Episode 10: The green business year in review

GreenBiz 350 Podcast

Episode 10: The green business year in review

With 2015 coming to an action-packed end — COP21, anyone? — this week's special edition of the GreenBiz 350 podcast takes through the biggest green business stories of the year.

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Got a question, comment or suggestion? Send us a note at [email protected]. The full episode archive is always available at greenbiz.com/350.

Finally, follow along with the stories, companies and initiatives mentioned during the show with the guide below:

Year in review

A roundup of the biggest sustainable business stories of 2015. 

The highlight reel

As the year played out, a series of events leading up to the United Nations COP21 climate talks provided unprecedented visibility for climate issues. Chief among those events: Pope Francis’ Encyclical letter on the climate — a breakthrough in popular culture that served to connect the dots between the state of humanity and the state of the environment.

By making the climate conversation much more global and much less controversial, the Encyclical quickly became a (sometimes contentious) subject of conversation among corporate sustainability types.

Mergers, partnerships and alliances

If you've heard it once, you've probably heard it about a million times; it takes coordination between individual entities — companies, NGOs, government agencies, activists — to make a dent in entrenched sustainability issues. The White House served as one central convener for corporate environmental commitments during 2015, along with a slew of other collaboration-focused advocacy groups rallying businesses around COP21.

When it comes to specific examples, look at efforts like Target and Walmart joining forces on cosmetic products or the potential sustainability pitfalls of the corporate merger between food giants Kraft and Heinz.

Corporate sustainability comes of age

Large companies have been setting sustainability goals and publishing corporate social responsibility reports for years. But how do those efforts add up over time? 

This year, two of the most visible corporate sustainability campaigns to date came of age. GE's green marketing touchstone, Ecomagination, turned 10 in May, just a few months before a check in on Walmart's decade-old declaration that it would go 100 percent renewable, eliminate waste and hone a deeper focus on sustainable products.

The trendsetters: Food, cars and financiers

High level progress on sustainability is great, but a closer look at a few particularly active sectors helps convey how central environmentally-conscious business models are becoming to the corporate crowd.

Exhibit A: the food industry's growing obsession with supply chains. As large companies reevaluate their sourcing protocol, financiers in Silicon Valley are feeding a trend toward new agriculture tech tools. Urban farming has also emerged as a force of its own.

In another example of a massive market with a huge carbon footprint, the transportation sector has been abuzz with a renewed focus on technology driven in large part by a wave of new shared mobility options. From artificial intelligence to unconventional automaker alliances and 3D-printed car parts, this story line is only starting to be written.

Bring in the bankers

All too often, the conversation around sustainability comes to a screeching halt when it comes to one particularly finicky variable: funding.

That's why it was such big news this year when private investors started anteing up in a big way on clean energy and related climate issues. With big banks now wading into this territory, the question now is how big-dollar public commitments translate to actual investments.

Featured stories

An in-depth look at two stories changing the game for green business.

2015 in corporate sustainability

GreenBiz Vice President and Senior Analyst John Davies joins us for an interview about the biggest trends of the last year for the GreenBiz Executive Network (GBEN) — a membership group for sustainability professionals.

Among the key concepts: survery fatigue, the future of the circular economy, diffusing sustainability throughout corporate departments and the merging of responsibility for social and environmental impacts.

The changing role of the CSO — as told by a CSO

What does a chief sustainability officer actually do day to day? Kathrin Winkler, CSO and senior vice president of the IT firm EMC (and a member of GBEN), weighed in with what's top of mind for her.

She has spent the past year focused on ways to make change at scale — a la the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles — along with thinking through the long-term implications of COP21, digging into materiality and mulling over ways to factor in the financial risks associated with heavy reliance on carbon assets.

Stay connected

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Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at [email protected].

Technical direction for GreenBiz 350 by Sureya Melkonian.

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