clothes and homeware products are reliant on a supply chain which is facing severe climate change impacts and water shortages. It is in their interest to work closely with organizations that can influence cotton farmers in conserving and making better use of the water they have.

"We offer an opportunity to make that happen. We have access and trust of the farmers through our partners - and we can scale-up our impact more than ten times over with the right support. Failure to connect all parts of this supply chain will put the future of cotton at risk."

CottonConnect has worked with 130,000 cotton farmers and their families in India, Pakistan and China, proving that basic interventions can make a huge difference to the water being used to grow cotton, one of the world's most thirsty crops.

Credit: World Bank Photo Collection via FlickrThe company has collaborated with major brands, including John Lewis, and organizantions such as C&A Foundation along with the Better Cotton Initiative, to help improve relationships with farmers on the ground, improve resilience and share best practice in basic agricultural techniques and technologies, in cotton growing regions of the developing world.

The new report invites other brands and retailers to support education and training among smallholder farmers to increase impact and scale. It says that if companies work in collaboration with NGOs, governments and their competitors, they can help to scale-up these proven water conservation methods and drive sustainability improvements across the entire cotton supply chain, which consists of more than 100 million smallholder cotton farmers globally.

The water debate is in the spotlight, with major global corporates helping to raise the profile of today's most pressing water challenges.

"But the other end of the supply chain is often overlooked. With 100 million farmers growing cotton globally, the impact that can be had through providing access to learning and basic technologies is significant," says the report. "Companies, NGOs, governments and international development agencies must not forget the farmers on the ground that need the help and support of all stakeholders if they are to run more efficient and sustainable operations."

Case studies in the report

The " Basic Agricultural Practices Adopted in India " case study highlights CottonConnect's farmer training program in Maharashtra , a western region of India where the falling water table has left farmers vulnerable. Some simple changes to practices — such as burrow irrigation, green mulching and soil conservation - has enabled farmers to improve yields and reduce their water use by 30 percent.

Another project in India was funded by the C&A Foundation and designed to improve the productivity of the cotton crop for farmers by cutting the water footprint through the use of irrigation. Magan Bhai from Sanosara village in Gujarat, India installed a drip irrigation system and increased his production of cotton by 50 percent compared to the previous year. Last year, his earnings jumped from INR190,000 ($3,147) to INR285,000 ($4,720).

"Bringing John Lewis Face to Face with its Cotton Farmers ," discusses the U.K. retailer's three-year farmer training program with CottonConnect designed to improve its relationship with suppliers and increase traceability of its products. In total, 1,500 farmers will be trained, positively affecting the lives, livelihoods and employment of around 7,500 people — and giving the John Lewis buying team a full understanding of exactly where their cotton comes from.

Top image of cotton plant by -RS- via Flickr. This article first appeared at .

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Sustainability & Employee Engagement

The GreenBiz Group Employee Engagement survey, conducted in March 2014, examines aspects of corporate environmental and sustainability education initiatives at companies at varying stages of program development. This survey builds on the GreenBiz Group and NEEF 2008 and 2011 survey findings featured in “The Engaged Organization” and “Toward Engagement 2.0” and provides a quantitative understanding of the evolution of employee engagement. Click here to download this free report.

GreenBiz Focus on Jobs

Here are the top 10 'VERGE' jobs of the future
By Ellen Weinreb

Technology glitters, but it's also green. Which careers will build a sustainable future in our companies and cities?...Read More

Dear Shannon: How can I make a career switch to impact investing?
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Because you enjoy the day-to-day tasks of your job, think about holding on to your job function, and instead switch the focus to something such as impact investing. ...Read More

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    Dear Shannon: How can I make a career switch to impact investing?

    Published September 08, 2014
    Dear Shannon: How can I make a career switch to impact investing?

