Launching: Guardian Sustainable Business US

GP_SusBus-logo_RGB_colourGreetings, blog-readers! I’m just back from vacation, in time for the launch of Guardian Sustainable Business US. Much as I enjoy my work, I confess that I enjoy my time away from work even more. I felt fortunate to be able to spend a week in the south of France, hiking and biking with my wife, two daughters and their spouses, enjoying the scenery, the food and the wine, and not necessarily in that order. I’m more of a beer guy than a wine drinker but the chilled rosé in Provence is a perfect complement to the warm summer days and nights. Nearly as good as our local Dogfish Head. But I digress.

My new part-time gig as editor-at-large of Guardian Sustainable Business is going great. It’s enormous fun to be part of what feels like a startup inside a media organization that is nearly 200 years old. Working with the Brits is a treat–they are a lively and irreverent bunch, none more so than Jo Confino, who is an executive editor of The Guardian and founder of the sustainable business site.

I’m now dividing my time between Fortune and The Guardian, which, I suppose, goes to show that the sustainability agenda can cross political, cultural and national boundaries. Or maybe it’s just evidence that biology is destiny. My father worked for Fortune back in the 1950s and 1960s, and I remember as a kid visiting him in the Time & Life Building. And we spent a summer or two back then in Manchester, England, my mom’s home town, where the local paper was The Guardian, then known as the Manchester Guardian. I would search the paper for baseball scores, and toss it aside when I couldn’t find them. Only recently has The Guardian begun to cover America’s pastime. You could look it up. But I digress, again.

The Guardian has hired Jennifer Kho, formerly of GreenBiz, to be the managing editor of the US site. Charlie Wilkie has moved to New York from London to lead the business side. Over the next few weeks and months, Jenn and I will be looking for contributors, as well as story ideas, so please feel free to be in touch.

Here’s how Jo explained our plans for the site in an introductory essay:

Today we officially launch the US edition of Guardian Sustainable Business, focusing our unique style of journalism on how American companies can rise to the sustainability challenges of our age.

This is an exciting time, given the increasing recognition that the business of business is much more than just business.

How times have changed. When I was a Wall Street correspondent back in the heady days of the 1980s, there was little if any space to talk about the role of business in society.

But faced with climate change, resource scarcity, biodiversity loss and human rights abuses, US companies are beginning to understand that if they are to be successful in the future, they need to go beyond their shareholder-centric world view and engage more deeply with all key stakeholders.

While other media companies are reducing the resources they devote to key sustainability issues, we intend to broaden and deepen our coverage, with the support of a senior and respected US-based editorial team, including Marc Gunther and Jennifer Kho.

A dedicated US team will enable us to provide a much more indepth coverage of the American business sector, the trends, best practice and leading-edge thinking. For our global audience this will mean more round the clock comment and analysis on the most pressing sustainability issues.

The US team will be supported by a host of top experts including leaders from civil society and business.

The key reason we are expanding our coverage is because it offers one pathway to fulfilling the core purpose of the 192-year-old Guardian, which is to hold power to account and to help foster social justice.

We recognise that time is limited, and that while some companies are making incremental steps to change the way they do business, the problems we face are running away from us at breakneck speed with potentially disastrous consequences.

At the same time, there are signs we may be at a turning point, with the sustainability movement starting to shift from the fringes to the mainstream. We want to help foster this.

That’s because, quite simply, the time has passed when companies can continue to think of corporate responsibility as mere philanthropy. It is also vital they stop seeing sustainability from the standpoint of compliance, risk and efficiency, and recognise that it is a key driver of innovation and future profitability.

This is why we are happy to be working with launch partners, Nike, Procter & Gamble and the United Nations Global Compact, which all understand that fundamental change is necessary.

We will endeavour to engage you with commentary, blogging, in-depth analysis, open journalism, cutting-edge data visualisation, interactive technology, and also a large dose of quirkiness and fun.

Beyond digital content, we will be hosting regular events, beginning with our joint event with BSR on human rights and business in New York, as well as developing podcasts and expert roundtables.

We believe in collaboration and therefore we’re supporting some of the leading sustainability events in the US, including SXSW Eco andSustainable Brands.

