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Abstract

Companies are increasingly encouraged to frame their sustainability activities and communication around ecological limits, as captured by concepts such as planetary boundaries, climate tipping points or local assimilative capacities. Ecological limits may serve as a scientific basis for defining environmentally sustainable companies and, moreover, inspire companies to align their product portfolios with emerging societal needs related to sustainable transformations. Although corporate environmental reporting is widely researched, little attention has, hitherto, been given to company use of the ecological limits concepts in stakeholder communication.

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... Corporate sustainability emerged as a connected but distinct concept to CSR, emphasizing the embeddedness of firms in socioecological systems and the interdependencies that this generates [38,44,45]. As organizations become more systemic and systematic in their perspective, goals are more likely to be derived from a scientific systems understanding [38,45,46], and to align with the goals of larger systems flourishing [45]. However, Meuer et al. [34] indicate the importance of unpacking the scope of these efforts and explicitly defining what is meant by sustainability, as firms are still randomly selecting issues and only connect them to sustainability as an afterthought. ...
... Social lifecycle assessment (Social LCA) methods are one example of the implications of loosely defined social sustainability goals: after nearly 20 years of development, Social LCA still lacks a unifying framework that could allow for the further development of the field and provide more robust decision support for product development organizations [57][58][59][60][61]. Schulte and Hallstedt [62] and Watz and Hallstedt [63] all define sustainable product development as product development that supports society's transition toward sustainability, evidencing that the focus is moving toward positioning also this field in a larger systems perspective and Dyllick and Rost [61] urge to include social concerns alongside the ecological ones in this perspective. There is however little evidence that even on the ecological side companies are setting science-based goals [46], although some progress has been made [64][65][66]. ...
... Since social problems are often highly interrelated, tackling them in isolation may lead to worse social situations in the long run. • Lack of systems and the science-based understanding of social sustainability and goal-setting [38,45,46,[64][65][66][67]69,70]: While this challenge is also pointed out in the ecological sustainability field, it is especially prevalent in the social sustainability field, because systems-based approaches remain rare and even contentious. However, without a systematic understanding of the larger challenge, it is again difficult to claim that we are advancing in the field, and goals remain ad hoc and too narrow, and are rarely strategic. ...
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Since the economic crisis in 2008, the world has seen a partly negative shift in social progress, highlighting that current economic models and practices do not guarantee long-lasting societal and human wellbeing. Economic models and business practices are deeply intertwined; thus, businesses play a major role in the advancement of social sustainability, and academic research can offer support in navigating the complexity of this issue. However, social sustainability tends to be under-researched. This article summarizes the discussion in general business management, product development, and supply-chain management, and from this suggest a research agenda to help in guiding systematic change in business organizations towards social sustainability. The article identifies ten main challenges and offers five recommendations to move the field forward, namely, a more explicit engagement with and discussion of social systems-science based ideas, and a more explicit determination as a field to converge on key pieces leading towards a clearer definition of the concept. Lastly, it recommends that research needs to focus on how to overcome fragmented organizational structures, how to achieve true integration into existing processes and tools, and how to support organizations to become more dynamic in working with these issues.
... This can be time consuming and generally requires an in-depth knowledge of environmental science. These barriers to strong sustainability assessments may explain why very few companies were found to communicate such assessments in corporate responsibility reports published in 2000e2014 (Bjørn et al., 2017). They also might explain why the few companies who did do this tended to use a "homemade" method instead of a method originating in the scientific literature. ...
... Specifically for climate change, the Science Based Targets initiative (Krabbe et al., 2015;SBT, 2018) provides a methodology for companies to calculate future GHG emissions targets that are "aligned" with a global emission reduction pathway informed by climate science. More than 400 companies have pledged to calculate and commit to such targets (SBT, 2018), which is more than ten times the number of companies recently found to communicate strong sustainability assessments in corporate responsibility reporting (Bjørn et al., 2017). With respect to a company's impacts on biodiversity, Wolff et al. (2017) recently developed a method for assessing whether these can be considered strongly sustainable or not. ...
... 9 When assessing the strong sustainability of an individual company, the additional normative aspect of allocation of carrying capacity exists. Different allocation principles (see Section 3.3) each pose a unique set of conceptual and practical advantages and disadvantages (Bjørn et al., 2017;H€ ayh€ a et al., 2016;Muñoz and Gladek, 2017). Moreover, since each principle favor different types of companies, it is unlikely that a consensus on the most appropriate allocation principle will emerge amongst different companies and their stakeholders any time soon (if ever). ...
Article
In a recent issue of this journal Nikolaou and Tsalis (2018) published a paper titled “A framework to evaluate eco- and social-labels for designing a sustainability consumption label to measure strong sustainability impact of firms/products”. In their paper, the authors (N&T) develop a method for identifying strongly sustainable companies as a basis for consumer communication. N&T test their method on a case study of five chemical companies and conclude that two of these are strongly sustainable, essentially because they had obtained a higher number of eco-labels than the average across the five companies. While we agree with N&T on the relevance of applying a strong sustainability perspective in the assessment of companies, we are afraid that their method can lead to misguided consumer communication. At the root of this concern is that N&T 1) use a market average as reference to decide whether a company has a strong or weak sustainability performance and 2) use the number of eco-labels as an environmental indicator. We lay the foundation of this response by briefly accounting for the academic origin of the weak/strong sustainability dichotomy. We then present our argument against the method presented by N&T. This is followed by a proposal for how to improve the method. Finally, we discuss state of the art in strong sustainability assessments of companies, taking into account other existing methods that draw on the planetary boundaries concept and life cycle assessment.
... In the face of pressing global social-ecological challenges ((MA, 2005); Rockstrom et al., 2009), private actors such as businesses are urged to engage in the voluntary governance of sustainability issues as key components of co-regulation, as envisioned, for instance, by the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. Several scholars, however, have suggested that corporate sustainability would need more concrete visions and targets linked to fundamental sustainability issues in a holistic and inclusive manner (Addison et al., 2018;Bjørn et al., 2016;Lozano and Huisingh, 2011;Whiteman et al., 2013). Communication of environmental issues in corporate sustainability is often resource-focused, meaning it regards reduction of energy/material inputs and outputs, and the enhanced role of renewables (Málovics et al., 2008). ...
... Most reports particularly focus on climate change, while other ecological limits (e.g. biodiversity loss, invasive species, biochemical flows, water resources) are not represented as frequently (Bjørn et al., 2016;Whiteman et al., 2013). A study by Addison et al. (2018) showed that Fortune100 companies perform poorly in terms of disclosing measurable biodiversity impacts. ...
... However, similar methods and assumptions have however already adopted in the analysis of corporate sustainability (e.g. Bjørn et al., 2016) and other text analysis studies (e.g. Abson et al., 2014). ...
Article
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The UN Agenda 2030 deems the private sector pivotal in co-governing sustainability issues. Despite intense research on corporate sustainability there is no explicit analysis of which policy-driven concepts companies choose to forward their sustainability visions and practices. This is relevant because communication of corporate sustainability contributes to legitimizing or delegitimizing company actions, while simultaneously feeding back into public thinking and actions towards sustainability transformations. We addressed the research gap by considering three sustainability concepts mainstreamed at the global level: Circular economy (CE), Green economy (GE), and Bioeconomy (BE). Content analysis was performed on 123 reports from DJSI World companies in five land-use intensive sectors (forest, food, beverages, mining, and energy). Results suggest CE to be omnipresent and homogeneous across all companies and sectors. GE was the second most frequent concept, especially in forest and mining. BE was under-represented in all reports, with the exception of the forest sector. Interlinkages between concepts were few. The CE-BE connection appeared to be the strongest, concerning efficiency and recycling of bio-based resources. The analysis of global sustainability concepts from the perspective of corporate disclosure enables a timely discussion on the role and limits of the business organizations as a participant to sustainability transformations globally.
... time." ' machines that look like they did 50 ...
... Product developers, however, have an opportunity to influence the social sustainability performance of a product by focusing their design efforts on the use phase, not in meeting expressed customer needs, but focusing on needs from a societal perspective. According to Bjørn et al. [50], changes in how things are produced must be enhanced by changes in what is being produced. Dyllick and Rost [44] talk about an enhancement of the product life cycle through positive handprints, contributing to public value creation as a result from the primary product purpose. ...
... Dyllick and Rost [44] talk about an enhancement of the product life cycle through positive handprints, contributing to public value creation as a result from the primary product purpose. Because product development organizations should be asking how their products help meet the needs (as opposed to wants) of current and future generations [50], design activities also need to be supported by higher levels of decision-making and aligned business models. ...
Article
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Companies responsible for product development (PD) and manufacturing play an important role in supporting society in achieving sustainability, and yet they do not always include full sustainability considerations in PD decisions. The social dimension of sustainability has been largely neglected in the PD field and there is very little empirical evidence of social sustainability implementation in general. The aim of this paper is to investigate how social sustainability is currently included in PD organizations and what their motivations are to do so. Results from a comparative case study approach with three organizations include rich descriptions across four dimensions: The scope of the work and their view of interdependencies with other social systems, their definition of social sustainability and the issues they work with, what guides strategic decisions, and how this internal work is structured. The results reveal that the three product development organizations are heterogenous in their approaches to social sustainability and that the more advanced approach shows a better understanding of the complexity of social sustainability and a broader perspective of its interdependencies, which goes hand-in-hand with a way of organizing that overcomes traditional hierarchies and allows for more collaborative and strategic work in this area. This systems perspective also drives what issues are included in an organization's work; scope and definition of social sustainability become more encompassing and aligned. Finally, our study shows that social sustainability impacts connected to products' lifecycles, when addressed, are done so by functions outside design activities, as opposed to product developers. A greater understanding of how companies currently approach social sustainability and what challenges they might face in integrating it in organizational and design related practices has been called for; our paper contributes to this but acknowledges that more work is needed.
... Several common environmental sustainability assessment methods, such as life cycle assessment (LCA), environmental Environmental Science and Pollution Research impact assessment (EIA), and ecological footprint family (EFs), can quantify the environmental impact of the studied system, provide stakeholders with information on the level of environmental sustainability, and promote sustainable development plans. Scholars combine life cycle assessment, footprint family, and planetary boundaries, and then evaluate the level of absolute sustainability by quantifying the present value (Bjørn et al. , 2017Chandrakumar and McLaren 2018). ...
... Due to factors such as funding and nonresource efficiency, at present, this framework plays a relatively small role in the strategic decision-making of enterprises and departments (Haffar and Searcy 2018). Especially, climate change is the most concerned issue (Bjørn et al. 2017). ...
Article
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The planetary boundaries concept has triggered a vast amount of pure and applied scientific research, as well as policy and governance activities globally. Indeed, it has rapidly become a centerpiece of sustainability study. It is crucial to review the scientific state of the planetary boundaries (PB) concept systematically. However, there is a lack of research on drawing a scientific investigation map of planetary boundaries. Therefore, to clarify the spatial and temporal distribution characteristics, research hotspots, and frontiers of planetary boundaries, a scientometric analysis was performed based on 530 academic publications on planetary boundaries from 2009 to 2021. This paper conducted the analysis by visualizing the social network, dual-map overlay, co-cited references, structure variation article, and co-occurrence keywords with CiteSpace. The results show that as a new achievement and paradigm in sustainable development research, the planetary boundaries framework is gradually getting global attention and promotion, which has increasingly become an interdisciplinary hot research topic. The most productive authors and institutions are concentrated in England, the USA, Germany, and Sweden. Relevant articles were mainly published in journals focusing on ecology, earth, marine, veterinary, animal, economics, and politics. In addition, we summarized four predominant research themes by clustering keywords: the calculation of single boundary threshold and present value, the integration with assessment methods such as life cycle assessment and footprint families, the downscaling of planetary boundaries, and the expansion to economic and social domains. For scholars who are interested in this topic, this paper would be a useful reference and guideline.
... More importantly, CSR reports are becoming increasingly important for the scientific community, especially in the study of methodology, definition, and frequency [29][30][31]. Furthermore, in the comparison of the different techniques used by companies from a qualitative perspective [32]. ...
