Innovation as a Survival Mechanism during the COVID-19 pandemic: Successful examples from the foodservice industry

By Anna Sophie Hauge, Marie Haadem and Meike Janssen

◦ 4 min read 

Innovation fosters creativity and generates growth – especially in times of crisis. The foodservice industry has been hit extremely hard by COVID-19 and the corresponding restrictions and lock-down measures. While many businesses in the foodservice industry struggled to survive, some took the opportunity to innovate. The question is then, what drove businesses to innovate in the middle of the crisis?

Drivers of firm innovation and the outcomes differ from case to case, however all can be connected to overarching themes. The external shock of the COVID-19 crisis is undoubtedly one such theme which has created new environments for supply and demand within the foodservice industry.

…times of crisis may provide an opportunity to develop dynamic capabilities more quickly than good financial times. A possible explanation is that ‘dynamic environments’ are needed to deploy dynamic capabilities

Alonso-Almeida et al., 2014

In the spring of 2021, we interviewed five courageous food-entrepreneurs, all using innovation as a survival mechanism throughout the crisis. We used John Bessant and Joe Tidd’s 13 drivers of innovation as the starting point to have a closer look into five small- to medium-sized innovative companies from Copenhagen and Oslo: a gourmet pizza takeaway, an online grocery delivery, an online fruit and vegetable delivery, a vegetarian takeaway, and a café takeaway. 

Besides the crisis itself being the most powerful driver of innovation, the need for change in the way people consume and offer food services proved to inspire numerous innovative measures (See Table 1). The trends and environments created by COVID-19 inspired new processes within our pre-existing case firms. For the three firms established pre-COVID-19, a large focus was put into the implementation of contactless home deliveries.

Additionally, we found that the crisis even triggered the innovation of completely new businesses. The two we interviewed exploited the rapidly changing environment to meet new needs, employing pandemic-friendly formats to deliver their services. An example is the highly integrated use of Instagram as a food ordering and communication platform. Innovation of business processes and products became survival means for our firms within the foodservice industry, as it helped them keep up with new consumer needs in the context of the pandemic. At the same time, these changes elevated the firms’ value propositions due to the new operating circumstances imposed by COVID-19. Products and processes were adapted to the COVID-19 trend of ‘support your locals’ throughout lockdown, through the integration of local suppliers and products. Innovations in relation to such trends helped target important social values during the pandemic.

Many of the innovations within the case companies originated from the necessity of minimizing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Changes to the physical spaces of the foodservice firms and higher focus on contact through digital channels are examples of measures taken.

Characteristics of Success

Four out of the five firms were small in size. Each firm utilized collaborative relationships in the development of their products and services during the pandemic. Congruently, these firms explored new market opportunities; both in the expansion and adaptation of product lines and services, but also starting completely new businesses. Another characteristic was the integration of technology, such as online ordering and social media communication. We also found that the firms innovating during crises did not compromise on costs in their innovations. Ultimately, these characteristics developed and supported the firms’ crisis-driven innovation. It was also recognized that the pre-existing firms were innovative also before the crisis, which helped facilitate their innovation in times of distress. These characteristics are identical to those found in companies that innovated during the financial crisis in 2008.

Two additional characteristics were identified in the firms; firm flexibility and targeting niche segments. High flexibility was identified within the case firms, introducing options for pre-ordering, and thereby allowing for efficient and sustainable use of resources. Firm flexibility was also created through the use of digital modes of operations like online communication platforms and ordering systems. Lastly, four of the case firms have niche and urban customer segments. They target a trendsetting, educated urban-elite, all living in central Copenhagen or the West End of Oslo. Both the firms’ business models and unique selling propositions are non-typical for the given industry. Having such target groups and trend-setting concepts is seen to have enabled successful innovations. These two firm characteristics arguably provide the necessary infrastructure for the innovations’ success and are recognized to be essential for firm survival in times of crisis.

In the end

It is inspiring to see that times of crises can inspire people, and that courageous steps are being rewarded in a dynamic environment with open-minded customers. However, not all cafés and restaurants were as lucky as the ones in our study. Now that restrictions are no longer in place, the foodservice industry deserves our support, and you deserve to regularly treat yourself to a nice dinner or lunch.


