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Why 2020 is such a big year for sustainability

Why 2020 is such a big year for sustainability

For people who are into self-development, the end of January is an important time for reflection. Some of us will use the time to judge how well we’ve progressed, or in my case, how much more effort is needed to shed the holiday weight gain… For others, it may a chance to change direction and adopt a new approach towards accomplishing our goals.
When it comes to society’s progress towards sustainability, it’s also important that we take stock and reflect on the challenges that lie ahead. With the 2010s turning out to be the warmest decade on record and extreme weather events such as the recent Australian wildfires increasing faster than predicted, the need for action has never been greater.

Taking stock of Sustainability Action

Here’s a look at our progress to date and what we should aspire to work towards for 2020 and the rest of the decade:

Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

Here’s the situation: if we’re to ensure sustainable social, environmental and economic progress outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we have just ten years to complete the transformative action required.
Ten years.
And so far, progress to date hasn’t been the best.
According to key findings from the 2019 SDG Report, while progress has been made in areas such as extreme poverty reduction, widespread immunization and decreasing child mortality rates, levels of climate change are rising, with carbon dioxide concentration and ocean acidity levels increasing drastically.
As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres urges:
it’s abundantly clear that we need a much deeper, faster global and more ambitious response…to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve [the] 2030 goals.
António Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General
Thankfully, a surge in public demand for sustainable development is causing a global awakening. With greater concerns for sustainability issues from Millennials and increasing examples of climate change activism led by Greta Thunberg and other inspiring figures, there has been a better opportunity for action.

Businesses’ Sustainability Performance

The business world has also started to wake up to sustainability issues. As a key driver in the push for the sustainable transformation of the global economy, leadership and engagement from business are essential to accomplishing the SDGs.
However, according to the 2019 UN Global Compact Progress Report, contributions from businesses towards the SDGs are currently not enough, with roughly 48% of member companies implementing sustainability practices into their operations. It’s clear that businesses need to make a dramatic shift in their approaches to corporate sustainability by raising ambitions within their own companies through responsible leadership and honest and transparent communication to deliver tangible and sustainable impacts.

The Decade for Action

Coined by the UN Global Compact at the World Economic Forum at Davos last week, ‘The Decade of Action’ couldn’t be more a more accurate reflection for what’s needed from sustainability efforts in the future. If we are to accomplish the SDGs set for 2030, 2020 needs to become a tipping point for large-scale commitment to sustainable business.
Here’s a brief look at what we can expect for 2020:

Trends for the 2020s

While unsustainable trends such as increased fracking from fossil fuel companies and large-scale deforestation from food companies continue, there are also plenty of sustainable trends that are on the rise and give us reasons to be optimistic about our future.
The State of Green Business 2020 report released earlier this month details just some of the exiting business trends expected for 2020. From the rise of employee sustainability activism to the number of companies issuing sustainability reports, the business world can expect a sustainability shakeup in the next decade.
We predict to see a lot of activities in these areas from businesses looking to lead and capture interest from sustainability stakeholders over the next few years.

Circularity goes Mainstream

Once considered a theoretical approach to business management, circular models are likely to become the core strategy for value-chains. By taking a innovate approach to material flows throughout business’ operations, the increase of circular business will allow for reduced numbers of raw material extractions and reduce the amount of end-use waste generated by products and services.
IKEA’s goal to become a fully circular business by 2030 recognises the intrinsic value that circular methods can offer business. With increasing circular opportunities identified through strategy frameworks and life-cycle assessments (LCAs), we believe we’ll see a shift towards closing material loops, for good.

Sustainability for SMEs

As sustainability criterias impact mainstream business decisions for larger companies, smaller companies and members of larger supply chains can also expect increased sustainability requirements in the future.
While we should applaud sustainable efforts from larger companies to date, we should also encourage other smaller enterprises to follow in their footsteps and drive progress forward. With more and more SMEs and entrepreneurial start-ups using innovative solutions to solve current sustainability issues, we expect an explosion of SME interest in sustainability.
If we are to accomplish the SDGs set for 2030, 2020 needs to become a tipping point for large-scale commitment to sustainable business.

