It’s easy to look at the year just passed as a series of disappointments and frustrations, at least through the lens of sustainable business. Companies continued to tinker with incremental changes in their products and operations to reduce their carbon emissions, energy use, waste, chemicals of concern and other aspects of their environmental “footprint.” All told, they were necessary but wholly insufficient to address their fair share of environmental impacts. Meanwhile, scientists reported that the climate continues to cross new thresholds of carbon concentration and temperature rise, while the global growth of middle-class consumers continues unabated. Political leaders around the world continued to dither on decisive action on climate and other pressing environmental and social challenges. And citizens around the world demonstrated relatively little concern over the fate of their planet’s environment — at least not enough to make significant changes — focusing instead on the daily realities of getting by in still-shaky economic climes. That would be the easy assessment. But it’s hardly the full story. Our assessment is somewhat more optimistic, powered by significant shifts in attitudes and outlooks among companies and their investors and customers, the growth of technology poised to leapfrog progress and accelerate change and a growing recognition among the public that “sustainability” isn’t just about preserving icebergs, rainforests and charismatic megafauna. It is also about public health, community well-being, food security, affordable housing and alleviating poverty. In a world where technology enables pervasive and persistent connectivity of just about everyone and everything, there are signs that people — from business and political leaders to everyday citizens and consumers — are themselves making connections between the well-being of species and ecosystems and that of their companies, communities and families. And that is being reflected by an upsurge of concern and action by the private sector.

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