About the Authors

Anna Sophie Hauge is studying her master’s in Finance and Strategic Management at Copenhagen Business School. Outside of her studies, she is currently working as a commercial student analytic at Løgismose, a Danish food brand, focused on quality and ecology.

Marie Haadem is currently finishing her Master’s in Management at IE Business School in Madrid, specialising within Finance and Investment. She will be joining Citigroup this July as a Banking Analyst for the EMEA Banking Analytics Group in Spain.

Meike Janssen is Associate Professor for Sustainable Consumption and Behavioural Studies, CBS Sustainability, CBS. Her research focuses on consumer behaviour in the field of sustainable consumption, in particular on consumers’ decision-making processes related to sustainable products and the drivers of and barriers to sustainable product choices.


PhPhoto by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

Sustainable brands on Black Friday: What do consumers perceive as authentic?

By Nina Böntgen, Sara Derse and Meike Janssen

◦ 4 min read 

The fashion industry has repeatedly come under fire for its negative effects on the environment. With heightened attention towards the climate crisis and scandals highlighting the industry’s social shortcomings (Rana Plaza, 2013), more and more ‘native’ sustainable fashion brands have emerged. However, parallel, we witness a trend towards ever-increasing consumerism. Frequently, Black Friday is seen as the epitome of consumerism which raises the question: How do sustainable fashion brands approach the biggest shopping day of the year – Black Friday – and how do consumers perceive these campaigns?

We reviewed Black Friday Instagram posts by self-claimed sustainable fashion labels and found they can be conceptualized along two axes: (1) the level to which consumption is encouraged / discouraged, and (2) the degree of action taken by a brand to express its commitment to sustainability. This conceptualization accounts for existing societal marketing strategies, particularly Demarketing, Green Marketing, and Cause-related Marketing. On the one hand, the brand Raeburn closes its shops and urges consumers to use Black Friday to repair their clothing rather than buying new items (Demarketing). On the other hand, the brand People Tree promotes 30% off everything claiming that consumers should “add some green to [their] wardrobe” (Green Marketing). 

Business-as-usual, a revolution, or planet-saving purchases – what is actually authentic?

By interviewing 20 consumers, we found that they judge authenticity by inspecting various cues that are leveraged to identify authenticity drivers. For example, donating to WWF (Cause-related Marketing) yielded legitimacy for TwoThirds’ Black Friday campaign. Authenticity is a complex concept – it is multidimensional, subjective, dynamic and socially constructed. Multidimensionality implies that one cannot answer “what is authentic?” precisely; it is an interplay of different attributes. In our case, respondents described an advertisement as authentic when it was credible, relatable, congruent, original and/or impactful. Next, subjectivity means that what is authentic for one person is not necessarily authentic for another. Influential consumer characteristics are a person’s general scepticism towards advertising, level of environmental concern, and understanding of sustainability, resp. do we simply need less- or better/greener consumption to mitigate climate change?

“and it’s kind of a contradiction: ‘Please shop to help the planet’ and I think you can’t shop and help the planet at the same time. So less or no consumption is at all times the best option” (Consumer 1)

“you’re using capitalism to make the world a little bit better. And I think in my eyes, that’s a good strategy to go for” (Consumer 2)

Third, authenticity perceptions can change over time, for example upon new information. Last, authenticity does not exist as a stand-alone concept but is always sensitive to societal changes.

What does this imply for marketers of sustainable brands?

Black Friday is a dynamic context in which brands have to actively reflect on their communication strategy and respective consumer authenticity perceptions. Consequently, no communication strategy shows clear advantages or can be labeled ‘most authentic’. We advise brands to reflect on: 

  1. Their standpoint regarding Black Friday
  2. The needs of their target group
  3. The statement they want to make on Black Friday
  4. The tone they want to adopt in their campaign

Sustainable brands increasingly embrace creative ways to distance themselves from the traditional Black Friday, e.g. by closing shops, ‘selling rubbish’ or even raising prices. It remains unclear, however, whether these forms of brand activism reflect a brand’s honest opinion or are employed as a tool to stand out.

We also observe brands who are holding their customers responsible: on Black Friday 2020, Armed Angels let buyers choose between a higher discount or rainforest protection. After Black Friday, the brand revealed that the majority of their customers had chosen the higher discount, which raises the question: 

Can consumers be held responsible for making more mindful purchase decisions or is increased action by companies and governments needed? 