    Dear Shannon,

    I've been with a fund management firm in London for the past five years since graduating from a master's program. While I enjoy my job function and the day-to-day buzz of being in "The City," I'm becoming increasingly disillusioned with the purpose of my work. I think I've fallen out of love with making money. I took a three-month sabbatical last year to volunteer in East Africa and loved it. While I don't think I want to change careers completely and work in international development, I would like to try something new. Any ideas?

    Caroline, London

    Dear Caroline,

    Consider this a friendly slap on the back for having the courage to look beyond your bank balance and follow your heart. It takes guts to admit that you're no longer satisfied with your career choice, and frankly, as a fund manager you may feel like you have more to lose than others who are perhaps earning less. But it's important to remember that you also have so much to gain: fulfillment, passion and that elusive sense of purpose you seem to be missing right now. As you likely know, these can't be bought.

    That's why in this month's column, I'll help you imagine a future in which you are living and working closer to your values and, from there, outline the kind of steps you can take to start moving in that direction right away and, with a bit of luck, reverse some of that toxic disillusionment you are experiencing in your professional life.

    Swapping 'more' for 'better'

    Because you're still motivated by the pace of life in London's financial district, "The City," and enjoy the day-to-day tasks of your job, think about holding on to your job function and instead switch the focus to something such as impact investing. This type of socially responsible investment earns more than just profit. Impact investing harnesses the power of enterprise to earn additional benefits for people and the planet. As Margot Kane puts it, it brings a different set of calculations to your investment decisions so that social or environmental good is included. For the people lining up the deals, the bonus is feel-good kudos.

    Those looking to forge a career in this new and exciting area require financial know-how and savvy business intuition to crunch the hard numbers on the viability of an organization, fund or company, and ensure a financial return like any traditional investment. But impact investors also need a compassionate heart to generate the measurable, beneficial returns on social and environmental impact. You can do this by using your financial skills to provide capital to diverse worldwide initiatives in areas such as sustainable agriculture, affordable housing, accessible healthcare, clean technology and access to financial services, according to the Global Impact Investors Network.

    The client pool is diverse and includes passionate individual investors keen to support a cause they believe in and, in some instances, non-accredited investors with as little as $20 to put in. Take the Calvert Foundation's Community Investment Note (PDF), for example, through which people can participate through online broker Microplace for less than a round of drinks. Ours to Own is another project seeking similarly humble investments to make major changes to the "cities we love." It's a whole different ball game from what you are used to in The City.

    Invest in your own impact

    So how do you move from the traditional finance sphere into an impact role? And what kind of skills and traits will you need to successfully make that transition? Below I've set out my top tips for landing yourself the kind of dream job that allows you to make a difference while making money.

    1. Get connected

    There are events, mailing lists, webinars, LinkedIn groups and news stories that you should be reading, joining and attending, so first things first to get connected. The GIIN is a good place to start — it has weekly emails and events that bring people from all over the sector together, while organizations such as Acumen Fund, Rockefeller Foundation and ANDE (Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, a group with a particularly diverse membership base) are also worth following and reaching out to through your LinkedIn network to see if you know anyone as first or second connections in any of them.

    1. Get up to speed

    Impact investing is evolving rapidly and becoming increasingly diverse. As a new player in this field, you need to appreciate the nuances. This means doing your homework to fully understand the approaches, structure and specialties within the sector. Now more than ever, this understanding is crucial: there are unusual forms of exit and, as FastCo's useful blog on the subject insists, even the "basic definitions of 'returns' and 'capital' can have different meanings among proponents and between different firms." The takeaway? Make sure you're clear on how your fund-management skills could translate for the different approaches or structures.

    1. Get specific

    Given all this newfound, woolly diversity, it's important that you define your niche as much as possible. Are your passions in the developing world or closer to home? In environmental issues such as water, biodiversity and energy or more on the social side of the fence in health, gender or education? Get specific if you want to make maximum impact. Casting your net too wide works against you, especially when making a career change. The hiring manager you may network or speak with will want to know what your specific target is, and what the audience that you are selling your unique skillset to is.