Ten years to transform

We’ve made a start, but we need more commitment from business leaders today if we’re to deliver on the SDGs. And we need it now. There’s still time to mobilise solutions to the world’s sustainability issues, but we need purposeful leadership, ambitious targets and transparent commitments to progress.
Here’s to the 2020s and to ushering in a new era of sustainable ambition.

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Pete Snow | Co-Founder and Head of Strategy
Pete’s passion for all things green and eco-friendly has driven his work with sustainability projects; with focuses ranging from turtles to turnover. With a background in international environmental policy and diverse experience within the corporate sustainability field, Pete is OMBRA’s lead strategist and loves it when a plan comes together.
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Leadership

3 Important Lessons Sustainable Leaders can learn from the Renaissance

3 Important Lessons Sustainable Leaders can learn from the Renaissance

Sometimes, YouTube can be an absolute lifesaver.
When people ask me what I think about unfamiliar subjects such as out-there political theories, literary masterpieces that I probably should have read but haven’t, or the artistic works of Johannes Vermeer and his attempt to bring glamour to everyday menial actions (true story), I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really have an educated opinion about them. Instead, to not seem quite as uncultured as I actually am, I’ll generally watch a brief 5 to 10-minute video on YouTube on the subject to get the gist.
So, in preparation for a holiday to Rome later this year and to formulate some basic knowledge about the city’s rich culture, I decided to gel up on my knowledge of the Renaissance. This involved paying yet another visit to The School of Life’s YouTube Channel. These guys do an amazing job of taking important historical ideas and events and translating them for modern-day audiences and clueless individuals such as myself. If you’re like me and need an overview of complex subjects which you have a very limited understanding of, I can’t recommend these people enough.
While watching the video and listening to the core ideas behind the historical period, I was surprised to find some similarities between the lofty goals of the Renaissance’s great thinkers and those of us who are trying to instigate some sustainable change throughout our spheres of influence. No – I’m not subtly trying to compare myself and fellow change agents to the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci, but I do believe the delivery methods of the period’s ideals can teach us important lessons on how to better ourselves, and the planet at the same time.
On that note, here is an undeniably amateur translation of what the Renaissance’s goals can teach those of us working in sustainability:

1. Present a vision for the world that inspires others to follow your lead

Beauty. Truth. Wisdom.
These were the ideals that Lorenzo de’ Medici, one of the Renaissance’s most famous financial figures and most important patrons, wanted to promote to inspire others. As the leader of The Medici Bank, a prominent financial institution in Europe during the 15th Century, Lorenzo helped to secure philanthropic funding for some of the period’s greatest philosophers, architects and artists. Under his guidance, Lorenzo directed these artisans to create beautiful, inspiring works that focused on his vision for society; changing the Italian peninsula forever.
For individuals looking to create their own sustainable renaissance, filled with circular economic principles and all things environmentally friendly, one of the most important attributes to have is a compelling vision for the future. Ensuring organisations develop an authentic purpose that drives positive sustainability impacts is critical, but without an empowering vision that encourages employees and customers alike to aspire towards greater sustainability performance, the scale and impact of initiatives will always be greatly reduced.
The comprehensive vision Lorenzo had was arguably the main driver responsible for the Renaissance. Although it’s estimated that the Medici spent roughly $500 million USD in today’s wealth, the reason the Renaissance is so iconic to us now is because of the desire to make philanthropic efforts to promote philosophical values.
Considering the world’s economy is currently valued to be around about the $86 trillion USD mark, it’s fair to say that the potential availability of finance for sustainable measures isn’t the issue. It seems to me that what’s lacking is a shortage of inspiring, sustainable visions that mobilise the right people into action.
…without an empowering vision that encourages employees and customers alike to aspire towards greater sustainability performance, the scale and impact of initiatives will always be greatly reduced.