Upon stating its disappointment about the outcome, followers accused the brand of shaming their customers for choosing higher discounts. This translates to another relevant consideration for sustainable fashion labels – choosing the right tone. While radical messaging conveys urgency and appeals to environmentally concerned consumers, others feel opposed to it and, instead, want to be involved in dialogues. Again, this shows that when it comes to Black Friday, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution – rather, brands should take time to think about their values and how they can make a meaningful difference on Black Friday 2021.

Throughout the interviews in our study, multiple consumers shared with us how they were inspired by campaigns of sustainable brands and respectively questioned their purchase decisions. This demonstrates that sustainable brands’ communications can actually exceed Black Friday and have lasting effects – not only on their brands’ perceived authenticity but also on our planet’s future.


About the Authors

Nina Böntgen is a recent graduate from MSc Brand and Communications Management program at Copenhagen Business School. Next to her studies, she was actively engaged as team lead and board member of oikos Copenhagen, a student initiative driving change towards greater sustainability. She’s happy to share further insights or engage in discussions on the post or the broader thesis (how sustainable brands navigate authenticity and greenwashing) via email (n.boentgen@web.de) or Linkedin.

Sara Derse is a recent graduate of the Msc Brand and Communications Management program at Copenhagen Business School. Fascinated by the topics of consumer psychology and purpose branding, she was involved in the sustainability-focused student initiative oikos as a Project Manager. She is happy to discuss her thesis (consumer perceptions of fashion brands with a purpose centred around sustainability) in further detail via email (saraderse@live.de) or Linkedin. 

Meike Janssen is Associate Professor for Sustainable Consumption and Behavioural Studies, CBS Sustainability, Copenhagen Business School. Her research focuses on consumer behaviour in the field of sustainable consumption, in particular on consumers’ decision-making processes related to sustainable products and the drivers of and barriers to sustainable product choices.


Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Climate Change and Magical Thinking

By Steen Vallentin

◦ 7 min read 

COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, has just ended. It was supposed to be ‘the next big and significant one’: the great follow-up to COP21 five years ago, the outcome of which was the Paris Climate Agreement, the first binding international treaty on climate change. The global urgency regarding climate issues has certainly never been greater. 

Although COP26 has yielded some results and some progress has been made, it has been a disappointment to many, including the iconic and omnipresent Greta Thunberg, who was filmed chanting “you can shove your climate crisis up your a…” along with other demonstrators at a rally in Glasgow – and who summarized the accomplishments of COP26 in three words:

Blah blah blah.    

Looking at the Glasgow Climate Pact and its immediate reception, we are certainly, once again, witnessing a political willingness to attribute considerable significance to (non-binding) declarations of intent regarding (possible) future actions and to the mere mentioning of the 1,5°C temperature increase target and efforts to phase-down (not phase-out) the use of coal power and fossil fuel subsidies.    

In the absence of truly transformational commitments and progress, the espoused political belief in the power of words to move action can seem quite magical at times, indeed reflective of magical thinking. Certainly, there was nothing magical about the moderate public and civil society expectations of progress preceding COP26. We have to look elsewhere for the magic. We have to look inside the established political system, where magical thinking is at play in definitions of climate problems and solutions, and where it, in itself, constitutes a problem worth addressing.

What is Magical Thinking?

To begin with a definition, magical thinking refers to “the idea that you can influence the outcome of specific events by doing something that has no bearing on the circumstances”. It is a well-known phenomenon in the area of human health and disease. Children are known to practice it. 

However, in the area of climate change and sustainability it is the grownups, in particular politicians, that tend to have a proclivity for magic – with the younger generation seeking to expose the deficiency and unrealness of subsequent courses of action.

In relation to sustainability, magical thinking is a matter of believing that certain outcomes – decoupling of economic growth and GHG emissions, a zero carbon economy – can be achieved by means that, although they may have some bearing on circumstances, are insufficient and ultimately unfit for purpose (according to the best available scientific knowledge). 

Ends and Means: Strong and Weak Sustainability

One way to frame this problem, at the most general level, is to distinguish between strong and weak sustainability, as illustrated in the table below. 