... This discrete distribution generates observations (words in documents) [62]. 31 Tagging a document with a ranked list of semantic topics can be interpreted as the 32 extraction of semantic information. It means, that the grouped documents per topic are 33 semantically similar as they share common semantically related terms over the text corpus 34 of what can be generally called a discrete data collection, where the probabilistic topic 35 model was built on. ...
Preprint
This paper investigates if Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports published by a selected group of Nordic companies are aligned with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards. To achieve this goal, several natural language processing, and text mining techniques were implemented and tested. We extracted strings, corpus, and hybrid semantic similarities from the reports and evaluated the models through the intrinsic assessment methodology. A quantitative ranking score based on index matching was developed to complement the semantic valuation. The final results show that Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) and Global Vectors for Word Representation (GloVE) are the best methods for our study. Our findings will open the door to the automatic evaluation of sustainability reports which could have a strong impact on the environment.
... For example, the Global Reporting Initiative has encouraged companies to disclose environmental performance in relation to "global limits on resource use and pollution levels" for two decades [7,8]. A few companies followed suit early on [9,10], but widespread adoption appears to have been hampered by a lack of external pressure and operational methods and tools, with some notable exceptions [11][12][13]. Instead, corporate emission targets largely appeared arbitrary, perhaps inspired by competitors' targets, past performance, or what appeared achievable [14][15][16][17], and were often judged to lack ambition [18]. ...
... 7 According to SBTi, corporate net-zero emissions satisfy two criteria: "Reducing scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions to zero or to a residual level that is consistent with reaching net-zero emissions at the global or sector level in eligible 1.5 °C-aligned pathways" and "neutralizing any residual emissions at the net-zero target year and any GHG emissions released into the atmosphere thereafter" [42]. 9 We used the search string "TOPIC: ("science-based target*") AND TOPIC: (climate OR emission OR greenhouse)." This yielded 20 results on May, 25, 2021. ...
Article
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Purpose of Review Companies increasingly set science-based targets (SBTs) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We review literature on SBTs to understand their potential for aligning corporate emissions with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. Recent Findings SBT adoption by larger, more visible companies in high-income countries has accelerated. These companies tend to have a good prior reputation for managing climate impacts and most appear on track for meeting their scope 1 and 2 SBTs. More research is needed to distinguish between substantive and symbolic target-setting and understand how companies plan to achieve established SBTs. There is no consensus on whether current target-setting methods appropriately allocate emissions to individual companies or how much freedom companies should have in setting SBTs. Current emission accounting practices, target-setting methods, SBT governance, and insufficient transparency may allow companies to report some emission reductions that are not real and may result in insufficient collective emission reductions. Lower rates of SBT diffusion in low- and middle-income countries, in certain emission-intensive sectors, and by small- and medium-sized enterprises pose potential barriers for mainstreaming SBTs. While voluntary SBTs cannot substitute for more ambitious climate policy, it is unclear whether they delay or encourage policy needed for Paris alignment. Summary We find evidence that SBT adoption corresponds to increased climate action. However, there is a need for further research from a diversity of approaches to better understand how SBTs may facilitate or hinder a just transition to low-carbon societies.
... New targets are needed because existing are limited to a few issues (e.g. recycling, efficiency improvement) and only cover limited arrays of CE solutions, such as recyclying or efficiency (Ranta et al., 2018;Bjørn et al., 2017;Milios, 2016). However, CE goes beyond these solutions; it involves aspects like closed loops or value retention at higher levels (e.g. ...
... Main studies on CE targets by main area/purpose of analysis (Bahn-Walkowiak and Steger, 2015;BioIS, 2013;Bjørn et al., 2017;De los Rios and Charnley, 2017;EEA, 2016;McDowall et al., 2017;Qi et al., 2016;Repo et al., 2018;Smol et al., 2015;Sakai et al., 2011;Su et al., 2013). Table 1, which are also the most commonly applied targets in the economic systems. ...
Article
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The transition to a circular economy requires actions and policies. In the praxis of governance, a common way to steer the transition to a different state proceeds through the setting of targets. Thus far, no study has investigated circular economy targets in a systematic way. To bridge this gap, this study examines which targets can facilitate the transition towards a circular economy. The analysis focuses both on existing and new targets; the latter complement existing targets which are limited to a few discrete cases addressing only partially the goal of a more circular economy. A framework based on 10 common circular economy strategies (i.e. recover, recycling, repurpose, remanufacture, refurbish, repair, re-use, reduce, rethink, refuse) is applied to scrutinise the selected targets. The study clarifies that existing targets for recovery and recycling do not necessarily promote a circular economy, though they are the most commonly applied targets so far. Because of lack of efficacy of recovery and recycling, targets should instead favour other more powerful circular economy strategies. In relation to these, the study looks into new and existing targets showing how they can reduce waste, increase efficiency, close production loops, and maximise retention of the economic value of materials and products. In particular, the study proposes an expanded set of brand new targets for the transition to a circular economy together with a fresh view on targets aimed at scholars and decision-makers alike.
... Similar to calling for political risk epistemic cultures to embrace hybrid knowledge, sustainability researchers call for more nuanced views of sustainability that bring together insights from a variety of perspectives (for example, see Seager 2008;Angus-Leppan et al. 2010;Bjorn et al. 2017;Coleman et al. 2018;Gibbons 2020). A growing body of literature focuses on how companies communicate their sustainability activities, what kind of sustainability companies mean in practice and whether they are 'walking the talk' or merely claiming their sustainability initiatives are effective (Whiteman et al. 2013;Pelenc et al. 2015;Bjorn et al. 2017;Landrum 2018). ...
... Similar to calling for political risk epistemic cultures to embrace hybrid knowledge, sustainability researchers call for more nuanced views of sustainability that bring together insights from a variety of perspectives (for example, see Seager 2008;Angus-Leppan et al. 2010;Bjorn et al. 2017;Coleman et al. 2018;Gibbons 2020). A growing body of literature focuses on how companies communicate their sustainability activities, what kind of sustainability companies mean in practice and whether they are 'walking the talk' or merely claiming their sustainability initiatives are effective (Whiteman et al. 2013;Pelenc et al. 2015;Bjorn et al. 2017;Landrum 2018). ...
Article
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This exploratory study aims to understand why, and propose remedies for, the treatment of political risk and sustainability as siloed risk areas in risk analyses. I employ an interdisciplinary theoretical approach that focuses on the roles of values and worldviews, stages of sustainability and hybrid knowledge to understand this siloing. The large-N interpretive method used here combines content frequency counts with discourse analysis to examine over 400 corporate communication documents from 37 companies. The study also explores how, through corporate communication, companies that provide political risk analysis convey what is at risk and what counts as sustainability. I argue that the broad shared ‘cultural’ tones of what it means to be in the political risk field pose challenges for integrating political risk and sustainability. The study concludes with several recommendations on how to overcome the current barriers in order to integrate political risk and sustainability in risk analyses.
... Concretely, science-based targets (SBTs) have been proposed as a tool for corporates to set emission reduction targets that are in line with a scientifically determined emission budget allowable under a 2°C or 1.5°C warming scenario (Walenta 2020). How SBTs are set depends on the methods and principles used to allocate the overall emissions budget to companies (Bjørn et al. 2017;Haffar and Searcy 2018;Krabbe et al. 2015). The linear emission reductionwhere all companies reduce their absolute emissions at the same rate approach, and the sector-based allocation approachwhere all companies in a given sector set emission targets that consider sectoral differences and sector-specific and abatement potentials are the two most established science-based approaches used by corporations to set climate targets (Faria and Labutong 2019). ...
... Based on this study, we recommend that future political action on green bonds should force issuers to be explicit about how they want to use green bonds in their transition towards carbon neutrality. The literature points to the increasing need for public policy to drive corporate recognition and action on ecological limits (Bjørn et al. 2017). Specifically, this includes a policy framework for the accurate measurement and reporting of GHGs set-up at the European intergovernmental level to clearly signal to the private sector that stringent mandatory GHG emission controls and a global market-based instrument will to be adopted in the future (Hickmann 2017). ...
Article
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Green bonds are considered one of the most important innovations in sustainable finance. However, there is a lack of conceptual and empirical understanding of the role of green bonds in corporate transition to carbon neutrality. This study develops and tests a conceptual framework that links green bonds to climate targets in the context of corporate transition risk management and polycentric climate governance. It is based on an analysis of the twenty largest European green bond issuers in 2018. We find that in most cases there is a disconnect between issuers' climate targets and their green bond frameworks; and several shortcomings in issuers' post-issuance reporting. Our results suggest that there is little pressure for green bond issuers to use their proceeds to achieve ambitious science-based targets. Our findings highlight the need for policy action to reduce the risk of greenwashing and to situate the green bond market within planetary boundaries. ARTICLE HISTORY
... These criticisms have prompted a recent move towards context-based approaches to corporate sustainability [6] with the use of absolute environmental sustainability assessment methods [9] and resilience-based targets [10,11]. Such approaches link corporate targets with wider ecological system limits, such as planetary boundaries [12]. One prominent example of such an approach is the science-based targets initiative (SBTi) [13] which seeks to align corporate carbon reduction targets with global decarbonisation objectives. ...
... A key concern is the correlation, or lack of correlation, between the ambition of target setting and emissions performance, with many noting the apparent mismatch between target ambition and scientific requirements for emissions reductions [7,17]. Bjørn et al. [12] suggest that only a minority of companies make any reference to ecological limits in their reporting, and there is a prevailing sense that most corporate targets are in line with climate policy rather than climate science [18]. This renders the lack of evidence on the effectiveness of the SBTi a critical research gap. ...
Article
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Companies are increasingly seeking to align their actions with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Over 1000 such companies have committed to the science-based targets initiative which seeks to align corporate carbon reduction targets with global decarbonisation trajectories. These ‘science-based targets’ are developed using a common set of resources and target-setting methodologies, then independently assessed and approved by a technical advisory group. Despite the initiative’s rapid rise to public prominence, it has received little attention to date in the academic literature. This paper discusses development of the initiative based upon a quantitative assessment of progress against each component of the science-based targets set by 81 early adopters, using information gathered from company annual reports, corporate social responsibility websites and Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) responses. The analysis reveals a mixed picture of progress. Though the majority of targets assessed were on track and, in some cases, had already been achieved, just under half of the companies assessed were falling behind on one or more of their targets. Progress varied significantly by target scope, with more limited progress against targets focused on Scope 3 emissions. Company reporting practices were highly variable and often of poor quality. This paper concludes with a range of recommendations to improve the transparency, consistency and comparability of targets within this key agenda-setting initiative.
... Since PB defines the global carrying capacity, it needs to be split among users to determine their "correct share" to support decisions at national, regional, corporate, and product levels. Common allocation strategies include partitioning in proportion to population, mass, monetary value, and relative importance to meet basic human needs (Bjørn and Hauschild 2015;Bjørn et al. 2016a;Sandin et al. 2015;Doka 2015). However, such approaches suffer from several limitations: 1) selection of PB thresholds involves subjective perception of risk (Rockström et al. 2009;Bjørn and Hauschild 2015;Raworth 2012). ...
Article
Life cycle assessment (LCA) has enabled consideration of environmental impacts beyond the narrow boundary of traditional engineering methods. This reduces the chance of shifting impacts outside the system boundary. However, sustainability also requires that supporting ecosystems are not adversely affected and remain capable of providing goods and services for supporting human activities. Conventional LCA does not account for this role of nature, and its metrics are best for comparing alternatives. These relative metrics do not provide information about absolute environmental sustainability, which requires comparison between the demand and supply of ecosystem services (ES). Techno‐ecological synergy (TES) is a framework to account for ES, and has been demonstrated by application to systems such as buildings and manufacturing activities that have narrow system boundaries. This article develops an approach for techno‐ecological synergy in life cycle assessment (TES‐LCA) by expanding the steps in conventional LCA to incorporate the demand and supply of ecosystem goods and services at multiple spatial scales. This enables calculation of absolute environmental sustainability metrics, and helps identify opportunities for improving a life cycle not just by reducing impacts, but also by restoring and protecting ecosystems. TES‐LCA of a biofuel life cycle demonstrates this approach by considering the ES of carbon sequestration, air quality regulation, and water provisioning. Results show that for the carbon sequestration ecosystem service, farming can be locally sustainable but unsustainable at the global or serviceshed scale. Air quality regulation is unsustainable at all scales, while water provisioning is sustainable at all scales for this study in the eastern part of the United States.