    1. Get networking, and nurture

    A successful career in impact investing will require you to understand clients' financial needs and values, and connect them to impact investment opportunities that make sense. Make sure you're mining the richest seams by building a strong network: hone your personal branding and marketing tools, reach out to the community and strengthen your connections with colleagues, clients and customers. Nurturing them is sure to reap rewards. Julia Matsudaira of Goldman Sachs is certain that organizational and business success rests on the strength of your relationships: "Strong relationships are based on trust," she said. "Personal finance is often a private and intimate matter that requires wealth advisors to not only be skillful in financial management, but also trustworthy, to uphold their fiduciary duty." This applies to impact investing as well.

    Dedication is the key to success, but passion is the door

    Why work for profit alone when you can work for purpose too? Your masters career advisor may have thought differently, but pursuing your passions is not frivolous. In fact, it's the only way to ensure a sustainable career — one that satisfies you on every level, and one that you can imagine doing for a long, long time. Impact investing holds many opportunities for someone with your financial and investment skillset. Now you’ve got to do your homework, find your niche and reach out to your networks. What are you waiting for?

    If seizing your goals and living life with purpose and passion seems like an insurmountable challenge, contact me for some bespoke advice on careers in impact investing and converting your resume for your translated skills story.

    Top image by Syda Productions via Shutterstock.

    Inside the Walmart-Target products summit

    Published September 08, 2014
    Inside the Walmart-Target products summit

    Over the last 12 months, there has been impressive movement to increase ingredient transparency and replace a number of chemicals of concern in consumer products.

    Walmart announced a “Sustainable Chemistry Policy” and a list of around 10 priority chemicals; Target launched a Sustainable Product Standard; and P&G, Johnson and Johnson, and Avon all announced phase-outs of chemicals including triclosan, diethyl phthalate, and formaldehyde-releasing compounds.

    Nonetheless, these initiatives have been discrete, often focused chemical by chemical, and limited in their capability to promote innovation among chemical suppliers. We have not seen the kind of broader, industry-wide innovation that would truly move us towards inherently safer, more sustainable products.

    That’s why this past week was such an interesting new milestone – and a new motivator for action – as Walmart and Target came together in Chicago to foster a conversation about sustainable products and supply chain transparency. It was dubbed the Beauty and Personal Care Products Sustainability Summit.  (The event was conducted under the Chatham House Rule, meaning that I won't be able to mention the companies that were present, or who said what.)

    This event was kind of big news on its own. Walmart and Target have never before worked together to motivate their suppliers — the national brands, and in turn their suppliers, the chemical companies — to be more transparent about chemicals in their products. The two retail giants were able to jointly convene the entire supply chain for personal care products, including several other large retailers, most of the top consumer packaged goods brands, the leading green brands, major chemical suppliers, and several fragrance suppliers.

    Forum for the Future, which moderated the day, conducted interviews and a survey before the event. In the survey, industry representatives ranked the issues of greatest concern to the industry as: first, the impact of chemicals (on health & environment); second, transparency; third, waste and disposal of products; fourth, packaging; and finally, consumer behavior.

    Forum for the Future

    When asked the “one thing” most likely to improve the sustainability of the industry, participants responded: first, transparency, next, common measurements, and last, consumer education.

    Forum for the Future poll

    A panel made up of merchants — the people who decide what goes on retail shelves — then made clear that consumers are demanding more sustainable products, they are more informed than ever before, and their expectations are higher. As one merchant noted, “The customer is ahead of us. And we are playing whack-a-mole. This is not a way to lead.”

    Another merchant added, “Customers should not have to choose between a sustainable and a good product.”

    So that’s the good news. The people in industry closest to consumers recognize the need for alignment on sustainability standards, information sharing, and increasing the selection of high quality, affordable, and sustainable products.