– source: developed from Sjåfjell (2018)

While strong sustainability calls for radical and systemic change guided by a biocentric preoccupation with planetary boundaries, non-negotiable ecological limits and safe operating spaces, weak sustainability signifies a more pragmatic and incremental approach to change, maintaining an anthropocentric focus on development as (economic) growth, human needs and intergenerational equity. An important point being that urgent calls for action tend to draw on the repertoire of arguments provided by strong sustainability, whereas most solutions ultimately fall under the heading of weak sustainability. They are not radical, only incremental, and certainly pragmatic. 

The question is whether it is indeed an act of magical thinking to believe that we can accomplish strong sustainability ends by weak sustainability means. In other words, that we can reach the climate targets we need to reach, according to science, by way of incremental, small steps change – holding onto the growth paradigm, the business case and win-win. 

The Magic of Win-Win

Andrew A. King and Kenneth P. Pucker, in a recent piece in Stanford Social Innovation Review, speak of “the costs of magical thinking” in relation to the prevalence of the win-win (or triple-win) mindset and associated terms such as CSV (creating shared value). They talk about “strategies [that] rely on improbable mechanisms, promise implausible outcomes, and boast effectiveness that outstrips available evidence.” Strategies that “inflict harm because they distract the business world and society from making the difficult choices needed to address pressing social and environmental issues”. 

This begs the question: What is located on the other side of win-win? How can we escape its magical allure and the often exaggerated claims made in its name? Unfortunately, King & Pucker do not have much to say about this. They speak only of how: “It is time to turn away from alluring unproven strategies and refocus our efforts on those interventions that have proven effective – such as government regulation”.

It is not a terribly convincing argument. Government regulation in the age of man-made climate change is not so much an escape from win-win as it is an embodiment of win-win – and arguably needs to be. Sustainable development is not only about climate change and climate solutions – the social and economic pillar of sustainability need to be considered alongside the environmental pillar at all times. That is, questions of social justice and of what is economically feasible also need to be addressed.    

The European Green Deal as a Win-Win Scenario

The European Green Deal is, for better or worse, an illustrative example of this. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has referred to the green transition as ‘Europe’s Man on the Moon Moment’. Nevertheless, the framing of the European Green Deal reads like a textbook case of win-win, and not a very advanced one at that. As you can read on the Green Deal webpage: “Making Europe climate-neutral and protecting our natural habitat will be good for people, planet and economy. No one will be left behind.” The Green Deal is Europe’s new growth strategy, it will help cut emissions while creating new jobs and, again, it will leave no one behind.

Speaking of private businesses, the arguments for going beyond win-win are quite straightforward. There are ethical issues and matters of responsibility that need to be addressed regardless of whether the company can derive any commercial benefit from it. However, in the political realm of multiple and competing interests and policy concerns it is more difficult to escape the clutches of win-win.

Imagine if von der Leyen would have said: “We need to make sacrifices in order for the green transition to happen. We need to slow down growth, it will cost jobs and we cannot guarantee that some people will not be worse off as a result’. It is a virtually unthinkable scenario. Not least because we know that it is the poorest and most vulnerable population groups that are bound to be worse off.   

The Magic of Danish Government Policy

That is to say, government as we know it does not represent a solution to the problem of widespread magical thinking about climate change and sustainability. It is very much part of the problem and there is no apparent escape. Not even for the most advanced nations in Europe. Let us take Denmark as an example. Denmark was just ranked 4th in the 2022 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI). As the three top spots were left empty to signal that not a single country currently deserves a ‘Very high’ rating, Denmark is supposedly the leading country in the world measured on criteria regarding climate policy, renewable energy, energy use and GHG emissions. 

This is not to say, however, that Danish climate policy is bereft of magic. Quite the contrary. Dan Jørgensen, the Danish Minister for Climate, Energy and Utilities, has become famous for waving his own kind of somewhat oversized magic wand: ‘the hockey stick’. The hockey stick was originally used (by American climatologist and geophysicist Michael E. Mann) to illustrate temperature changes over time and the transition from the Holocene era (the long shaft) to the Anthropocene era (the short blade). There is nothing magical about this science-based graph.

However, the image of the hockey stick has in recent years been appropriated by management consultants and policy makers who are using it to serve instrumental and sometimes magical purposes. In the instrumentalized imagery, the bend between shaft and blade represents the (magical) moment of innovative/technological discovery, an inflection point allowing, ideally, for a transition from a period of inferior – ineffective, unsustainable – solutions (the shaft) to a period of superior solutions (the blade). 

