Book Review: Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail by William Ophuls

Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations FailImmoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail by William Ophuls

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Greenhouse Effect: CO2 Concentrations Set to Hit Record High of 400 PPM

When I was born, CO2 was 316 ppm. You work it out ;-). At this rate, we are set to blow right past 450 ppm and any hope of staying within 2C of warming in less than 20 years. Not good… It’s up to all of us to rethink everything we do that contributes to CO2 emissions. Where we live, how we move, what we eat. Everything.

Science & Space

Climate change is, first and foremost, a consequence of the addition of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We emit carbon dioxide, through burning fossil fuels or forests, and some of that carbon stays in the atmosphere, intensifying the heat-trapping greenhouse effect and warming the climate. What kind of global warming we’ll see in the future will largely be due to how much carbon dioxide—and to a lesser extent, other greenhouse gases like methane—we add to the atmosphere. And to fully understand the future, we need to understand the present and the past, and track the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The fact that we can and have been tracking that very important number is due largely to the efforts of the geochemist Charles David Keeling. As a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology in the 1950s, Keeling developed the first instrument that could accurately measure the…

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Is Sustainability Naked?


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In the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, almost everyone is willing to go along with the emperor’s delusion. Only a child is willing to say the emperor is walking around naked. “Out of the mouths of babes…”

There are a growing number of intelligent adults who have concluded that (corporate) sustainability is either dead, walking around naked, or simply not up to the task. I am seeing, perhaps because I am looking for, more and more critiques and alternatives to “conventional” approaches to (corporate) sustainability. Below are a few of the recent ones that stand out for me. Some common themes include:

  • Our current approach to sustainability will not get us to where we want, and need, to go
  • “Sustainability” has been appropriated by the dominant culture to align with non-sustainable goals
  • We need to rethink our overall goals and strategies

Paul Gilding, The Great Disruption

Patagonia’s founder and CEO, Yvon Chouinard, talks with Joel Makower at the 2013 GreenBiz Forum on authenticity, responsibility and sustainability (video)

John Elkington/Volans
Book: The Zeronauts – Breaking though the sustainability barrier.
Breakthrough Capitalism – a program for people to engage with the idea of businesses creating system-level change

John Ehrenfeld and Andrew Hoffman
The wrong-headed solutions of corporate sustainability

As Dana Meadows so eloquently pointed out many years ago (“Places to Intervene in a System“), changing the goals of a system is one of the most powerful ways of intervening in that system to change outcomes. It’s clear that sustainability has NOT changed the goals of our global economic system. Until that happens, can we really expect to see meaningful change?

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Sometimes it’s not WHAT is said, it’s WHO is saying it. When large (OK, very large, perhaps ginormous) banks are saying this, perhaps Paul Gilding is right that Victory is in sight for the climate movement.


London-based HSBC is a banking and financial services company, very old and very large — the sixth largest public company in the world. Greenpeace it ain’t. So it’s striking that the latest report from the financial giant sounds strikingly like the hippie alarmism of a Bill McKibben, a Joe Romm, or a … me. Then again, our hippie alarmism sounds a lot like the science surveys put out by the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, MIT, and the U.S. National Climate Assessment.

So I guess we’re all hippies now.

The report is called “Peak Planet” (you gotta pay for it, unfortunately — Giles Parkinson has a great write-up) and it’s about the threat of climate change and “the next upswing in the climate agenda.”

The broad story HSBC sketches is familiar. If we want to hold warming below 2 degrees…

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10 Tips – How to Improve Your CDP Scores and Generate Business Value


The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is an independent not-for-profit organization working to drive greenhouse gas emissions reduction and sustainable water use by business and cities. Responding to the CDP requires significant effort. Here are ten tips to help you get it done better.

1.      Start early

Your CDP response includes carbon footprint data and descriptive text about how you are managing the risks and opportunities associated with climate change. Gathering the data required to quantify your carbon footprint can take several months, especially if you do not have regular data collection systems in place. If you start early, your life will be better.

2.      Get a team (internal and external)

CDP’s template for drafting your response is more than 40 pages long. No one person will have all the information necessary to develop a comprehensive response. Make sure you have all the necessary company stakeholders on your team, and take this opportunity to further engage with departments you will need buy-in from.

3.      Answer ALL questions

When reviewing responses, it’s amazing how many are incomplete. Even if you are not proud of how you answer a particular question, make sure to put something there. If you are just beginning to address a specific area, disclosing that can be a useful first step.

4.      Do not cross reference responses

It’s frustrating for a reader to flip back and forth between sections of a report. More importantly, each question is scored based on your response to that specific question; and databases that include your response (e.g., Bloomberg) won’t cross reference your answer to another question. So whenever you are in doubt, repeat information that may be relevant to more than one question.

5.      Use CDP Guidance and benchmark

The extensive guidance documents available from the CDP are very valuable for developing your response. Use them. Benchmarking against the highest scoring companies in your sector may also be useful.

Generating Business Value

How can you derive the most business value from completing your CDP response? The following tips will put you on the right path.

6.      Think strategically

Responding to the CDP is more than simply ticking off a very long check list. Think about the strategic implications of climate change for your business. What are the real business risks and opportunities? What is the short list of things your company should do to manage these risks and maximize the opportunities?

7.      Set goals

To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will do”. What are you hoping to accomplish with your CDP response? Is it mainly aimed at external or internal stakeholders? Are you aiming for a specific disclosure or performance score? Making your goals explicit will encourage you to develop a response that meets your company’s needs.

8.      Understand your Disclosure and Performance scores – and benchmark them

If you responded last year, take some time to review and understand your scores and the feedback provided by CDP. Did you score poorly in a certain area because of a real gap? Or are you not including sufficient information about the full range of your efforts? How did your major competitors and leadership companies you respect score?

9.      Consider the full value chain

Climate change has real implications for your operations, your supply chain and for your customers. Make sure to consider the full value chain as you develop your strategy and CDP response.

10.   Use this process to drive change

Take advantage of this process to more fully engage and get buy in from your key internal stakeholders. What are your most important barriers to change? How can responding to the CDP help address these barriers?

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