... The integration of the LCA and planetary boundaries framing of a firm's environmental sustainability would require a decoupling of the environmental impacts from their growth in production by not increasing their portion of the safe operating space (Kim and Kara 2014). Companies explicitly do not make any reference to safe operating space in their frameworks, and as they do not refer to any ecological limits, information about "sustainability" continues to remain hidden (Bjørn et al. 2017). ...
Article
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With the growth of data, data-intensive approaches for sustainability are becoming widespread and have been endorsed by various stakeholders. To understand their implications, in this paper data-intensive approaches for sustainability will be explored by conducting an extensive review. The current data-intensive approaches are defined as an amalgamation of traditional data-collection methods, like surveys and data from monitoring networks, with new data-collection methods that involve new information communication technology. Based on a comprehensive review of the current dataintensive approaches for sustainability, key challenges are identified: the lack of data availability, diverse indicators developed from a narrowly viewed base, diverse definitions and values, skewed global representation, and the lack of social and economic information collected, especially among the business indicators. To clarify the implications of these trends, four major research assumptions regarding dataintensive approaches are elaborated: the methodology, epistemology, normativity, and ontology. Caution is required when data-intensive approaches are masked as “objective”. Overcoming this issue requires interdisciplinary and community-based approaches that can offer ways to address the subjectivities of data-intensive approaches. The current challenges to interdisciplinarity and community-based approaches are also identified, and possible solutions are explored, so that researchers can employ them to make the best use of data-intensive approaches.
... The policy implications can be gained by bringing attention to two key factors, namely, the usage of SD and climate (change) silence present in the sectors. One of the major disadvantages of corporate communication research is that the findings lead only to the selective information that they chose to communicate and not to the actual decision-making mechanism of the organizations (Bjørn et al., 2017). We, hence, reiterate the existing voice in the literature to bring in accountability in corporate reporting (Boiral et al., 2019). ...
Article
Purpose: This paper sets out to investigate the level of environmental communication and the predominant themes of environmental initiatives and technologies used in India. Methodology: In this exploratory study, a manual content analysis was conducted using print and website data related to corporate environmental communication of the top 30 Indian companies listed in BSE representing the manufacturing and IT sector, respectively. Findings: We classified the level of importance based on seven attributes, distinguished between hard and soft disclosure, and identified the prevalent environmental practices and technologies in each sector. We found that the environmental communication of the IT sector is technology-based than the manufacturing sector, but both are weak in acknowledging climate change. Practical implications: Managers, across the two sectors, can make their organizations environmentally responsible by learning and applying the current practices/technologies and reap benefits by mimetic isomorphism or create competitive advantage, respectively. Originality: Building on the theoretical and practical works in corporate sustainability and CSR communication literature, we contribute to stakeholder theory and voluntary disclosure theory. The findings of the study provide the much-needed base for future research that links the engineering and management community to take the scholarship further to prevent the climate crisis. Keywords: corporate sustainability, CSR, corporate environmental communication, corporate environmental reporting, corporate environmental disclosure.
... It was estimated that in the past decade the rate at which the global population is using resources is fourfold the amount earth can sustain (Bjørn et al. 2017). Public concern surrounding climate change has stimulated business to become more involved in actions protecting the environment. ...
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The UK has committed to various legally binding targets with regard to renewable energy technology and greenhouse gas reduction. As a result, government policy and legislation have been significant in investing in renewable energy technology, driving innovation since 1990. The aim of this work identifies the key drivers behind commitments and to assess the role of government, business and organisations in the uptake of renewable energy and the development of a decentralised energy network as a result of greenhouse gas emission reduction target. This article presents quantitative analysis of primary research from government and industry. The novel aspect of this investigation is that the conclusive outcomes arise as a result of a unique research method by combining primary and secondary sources with support of company data from Nestlé and Transport for London. The main findings demonstrated that government support is one of the key drivers for innovation into renewable technology; however, business and the public are necessary to bring renewables to market. Strategies have been identified to incorporate decentralised generation into industry for the commitment of renewables and to develop the required energy network of the future. Graphic abstract Open image in new window
... 26 Rekker et al. 27 reviewed nine current sustainability ratings schemes used by investors and concluded that none of the methodologies adequately capture corporate performance in meeting the 2°C target. On the basis of a sample of 40 000 corporate sustainability reports, Bjørn et al. 28 found that only 5% of companies mention ecological limits. The current SBT recommendations allow companies to select the most favorable targets, which are often used because they are feasible to meet but at best only align with national pledges rather than what is really necessary to operate within ecological limits. ...
Article
There is building consensus that non-state actors have the potential to drive more ambitious action towards climate targets than governments, thus driving the necessary transition to ensure that humanity remains within a safe operating space. These bottom-up mitigation activities, however, require individual targets on both direct and indirect (upstream) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to reconcile trade-offs between global and local sustainability goals. Here we use a scenario-driven approach based on a global multi-regional input-output (GMRIO) model to develop scope 3 emission reduction targets for individual economic sectors, comparable across countries and geographies. Under an ambitious carbon mitigation scenario for 2035 (that follows a trajectory of 1.75°C total warming by 2100), global upstream scope 3 emission intensities need to be reduced by an additional 54% compared to a baseline scenario with reference technology. On a sectoral basis, this is equivalent to a 58-67% reduction in energy, transport and materials, a 50-52% reduction in manufacturing, services and buildings and a 39% reduction in agriculture, forestry and other land use. By aligning indirect supply chain targets with ambitious carbon mitigation scenarios, our approach can be used by non-state actors to set actionable scope 3 targets and to build climate-compatible business models.
... The sample shows that marketing for sufficiency can benefit companies, thereby providing an incentive to actively engage for sustainability in an ambitious manner. Yet, only 5% of companies worldwide refer to ecological limits in their corporate responsibility reports, and even fewer companies use the ecological limits to define business targets that actually lead to a reduction in emissions, resource consumption, or adjustment of the product portfolio ( Bjørn et al. 2017). Nevertheless, sustainable business practices play an increasingly important role for global firms (Peterson and Lunde 2016), and sufficiency is a logical path for taking sustainability seriously. ...
Article
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Although marketing strategies are often accused of stimulating overconsumption, businesses increasingly show potential as enablers of sufficiency. The concept of sufficiency contributes to sustainable development through the absolute reduction of resources and energy used for consumption by questioning the level of demand. This study analyzes reasons and potential practices for commercial marketing to promote sufficiency through a systematic literature review of scientific publications, guided by the following research questions: Why should commercial marketing promote sufficiency? How can commercial marketing promote sufficiency? Which barriers for promoting sufficiency occur? The content-based study of 17 publications in the final review sample delivers recommendations for how to practically implement marketing for sufficiency, and theoretical considerations for strengthening the discourse within macromarketing and beyond.
... In a recent study of 50,000 sustainability reports, it was documented that the majority failed to address absolute climate targets, such as the 2°C target of the IPCC, meaning that sustainability reports were concerned with relative eco-efficiency, as opposed to absolute eco-effectiveness [66]. Dyllick and Hockerts ([63]: 135-136) argue that ecoeffectiveness includes the effects upon the entire environmental system (rebound effects are mitigated and accounted for), whereas eco-efficiency is merely partially sustainable since it focuses on a limited set of environmental indicators typically limited to the corporate sphere. ...
Article
This article develops a mapping tool for how corporations can approach the ethical aspects of climate change based on a literature survey. Literature on this topic tends to focus on the instrumental drivers for businesses, leaving the ethical issues aside. We seek to compensate for this lacuna by suggesting a spectrum of approaches that business corporations adopt in response to climate change, making the ethical orientations explicit. The critical issue of the climate agenda is whether business communities can sufficiently contribute to absolute targets for climate mitigation. In order to avoid charges of greenwashing, business corporations need to be engaged with absolute targets, such as the 1.5 °C target of the Paris Agreement. Moreover, they need to be politically engaged as corporate citizens in order to mitigate climate change in partnership with state and civil society organisations. To provide a test of the proposed mapping tool, we present a case study based on interviews and a survey of sustainability reports (2007–2017) conducted at three Danish energy firms. We conclude that the case study confirms a wide range of corporate responses to climate change, spanning instrumental approaches like the natural-resource-based view, to also include more normative aspirational approaches such as corporate citizenship and political CSR. Furthermore, the mapping tool suggests also including green conservatism and systemic-critical views. Finally, the article discusses how sustainability managers handle the ethical dilemmas of responding to climate change, as well as the limits of the research design, and future prospects and issues raised by the study.
... Second, as the Anthropocene places a stronger focus on interactions with an adaptive earth system, we need ways to articulate interactions and the responsibilities that arise from these interactions. This will involve an extension to an accounting that currently focuses on impacts on economics systems: for example, Bjørn et al. (2017) note that as yet few companies recognize environmental limits in their reporting. Accounting scholarship that focuses on the "bio" of "bio-geo-chemical" assemblages of the earth system also provide an indication of how this work might proceed (see Feger and Mermet, 2017;Russell et al., 2017). ...
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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to interrogate the nature and relevance of debates around the existence of, and ramifications arising from, the Anthropocene for accounting scholarship. Design/methodology/approach The paper’s aim is achieved through an in-depth analysis of the Anthropocene, paying attention to cross-disciplinary contributions, interpretations and contestations. Possible points of connection between the Anthropocene and accounting scholarship are then proposed and illuminated through a case study drawn from the seafood sector. Findings This paper develops findings in two areas. First, possible pathways for further development of how accounting scholarship might evolve by the provocation that thinking about the Anthropocene is outlined. Second, and through engagement with the case study, the authors highlight that the concept of stewardship may re-emerge in discussions about accountability in the Anthropocene. Research limitations/implications The paper argues that accounting scholarship focused on social, environmental and sustainability concerns may be further developed by engagement with Anthropocene debates. Practical implications While accounting practice might have to change to deal with Anthropocene induced effects, this paper focuses on implications for accounting scholarship. Social implications Human well-being is likely to be impacted if environmental impacts accelerate. In addition, an Anthropocene framing alters the understanding of nature–human interactions and how this affects accounting thought. Originality/value This is the first paper in accounting to seek to establish connections between accounting, accountability and the Anthropocene.
... For example, and pertinently in our view, the issue of ecological limits, one of the two core elements of sustainability alongside human development, is rarely acknowledged. Only 2 of 40 organisations sampled, the Co-operative Group and Tesco, even mention limits in their reports, a 5 per cent rate consistent with Bjørn et al. (2017). We posit that it is difficult to envisage a broadening up and opening out of the debate on sustainability and business without addressing the issue of ecological limits. ...
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore storytelling in sustainability reporting. The author posits that large PLCs use their sustainability reports to support the construction of a fairytale of "sustainable business", and asks if organisations with an alternative purpose (social enterprises, values-based SMEs) and/or ownership structure (co-operatives, partnerships) can offer a counter-narrative of the sustainability-business relationship. Design/methodology/approach The paper uses the literature on storytelling and organisational mythmaking to gain insight into the construction of narratives and their impact on the reader. A narrative analysis is conducted of the sustainability reports of 40 organisations across a range of entity classes, including large PLCs, values-based SMEs, co-owned businesses and social enterprises. Findings The analysis indicates that the narratives presented in sustainability reporting are of much the same form across entity classes. The author argues on this basis that sustainability reports represent stories targeted at specific stakeholders rather than accounts of the organisation's relationship with ecological and societal sustainability, and urges scholars to challenge organisations across entity classes to engage with sustainability at a planetary level. Originality/value The paper seeks to contribute to the literature in two ways. First, the author illustrates how the literature on storytelling can be used to analyse organisational narratives of sustainability, and how narrative forms and genres can be mobilised to support potential counter-narratives. Second, the author explores and ultimately challenges the proposition that organisations less often examined in the literature, such as social enterprises and cooperatives , can offer alternative narratives of the sustainability-business relationship.