    Of course, not everyone in the room was aligned on moving forward on transparency and new product development. I heard an earful from one chemical supplier who asserted that consumers don’t care about these issues, and don’t want to know ingredients. Moreover, this person asserted, nobody has died from using personal care products. Plus, if companies are forced to disclose their ingredients their intellectual property will be stolen, they will likely go out of business, and U.S. jobs will disappear.

    I also heard what I considered legitimate intellectual property concerns from some companies about disclosing their full formulations. These companies feared formulation disclosure might be used by their competitors or even by the retailers themselves for their private label products.

    Several of the national brands asserted that the industry is already well regulated, they have spent millions on safety testing, their products are safe, they don’t need greater transparency, and the real problem is NGO scare campaigns, consumer misunderstandings, and sometimes mis-use of their products.

    Interestingly, merchants from several of the retailers were the most consistent voices reiterating that consumers are concerned, they want to know more, and they don’t trust industry to regulate itself.

    Areas of action

    Several “areas of action” were identified for in-depth discussion during the day. A “Consumer Behavior” group focused on:

    • Translating information into understandable forms that empower consumers to make informed choices; and,
    • Creating incentives for consumer behavior change, such as by leveraging social influence and making sustainable products “cooler.”

    A “Chemicals & Transparency” group discussed:

    • Reaching alignment on the evaluative criteria used to assess products;
    • Creating trusted information across the supply chain;
    • Creating bi-directional information flows up and down the supply chain in a way that protects IP;
    • Conducting joint R&D to identify alternative chemicals; and,
    • Sharing risk across the entire value chain and incentives for formulators to design new products.

    [There was also a track on packaging, however, I was not able to participate in those conversations.]

    Actionable solutions

    Break-out groups were tasked with developing areas for action. One NGO representative joked to me that most of the proposals were behind where Target and Walmart are already at. But three ideas I thought were promising were discussions around:

    1. Collaborative R&D on tough ingredient issues in which firms co-fund research on new materials. One example might be to collaborate to find alternatives to preservatives (such as methyl paraben). This would be an opt-in process, with a third-party administrator managing the sharing of information across firms, and ultimately the sharing of benefits. I believe there is a huge opportunity for the first chemical suppliers to participate in this type of process.
    2. Developing a process to share ingredient and sustainability data along the value chain. This would involve consistent processes to collect and share data (while protecting legitimate IP concerns), that is bi-directional and based on comprehensive and consistent standards. This kind of system would save everyone in the supply chain time and money.
    3. Empowering consumers with better information. This would entail creating a transparency system for consumers so they feel confident about what they buy, something akin to a nutrition label for personal-care products.

    Moving forward

    The summit was clearly just the start of a longer process. It’s goal was to map the supply chain, build trust, and begin a dialogue. As one representative from a brand said, “We’ve been working with individual retailers for many years…I think this might be the end of that era.”

    In this regard, it was exciting to see key actors across the supply chain come together to discuss information sharing and innovation toward more sustainable products.

    The big question is whether retailers can align their initiatives and energies to motivate action and overcome the barriers and concerns of certain actors in the supply chain. Can they coordinate around a standard set of evaluative criteria (which has proven very difficult), a core set of sustainability and health data to collect (much more doable), and a common list of chemicals for replacement (which is key for aligning the market)?

    And, ultimately: Can they create incentives for innovation so companies down the supply chain invest in the development of alternative chemicals and safer products?

    Photocollage by GreenBiz Group

    Sustainability & Employee Engagement

    Published September 08, 2014

    The third edition of our employee engagement survey, which we began in 2008 in partnership with the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). In our most recent results, 73 percent of respondents indicated that their company is educating employees across the organization about its corporate sustainability goals.

    The GreenBiz Group Employee Engagement survey, conducted in March 2014, examines aspects of corporate environmental and sustainability education initiatives at companies at varying stages of program development. This survey builds on the GreenBiz Group and NEEF 2008 and 2011 survey findings featured in “The Engaged Organization” and “Toward Engagement 2.0” and provides a quantitative understanding of the evolution of employee engagement.

