Sustainable business: What’s ahead in 2014?

equipmentprotection3So the answer to the question above is, honestly, it’s anybody’s guess.

As a reporter, I’ve always resisted the idea of what editors like to call “forward looking” stories. Predictions are fun, but it’s hard enough to fully understand the present and the past. My preference is to leave the future to fortune cookies.

So when an editor at Guardian Sustainable Business asked me to write about the year ahead in sustainable business, I’d ignored her and took a look back instead. Here’s how my story begins:

It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future, the baseball player Yogi Berra reportedly said. (Or was it the physicist Neils Bohr? Or Hollywood mogul Samuel Goldwyn?)

Whoever said it, I agree – so instead of trying to forecast 2014, let’s look back at the the big stories in sustainable business from 2013, knowing that they will shape whatever lies ahead. As the US editor-at-large ofGuardian Sustainable Business, I’ll offer what is unavoidably a US-centric perspective.

My story goes on to look at five themes of the year just past:

  1. The decline in greenhouse gas emissions in the US
  2. Solar power, mainstream at last
  3. The aftermath of Rana Plaza
  4. Industrial-strength sustainability, by which I mean collaborative efforts to change entire industries or systems.
  5. Inequality, on  the political agenda

You can read the rest of the story here.

I see reason to be optimistic about all of these themes. Each offers opportunities for forward-thinking companies. That said, the challenge for business in 2014 will be to accelerate and scale its efforts to deal with the world’s big environmental and social problems. That’s one prediction I will comfortably make.


  1. Ed Reid says


    Some comments, by the numbers.

    1.The decline in greenhouse gas emissions in the US, while interesting, pales into insignificance in the face of increases in GHG emissions in Asia. If GHG emissions are a global problem, they require a global solution, which is beyond the capability of US industry; and, apparently, beyond the capability of global governments. The current 17 year hiatus in global warming should cause us to question whether GHG emissions are, in fact, a global problem.

    2.Solar power, mainstream at last, as long as local, state and federal subsidies and customer subsidies through net metering are sustained. Those subsidies are unsustainable if solar becomes a significantly larger player.

    3.The aftermath of Rana Plaza should be the adoption and enforcement of building codes and standards by the governments of the countries in question. I fail to understand why those governments would choose to put foreign corporations in charge of codes and standards in their countries; or, why foreign corporations would choose to take that responsibility for facilities they do not own or operate. A requirement that foreign corporations design, build and oversee operation and maintenance of facilities used by their suppliers would radically change the dynamics of the supply chain; and, would probably dramatically reduce outsourcing to countries with irresponsible or dysfunctional governments.

    5.Inequality, on the political agenda, is focused on outcomes, rather than opportunity. Unequal outcomes, like the poor, will be with us always. The sign on the side of the barn in Orwell’s Animal Farm says it all: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Treating life as a zero sum “game” has not ever been the path to growth, personal or societal.

    Happy New Year.

    • Marc Gunther says

      Ed, thanks for your thoughtful response. We mostly agree but…

      1. Yes, climate change is a global problem requiring global solutions and emissions on a global basis continue to grow; to some degree, the US is “exporting” its emissions as manufacturer moves to Asia. That said, the US decline shows that it’s possible to reduce emissions without wrecking an economy. China will take notice; its conventional pollution problems are awful. Together the US and China, with some help from the EU, Japan, India, can solve this problem, and it is a problem, despite your claim about stabilizing temps. Here’s NASA’s comment on that.

      2. Arguable. Yes, subsidies at current levels are unsustainable if solar continues to grow, but if prices continue to drop, subsidies will be unnecessary.

      3. Agreed.

      4. Inequality will be with us forever, as you say. The question is, to what degree? The best way to increase social mobility and reduce inequality is with a growing economy, but not only do we have slow growth today, we have a tax system (and more broadly a political and education system) that tilts favorably towards the wealthy.

      Happy new year to you!

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