... Although the reported literature clearly states the importance of planning in implementing sustainability into manufacturing, the main focus of the studies has hitherto been on the relative improvement with a triple-bottom line improvement. Analysing more than 40,000 corporate sustainability reports from the period 2000À2014, Bjørn and colleagues found that only around 5% of the companies related to absolute targets (mainly for climate impacts) in their reporting [16]. To operationalise absolute sustainability, it is crucial for manufacturing organisations to have a strategic plan towards achieving the reductions in environmental impact that is needed to stay within the space allocated to their organisations [128]. ...
Article
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The global society faces huge challenges to meet the expanding needs of a growing population within the constraints posed by a climate crisis and a strongly accelerated loss of biodiversity. For sustainability, the total environmental impact of our activities must respect the planetary boundaries that define what is a safe operating space for our civilization. Engineering must change the current focus on eco-efficiency to a search for solutions that are effective in terms of operating within the share of the total pollution space that they can claim. Engineering for environmental sustainability must be life cycle engineering, and the paper positions it relative to the constraints given by the boundaries of the ecosystems, the targets of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals and the strategies for a circular economy. This top-down perspective is combined with a bottom-up perspective from the life cycle of the product and technology. For each stage of the life cycle, the contents of the toolbox for life cycle engineering are reviewed, and a perspective is given on how absolute environmental sustainability requirements can be incorporated in a target-driven life cycle engineering.
... For example, it does not specify that goals should be resilience set (Haffar and Searcy, 2017). Bjørn et al. (2017) write based on an extensive survey of sustainability reporting that: "The most striking result of our study is that very few companies use ecological limits as stated reasons for changing how or what they produce". Meza-Ruiz et al. (2017) carry out an assessment of business maturity-levels and best practices using GRI, business excellence models and management standards. ...
Article
Purpose Sustainability reports (SRs) could be viewed as organisational measurements of sustainability performance. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how well SRs are measuring and communicating sustainability and how reporting could be assessed and improved by presenting a maturity grid based on quality management principles. Design/methodology/approach Quality management students have assessed publicly available SRs. A total of 55 student assessments have been analysed by the author and used to indicate how understandable reports are. Quality management principles and input from the student assessments have been used to propose a maturity grid for sustainability reporting quality. Findings The indication is that SRs are not easy to interpret. The word sustainability aspect used should be replaced with impact on vital stakeholder needs. Guidelines for analysing reports could be improved by using process focus to clearly describe scope of reporting as the entire value chain. Research limitations/implications Results are limited to assessing how sustainability is measured. How sustainable the organisations are is not assessed. The research is ongoing, and the proposed matrix is preliminary needing validation and further modification. Practical implications The proposed maturity grid for sustainability reporting forms a good basis for further development of SRs and the critical review of them. Social implications Results indicate a need to report sustainability in the entire value chain and to focus more on vital stakeholder needs such as poverty and climate change. Originality/value The paper discusses a field of synergies between quality and sustainability management, which is important but still sparingly researched.
... However, these approaches have not been mainstreamed, or systematized (Opdam and Steingröver, 2018). Less than 5% of all the companies refer T to ecological process in their sustainability reports (Bjørn et al., 2017). Therefore, it is necessary for organizational scholars to move beyond building organizational resilience to social-ecological resilience (Whiteman et al., 2004). ...
Article
There is a need for enterprises to incorporate information on the environment into decision making and to take action on ecological restoration. Within academia, a comprehensive understanding of the impacts on how business can serve sustainability transformation is still lacking as diverging holistic approaches and reductive approaches cloud academic thinking. The authors take a science-policy interface perspective to cover the role of cognitive proximity, matching and coordination of scientific knowledge from diverse stakeholders for effective policy making and implementation. We show through a literature review that temporal and spatial scales, soil and land degradation, institutions and ecosystem, and the role of human behavior and narrative are not adequately emphasized in sustainability research. A scale-based picture, focusing on landscapes, institutions and practices is proposed which can be used to align diverse fields by acting as "bridge" for improved science policy interface and decision making, facilitated through cognitive proximity, matching, and coordination. A case study on a business association from South India is used to demonstrate the scales based approach in practice. A scale-based approach can play a key role in connecting human behaviour, a social science thematic topic, with ecosystems , a natural science thematic topic. Share Link: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1YjmA3Hb~0IY-K
... Business systems, however, have been significantly underrepresented in science and policy discussions on how to achieve global climate targets. More importantly, the global business of hydrocarbon-based energy lacks frameworks to discuss their role in maintaining Earth system resilience (Bjørn et al., 2017;Paul et al., 2017). In light of this gap, this paper has two main goals. ...
Article
At present, an energy transition consistent with achieving the goals set out by the Paris climate agreement is not occurring, primarily due to lock-in dynamics at the societal and energy business complex level. To contribute to discussions on how to unlock a major system transformation, we introduce here a new framework that characterises the energy business as a system and traces its metabolism. Drawing analogies with biology and using metabolic maps, we present a systems analysis across-scales; from the Earth system down to the energy business purpose level. Our analysis shows energy directors and managers face unfavourable conditions that inhibit radical business model decisions consistent with safely achieving emission targets. One such condition is how the intensity of the Earth system feedback signal is significantly reduced by the time it arrives at the corporate decision-making level, primarily due to social information filters and corporate law. Secondly, the shareholder profit maximisation purpose of companies is found to hold a systemic role in the energy business lock-in and may be incompatible with avoiding dangerous climate change. To achieve an energy transformation that safeguards Earth system resilience, our discussion suggests focusing on the intrinsic purpose and governance of the system, arguing that relying on external economic adjustments alone, such as carbon pricing, may help but could fall short of achieving the necessary shift. Fundamental Earth stewardship is needed from energy business actors. Like with nationally determined contributions (i.e. INDCs), a bottom-up approach to proposing contributions to climate-consistent business model pathways may facilitate the dialogue.
... This reduces the risk that scientific peers overlook that there is actually normativity involved, which could lead to (unintendedly) "presenting human values as facts of nature" (Weidema and Brandão 2015). For example, corporate sustainability reports were found to rarely justify the choice of a given carrying capacity allocation principle (Bjørn et al. 2017). This obscures the fact that corporate environmental targets calculated using AESA methods are not entirely "science-based," albeit more so than existing corporate target-setting practices. ...
Article
An absolute environmental sustainability assessment (AESA) addresses whether a production or consumption activity can be considered environmentally sustainable in an absolute sense. This involves a comparison of its environmental pressure to its allocated environmental carrying capacity. AESA methods have been developed in multiple academic fields, each using their own set of concepts and terms with little communication across the fields. A recent growing interest in using AESA methods for decision support calls for a better common understanding of the constituents of an AESA method and how it can be communicated to scientific peers and to potential users. With this aim, we develop a framework for AESA methods, composed of a succession of four assessment steps and involving six methodological choices that must be made by the method developer or the user. We then use the framework to analyze and compare five selected AESA methods that focus on the release of phosphorus and nitrogen to the environment. In this manner, we show that the framework is able to systematically differentiate AESA methods that initially appear to be similar. Intended users of the framework include (1) method developers communicating new AESA methods to academic peers or potential method users and (2) researchers comparing a group of existing AESA methods and communicating their differences to their peers and to potential users looking for guidance on method selection.
... Firstly, PBs could be used within Life Cycle Impact Assessment, e.g., to develop a 'PB-informed' approach which will be particularly relevant for establishing 'PB-compliant' assessments of products and services. Several research groups and companies are already working on this topic [25][26][27][28][29]. A second approach is to develop a range of complementary indicators or tools, particularly relevant for strategic company, portfolio and sectorial assessment and management. ...
Article
The Planetary Boundaries concept has emerged as a framework for articulating environmental limits, gaining traction as a basis for considering sustainability in business settings, government policy and international guidelines. There is emerging interest in using the Planetary Boundaries concept as part of life cycle assessment (LCA) for gauging absolute environmental sustainability. We tested the applicability of a novel Planetary Boundaries-based life cycle impact assessment methodology on a hypothetical laundry washing case study at the EU level. We express the impacts corresponding to the control variables of the individual Planetary Boundaries together with a measure of their respective uncertainties. We tested four sharing principles for assigning a share of the safe operating space (SoSOS) to laundry washing and assessed if the impacts were within the assigned SoSOS. The choice of sharing principle had the greatest influence on the outcome. We therefore highlight the need for more research on the development and choice of sharing principles. Although further work is required to operationalize Planetary Boundaries in LCA, this study shows the potential to relate impacts of human activities to environmental boundaries using LCA, offering company and policy decision-makers information needed to promote environmental sustainability.
... Research has concentrated on how companies address the challenge of sustainability through disclosure in sustainability reporting. Some studies focus on the frequency of reporting [28,32], while others deploy qualitative content analysis [27] or quantitative text analysis [27,29,31,[33][34][35][36] of reporting practices. Most of these studies have only considered a limited number of reports. ...
Article
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Corporations have embraced the idea of corporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) under the general framework of sustainability. Studies have measured and analyzed the impact of internal sustainability efforts on the performance of individual companies, policies, and projects. This exploratory study attempts to extract useful insight from shareholder sustainability resolutions using machine learning-based text analytics. Prior research has studied corporate sustainability disclosures from public reports. By studying shareholder resolutions, we gain insight into the shareholders’ perspectives and objectives. The primary source for this study is the Ceres sustainability shareholder resolution database, with 1737 records spanning 2009–2019. The study utilizes a combination of text analytic approaches (i.e., word cloud, co-occurrence, row-similarities, clustering, classification, etc.) to extract insights. These are novel methods of transforming textual data into useful knowledge about corporate sustainability endeavors. This study demonstrates that stakeholders, such as shareholders, can influence corporate sustainability via resolutions. The incorporation of text analytic techniques offers insight to researchers who study vast collections of unstructured bodies of text, improving the understanding of shareholder resolutions and reaching a wider audience.
... Clarkson et al. (2008) highlight that voluntary sustainability reporting by businesses is limited by resource availability (information production costs) and vulnerability caused by potentially negative disclosures (proprietary costs). In other sectors, reporting on (environmental) sustainability issues remains very rare, estimated at about 5% of all companies (Bjørn et al., 2017). It is also disputed if sustainability disclosures actually translates into better actual performance or simply reframe existing operations or minor internal adjustments (Clarkson et al., 2008). ...
Article
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The agricultural sector faces serious environmental, social and economic challenges. In response, there has been a proliferation of labels and certifications aiming to ensure minimum farm sustainability performance. Organic agriculture (OA) a prominent example, having received substantial research attention relating to agronomic and environmental performance. While international OA movements are evolving to include broader sustainability aspirations, limited research exists on the social and economic performance of OA. To address this, we conducted a representative farm-based assessment of the Swiss organic sector to evaluate its contribution to sustainability across a wide range of themes based on the FAO Sustainability of Agriculture and Food Assessment (SAFA) Guidelines. We assessed 185 farms using the Sustainability Assessment and Monitoring RouTine (SMART) Farm Tool, chosen through stratified random sampling by farm type and agricultural zone. The results indicate that the Swiss organic sector makes a substantially positive contribution to sustainability, with average scores for theme goal achievement of 62% (Good Governance), 77% (Environmental Integrity), 70% (Economic Resilience), and 87% (Social Well-being). A set of 45 influential indicators (28 for plant production/mix farms and 30 for livestock farms) were selected based on the ability to explain variance (using Principal Component Analysis) and importance for goal achievement. The indicator sets explained a large amount of variation (ca. 70% for both farm types) and revealed a snapshot of management topics relevant to sustainability performance across the sector. These covered socio-political engagement, emissions to air and water, biodiversity, animal welfare, profitability, vulnerability, product quality, local economy, capacity building, and workplace risks. The spread of results across the sample, and comparisons to secondary data (literature and official statistics), revealed the importance of both well-studied issues (e.g., wide spread of energy consumption, variable yield levels/stability, local value chain dynamics) and more novel insights Curran et al. Sustainability of Swiss Organic Farms (e.g., strong political engagement, variable price premiums, lacking social security of farming families, insecure land tenure). We propose these topics as a basis for deeper analysis, designing improvement measures and conducting comparative research. This would bring much-needed breadth into the typically narrow debate surrounding the relative merits of OA.