    What’s new and interesting:

    • “Sustainability” remains the established phrase to describe a company’s environmental sustainability initiatives. “Greening” for many years was the second-most-used term but is now almost the least used to describe these initiatives.
    • Social and environmental activities converge. As companies begin to address more complex supply-chain issues, those surveyed see environmental and social issues becoming more connected.
    • Has sustainability knowledge become less important or have we “arrived”? In large companies, those surveyed see less of an increase in the value placed on a job candidate’s sustainability knowledge than in years past, while mid-sized and small companies still see this as increasing.


    Download the report




    How can global real estate reporting shape a greener world?

    Published September 05, 2014
    How can global real estate reporting shape a greener world?

    Catch Nils Kok in person at VERGE Salon NYC 2014, Sep. 16 and at VERGE SF 2014, October 27-30.

    With increased societal focus on resource scarcity, the need for de-carbonization, and the effects of climate change, investors have become increasingly aware of the implications from these, generally longer term, megatrends.

    More than any other investment class, real assets are exposed to the direct, local consequences posed by these global risks: more stringent regulatory requirements; changing societal preferences for places to work, live, and play; and exposure to climate-related events, such as flooding and extreme weather conditions.

    With these investment beliefs in mind, in 2009 three large pension funds joined forces to better understand their exposure to risks related to environmental, social and governance issues in their global portfolios of investments in property companies and private equity real estate funds. The first assessment of the sustainability performance of the real estate industry, based on a selection of 43 material metrics, led to the inaugural results of the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark , including 198 property companies and funds.

    GRESB outcomes clearly showed that the real estate sector was just waking up to the reality of integrating sustainability in its investment and asset management strategies: for example, only 19 percent of benchmark participants had some information on energy consumption, and only 20 participants (10 percent) achieved a ranking in the highest category (Green Stars).

    GRESB becomes SOP

    Five years later, sustainability reporting has become has become standard practice for a large part of the world's property companies and fund managers. In consultation with the real estate industry, GRESB has further developed the set of metrics that constitute the most important sustainability issues for its more than 130 members, of which 42 are pension funds and their fiduciaries, jointly representing some $8.8 trillion in assets under management. This year, 637 listed property companies and private equity real estate funds submitted data, covering 56,000 buildings (excluding single-family residential assets) with an aggregate value of $2.1 trillion.

    Not only has the coverage of sustainability reporting improved, but the sustainability performance of benchmark participants also shows significant progress. For example, 79 percent of property companies and funds now measure energy consumption in their buildings. Collectively, between 2012 and 2013, the commercial real estate sector reduced its energy consumption by 0.8 percent, carbon emissions fell by 0.3, and water consumption by 2.3 percent (based on like-for-like data from 508, 434, and 462 participants, respectively). Over a third of the benchmark constituents are now ranked in the highest "Green Star" category.

    Potential for change

    Looking forward, there is no doubt that buildings will continue to be a focus of environmental legislation. In six years from now, all new construction in European Union countries will need to reach a "nearly zero-energy" standard. Following disclosure laws in Australia and the EU, ten US cities, two states and one county now require the benchmarking and disclosure of building energy performance for large commercial, institutional and multifamily buildings. Green building certification programs have become institutionalized in the real estate market, with over 34,000 commercial buildings certified across the globe (according to the Green Building Information Gateway), and LEED buildings representing 19.4 percent of the top 30 largest US commercial office markets (according to the Green Building Adoption Index of CBRE/Maastricht University).

    For investors, these trends of increasing transparency and enhanced sustainability performance at the asset level will likely affect the volatility and profitability of real estate investments in property companies and funds. The financial industry continues to seek ways to incorporate ESG metrics in financial decision-making, with new investment opportunities, such as green property bonds, recently added to the universe of investment vehicles.