Dan Jørgensen has been widely criticized for his espoused belief in a long shaft (gestation) period, that tends to become longer and longer and is so far marked by a lack of truly groundbreaking results and postponement of difficult decisions (particulary regarding implementation of a CO2 tax). On the one hand, the inflection point is continually moved further and further away. On the other, it is assumed that the magical moment of discovery and transformative change will happen in time for Denmark to be able to deliver on the Paris Climate Agreement and the even more ambitious Danish climate law. 

A concrete example of magic at work in Danish climate policy is the below image from the recent government action plan on green transition. Notice in particular the small miracle that is supposed to happen from 2029-2030, where all the technical reduction potentials on display somehow reach their target of zero. It seems magical. It is certainly not well explained in the action plan how this can come about – or why the reader should find this sort of technical forecast even remotely believable.

The Great Balancing Act: Magic and Reality

There is an upside and a downside to magical thinking and political talk and action that can be said to reflect magical thinking. Today’s magical ideas may turn out to be next year’s (or the next decade’s etc.) realistic solutions or courses of action. Magical thinking blends into notions of aspirational talk and aspirational policymaking, suggesting that lofty goals can help inspire, motivate and accelerate change processes. 

However, the downside is if magical belief in win-win solutions becomes a sort of self-imposed constraint or censorship standing in the way of open and honest discussions about the changes and sacrifices needed to make the green transition happen.

This can exacerbate accusations of greenwashing and create more public cynicism regarding climate policy and the willingness and ability of the political system to act proportionately. Magical ambitions needs to connect with harsh realities.


Further Reading

King, A.A. & Pucker, K.P. (2021). The Dangerous Allure of Win-Win StrategiesStanford Social Innovation Review, Winter. Online first.  

Sjåfjell, B. (2018). Redefining the Corporation for a Sustainable New EconomyJournal of Law and Society, 45(1), 29-45.


About the Author

Steen Vallentin is Academic Director of the CBS Sustainability Centre and Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research is centered on CSR as a social and political phenomenon in the broadest sense, increasingly with a focus on corporate sustainability, circular economy and business model transformation – along with the politics and aspirational aspects of sustainable development more broadly. 


Heading photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash.

Why we should not call for experts instead of experiments

By Jan Michael Bauer

◦ 3 min read 

The recent elections in Germany turned out as the historic loss for conservatives that pollsters have predicted a few weeks before. Responding to the declining poll numbers, the conservative party presented a “team for the future” consisting of several field experts that should help the candidate addressing the big challenges of the country. Their slogan was „Experts instead of experiments“. The message was clear: we know how to solve these issues and voting for another party would be an experiment and therefore risky. While this might appeal to a conservative base, I think this slogan sends a wrong if not hypocritical message.  

Framing an experiment as something uncertain and dangerous that should be avoided taints one of sciences most successful methods and obscures the undeniable level of uncertainty associated with policy decisions.

Even after acknowledging the turbulent times during Merkel’s legacy, remarkably little was done to address the challenges of the future. While some inaction might be attributed to a lack of courage or lobbying by special interests, it certainly constitutes the lack of obvious and simple solutions for the many problems the country is facing. 

The challenges we face are new and unpredicted in magnitude. While few would disagree with the need for action, there is disagreement about what needs to be done. Experts argue with each other, often struggle to persuade their colleagues, and remain unconvinced by the evidence that substantiates the oppositions claims. Fierce debates about the right course of action often overshadow a sad truth that in many cases no one is and really shouldn’t be sure that the proposed path will be the most successful one. Even more disheartening might be that even after the implementation of a policy, we often have a hard time qualifying if the intervention did more good than harm or quantifying these benefits. 

A fundamental problem, particularly economists try to resolve through (quasi-) experimental research methods to understand how a specific policy intervention works. Broadly speaking, they become experts because they do experiments. Pioneers in the study of causal relationships were recently awarded the Nobel Price. Among them David Card who is famous for a study on the effects of a higher minimum wage on employment exploiting a so-called natural experiment.  

Experimentation can help us to find out if our ideas and theories work in practice. They should increase our confidence in the people applying them rather than creating a fear of uncertainty.