... Although there is little acknowledgement of planetary boundaries, some firms have begun to incorporate this concept into their corporate reports (Bjørn et al. 2016;Veldman and Jansson 2020). However, it remains a necessity to include them within the green debt financing (Tuhkanen and Vulturius 2020). ...
Article
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Planetary boundaries (PB) is a novel conceptual framework that assesses the state of processes fundamental to the stability of the Earth system. Studies argue a non-linear relationship between economy and environmental degradation, known as the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC). We postulate this inverted-U association between PB and economic output in a worldwide sample. This paper, therefore, examines the correlation between changes in environmental conditions and global economic growth, incorporating the growth rate of key control variables (population, financial development, merchandise trade and regulations). Thus, we intend to identify and address the main gaps in these EKC studies and analyse the impacts of worldwide economic growth on global environmental change. PB variables are identified as the more integrated perspective with regard to this change. These planetary boundaries include various proxies: global CO2 concentration as a climate change proxy, threatened species for biodiversity loss, the total ozone for ozone depletion, mean surface ocean hydrogen ion concentration for ocean acidification and global fertiliser consumption for biochemical cycles. Under this integrated perspective, the EKC hypothesis is supported for climate change and ocean acidification panels using a dynamic system generalized method of moments (GMM) approach. Meanwhile, biochemical cycles, ozone depletion and freshwater use, land change and biodiversity loss boundaries do not support the existence of the EKC shape using the same methodology. The results provide an additional and novel view to be factored into the decisions of policymaker and investment institutions to contribute to sustainable development in all countries.
... International policy and industry sustainability initiatives focus on energy efficiency, GHG emissions reduction, carbon neutrality, etc. Corporate sustainability reports commonly practice relative/efficiency improvements with a minimal mention (∼5% of all corporate reporting) of planetary boundaries and ecological limits (Bjørn et al., 2017a). Efficiency may not assure or yield effective results; effective results may not involve an efficient approach as a necessary condition. ...
Article
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Manufacturing organizations continuously improve their energy, environmental, and economic performance at different manufacturing levels (products, processes, enterprise, etc.) using various assessment methodologies for visibility and a competitive market edge. Sustainability assessment has become the focus of the manufacturing performance measurement in the last decade and has triggered numerous methodological developments and adoption in practice. The assessment focus has broadened from process to enterprise-level, single to multiple parameters, fragmented to a holistic point of view, and local businesses to global sustainability and circularity. Increasing global environmental burden, resource scarcity, and human health challenges urge a shift towards effective assessment practices. This article critically reviews sustainability assessment practices in manufacturing from a methodological efficiency-effectiveness perspective. A clear distinction between efficiency and effectiveness practices has been discussed. The requirements and research challenges for effectiveness in the sustainability assessment practice in theory (academia) and practice (industry) is presented.
... It is estimated by its developers to cover more than 90% of all reporting companies, and it is updated daily (Corporate Register, 2017b). A search engine is available on the website for conducting specific report content searches as previously undertaken by Bjørn, Bey, Georg, Røpke, and Hauschild (2017). ...
Article
Large companies now commonly release corporate sustainability (CS) reports in which they describe their approach to handle sustainability challenges. To guide environmental sustainability efforts in the industry, the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology has been recognized as an important tool by researchers and policy makers. But to what extent has the LCA methodology been present in companies' narratives through their CS reports up to now? To answer this question, we map references to the LCA methodology in CS reports over the past two decades at geographical, sectoral, and company levels through keyword searching within an extensive database (~45,000 CS reports), analyze trends, and highlight challenges, opportunities, and recommendations to strengthen the presence of LCA in CS reports. The results show that LCA generally remains weakly present in CS reporting, with some geographical and sectoral variations. Recommendations to strengthen LCA presence in CS reports are derived for method developers, policy makers, and companies.
... Mais recentemente, por meio da chamada Agenda 2030, a Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) renovou esse chamado de atenção para questões de sustentabilidade, envolvendo, é claro, as organizações empresariais (BORGERT et al., 2018). Todavia, chama-se a atenção para o fato de o conceito de "desenvolvimento sustentável" possuir controvérsias, especialmente devido à natureza subjetiva das necessidades humanas e à complexa tarefa de identificar as condições necessárias para atendê-las (BJØRN et al., 2017). ...
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Considerando a crescente adesão de empresas ao redor do mundo pelo modelo de reporte da Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) para a produção de relatórios de sustentabilidade, o objetivo deste artigo é identificar pontos positivos e negativos desse modelo. Para tanto, procedeu-se à uma revisão da literatura, buscando-se artigos nacionais e internacionais em bases de dados constantes no Portal de Periódicos da Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior. Foram selecionados 55 artigos que traziam pontos positivos e/ou negativos dos relatórios de sustentabilidade no modelo de reporte da GRI. Observou-se que o periódico “Journal of Cleaner Production” se sobressaiu em relação ao número de publicações sobre o assunto, com 25 artigos do total. Os pontos positivos destacados na pesquisa foram agrupados nos seguintes tópicos: “Responsabilidade, transparência e legitimidade organizacional”; “Padronização e comparabilidade”; “Popularidade e credibilidade”; e “Abrangência”. Já os pontos negativos destacados, em tópicos, foram: “Incompletude”; “Padronização pouco rígida e dificuldade em estabelecer comparações”, “Greenwashing”; “Diferentes expectativas dos stakeholders”; “Alto custo de desenvolvimento do relatório”; e “Falta de integração entre indicadores”. Buscou-se contribuir preenchendo uma lacuna na literatura sobre estudos desse tipo, que reunissem os pontos fortes e fracos do modelo GRI, observando-se ainda certos pontos de controvérsias entre autores. Como sugestão para pesquisas futuras, recomenda-se um aprofundamento em relação ao princípio da materialidade, considerado ponto crítico por alguns autores presentes nesta revisão e pouco abordado na literatura.
... Instead, new targets are not yet applied in the economy; they are needed because existing are limited to a few issues (e.g. recycling, efficiency improvement) and only cover limited arrays of CE solutions, such as recycling or, efficiency (Bjørn et al., 2017;Milios, 2018;Ranta et al., 2018). The CirBioeco goes beyond these solutions that involve aspects like closed loops or value retention at higher levels (e.g. ...
Article
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This study has attempted to ascertain the linkages between circular bio-economy (CirBioeco) and recycling of electronic (e-)waste by applying microbial activities instead of the smelter and chemical technologies. To build the research hypothesis, the advances on biotechnology-driven recycling processes for metals extraction from e-waste has been analyzed briefly. Thereafter, based on the potential of microbial techniques and research hypothesis, the structural model has been tested for a significance level of 99%, which is supported by the corresponding standardization co-efficient values. A prediction model applied to determine the recycling impact on CirBioeco indicates to re-circulate 51,833 tons of copper and 58 tons of gold by 2030 for the production of virgin metals/raw-materials, while recycling rate of the accumulated e-waste remains to be 20%. This restoration volume of copper and gold through the microbial activities corresponds to mitigate 174 million kg CO2 emissions and 24 million m3 water consumption if compared with the primary production activities. The study potentially opens a new window for environmentally-friendly biotechnological recycling of e-waste under the umbrella concept of CirBioeco.
... More importantly, CSR reports are becoming increasingly important for the scientific community, especially in the study of methodology, definition, and frequency [29][30][31], as well as in the comparison of the different techniques used by companies from a qualitative perspective [32]. In this paper, we examine the content of CSR reports, focusing on the GRI reports more quantitatively through text-mining techniques. ...
Article
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This paper aims to evaluate the degree of affinity that Nordic companies’ reports published under the Global Reporting Initiatives (GRI) framework have. Several natural language processing and text-mining techniques were implemented and tested to achieve this goal. We extracted strings, corpus, and hybrid semantic similarities from the reports and evaluated the models through the intrinsic assessment methodology. A quantitative ranking score based on index matching was developed to complement the semantic valuation. The final results show that Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) and Global Vectors for word representation (GloVE) are the best methods for our study. Our findings will open the door to the automatic evaluation of sustainability reports which could have a substantial impact on the environment.
... A survey conducted by Antonini and Larrinaga (2017) shows that few corporations set environmental boundaries, while most reporting entities are subject to financial control rather than environmental sustainability targets. Bjørn et al. (2017) review a number of corporate responsibility reports with reference to ecological limits, finding that the 2°C threshold for climate change is the most frequently used target, whereas the threshold behaviors of local environment are rarely reflected in corporate reports. Another similar convey made by Haffar and Searcy (2018) indicates that none of the targets reported by sustainability-leading companies in Canada is virtually connected to any PB-informed thresholds, and only a small fraction of the targets qualitatively make reference to the biophysical processes of some PBs. ...
Article
The planetary boundaries (PBs) delineating the safe operating space for human activities have been broadly recognized as a well-grounded framework for global sustainability assessment. This paper provides a comprehensive review of the application and methodological extensions of the PBs by linking with multiscale environmental sustainability assessments. We find that the targeted scales, sharing principles and sustainability perspectives jointly determine the downscaling of the PBs—a complex process that needs to take into account the biophysical, socioeconomic, ethical and cultural dimensions. Despite the varying sharing principles, in general both top-down and bottom-up approaches have been employed to define the environmental boundaries at sub-global scales on which the various PBs highly differ in their threshold behaviors. To clarify the responsibility of different stakeholders for sustainable development, the PB-informed sustainability assessment should refer to a specific perspective (i.e., production-, consumption-, or life cycle-based). Furthermore, the methodological extensions of PBs have the potential to monitor the progress and gaps of the globally consensus-based Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To achieve the SDGs within the PBs, there is a great need for a thorough transition of socioeconomic systems towards a prosperous, just and sustainable future.
... They argue that the sustainability context is missing from both corporate sustainability and SR. Evidence for the lack of context in SR was provided in an extensive study that looked at 40,000 sustainability reports published by 12,000 companies between 2000 and 2014 (Bjørn et al. 2017). The researchers found that just 5% of them made a reference to ecological limits on any given year, and only 31 in total used these ecological limits to define different targets. ...
Chapter
Reporting non-financial data has become a key element of corporate sustainability. Most public companies now offer regular updates on their progress toward voluntary sustainability commitments, reflecting a growing demand from investors and other stakeholders for greater transparency on sustainability-related issues. This chapter examines the evolution of sustainability reporting (SR), including the development of reporting standards and frameworks (e.g., GRI, SASB, IIRC), and their different approaches to SR. It questions SR’s overall effectiveness in terms of advancing corporate sustainability meaningfully, looking under the hood of SR to study it from a systemic point of view. This inquiry considers three possible explanations for SR’s shortcomings: applying a “mechanical” approach instead of a “biological” one, having little to no context, and adhering to a sustainability-as-usual mindset.
... While more than 900 companies have adopted science-based targets for mitigating climate change, Bjørn et al. [8] have shown more broadly that the uptake of such approaches has been relatively limited to date. This may be because methods for disaggregation are in their infancy, given the challenge of linking drivers to responsibility around our interconnected planet. ...
Article
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The term “science-based targets” has gained recent popularity. It is used to refer both to overall science-based targets (established through intergovernmental treaties), and to their disaggregation into specific science-based targets (determining contributions of individual actors). Biophysical achievability, measurability, and underpinning rationale are requirements for considering a target to be “science-based”.