    The need for reliable, investment grade data on ESG metrics continues to increase with the advent of capital market interest in the topic, and GRESB will be at the forefront of providing increasingly granular, high-quality data to the industry. This data will provide transparency, allowing pension funds, insurance companies, banks, and other institutional investors and lenders to incorporate non-financial information into their investment decision-making.

    For the global real estate industry, accurate benchmarking at the portfolio level will increase competition and the speed with which sustainability best practices diffuse into the market. This will enhance and protect the value of real estate investments, and ultimately contribute to a more efficient, more sustainable built environment.

    Top image of office building by Mark Rubens via Shutterstock.

    PepsiCo backs new tool to predict water risks

    Published September 05, 2014
    Tags: Waste, Water
    PepsiCo backs new tool to predict water risks

    Global food and beverage companies from Anheuser-Busch InBev to Coca-Cola to Molson Coors have all created tools to measure and slake their thirst for water.

    But a new modeling tool created by the Inter-American Development Bank and funded by PepsiCo addresses a more systemic challenge: helping communities and companies better understand how proposed policies or plans could affect freshwater supplies.

    Called Hydro-BID (PDF), the system lets planners generate water availability projections based on fluctuating climate, population and land use scenarios. Initially focused on Latin America and the Caribbean, it already has been used in pilots in Argentina, Brazil, Haiti and Peru. Its mission is to guide infrastructure projects in sanitation, transportation, energy and irrigation.

    "Contrary to popular belief, floods and droughts are foreseeable phenomena that governments and communities can prepare for," said Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, an IDB hydrologist and water resource engineer. "Not only will Hydro-BID help communities prepare for natural disasters, it will also help public utility and water managers get a better handle on water planning and budgets."

    What makes this tool different from other great water data visualization resources, such as Aqueduct from the World Resources Institute, is its focus on supporting "what-if" assessments over time, based on varying inputs. Right now, Hydro-BID covers more than 230,000 catchments, along with rainfall and temperature information, and runoff models. Analysts can visualize scenarios over time to gauge changes in flow rates or reservoir levels. It's an open source project, meaning that IDB hopes the technology could eventually be applied to other regions.

    Part of the funding behind Hydro-BID comes from PepsiCo's $5 million grant to the IDB AquaFund, the first such private-sector contribution to the initiative. Next steps for the technology include deeper pilot projects in Brazil and Peru.

    Latin America has been a big focus for PepsiCo's water stewardship efforts: it already has improved its water efficiency by 20 percent against its 2006 baseline, that amounted to 14 billion liters in water savings during 2012 alone.

    Like other companies, it is busily deploying technologies that could have an even bigger impact — and that could show up elsewhere. In Colombia, for example, PepsiCo reuses 75 percent of the water entering its food facility; it conserves at least 90 million liters with high-efficiency water reclamation systems alone.

    Learn more about next-generation water management and hear from Dan Bena, PepsiCo's senior director of sustainable development, at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27 to 30Top image of reservoir in Sierras de Cordoba, Argentina, by Gabi Lamberti via Flickr

    The Future MBA, week 9: Green spaces and green courses

    By Giselle Weybrecht
    Published September 05, 2014
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    Tags: Business Models, Business Operations, More... Business Models, Business Operations, Career Tools, Corporate Strategy, Facilities, Leaders, Operations & Maintenance, Schools, Small Business, Social Responsibility, The Business Case
    The Future MBA, week 9: Green spaces and green courses

    For 100 days I am posting 100 ways that we could rethink and reimagine the MBA, to transform it into a tool for creating the sustainable leaders that our organizations and the planet need.

    I’ll explore all aspects of the MBA, ranging from curriculum and research to partnerships and campus activities. Some ideas could be put into practice tomorrow while others would require a complete rethinking of the way we view the MBA.

    This brainstorming of ideas is meant to encourage discussion, so please share your thoughts and comments and elaborate on the ideas you find the most interesting.