2. Develop creative examples of your vision based on systematic evidence

In case you’re wondering, the building in the banner image is The Duomo, Florence’s iconic cathedral.
Built in early 15th century, there’s no denying that it’s a staggeringly beautiful building. When you compare it to some of the buildings that are being erected around London at the moment, it really does put our 21st-century construction efforts to shame. If you’re like me and you’re also a complete layman when it comes to architecture, you’ll be looking at the shape and design of the building and wondering “how the @#$% did they build this?!”.
The truth is that everyone from artists and architects to philosophers and politicians from this period had a good deal of material to learn from and apply towards their goals for beautiful cities and wise societies. The Renaissance, meaning ‘rebirth’ in French, was a revival of Ancient Greek and Roman ideas and examples that came before. From the specific dimensions of a Corinthian column to Epicurean thoughts on how to live a rich and peaceful life, key Renaissance figures were on a philosophical mission to conduct research into systematised Classical ideas that had worked in the past, and apply their inspiration into practice, with artistic works and urban planning.
While it’s perhaps a little unfair to compare your average business strategy to a Renaissance masterpiece, there are some practical lessons we can take away from the period. When it comes to designing a sustainability action plan, build credibility into your plan by ensuring practical consistency with benchmarks from leading sustainability leaders in the industry, as well as adhering with recommendations from the globe’s scientific communities and recognised sustainability organisations.
Granted, your action plan may not be as stunning as a painting by Raphael, but with a little effort, your consistency and progression against key sustainability targets might just cause some inspiration for the next generation.
Align your organisation’s efforts with proven methods to improve sustainability performance by:
  • aligning objectives with those of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
  • tracking and measuring progress with climate science metrics such as science-based targets; and
  • ensuring transparent communications through standardised reporting systems.
  • 3. Harness the power of advertising to make behaviours more attractive and desirable

    Beautiful stuff sells.
    All marketers and advertisers know this very well. When it comes to marketing a particular product, service or belief, if you can make it irresistibly desirable, chances are you’ll have a line of people wanting to buy into whatever you’re selling.
    It might surprise you to learn, but the Renaissance artists were arguably some of the best advertisers ever to have existed.
    Famous masters like Botticelli and Michelangelo made their works in the service of the Renaissance’s core ideas and intellectual ambitions. By making stunningly creative works of art that depicted honourable and desirable qualities, they utilised beautiful imagery to make people want to instinctively aspire towards imitating the characteristics promoted. Through this innovative combination of advertising and philosophy, the Renaissance’s great masterpieces helped to translate beneficial ways to live one’s life into a beautiful format.
    When it comes to advertising sustainable values, the world has much to learn from these master promoters – sorry, painters. To truly captivate the world’s interest and desire to address our highly materialistic and damaging lifestyles, we need to make sustainable alternatives attractive enough to encourage people to change. Where the conversation around sustainability usually reverberates around ’climate catastrophes’ and ‘inhospitable environments for humans’, we need to reframe the focus and highlight the exciting and realisable future that sustainable development presents us with.
    I’m not saying that companies and other organisations should paint a lovely picture of their brand’s poor attempt at self-improvement and distract stakeholders from the lack of tangible and meaningful sustainability efforts that their implementing. Far from it. The threat of climate change is very real, and no one is disputing that half measures, shown sexily, will be enough to deliver the impacts we need.
    What I am saying, is that to encourage the radical shift in our unsustainable behaviours, we need to use the incredible power of marketing and advertising to showcase examples that are for the good of the planet and that also aspire others around us to become economically, environmentally and socially virtuous.
    To truly captivate the world’s interest and desire to address our highly materialistic and damaging lifestyles, we need to make sustainable alternatives attractive enough to encourage people to change.

    Recreating our own Renaissance

    So, there you have it. Through a little bit of philosophical plagiarism and subliminal messaging, the Renaissance brought about one of the most creative and celebrated periods in human history. By recreating some of the period’s approaches to promoting desirable behaviours, there’s no reason why our generation can be responsible for the latest inspiring chapter in our history:
    The Sustainable Renaissance.
    The Sustainance…
    The Sustainassance…
    The Sustainabilassiance?
    You get the idea.
    If you’re interested in learning more about the time period, take a look at The School of Life’s video on The Renaissance, available here.

