Today, I read a great article on behavioral nudges toward sustainability. Some companies are using subtle (and not-so-subtle) cues to nudge customers toward behaviors that reduce environmental impacts. The nudge that made an impression on me was Swedish hamburger chain Max’s display of CO2 labels right on their menus, enabling CO2 comparisons at the point of sale. This made me think: could CO2 information displayed on a grocery receipt nudge people to buy food with lower lifecycle CO2 emissions?
During the month of September, Sustainable Brands published a series of articles on evolving metrics for sustainable business. As I read through the adoption of context-based sustainability metrics by Cabot Creamery, Autodesk, BT, and EMC, I noticed a common thread: the usage of science-based global climate stabilization targets like WRE350 as the basis for corporate CO2 goals. I had an issue with this at first: those global climate stabilization targets are intended to be met by reductions in total CO2 emissions from humankind, not just reductions by any one company or group of companies. For that reason, a tie between global targets and corporate goals seemed arbitrary. But after thinking a bit, I asked myself: is this tie possibly the right kind of arbitrary — less arbitrary than other methods, and more likely to be supported broadly?
On September 24th, the Sustainability Context Group (SCG) submitted a comment (warning: PDF) to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) asking for clarity on how to put organizational performance into the wider context of sustainability. Lack of guidance from GRI has led to many organizations making statements like, “we emitted 90,000 tons of CO2 last fiscal year — a 20% reduction from the year before,” without saying anything about whether that performance is sustainable or not. That’s a problem, because an organization reducing emissions, increasing recycled content, and so on is not necessarily becoming sustainable. Organizations have to ask themselves: in order to be sustainable, what should my impact be? The answer to that question is not at all easy to find.
In late October, I went down to Duke University to take the course “Implementation of NEPA” at the Nicholas School of the Environment, intended to teach us about the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (which everyone calls NEPA — “NEE-pa”). NEPA introduces itself as an Act to “[t]o create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony.” Those words, apart from the gender angle, would be right at home in today’s sustainability dialogue. They directly express an idea that still has yet to catch on broadly: humanity exists in a relationship with nature, rather than as an entity above it.