    Day 57: Life/work balance (part 1)

    The environment in which we work in the future will be much different from what it is today. Fixed working days, long hours, short vacations will be replaced with more flexible options that see productivity and innovation increase substantially. There will be a renewed focus on what is important — a balance between work, life, family, friends, community — without being at the expense of business. We will work smarter.

    In order for this necessary change to happen, we will need our future leaders to have a better understanding and respect for the importance of life in the life/work balance and how they can help create a business environment that accepts, supports and thrives on this shift in balance.

    The Future MBA will have a range of experiences throughout the program that not only will provide an overview of some challenges of balancing work and life at different stages of the student’s career but also will expose students to a range of issues that they, or those that work around or eventually for them, may experience through their working lives. This includes the changes that having a family has on your career and how to provide a space to enable parents to be more successful at both roles, including paternity and maternity leaves.

    Having a better understanding of these topics also will enable students to better respond to co-workers' situations and create a work environment that brings the best out of those working within it.

    Day 58: The Natural Environment

    The MBA is an intense, one- to two-year program focused on business. But the business sector operates within a much wider environment that is not fully explored or presented within the degree, yet it significantly affects and is affected by the business sector. How can we create a generation of graduates that have a better understanding of the world that business works within?

    The Natural Environment is a series of core courses focused on providing students with a basic but sound background of what is happening on planet Earth and how our natural environment affects the way we work today and in the future. The Natural Environment covers lessons students may have been introduced to in elementary and high school but long since have forgotten. Topics covered will include an introduction to biodiversity, climate, ecosystems, water and how the world’s systems are connected. It also will explore the impact that humans have on the planet, both positive and negative, and the range of international goals, targets and organizations working to strengthen and protect the natural environment at the local, national, regional and international level.

    Day 59: Mini MBA

    The skills taught in an MBA are important to anyone’s career, regardless of educational background. Whether you have trained as a doctor, an engineer, an artist or an even an athlete, these skills can be extremely useful.

    With this in mind, the Future MBA may no longer be a one- or two-year program but a shorter program done at the end of other masters degree programs. Once students finish masters level studies in economics, English literature or architecture, they then have access to a short, interdisciplinary MBA program where they learn the leadership, entrepreneurship and sustainability-related skills that can be applied in their field. In this way, all graduates will be better prepared to make meaningful contributions in their disciplines and managers going into the business sector will have a variety of specialized backgrounds to use in the increasingly connected business environment.

    Day 60: Start a business

    Some of the most popular courses during the MBA are related to entrepreneurship. A large number of students and graduates have plans to one day start their own business and this course shows how to do that. The Future MBA will provide an opportunity for students to not just learn about starting a business but to actually start one during their time on campus.

    At each of a series of 24/48-hour boot camps, a group of students will need to present a business idea and the rest of the students will help, in 24-48 hours, to get that business idea off the ground (basic business plan, website, prototypes). Students from other disciplines such as engineering, design, advisors and funders will be present. The students then will put into practice their small business idea for the duration of the program (and beyond if desired) and have opportunities to reflect on lessons learnt.

    Day 61: Price based on perceived value

    An MBA degree, as well as related executive programs, are some of the most expensive degree programs a student can enroll in. Is it really worth the price? How much should an MBA cost?

    The Future MBA’s price will not be set by the school itself. Instead, it will fluctuate based on perceived value from those who create and take part in the program (current and past students, faculty, staff, business partners) as well as the wider environment that benefits from outputs created by the program (graduates, research).

    Day 62: Flexible course structure

    A typical degree program includes a range of three- to four-month courses organized in terms. Students meet for a few hours a week or a day to discuss that topic. The Future MBA will have a range of more flexible course formats. Some courses will be three months long; others will last the whole MBA. A wide range of short courses will last just one week, or even 24 or 48 hours based on the topic and learning objectives. There will be traditional courses where you listen and participate, and others which are hands-on entrepreneurial sprints where you take an idea and put it into practice in one week or even 24 hours. A month could be dedicated just to looking at one topic in-depth across all courses.