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    Pete Snow | Co-Founder and Head of Strategy
    Pete’s passion for all things green and eco-friendly has driven his work with sustainability projects; with focuses ranging from turtles to turnover. With a background in international environmental policy and diverse experience within the corporate sustainability field, Pete is OMBRA’s lead strategist and loves it when a plan comes together.
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    News & Insights

    We’re committed to climate conflict transparency and to use our creativity to inspire sustainable change

    We’re committed to climate conflict transparency and to use our creativity to inspire sustainable change

    Climate Emergency and Creative Conflict Letter

    As creatives, communications agencies and media experts, we see the climate emergency.
    Just over a month ago, Extinction Rebellion (XR) called upon advertising agencies to “Declare a climate & ecological emergency and act accordingly.”
    We agree. Because creativity has consequences and our industry cannot be neutral. As communicators, we have the power to inspire change or to keep serving destruction.
    We could end this letter here, with a commitment to use our power of persuasion and storytelling for the right side of history.
    But a promise is not enough, because our industry hasn’t faced the same scrutiny as others. Remember, we’re good communicators and might be able to wiggle out of this.
    OMBRA has committed that before this year is done, we will disclose our ‘climate conflicts’. Whilst respecting client confidentiality, we will reveal the percentage of our turnover categorised by industry, including income from fossil fuel companies and other high carbon clients.
    You can find the list of other pioneering creatives and agency signatories here: https://www.creativeandclimate.com/
    We know many of our colleagues and friends across the creative industry are anxious/terrified about the climate emergency. We also know that disclosing climate conflicts will be too early, and too controversial, for many Agencies today.
    But, we firmly believe that we cannot serve climate solutions, whilst still serving the industries most answerable for causing the climate emergency.
    And of course, disclosure is only the first step on a journey that must lead to divestment – divesting agency-client rosters of these clients. Agencies need to align our businesses with climate science, just like everyone else.
    Thanks for the nudge, XR

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    Pete Snow | Co-Founder and Head of Strategy
    Pete’s passion for all things green and eco-friendly has driven his work with sustainability projects; with focuses ranging from turtles to turnover. With a background in international environmental policy and diverse experience within the corporate sustainability field, Pete is OMBRA’s lead strategist and loves it when a plan comes together.
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    Let’s make the future more sustainable, more inspiring and less Mad Max…

    Let’s make the future more sustainable, more inspiring and less Mad Max…

    Have you ever noticed how the future is portrayed in films?

    Blade Runner 2049; Children of Men; Mad Max: Fury Road; Geostorm.
    If you’ve watched any of these dystopian disaster epics, you’ll know that we’re heading for a post-apocalyptic existence, struggling to survive in the geological wasteland that is Planet Earth. As entertaining as these movies may (or may not) be, the artistic vision for our future is often – well – pretty bleak.
    As you already know, climate change poses a serious threat to future generations around the globe. Granted, it’s unlikely that tsunamis the size of skyscrapers will engulf cities due to malfunctioning climate-controlling satellites. Or, that society will devolve into tyrannical tribes, roaming the desert in search for Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
    But the reality is our world is changing.
    Higher surface temperatures, rises in sea level, melting ice caps and glaciers. All the symptoms of global warming will affect regions across the world, causing catastrophic impacts to local communities and the natural environment.
    Sounds terrifying, right?
    To prevent a live-action version of Geostorm, without the special effects – we need to act to prevent climate change. And we need to act now.
    At OMBRA, we believe that to galvanise society into action, sustainable or otherwise, people need inspiring examples to follow. They need to see what their lives could be like if they took the next step and believed in the power of their actions.

    More half-full, rather than half-empty thinking.

    Now, at this point, you may be reading this while adopting the fetal position to prevent any additional climate-related stress. We get it. Climate change can be a scary subject. Traditionally, whenever most people think of climate change, they picture an inevitable, looming disaster that presents massive, socio-political complex issues for future generations. ‘We can’t do anything about it’ etc.
    Well. The truth is, we can.
    Since the Industrial Revolution, scientific research has shown that human actions have been responsible for the increased concentration of greenhouse gases and levels of global warming.

