Highlights From Our First Year

Much done – much more to do as we work to align business interests and public policies for greater policy coherence for development with planetary boundaries.

The SMART team at our kick-off in Brussels, May 2016. Photo: Astrid Arnslett / CICERO.

SMART kicked off with a bang at the end of May in 2016 in Brussels. The event took place at the Norway House, next to the European Commission.

Right over the summer we contributed to the Corporate Roundtable Series by Frank Bold, held in Brussels. The roundtable discussed post-crisis corporate governance in Europe and launched a report that concludes a series of global roundtables on corporate governance. SMART duly reported back from the discussions, noting that there is growing consensus on the need for integrating sustainability considerations into finance and corporate governance.

We are well on our way to complete one of our main deliverables, which is a full assessment of barriers and opportunities that help or hinder the integration of environmental and social sustainability into decision-making of market actors: businesses, investors, consumers, procurers; private, public and hybrid. The aim is to identify gaps and incoherencies that must be dealt with to achieve  greater policy coherence for development.  This mapping and analysis is one of the most important parts of our project.

SMART organised two conferences in late 2016. The first one was on the possibilities and barriers for sustainable decision-making for corporate boards, which showed us that boards increasingly are between a rock and a hard place. We aim through our research to identify the boundaries of this space and how it can be managed. The second conference, on life-cycle based governance and reporting for sustainable business, generated new insights into the drivers for unsustainable business and the barriers for the success of sustainability reporting regimes such as the EU’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive of 2014. The conference led to the identification of issues for further research and has informed the planning of new events.  

We also organised events on the role of transport in the transformation to a circular economy in Helsinki, on taxation and sustainable development in Oslo, and on public procurement in Copenhagen. These events will feed into our mapping and analysis of the enablers and disablers of policy coherence for development.

We have begun work on the analysis of life cycles in the circular economy context for products and organizations. We have conducted materiality analysis for key aspects (hotspot analysis) that need to be managed by organisations under circular economy assumptions. We are also looking into how to integrate different market actors’ preferences in economic decision processes.

One of the issues is how to move beyond the current definition of a circular economy and to extend the definition beyond a product's material flows. This means integrating circularity into management, information and financial resources.

Different assessment methodologies have been analysed, and our current research focuses on the development of footprints for all sustainability pillars, not only the environmental pillar. We are working on how to define a management footprint as a measure of the impacts in the economy and management of an organisation.

This work paves the way for the development of our Sustainability Assessment Guidelines. The guide, when ready, will be a manual of procedures for the assessment of the sustainable management of an organization from a product life cycle perspective, and a means for analyzing environmental, social, economic and good governance factors.

Our first winter saw the election of Donald Trump as US President, something which we also wrote about. Trump’s presidency will have an impact on the work that we do, highlighting the need for sustainable business and the danger of stranded assets in light of climate risk and the Sustainable Development Goals even further. Our ongoing research will identify the changes that need to happen in business models and in sustainability reporting regimes to realise the potential of business and finance to contribute to sustainability, with or without the push from policy-makers and presidents.

We have also contributed to public debate by questioning the investment profile of the world’s largest Sovereign Wealth Fund, the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, colloquially known as the Oil Fund. We have contributed numerous op-eds on the subject and a recent open access paper.

Our first stakeholder meetings with respectively the mobile and textile industries were held at the end of March 2017 in Amsterdam. The first meetings tested findings from our literature review about ecological and social hotspots in the life-cycle of ready-made garments and the smart phone industry. The smart phone team developed a Risk Catalogue, which is a structured collection of risks with descriptions of each risk.

We have also contributed to public engagement on sustainable technology in the form of organising repair workshops in Oslo. A much read story on our website is on why the most sustainable mobile phone is the one you in your pocket.

With the comprehensive approach of SMART, our work ranges from the technical details of the mobile phone to the international law and policy space. In May 2017, we organised a conference on international trade and investment. Through a range of in-depth presentations we discussed the fragmentation of international law and policy and its inadequacy in ensuring policy coherence for sustainability within planetary boundaries. A Policy Coherence Roundtable followed the conference, which helped identify promising trends and developments that may facilitate sustainable business and finance, trade and investment.

SMART publications are posted on our website, and many of our first year publications are now available

By Tiina Ruohonen
Published June 26, 2017 1:22 PM - Last modified Jan. 23, 2018 2:20 PM