Our knowledge that COVID vaccines are effective mostly relies on the result of randomized experimental trials. An approach increasingly used to answer questions in the social sciences. For instance, we don’t know how people will respond to universal basic income, which is why a three-year experimental study is currently on its way in Germany.

Pharmaceutical trials are also designed to show that potential drugs have no sever side-effects. While the necessity to ensure the safety of a drug is quite intuitive, the unintended consequences of non-medical products and services are less straight forward. For instance, social media has been suspected to inadvertently contribute to political polarization and erode democratic processes. While many of these claims are based on anecdotes, recent experimental studies from researchers outside Facebook have added hard evidence to the debate and conclude: 

Our results leave little doubt that Facebook provides large benefits for its users [but also] make clear that the downsides are real. We find that four weeks without Facebook improves subjective well-being and substantially reduces post-experiment demand, suggesting that forces such as addiction and projection bias may cause people to use Facebook [..] it also makes them less polarized by at least some measures, consistent with the concern that social media have played some role in the recent rise of polarization in the United States.

– Allcott, Hunt, Luca Braghieri, Sarah Eichmeyer, and Matthew Gentzkow. 2020. “The Welfare Effects of Social Media.” American Economic Review, 110 (3): 629-76.

There are obvious differences between vaccines and a social media platform, and probably nobody would suggest that Facebook should have undergone a randomized safety study in the mid-2000s before going public. Such products and services develop over time and can be used in very different ways. However, despite these differences there is an open question about the potential side-effects and the burden of proof. To ensure a healthy society, it might be worth considering that at least with a reasonable initial suspicion of harm, also non-medical companies should be obligated to proof their products’ safety using a suitable experimental design.

There will remain many problems where experiments are unfeasible, and, as seen with the development of Facebook, even the results of the best experiment today might not be a valid description of tomorrow in an increasingly complex and dynamic world. Such a world, however, should also humble us and our experts but foster an acknowledgement that there are many questions for which we don’t know the answer. Hence, we should make use of the best scientific methods available to reduce this uncertainty, which ultimately means that we need more experiments and not less.  


About the Author

Jan Michael Bauer is Associate Professor at Copenhagen Business School and part of the Consumer & Behavioural Insights Group at CBS Sustainability. His research interests are in the fields of sustainability, consumer behavior and decision-making.


Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Are we asking the wrong questions in corporate social responsibility (CSR) research?

By Rikke Rønholt Albertsen

 3 min read ◦

The sustainability contributions of business are under increased scrutiny in society. Observations of greenwashing, blue-washing, corporate hypocrisy, and decoupling suggest the existence of an intentional or unintentional gap between espoused CSR strategies and actual sustainability outcomes at the societal level. In other words, there seems to be more “talking” than “walking”.

This has inspired a growing concern in parts of the CSR research community that maybe we have been asking the wrong questions. Is it possible that in some ways we are contributing to this gap between strategy and impact?

Next year, an entire subtheme of the annual European Group for Organisational Studies (EGOS) conference will be dedicated to “Rethinking the Impact and Performance Implications of CSR”. This subtheme will address the tendency in CSR research to focus on outcomes at the organisational level without analysing impacts at the societal level.

There are valid reasons for limiting the scope of CSR research in this way: from an organisational performance perspective, many of the traditional success criteria for CSR policies—such as strengthening legitimacy, market position, and employee satisfaction—do not require data to be gathered on sustainability impact from a societal perspective.

However, the urgency and magnitude of the current global crisis related to climate, biodiversity, and social inequality fuels the expectation that corporations should acknowledge their role in creating these crises and take decisive action to be part of the solution. From this perspective, one would expect CSR research to provide knowledge of how, when, and why CSR policies and practices truly contribute to solving sustainability challenges. Yet, as a review of current CSR literature shows, this is rarely the case [1].

So what constrains CSR researchers from addressing this impact gap? In the following, I will highlight two interrelated mechanisms that have emerged from my research.

1) Sustainability impact is non-linear, systemic, and complex.