... Furthermore, deciding what assessment approaches or indicators to report progress for CE objectives remains the responsibility of the company , therefore, as Pauliuk, (2018) argued, could facilitate greenwashing practices as companies select which CE-related indicators best suits their corporate narrative. Regarding targets for CE, most studies have focussed on promoting the use of targets for limited aspects of CE such as recycling and recovery (e.g., Bjørn et al., 2017;Repo et al., 2018). More recently, Morseletto (2020), utilising the '10 R-strategy' framework from Potting et al. (2017) proposed a new set of targets encompassing a more holistic view of the CE. ...
Article
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Circular economy (CE) continues to become an increasingly important topic within disclosure frameworks and taxonomies for sustainable finance, however, early evidence points to CE not readily being included within corporate sustainability reports. Therefore, this research aims to explore how CE is emerging within the sustainability reports of companies listed in sustainability rankings. More specifically, the presence of CE within five corporate sustainability reporting elements has been investigated (when applicable): (i) the Chief Executive Officer's message, (ii) non-financial materiality assessments, (iii) references to the Sustainable Development Goal framework, (iv) targets, and (v) indicators. Qualitative and quantitative content analysis techniques were utilised to review 138 reports published in 2020 from 94 European companies, not restricted by sector. Results showed that nearly all companies are explicitly referencing CE, however, only 7% of them integrate CE within all five sustainability reporting elements. Less than one third of companies were found to include both targets and indicators for CE suggesting that overall, CE content within sustainability reports is largely superficial and inconsistent. This investigation contributes a descriptive overview of current CE reporting trends and shortcomings, as well as detailing implications relevant for academia and practitioners developing sustainability reports and/or CE assessments. The transition towards a CE requires transparency, therefore, further research and engagement is needed to better define the value of CE within external corporate communication.
... The second part of the research focused on predicting financial performance based on ESG data while the last part had the goal of either predicting ratings or creating entirely new ways of measuring ESG performance. Since many firms publish sustainability reports on an annual basis [30], this medium was frequently analyzed by researchers using content analysis or text mining with the aim of identifying topics and trends [6,18,29,30,36,37,57]. A similar methodology was also applied to shareholder resolutions [44]. ...
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Over the past years, topics ranging from climate change to human rights have seen increasing importance for investment decisions. Hence, investors (asset managers and asset owners) who wanted to incorporate these issues started to assess companies based on how they handle such topics. For this assessment, investors rely on specialized rating agencies that issue ratings along the environmental, social and governance (ESG) dimensions. Such ratings allow them to make investment decisions in favor of sustainability. However, rating agencies base their analysis on subjective assessment of sustainability reports, not provided by every company. Furthermore, due to human labor involved, rating agencies are currently facing the challenge to scale up the coverage in a timely manner. In order to alleviate these challenges and contribute to the overall goal of supporting sustainability, we propose a heterogeneous ensemble model to predict ESG ratings using fundamental data. This model is based on feedforward neural network, CatBoost and XGBoost ensemble members. Given the public availability of fundamental data, the proposed method would allow cost-efficient and scalable creation of initial ESG ratings (also for companies without sustainability reporting). Using our approach we are able to explain 54% of the variation in ratings R2 using fundamental data and outperform prior work in this area.
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The purpose of this research is to explore the extent to which companies are setting organization‐centric versus resilience‐based environmental targets in their sustainability reports. We define ecological resilience through the planetary thresholds identified by the Planetary Boundaries (PB) framework. On this basis, we define resilience‐based targets as corporate environmental targets that are connected (quantitatively or qualitatively) to these thresholds. Sustainability reports issued by 50 sustainability leader firms in Canada were analyzed to identify environmental sustainability targets. These targets were classified as resilience‐based and organization‐centric based on their connection to the PB framework. A total of 303 targets were identified, distributed across eight different corporate performance areas. None of these targets was found to be quantitatively tied to any PB thresholds. A small number of targets did nevertheless make reference to the global/regional ecological processes that underpin some of the Boundaries. These targets made reference to only five of the nine Boundaries described by the framework. This study highlights the extent of organization‐centric environmental targets in corporate sustainability reports. The implications of setting such targets are discussed, along with the challenges of adopting resilience‐based targets. This study also discusses the reasons why companies may not be adopting a resilience‐based approach to set sustainability targets and measure performance, despite increasing calls from stakeholders to do so. On this basis, several recommendations are also provided for managers to guide resilience‐based target‐ and goal‐setting.
Article
The purpose of this paper is explore the extent to which environmental indicators disclosed in corporate sustainability reports address the broader ‘sustainability context’ in which companies operate. This was achieved by analyzing the types of environmental performance indicators present in a sample of sustainability reports issued by sustainability leader companies in Canada. The data collected was used to map out the relative frequencies and distributions of context-based and self-referential indicators across the different environmental performance areas addressed in the reports. Context-based indicators address the broader socio-ecological system within which a company operates; self-referential indicators do not. Of the 463 environmental indicators identified, none were found to be context-based. Instead, the reports relied exclusively on absolute indicators (57% of all indicator types identified) and relative indicators (37%) to represent their environmental performance data — as well as two other previously-unstudied categories of non-context indicators. These were labelled equivalent (5%) and benchmark indicators (<2%). The relative proportions of these non-context types were found to differ across the various environmental areas disclosed. This research is one of the first to undertake a complete study of the context-based reporting phenomenon as practiced today. In so doing, it described the extent of self-referential reporting, even among sustainability leader firms. This study also described the indicator strategies that the study companies were using to make the performance data presented more meaningful to the reader, in the absence of context.
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Plastic pollution is a pervasive and escalating global environmental problem, named among the most serious environmental issues globally, after climate change. A large percentage of the global plastic waste leakage is estimated to come from Asia, and most of this is from food and drink packaging. As a major user of single-use packaging, the food and beverage sector plays an important role in addressing plastic pollution, yet investigation of the uptake and transition to sustainable packaging by this industry sector remains limited. To contribute to filling this gap, a systematic review of 68 corporate sustainability reports was conducted to examine how major multinational companies in the food and beverage sector are addressing plastic pollution. This study focuses on how these companies address plastic pollution and packaging in their corporate sustainability reports, what sustainable packaging strategies they present, and how the companies address producer responsibility. The results show that the transition to sustainable packaging in the food and beverage sector is slow and inconsistent. Most corporate sustainability reports fail to address plastic pollution. There is a tendency for companies to report on collection and recycling, rather than sustainable packaging solutions aimed at systemic change. Producer responsibility concerning packaging is growing, however, most companies are doing very little to reduce plastic waste especially in regions lacking waste management infrastructure, such as those in emerging economies.
Chapter
This chapter introduces the theoretical background. First, the concept of environmental sustainability and the research field of life cycle engineering are introduced. Next, a general overview on the technical aspects of EVs and traction batteries is presented. This section in particular intends to describe the operating principles of EVs and traction batteries, and to give an overview of their components, materials and manufacturing processes. Finally, the most relevant aspects of electromobility from a life cycle engineering perspective are summarized.
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Pakistan is a resource-constrained country, poor in municipal and healthcare facilities. Existing healthcare structures in the country are often overcrowded, and an effective monitoring and assessment of their sustainability is therefore crucial. In this study, a systemic approach is outlined to evaluate the environmental sustainability of the largest and sole public hospital in the major city of Gujranwala, in the Punjab region of Pakistan. The Emergy (spelled with “m”) Accounting (EMA) method is applied. Its operationalization allows to keep track of the amount of energy that was consumed in direct and indirect transformations to make a product or service. Relevant data include the hospital requirements in terms of energy, water, products, labor, and services. The EMA results offer a supply-side geobiosphereoriented perspective. Emergy indicators show that the hospital is indirectly responsible for a significant stress on the environment, that might be decreased by an increased efficiency in the resource use. On the other hand, a hospital is a complex system, depending on skilled laborforce as well as on several fine imported medical products and related services, making it dependent on external socio-economic systems. The presented results address the geography dependent characteristics of the hospital, and can be used for benchmarking and future evaluation of similar hospitals within and across the region.
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This study examines the sustainability reports (SRs)of 200 firms in both developed and emerging economies in order to identify the words most frequently used in disclosing sustainability practices within the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) approach to reporting (which emphasizes economic, environmental, and social dimensions). Its aim is to evaluate these sustainability reports under the umbrella of the GRI framework. It adopts a semi-automated Text-Mining (TM) technique to evaluate the corporate SRs of select firms from the top ten economies by GDP at current prices. Based on the GRI Standards guidelines, a total of 208 keywords were identified for analysis. The disclosures were then awarded points based on the appearance of these keywords so that the appearance of one resulted in the awarding of a score of one; if a keyword did not appear then the report was scored a zero for that word. Furthermore, a wordcloud was also generated in order to better understand the inclination of reporting language towards various TBL reporting categories. This analysis of the SRs of 200 firms from the top ten economies of the world sheds light on the differences in reporting practices and priorities as they relate to various aspects of the GRI Standards guidelines. The results indicate that SR practices have grown rapidly in the last half decade of the period selected for study (2013-2017) as compared to the first half (2008-2012). Canada ranked highest for its disclosure practices in this analysis followed by the UK, Germany, US, Japan, France, Italy, Brazil, India, and China. This study found that all included countries improved their sustainability performance over the period 2008-2017.
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While large companies routinely announce greenhouse gas emissions targets, few have derived targets based on global climate goals. This changed in 2015 with the creation of the science based targets (SBTs) initiative, which provides guidelines for setting emission targets in line with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. SBTs have now been set by more than 500 companies. Methods for setting such targets are not presented in a comparable way in target-setting guidelines and concerns that certain methods may lead to overshoot of the temperature goal have not been investigated. Here, we systematically characterize and compare all seven broadly applicable target-setting methods and quantify the balance between collective corporate SBTs and global allowable emissions for individual methods and different method mixes. We use a simplified global production scenario composed of eight archetypical companies to evaluate target-setting methods across a range of company characteristics and global emission scenarios. The methods vary greatly with respect to emission allocation principles, required company variables and embedded global emission scenarios. Some methods treat companies largely the same, while others differentiate between company types based on geography, economic sector, projected growth rate or baseline emission intensity. The application of individual target-setting methods as well as different mixes of methods tend to result in an imbalance between time-integrated aggregated SBTs and global allowable emissions. The sign and size of this imbalance is in some cases sensitive to the shape of the global emission pathway and the distribution of variables between the company archetypes. We recommend that the SBT initiative (a) use our SBT method characterisation to present methods in a systematic way, (b) consider our emission imbalance analysis in its method recommendations, (c) disclose underlying reasons for its method recommendations, and (d) require transparency from companies on the calculation of established SBTs.
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Sustainability reports may play an important role as a supporting tool in the transition of organisations towards more circular economy models, since their content can help to measure, monitor and communicate the organisations’ transition and to establish goals in the short/medium term. The aim of this study is to determine whether it is possible to calculate indicators capable of measuring the transition of organisations towards circularity from the information that they are currently communicating in their Corporate Sustainability Reports (CSRs), and what information would need to be incorporated in these reports to successfully carry out this procedure. To this end, by applying a three-step methodology, 34 indicators grouped into 10 categories were proposed to measure the level of circularity of organisations. This was completed with a detailed proposal of units/metrics to measure the indicators, based on those that organisations commonly use in their CSRs. For this purpose, information from 8 international programmes/frameworks that measure circularity at the territorial level was combined with circularity information that organisations are currently communicating in their CSRs. Finally, the proposed set of indicators and metrics were applied to a Spanish organisation dedicated to the forestry and paper sector with a CSR based on GRI-Standards. The results demonstrated that 25 of the 34 proposed indicators (74%) can be measured directly using the information included in the CSRs.