We will not be focusing solely on large publicly-traded corporations but will also report on responsible family-owned businesses as well as emerging new business models that are based on the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, such as B corporations. Only this month, Delaware became the 19th state to enact legislation enabling the formation of public benefit corporations.

This chimes very much with the Guardian, which is values-based and independent: the only reason it exists is to create excellent journalism. We are owned by the Scott Trust, with no proprietor or shareholders, and have over the past decade developed our own sustainability vision and strategy. This has led to the creation of our environment and global development sections, as well as Guardian Sustainable Business. We understand the idea of doing well by doing good.

Our ownership structure gives us enormous freedom to deliver and discuss stories in new ways. And because we are open, we are able to put the reader at the heart of what we do.

So we ask you to get involved and hope that we can play some small part in helping businesses across the US from taking the next step towards a more sustainable future.

As Gunther recently wrote: “The sustainable business agenda has never been more relevant. And the opportunities for companies that take an expansive view of their role in the world have never been greater.”

 

 

Comments

  1. Congratulations Marc. I look forward to reading the US edition.

  2. michael draznin says:

    Great to see this launching here, Mark. Particularly in light of many other media reducing their coverage of the sector.

  3. Marc,

    By my back of the envelop calculations, your family trip exceeded the worldwide average per capita annual average carbon emissions by 250%.

    Is it really asking too much that proponents of legislated carbon emission reduction legislation walk the walk, not just talk the talk?

    You don’t see members of PETA having family reunions at steak houses.

    • Marc Gunther says:

      Interesting question. I’m not sure if your calculation is right, but assuming it is even close, I admit that my air travel far pleasure and business far exceeds my “fair share” of global GHG emissions. My other emissions — hybrid car, very few miles driven per year, mostly vegetarian diet, premium payment for wind-powered electricity at home — would put me below the US average but again, probably well above the world average. So I plead guilty to being a carbon polluter.

      Having said that, I think it’s difficult if not impossible for people living a middle-class US life to “walk the walk.” I do what I can as a consumer (but I don’t give up vacations, admittedly) and advocate for the political change that is the only realistic way to solve the climate problem. Individual actions can help, but they won’t get us where we need to go. I’m more than willing — even eager — to pay a carbon tax on my emissions, including air travel, because that would spur efficiency and innovation and the growth of low carbon fuels.

  4. Marc,
    I guess that it is what they call leading from behind.

    Of course it is difficult to lead the life of a typical American middle class person using a worldwide average of per capita carbon emissions. That is the point, and it actually understates the challenge given that the 350.orgs and Sierra Clubs of the world think current emissions are too high.

    Beyond the moral failings of not walking the walk, this hypocrisy greatly hurts the efforts towards swaying the public opinion that is necessary for meaningful action to take place.

    Here is an idea. Why don’t the staff’s of the Guardian Sustainability team, 350.org, and the Sierra Club live on the average carbon footprint that they are advocating that is necessary to stop climate change.

    Stuart

    • Marc Gunther says:

      I assume you are being facetious.The reason why it’s difficult for individuals to lower their emissions in the US is because our energy system depends on fossil fuels. And the reason for that is that the oil and gas industries, the chamber of commerce, Republicans and coal-state Democrats in Congress have steadfastly opposed any effort to regulate carbon pollution.

      What we need is a top-to-bottom transformation of our energy system so that electricity is generated by solar, wind, nuclear, algal biofuels or some combination thereof; so that cars, trucks and planes are driven by low-carbon fuels; so that the costs of pollution are factored into our food, our homes and other consumer goods. That’s not achievable, unfortunately, through individual choices. That takes political action.

      Having said that, I agree with you that those of us who advocate such action should take steps to reduce our own impacts–not only because that can make a difference but to get the conversation going about the changes that are really needed.

      But it’s absurd to expect environmentalists to stop flying and give up their cars. We’re not asking anyone else to do that. We’re simply asking that the externalities of carbon pollution be priced into flying, driving, heating and cooling our homes and offices, the food we eat, etc.

      • Marc,
        You write:
        But it’s absurd to expect environmentalist to stop flying and give up their cars. We’re not asking anyone else to do that. We’re simply asking that the externalities of carbon pollution be priced into flying, driving, heating and cooling or homes, the food we eat, etc.