The problem with measuring sustainability impact is that it does not conform to conventional systems of measurement and reporting. Company CSR reports primarily provide key performance indicators linked to resource use per unit of production or list company policies and protocols to ensure compliance with various sustainability standards. In general, companies tend to (self) report on the successful implementation of their (self-imposed) CSR strategy, which happens to align with existing business objectives. However, as dryly noted by former environmental minister and EU commissioner Connie Hedegaard: the need for CO2 reductions is not relative; it is absolute! The melting Arctic poles do not really care that a company has made an effort to reduce its relative emissions if the net result is still more CO2 [2].

The negative impact on ecosystems is subject to irreversible tipping points where effects compound and accelerate. Thus, the societal impact of a sustainability policy or protocol cannot merely be assessed at the organizational level. It must be traced up and down the value chain and checked for unintended systemic consequences and hidden noncompliance [3]. Think of ineffective emission off-set schemes or families impoverished by bans on child labour. Ultimately, being “less bad” does not necessarily amount to being good.

2) Researchers do not have the necessary information.

Analysing the societal impact of corporate CSR policies and practices is a highly resource intensive task, which requires an entirely different set of research skills and data access than traditional organisational research. Instead, researchers most often opt to evaluate sustainability performance through estimations, perceptions, and narratives offered by company staff in surveys and interviews [1]. This data is context specific and prone to subjective biases, making it difficult to draw objective conclusions about societal impact.

Consequently, because there is so little existing knowledge of the link between CSR initiatives and societal impact, the CSR contribution of corporations is primarily assessed based on compliance with reporting standards and commercial rating initiatives such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index [4]. This, for lack of better options, becomes the go-to objective indicator of CSR performance used by CSR researchers. Through this self-fulfilling circular logic, these indicators are used to identify CSR high performers for research on best practice. CSR research thus potentially perpetuates the perception of what successful CSR policies and practices look like—all without examining the societal impact of these practices.

Is this a problem?

Just as corporations increasingly realise that addressing CSR issues is no longer optional, we as CSR researchers may need to move beyond asking how, when, and why corporations engage with sustainability and begin asking how, when, and why corporations contribute to sustainability. If we do not, we risk losing our relevance when corporations look to academia for guidance on how to design and implement CSR strategies based on maximum impact rather than just maximum compliance and minimal risk.

We are challenged to expand our field of enquiry and be innovative when assessing how the observed means ultimately align with desired ends. This will require forging research alliances with new knowledge fields and establishing relationships with new groups of informants beyond company employees. The first step, however, is to rethink the questions we ask.


Further reading

[1] J.-P. Imbrogiano, “Contingency in Business Sustainability Research and in the Sustainability Service Industry: A Problematization and Research Agenda,” Organization & Environment.

[2] C. Hedegaard, “Farvel til ‘logofasen’ -nu har vi set nok grønne slides,” Berlingske, 2020. [Online].

[3] F. Wijen, “Means Versus Ends In Opaque Institutional Fields: Trading Off Compliance And Achievement In Sustainability Standard Adoption,” The Academy of Management review.

[4] M. Zimek and R. J. Baumgartner, “Corporate sustainability activities and sustainability performance of first and second order,” 18th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production Conference (ERSCP 2017).


About the Author

Rikke Rønholt Albertsen is a PhD Fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School and a member of the multidisciplinary CBS Sustainability Centre. Her research focus is on exploring and understanding gaps between the espoused sustainability objectives of corporations, and their actual contribution to sustainability. She has a background in consulting at Implement Consulting Group and in sustainability advocacy as co-founder of Global goals World Cup

LinkedIn Profile.


Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Are social media platforms good places to discuss global challenges?

By Daniel Lundgaard

3 min read ◦

According to a recent analysis by Datareportal, the number of active social media users grew globally by 13.2% from January 2020 to January 2021, which means that as of January 2021, there are 4.2 billion active social media users. With the increasing use of social media, it only makes sense that important discussions are moving to these platforms. This is especially seen during political elections, but social media are also becoming some of the most important platforms to discuss issues such as gender equality, racism, and climate change. However, while we have seen the potentials of social media for raising awareness about these issues, it is still unclear whether social media are suitable platforms for such discussions.

Throughout my research, I investigated the climate change debate on Twitter, and I want to highlight two important patterns that I found, each illustrating some of the potentials and challenges with the use of social media to discuss global challenges. 

The potentials

On the one hand, I found that the debates on social media platforms are characterized by equality and inclusiveness. It is common knowledge that everyone has a voice on social media, and anyone can contribute to a debate, but simply having the opportunity to contribute does not mean that everyone will have an impact.