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This paper offers a critique of sustainability reporting and, in particular, a critique of the modern disconnect between the practice of sustainability reporting and what we consider to be the urgent issue of our era: sustaining the life-supporting ecological systems on which humanity and other species depend. Tracing the history of such reporting developments, we identify and isolate the concept of the ‘triple bottom line’ (TBL) as a core and dominant idea that continues to pervade business reporting, and business engagement with sustainability. Incorporating an entity’s economic, environmental and social performance indicators into its management and reporting processes, we argue, has become synonymous with corporate sustainability; in the process, concern for ecology has become sidelined. Moreover, this process has become reinforced and institutionalised through SustainAbility’s biennial benchmarking reports, KPMG’s triennial surveys of practice, initiatives by the accountancy profession and, particularly, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)’s sustainability reporting guidelines. We argue that the TBL and the GRI are insufficient conditions for organizations contributing to the sustaining of the Earth’s ecology. Paradoxically, they may reinforce business-as-usual and greater levels of un-sustainability.
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The planetary boundaries framework defines a safe operating space for humanity based on the intrinsic biophysical processes that regulate the stability of the Earth system. Here, we revise and update the planetary boundary framework, with a focus on the underpinning biophysical science, based on targeted input from expert research communities and on more general scientific advances over the past 5 years. Several of the boundaries now have a two-tier approach, reflecting the importance of cross-scale interactions and the regional-level heterogeneity of the processes that underpin the boundaries. Two core boundaries—climate change and biosphere integrity—have been identified, each of which has the potential on its own to drive the Earth system into a new state should they be substantially and persistently transgressed.
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The ever tighter coupling of our food, water and energy systems, in the context of a changing climate is leading to increasing turbulence in the world. As a consequence, it becomes ever more crucial to develop cities, regions, and economies with resilience in mind. Because of their global reach, substantial resources, and information-driven leadership structures, multinational corporations can play a major, constructive role in improving our understanding and design of resilient systems. This volume is the product of the Resilience Action Initiative, a collaboration among Dow, DuPont, IBM, McKinsey, Shell, Siemens, Swiss Re, Unilever, and Yara designed to explore possible corporate contributions to global resilience, especially at the nexus of water, food and energy. Aggressively forward-thinking, and consistent with an enlightened self-interest, the ideas considered here represent a corporate perspective on the broad collaborations required for a more resilient world.
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In recent years, a new, literalist approach to managing the sustainability performance of organizations has emerged, the makeup of which stands in stark contrast to the prevailing, incrementalist approach. Unlike the incrementalist approach, which is predicated on the view that progress in sustainability occurs whenever marginal improvements in the social and environmental impacts of organizations are made, the literalist approach takes a more rigorous stand. Under the literalist doctrine (also known as context-based sustainability, or CBS), an organization’s sustainability performance is a function of what its social and environmental impacts are relative to specific norms, standards, or thresholds for what its impacts must be in order to be sustainable. Here the literalist doctrine relies on the principle of sustainability context, or the general idea that sustainability performance assessments must be made in light of social and ecological limits, and always with reference to them. Notwithstanding its intellectual pedigree, however, and its prominence in leading standards for measurement and reporting (e.g., the Global Reporting Initiative), actual implementations of sustainability context in practice are rare at best, and almost always inconsistent if not completely at odds with one another. Guidelines for how to apply sustainability context in practice are, themselves, rare as well. In response, this paper takes up the question of what the research and development needs and opportunities in the field of CBS are that must be addressed if moving sustainability context from the realm of theory into practice is to have any chance of succeeding. The authors begin by defining CBS, explaining the logic and epistemology behind it, and then go on to identify and discuss specific issues of interest requiring further research and development in the social and environmental accounting domains. The breadth and depth of research needs and opportunities here are extensive.
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With growing water needs for food production, it is necessary to improve the quantification of "Environmental Flow Requirements (EFRs)" to secure enough water for the freshwater ecosystems. In this study, five methods for calculating EFRs were compared to 11 case studies of locally-calculated EFRs. Three of the methods already existed (Smakhtin, Tennant and Tessmann) and two were developed in this study (the Variable Monthly Flow method and the Q90_Q50 method). The Variable Monthly Flow (VFM) method mimics for the first time the natural flow regimes while being "validated" at global and local scales. The VFM uses algorithms to classify flow regime into high, intermediate and low-flow months to take into account intra-annual variability by allocating EFRs with a percentage of mean monthly flow (MMF). The Q90_Q50 method allocates annual flow quantiles (Q50 and Q90) depending on the flow season. The results showed that, over all methods, 37% of annual discharge was allocated to "Nature" with a higher pressure on low flow requirements (LFR = 46% to 71% of average low flows) than on high flow requirements (HFR = 17% to 45% of average high flows). Environmental flow methods using fixed annual thresholds such as Tennant, Q90_Q50 and Smakhtin seemed to overestimate EFRs of stable flow regimes and underestimate EFRs of variable flow regimes. VFM and Tessmann methods showed the highest correlation with the locally-calculated EFRs (R2 = 0.91). The main difference between the Tessmann and VFM methods is that Tessmann method does not allow any water withdrawals during the low-flow season. Those five methods were tested within the global vegetation and hydrological model LPJml. The calculated global annual EFRs for "fair" ecological conditions represent between 25 to 46% of mean annual flow (MAF). Variable flow regimes such as the Nile have lower EFRs (ranging from 12 to 48% of MAF) than stable tropical regimes such as the Amazon (EFRs ranging from 30 to 67% of MAF).
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Water footprints have been proposed as sustainability indicators, relating the consumption of goods like food to the amount of water necessary for their production and the impacts of that water use in the source regions. We further developed the existing water footprint methodology, by globally resolving virtual water flows from production to consumption regions for major food crops at 5 arcmin spatial resolution. We distinguished domestic and international flows, and assessed local impacts of export production. Applying this method to three exemplary cities, Berlin, Delhi and Lagos, we find major differences in amounts, composition, and origin of green and blue virtual water imports, due to differences in diets, trade integration and crop water productivities in the source regions. While almost all of Delhi's and Lagos' virtual water imports are of domestic origin, Berlin on average imports from more than 4000 km distance, in particular soy (livestock feed), coffee and cocoa. While 42% of Delhi's virtual water imports are blue water based, the fractions for Berlin and Lagos are 2 and 0.5%, respectively, roughly equal to the water volumes abstracted in these two cities for domestic water use. Some of the external source regions of Berlin's virtual water imports appear to be critically water scarce and/or food insecure. However, for deriving recommendations on sustainable consumption and trade, further analysis of context-specific costs and benefits associated with export production will be required.
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Water footprints have been proposed as sustainability indicators, relating the consumption of goods like food to the amount of water necessary for their production and the impacts of that water use in the source regions. We have further developed the existing water footprint methodology by globally resolving virtual water flows and import and source regions at 5 arc minutes spatial resolution, and by assessing local impacts of export production. Applying this method to three exemplary cities, Berlin, Delhi and Lagos, we find major differences in amounts, composition, and origin of green and blue virtual water imports, due to differences in diets, trade integration and crop water productivities in the source regions. While almost all of Delhi's and Lagos' virtual water imports are of domestic origin, Berlin on average imports from more than 4000 km distance, in particular soy (livestock feed), coffee and cocoa. While 42% of Delhi's virtual water imports are blue water based, the fractions for Berlin and Lagos are 2% and 0.5%, respectively, roughly equal to local drinking water abstractions of these cities. Some of the external source regions of Berlin's virtual water imports appear to be critically water scarce and/or food insecure. However for deriving recommendations on sustainable consumption and trade, further analysis of context-specific costs and benefits associated with export production will be required.
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How much must I reduce my greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if I want to do my fair share to contribute towards the global effort to keep global warming below a 2 °C rise in average temperature over preindustrial times? This paper suggests an answer for nations and corporations that want to move ahead of legislation on a voluntary basis.If all nations reduce their “GHG emissions per unit of GDP” by 5% per year, global GHG emissions will be 50% lower in 2050 than in 2010 as long as the global economy continues to grow at its historical rate of 3.5% per year. The suggested 5% per year decline can be translated into a corporate resolution to reduce corporate “GHG emissions per unit of value added” (GEVA) by 5% per year.If all corporations cut their GEVA by 5% per year, the same global result will be achieved. The suggested 5% per year decline can be used as a guideline for responsible action on a voluntary basis. The guideline is unlikely to be made mandatory soon, but compulsory publication of the necessary emissions and productivity data by nations and corporations could help civil society highlight top performers.
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The concept of sustainable development from 1980 to the present has evolved into definitions of the three pillars of sustainability (social, economic and environmental). The recent economic and financial crisis has helped to newly define economic sustainability. It has brought into focus the economic pillar and cast a question mark over the sustainability of development based on economic progress. This means fully addressing the economic issues on their own merits with no apparent connection to the environmental aspects. Environmental sustainability is correctly defined by focusing on its biogeophysical aspects. This means maintaining or improving the integrity of the Earth's life supporting systems. The concept of sustainable development and its three pillars has evolved from a rather vague and mostly qualitative notion to more precise specifications defined many times over in quantitative terms. Hence the need for a wide array of indicators is very clear. The paper analyses the different approaches and types of indicators developed which are used for the assessment of environmental sustainability. One important aspect here is setting targets and then “measuring” the distance to a target to get the appropriate information on the current state or trend.
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The report is describing the general principles and default methodology of the EPS system. The system principles and methodology is based on earlier versions of the EPS system, in particular the version 1996. The present version has been given the number 2000. In comparison with the 1996 version the basic principles are the same, but the description is more detailed and the ISO standard language is adopted.
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Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal, oil, and gas are increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. These increased concentrations cause additional energy to be retained in Earth’s climate system, thus increasing Earth’s temperature. Various methods have been proposed to prevent this temperature increase either by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or by reflecting sunlight to space that would otherwise warm the Earth. Such intentional alteration of planetary scale processes has been called ‘geoengineering’. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) raises issues related primarily to scale, cost, effectiveness, and local environmental consequences. It is likely that the scale of CDR deployment will depend primarily on cost. In contrast, solar geoengineering (also Solar Radiation Management, SRM) raise novel global-scale governance and environmental issues. Some SRM approaches are thought to be low in cost, thus it is likely that the scale of SRM deployment will depend primarily on consid...
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European critical loads and novel dynamic modelling data have been compiled under the LRTAP Convention by the Coordination Centre for Effects. In 2000 9.8% of the pan-European and 20.8% of the EU25 ecosystem area were at risk of acidification. For eutrophication (nutrient N) the areas at risk were 30.1 and 71.2%, respectively. Dynamic modelling results reveal that 95% of the area at risk of acidification could recover by 2030 provided acid deposition is reduced according to present legislation. Insight into the timing of effects of exceedances of critical loads for nutrient N necessitates the further development of dynamic models.
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The paper reviews how the concept of sustainable development has played out in industrialized countries since 1987. It examines the theory and practice of sustainable development in the context of three criticisms (it is vague, attracts hypocrites and fosters delusions), and argues for an approach to sustainability that is integrative, is action-oriented, goes beyond technical fixes, incorporates a recognition of the social construction of sustainable development, and engages local communities in new ways. The paper concludes with a description of an approach to sustainability that attempts to incorporate these characteristics.
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Anthropogenic pressures on the Earth System have reached a scale where abrupt global environmental change can no longer be excluded. We propose a new approach to global sustainability in which we define planetary boundaries within which we expect that humanity can operate safely. Transgressing one or more planetary boundaries may be deleterious or even catastrophic due to the risk of crossing thresholds that will trigger non-linear, abrupt environmental change within continental- to planetary-scale systems. We have identified nine planetary boundaries and, drawing upon current scientific understanding, we propose quantifications for seven of them. These seven are climate change (CO2 concentration in the atmosphere
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Efficient library searches for research evidence are critical to practitioners who wish to engage in evidence-based practice (EBP) as well as researchers who seek to develop systematic reviews. This review will propose the benefits of the search technique 'Pearl Growing' ('Traditional Pearl Growing') as well as an adaptation of this technique ('Comprehensive Pearl Growing'), until now ignored by the literature on EBP and systematic reviews, to aid in the retrieval of research evidence. These search techniques are illustrated with examples from the field of augmentative and alternative communication. MAIN CONTRIBUTIONS: Traditional Pearl Growing is proposed as an important addition to the arsenal of EBP search strategies for practitioners. The literature on Traditional Pearl Growing is extended in that EBP presents a newly identified purpose for this technique and the benefits in identifying appropriate quality filter goes beyond its previously exclusive focus on keywords. Comprehensive Pearl Growing is projected as a new strategy for researchers searching for studies to be included in systematic reviews. Not only does it provide data-based guidance in selecting effective keywords and quality filters, but also it provides appropriate databases. Although the techniques Traditional Pearl Growing and Comprehensive Pearl Growing are believed to be useful for locating research evidence in any field, it may be particularly important for interdisciplinary topics where the use of effective controlled vocabulary plays a greater role in bringing together evidence that may be scattered across databases.