        It is alarming that you wrote the above, but sadly, not surprising. Higher prices on carbon emissions will lead to less driving, smaller homes, less meat eaten, and the slowing of the undeveloped world’s electrification. Perhaps this is an acceptable price to pay to reduce carbon emissions, but you and your ilk refuse to be upfront and honest in admitting this………….to read your statement above there is no personal sacrifice required by anyone to switch to a world with greatly reduced per capita carbon emissions. You should be ashamed for promoting this line of thought.

        Finally, an economic lesson, your tax on carbon is not directed towards pricing the externalities of carbon. This would imply that the tax on carbon contains a serious calculation of the cost of carbon emissions which would drive the level of the carbon tax. This “calculated” tax would be used to directly address the impact of the carbon emissions with society therefore being indifferent to whether the emissions occurred or not. Your view of carbon taxes is more similar to a fine or speeding ticket. Keep raising the carbon taxes until the emissions stop.

        Stuart

  5. Marc Gunther says:

    Stuart, you’re misunderstanding me. Of course flying, driving, food, electricity, manufactured goods will cost more after a carbon tax is imposed on them. That’s the point. And yes that will mean people will consume less of all of the above, so long as the economy remains dependent on fossil fuels. I am not suggesting that moving to a low-carbon economy is a no-cost or win-win-win proposition, and I have been consistently critical of environmentalists who claim that it is. Here’s just one example…from back in 2009 but it is typical of what I have said:

    “The fact is, any meaningful effort to regulate carbon will carry real but not catastrophic costs for businesses and consumers – that’s part of the point, to raise the price of burning fossil fuels – and that the transition to a clean-energy economy will be disruptive, under the best of circumstances.”

    Any honest environmentalist will admit that the transition to a low-carbon economy will result in short-term costs and require sacrifices. I believe that those costs are worth paying–whether in the form of higher electricity prices, smaller homes or cars, fewer or more expensive airplane trips, etc., smaller portions of red meat on the plate, whatever. I don’t think the costs are trivial. Nor do I think they will bring an end to the American way of life.

    I’d also favor taking most or all of the proceeds from a carbon tax and using it to reduce payroll taxes or rebating it to citizens, which would reduce some of the impact on the economy.

  6. Marc,

    Let’s quit “dancing around the edges”. You have declared yourself a big fan of Bill McKibben and 350.org. Achieving the objectives of 350.org would require: a global transition to zero global annual CO2 emissions; a global cessation of the raising of animals for their meat; and, the installation of facilities to remove all of the CO2 currently in the global atmosphere in excess of 350 ppmv.

    The IEA has estimated the investment required to achieve a 50% reduction in global annual CO2 emissions at $45 trillion. Assuming that the IEA estimate is based on taking the easiest and least expensive steps first, I estimate that the global investment required to eliminate anthropogenic CO2 emissions at $150 trillion. Please note that any carbon tax would be in addition to the investment requirements.

    I have estimated that the investment required to achieve zero CO2 emissions in the US would be $30 trillion. An investment of that magnitude would require a return on investment of ~$3 trillion per year.

    Note that the shorter the period over which zero global annual CO2 emissions had to be achieved, the higher the investment requirement would likely be, because some of the advanced technologies which might have been deployed over a longer timeframe would be unavailable over the shorter timeframe.

    Also note that US EPA published its Endangerment Finding regarding CO2 in 2009; and, that 350.org petitioned EPA to set the required NAAQS at 350 ppmv. The historical timeframe for compliance with an NAAQS has been 10 years. Therefore, the ~#30 trillion investment required in the US would be expected to be required to occur over 10 years, or at the rate of ~#3 trillion per year. A transition to zero annual US CO2 emissions over that period would strand enormous investments in fossil-fueled facilities and equipment, producing a massive economic “dead loss”.

    Also, perhaps not obviously, such an effort in the US might slow the rate of growth of global annual CO2 emissions, but would likely not reverse it in the absence of herculean efforts in Asia and across the rest of the globe.

    We should avoid beginning vast programs with half-vast ideas.

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