    Day 63: Grazing

    University campuses are often spread over a large amount of land covered in buildings, landscaping and small and large green spaces including parks and even sports fields. The Future MBA campus may have a number of animals available to quietly trim and naturally fertilize the grass. The animals will be on a rotational grazing plan around the green patches on campus, managed by local farmers or school community members. This also could be an opportunity to help support local or even endangered breeds. As an additional benefit, wool from the sheep could be used to create school merchandise or meat used to celebrate reunions on campus.

    Top image by Fotoluminate LLC via Shutterstock.

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    Retail Horizons: Will we need physical stores in the future?

    By Alisha Bhagat
    Published September 05, 2014
    Email | Print | Single Page View
    Tags: Consumer Trends, Retail
    Retail Horizons: Will we need physical stores in the future?

    This article is the second in a 12-part series about the future of U.S. retail for the Forum for the Future-led 2014 Retail Horizons project in partnership with Retail Industry Leaders Association. For more about the project, read the previous post.

    The future looks promising for online retail. Technological advances will continue to make mobile payments more widespread and simpler, delivery more efficient and supply chains more transparent. Online giants, including Amazon and eBay, already offer same-day delivery in urban areas, getting products into the hands of consumers as quickly as possible. Census data shows that online shopping is 6.4 percent of all retail sales (PDF) and it's predicted to reach 10 percent — and $370 billion — by 2017.

    Tempting though it may be to look at these numbers and imagine a Jetsons-style future where products arrive home at the push of a button, it isn't time to write off the traditional storefront just yet.

    Just as online retail offers wider selection and convenience, physical stores offer multisensory experiences and human interaction. The future likely will hold a blend of the two, with consumers switching between formats among product categories and within the same brand.

    If we look at current retail leaders such as Apple, Nordstrom and Whole Foods, it is clear they share key common traits that have enabled success in a rapidly changing retail environment. To succeed in the marketplace of the future, stores likely will need the following three traits.

    1. Seamless digital integration. The question is no longer about online versus physical, but rather how the two are integrated. In J.Crew stores, shoppers can try on clothing in the store, as well as place orders through the online store for out-of-stock styles. Online men's web clothier Bonobos opened physical storefronts called GuideShops, which serve as showrooms where customers can determine size and fit, and receive guidance, before placing an order online. Online shoppers can drive traffic into stores and vice versa.

    2. In-store experiences. Millennials, predicted to be one of the largest consumer segments in 2030 (at 78 million), place great value in experiences and sharing, which means that to capture this group stores will have to cater to these wants. Urban Outfitter's Space 15 Twenty is one example of a mixed-use space with art, food vendors and events open to the public, which create more opportunities for driving consumers into stores.

    3. Design. Depending on who you are, shopping can be fun or tedious. For some stores and brands, nifty design can be a way to differentiate themselves in the market. For example, Dollar Shave Club made a very mundane product (men's disposable razors) well-designed, cheap and convenient. Target has stood out as a leader in making everyday things into highly designed covetable objects through its Design for All initiative. One example of this is the Michael Graves tea kettle for Target, which made an iconic design accessible to the public. In an increasingly competitive future, stores and brands that can make the mundane amusing will have the potential to succeed.

    The challenge future stores will face is how seamlessly they can integrate new technology into providing a superior experience for customers across all platforms. Augmented reality is one such tool that retailers such as IKEA are experimenting with, allowing consumers to imagine what their products would look like in their homes.

    There will continue to be a need for stores in the foreseeable future. Even when "the death of the mall" was proclaimed after the financial crisis of 2008, Legaspi managed to find success by creating malls catering to the Latino community. These malls provide family-friendly entertainment and community spaces.

    The store of the future will exist in an America that is increasingly urban and tech-savvy. Stores will continue to provide value if they can work in conjunction with online retail to provide consumers with new products, technology and experiences.

    Top image of boutique by zhu difeng via Shutterstock.

    Also in The Sustainable Futures Blog:

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