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Environmental monitoring indicates that progress towards the goal of environmental sustainability in many cases is slow, non-existing or negative. Indicators that use environmental carrying capacity references to evaluate whether anthropogenic systems are, or will potentially be, environmentally sustainable are therefore increasingly important. Such absolute indicators exist, but suffer from shortcomings such as incomplete coverage of environmental issues, varying data quality and varying or insufficient spatial resolution. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that life cycle assessment (LCA) can potentially reduce or eliminate these shortcomings.
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Corporate climate action is increasingly considered important in driving the transition towards a low-carbon economy. For this, it is critical to ensure translation of global goals to greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets at company level. At the moment, however, there is a lack of clear methods to derive consistent corporate target setting that keeps cumulative corporate GHG emissions within a specific carbon budget (for example, 550-1,300GtCO2 between 2011 and 2050 for the 2°C target). Here we propose a method for corporate emissions target setting that derives carbon intensity pathways for companies based on sectoral pathways from existing mitigation scenarios: the Sectoral Decarbonization Approach (SDA). These company targets take activity growth and initial performance into account. Next to target setting on company level, the SDA can be used by companies, policymakers, investors or other stakeholders as a benchmark for tracking corporate climate performance and actions, providing a mechanism for corporate accountability.
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Purpose There is currently a weak or no link between the indicator scores quantified in life cycle assessment (LCA) and the carrying capacity of the affected ecosystems. Such a link must be established if LCA is to support assessments of environmental sustainability and it may be done by developing carrying capacity-based normalisation references. The purpose of this article is to present a framework for normalisation against carrying capacity-based references and to develop average normalisation references (NR) for Europe and the world for all those midpoint impact categories commonly included in LCA that link to the natural environment area of protection. Methods Carrying capacity was in this context defined as the maximum sustained environmental intervention a natural system can withstand without experiencing negative changes in structure or functioning that are difficult or impossible to revert. A literature review was carried out to identify scientifically sound thresholds for each impact category. Carrying capacities were then calculated from these thresholds and expressed in metrics identical to midpoint indicators giving priority to those recommended by ILCD. NR was expressed as the carrying capacity of a reference region divided by its population and thus describes the annual personal share of the carrying capacity. Results and discussion The developed references can be applied to indicator results obtained using commonly applied characterisation models in LCIA. The European NR are generally lower than the global NR, mainly due to a relatively high population density in Europe. The NR were compared to conventional normalisation references (NR′) which represent the aggregated interventions for Europe or the world in a recent reference year. For both scales, the aggregated intervention for climate change, photochemical ozone formation and soil quality were found to exceed carrying capacities several times. Conclusions The developed carrying capacity-based normalisation references offer relevant supplementary reference information to the currently applied references based on society’s background interventions by supporting an evaluation of the environmental sustainability of product systems on an absolute scale. Recommendations Challenges remain with respect to spatial variations to increase the relevance of the normalisation references for impact categories that function at the local or regional scale. The sensitivity of NR to different choices, e.g. threshold value, should be quantified with the aim of understanding and managing uncertainties of NR. For complete coverage of the midpoint impact categories, normalisation references based on sustainability preconditions should be developed for those categories that link to the areas of protection human health and natural resources.
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The US Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards regulate the fleet fuel economy of automakers that manufacture and sell automobiles in the US. CAFE standards will increase by 24% (for the passenger car fleet) - 35% (for the light-truck fleet) over the period 2011-2025 leading to a renewed interest in the role that advanced technologies will play in enabling CAFE compliance. This study compares the effects of 2 designs of plug in hybrid electric (PHEV) to estimate the cost of CAFE compliance with PHEVs as a component of the domestic passenger car fleet and as a component of the domestic light truck fleet. Results show that for many of the US automakers and for a variety of incremental cost scenarios, the introduction of PHEVs into the vehicle fleet reduces the costs of CAFE compliance relative to baseline scenarios. Over-all, results show that PHEVs can contribute to a reduction in the costs of CAFE compliance for domestic automakers and should be more thoroughly considered in near-term regulatory and industrial analyses of CAFE compliance strategies.
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The increasing importance of Corporate social responsibility to entrepreneurial policies has made it a leading topic in the literature. The strategic integration of Corporate social responsibility in the business core implies the communication between a company and its stakeholders. Sustainability reports are recognized worldwide as a tool that companies use to communicate their socially responsible behavior. The way companies communicate through their reports indicates their level of commitment to Corporate social responsibility. The objective of this paper is to analyze companies' behavior towards Corporate social responsibility based on their disclosure practices. We define four possible types of behavior: Novice, Cautious, Chattering and Leading. These types are the result of the combination of two variables that measure the disclosure and credibility of Corporate social responsibility information. Our results indicate that companies listed in the stock market disclose more Corporate social responsibility information than private ones but with less credibility. European countries are leading the rankings in Corporate social responsibility information and tend to have a Cautious or Leading attitude. Finally, we report differences among industries.
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Crisp numbers make it to the headlines. However, it is unlikely that a single crisp number can capture a complex issue, such as the analysis of the sustainability of human progress both at the local and the global scale. This paper tackles this standard epistemological predicament in relation to a media-friendly model of man's impact on Nature: the Ecological Footprint (EF). The claim made by the proponents of this analytical tool is that EF makes it possible to check "how much is taken" by the economic process versus "how much could be taken" according to ecological processes. In this paper we argue that the ecological footprint assessment - purportedly useful as an argument against the idea of perpetual growth - is fraught with internal contradictions. Our critical appraisal is based on the lack of correspondence between the semantics - the claim about what the EF accounting does - and the syntax - the EF protocol of accounting that should deliver the purported output. We critically examine the various assumptions used in the approach, showing that the EF is in contradiction with its stated purposes and would lead to paradoxes if its prescriptions were used for policy making. We also contend that the laboriousness of EF computation protocols contrasts with its ultimate fragility. In fact the estimate of carbon footprint due to energy production is what determines the assessment of the planet's deficit of virtual land. We show that this estimate cannot be defended in light of the assumptions and simplifications used for its construction. Our conclusion is that the EF does not serve a meaningful discussion on the modeling of sustainability, and that the same media-friendly narrative about the Earth Overshot day is in the end reassuring and complacent when considering other aspects on man's pressure on the planet and its ecosystems.
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Sustainability is widely recognized as one of the most important challenges facing the world today. Companies publish sustainability reports that present their efforts and achievements in meeting sustainability goals and targets. In this paper, text mining is used to identify sustainability trends and practices in the process industries. Four main sectors of the industry are studied: oil/petrochemicals, bulk/specialty chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products. Our study reveals that the top sustainability focuses of the four sectors are very similar: health and safety, human rights, reducing GHG, conserving energy/energy efficiency, and community investment. Sector-specific sustainability issues have also been identified, for example oil spill prevention in the oil/petrochemicals sector and access to medicine in the pharmaceuticals sector. Environment is identified to be the predominant sustainability aspect in the process industries. The text mining methodology, results, and findings are detailed in the paper.
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In 1992, one unambiguous result of the UNCED conference was the need for changing consumption and production patterns, with affluent countries taking the lead. 20 years later, at the 2012 UNCSD, little is left over and instead the “green economy” has been the theme pursued by the OECD, the EU and other countries. So the question needs to be answered if this is finally an attempt to put into practice what was promised 20 years ago, or another diversion from what needs to be accomplished. Sustainable development is still a convincing concept, if the original definition is taken, avoiding the confusion caused by partisan interests reinterpreting the concept. Focussing on human needs fulfilment and respecting environmental limits, it can still guide strong sustainable consumption. Green economy/green growth, on the other hand, is a new terminology for what is known since 40 years as ecological modernisation. It is indeed overdue, but with its focus on efficiency and innovation it cannot guarantee to fulfil the Brundtland sustainability criteria. A factor analysis based on the I = P*A*T formula demonstrates how optimistic the assumptions regarding future technologies must be to support the green growth concept. Consequently, the authors pledge for a pragmatic, risk avoiding approach by slimming the physical size of the economy. This requires ‘strong sustainable consumption’ (including production as resource consumption), which in turn requires a change of the societies' institutional settings (formal and informal, mechanisms and orientations). Finally some elements of a strategy towards this end are pointed out, with special emphasis on the role of non-governmental organisations NGOs. Through networking and advocacy they can both stimulate bottom-up action and mobilise the pressure necessary for the institutional changes which are needed to mainstream strong sustainable consumption.
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The multi-level perspective (MLP) has emerged as a fruitful middle-range framework for analysing socio-technical transitions to sustainability. The MLP also received constructive criticisms. This paper summarises seven criticisms, formulates responses to them, and translates these into suggestions for future research. The criticisms relate to: (1) lack of agency, (2) operationalization of regimes, (3) bias towards bottom-up change models, (4) epistemology and explanatory style, (5) methodology, (6) socio-technical landscape as residual category, and (7) flat ontologies versus hierarchical levels.
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In order for environmental strategies to come into effect in industry practice, they need to be implemented and applied in daily business routines. Based on a dedicated comprehensive international survey in product developing and manufacturing companies, this paper identifies major current drivers for implementing product life cycle oriented environmental strategies but also barriers and obstacles that need to be addressed. On this basis it provides a number of recommendations for manufacturing companies as well as policy makers to consider for a successful implementation of strategic environmental goals in manufacturing industry.
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The cradle‐to‐cradle (C2C) concept has emerged as an alternative to the more established eco‐efficiency concept based on life cycle assessment (LCA). The two concepts differ fundamentally in that eco‐efficiency aims to reduce the negative environmental footprint of human activities while C2C attempts to increase the positive footprint. This article discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each concept and suggests how they may learn from each other. The eco‐efficiency concept involves no long‐term vision or strategy, the links between resource consumption and waste emissions are not well related to the sustainability state, and increases in eco‐efficiency may lead to increases in consumption levels and hence overall impact. The C2C concept's disregard for energy efficiency means that many current C2C products will likely not perform well in an LCA. Inherent drawbacks are restrictions on the development of new materials posed by the ambition of continuous loop recycling, the perception that human interactions with nature can benefit all parts of all ecosystems, and the hinted compatibility with continued economic growth. Practitioners of eco‐efficiency can benefit from the visions of C2C to avoid a narrow‐minded focus on the eco‐efficiency of products that are inherently unsustainable. Moreover, resource efficiency and positive environmental effects could be included more strongly in LCA. Practitioners of C2C on the other hand should recognize the value of LCA in addressing trade‐offs between resource conservation and energy use. Also, when designing a “healthy emission” it should be recognized that it will often have an adverse effect on parts of the exposed ecosystem.
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Management studies on corporate sustainability practices have grown considerably. The field now has significant knowledge of sustainability issues that are firm and industry focused. However, complex ecological problems are increasing, not decreasing. In this paper, we argue that it is time for corporate sustainability scholars to reconsider the ecological and systemic foundations for sustainability, and to integrate our work more closely with the natural sciences. To address this, our paper introduces a new development in the natural sciences – the delineation of nine ‘Planetary Boundaries’ which govern life as we know it – including a call for more systemic research that measures the impact of companies on boundary processes that are at, or possibly beyond, three threshold points – climate change, the global nitrogen cycle (N), and rate of biodiversity loss – and closing in on others. We also discuss practical implications of the Planetary Boundaries framework for corporate sustainability, including governance and institutional challenges.