    Human Actions.

    If we can change the actions that damage our planet and our societies, to ones that protect them instead – we can create a future where humanity exists in harmony with the natural world.
    There are already pioneers among us who are developing the route for us to follow. Renewable energy innovations; Disruptive circular economic businesses; revolutions in sustainable agriculture and nutrition. The solutions to the universal issues affecting our planet are already out there. The question is, how do encourage people to go beyond our existing achievements and create lasting changes to our behaviour as a society?
    The solution? We need to believe that our world can be better.

    Our future deserves better than the one we imagine for ourselves

    When it comes to predicting the future, it’s fair to say that people generally don’t adopt a very positive approach. Looking back at our selection of disaster movies – what is the one thing they all share? It’s that story of a dystopian future. A future where the world has fallen into decay. A future which doesn’t encourage, or inspire.
    In many ways, when we think about the consequences of climate change, we’re often greeted with the same story. An uninspiring, daunting future of irreversible environmental damage, where our prospects for a happy, healthy existence are diminished.
    But what if we rewrote the story for the world’s future?
    What if, when we thought of the future, we reflected on our impacts on the natural world, took massive sustainable action and took responsibility for protecting the environment?
    Well, that would be a story we could be all be inspired by.
    We believe that while climate change presents humanity with an immense challenge, it also presents us with an incredible opportunity to create and build a better existence for ourselves and the planet.

    Let's make our future a breathtaking one.

    At OMBRA, we believe that to galvanise society into action, sustainable or otherwise, people need inspiring examples to follow. They need to see what their lives could be like if they took the next step and believed in the power of their actions. And what could be more inspirational than a majestic, vibrant and sustainable world.
    Since our evolution, humanity has tried to separate itself from the constraints of the natural world. We’ve believed that we as a species were independent of our environment – victors of the apparent battle of man against nature. But the truth is humanity and the natural world have always been dependent on one another. We need to embrace and rekindle our relationship with the natural world. In the 4.5 billion years of our planet’s history, nature has always found a way to evolve and adapt to the external constraints placed upon it.
    We say it’s time for humanity to take inspiration from our planet and plot our own sustainable evolution.
    OMBRA’s foundations are based on the goal of reintroducing people to their interdependent relationships they have with the natural world. We wanted to harness the same emotions of wonderment and amazement people experience when surrounded by nature and use them to reach out to people across business, politics, and society.
    Our purpose is to inspire people to imagine and create a progressive, sustainable future for the world. Through our combination of innovative sustainable strategy and beautiful creative design, our message to the world is simple yet powerful;
    Make sustainability breathtaking

    Are you ready to change the world?

    We know following the sustainable road ahead to solve climate change will not be easy. But when our species put our minds to a task, we can solve anything.
    Think about it.
    We’ve cured diseases, built airplanes, and even sent a dozen-odd people to the moon and back. If we believe we can do something, history has shown us that we can do it.
    We believe that while climate change presents humanity with an immense challenge, it also presents us with an incredible opportunity to create and build a better existence for ourselves and the planet.
    And we know we’re not the only like-minded people out there.
    While OMBRA’s journey has only just begun, we’re excited to get to work with fellow climate optimists and help people envisage the next generation of sustainable societies, businesses, and lifestyles for the future.
    Together, we know we can create a future worth working towards and one that doesn’t create a backdrop for the latest cinematic disaster epic.
    Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be showcasing our naturalistic ideas to all you would-be visionaries out there. So, keep an eye out and help us spread our vision of a sustainable future worthy of an Oscar or two.

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    Pete Snow | Co-Founder and Head of Strategy
    Pete’s passion for all things green and eco-friendly has driven his work with sustainability projects; with focuses ranging from turtles to turnover. With a background in international environmental policy and diverse experience within the corporate sustainability field, Pete is OMBRA’s lead strategist and loves it when a plan comes together.
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