Interestingly, what I found was that not only can anyone contribute – everyone can have an impact on the debate and affect how issues are discussed.

This both includes users with less than 100 followers and minority voices such as climate change skepticism. Seeing that even smaller users and minority voices can have an impact is particularly interesting on social media, where it has been argued that it is only the “popular” accounts, influencers, or central actors that shape the debate. Naturally, this does not mean that everyone will influence the debate, but it means that anyone can, which I see as an important part of creating a good place for discussing global challenges.  

The challenges

On the other hand, I found that the use of Twitter to discuss climate change rarely included ongoing dialogue.

There is very little exchange of opinions between two participants – instead, participants share their thoughts by engaging in broader conversations, e.g., by using specific hashtags or by mentioning central figures. In other words, what I found was that participants engage with an imagined audience, not directly with others.

Sometimes a discussion unfolds in the replies to a tweet or in the comments to a Facebook post, but the vast majority of contributions to debates about global issues are more about voicing an opinion, e.g., through retweeting, not back-and-forth dialogue between participants. This means that while most participants actively contribute to the debate, there is rarely any direct response to these contributions, which is a critical challenge, as I see some form of back-and-forth exchange of opinions as an integral part of good discussions. 

So, are social media platforms good places for debates about global challenges?

Well, yes and no – and naturally dependent on how you define a “good” debate. The inclusiveness and equality are great, and this is unparalleled compared to offline arenas that are limited by time and space, thus highlighting the potential for social media to empower citizens, both in their role as ordinary citizens and as consumers or activists that challenge corporate behavior. On the other hand, the distinct lack of ongoing, reciprocal exchange of information or dialogue is a critical challenge, highlighting issues with using social media to debate global challenges. This poses an interesting puzzle.

The lack of dialogue suggests that we need to be careful about using social media platforms to discuss global challenges.

Still, the use of social media to discuss global challenges is rapidly growing. Hence, we cannot disregard the importance of social media, but perhaps we can re-think their role in global discussions. 

I suggest that we move away from the expectation that social media platforms, by themselves, cultivate high-quality debates and instead see them as platforms that mainly inform and develop participants’ views. Hence, rather than providing platforms for dialogue, social media contributes to global debates by providing platforms where participants can become informed and better prepared for subsequent discussions – discussions that often unfold outside social media platforms. In other words, while social media, by themselves, are imperfect places for debates about global challenges, their role in informing participants, including both citizens, corporations, and politicians, illustrates that social media are a critical part of a more extensive media system, and we should not disregard their importance in debates about global challenges. 

A word of caution

However, if we accept that social media mainly serves to inform participants, we also have to consider that some potentials can become challenges. Specifically, the equality found in the debate can become a serious issue.

Without the ongoing dialogue, we miss opportunities to contest and challenge disruptive voices such as climate change skepticism.

Hence, while climate change skepticism, in an ideal and high-quality debate, could be beneficial by inspiring others to improve their arguments and refine opinions, the lack of dialogue on social media means that such voices are not contested and are not inspiring others to improve their arguments.

This is even more important with the increasing polarization we see on social media and highlights that if social media mainly serves to inform participants’ views, there is a greater responsibility on us as participants. Specifically, we still need to seek out these opposing opinions. Even though it might be futile to engage with those opinions, seeking out these opposing views may still inspire us to improve our arguments and, in some cases, even inspire us to refine our own opinions and ideas. 


About the Author

Daniel Lundgaard is a PhD Fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research investigates how communication on social media (e.g. the use of emotions, certain forms of framing or linguistic features) shapes the ways we discuss and think about organizational and societal responsibilities.


Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

The maker movement, the quiet, game-changing revolution near you #2

By Efthymios Altsitsiadis

◦ 5 min read 

One of the most overlooked and yet promising agents in the fight against climate change and towards realizing a circular society is the maker movement – a cultural trend that was founded on a simple premise: ordinary people manufacturing themselves what they need.

In the previous article, a glimpse of the transformative potential of democratized production for reaching the pressing societal, environmental and economic goals was attempted. The maker revolution, facilitated by the technological collaborative manufacturing capabilities can help citizens with getting access to advanced fabrication tools, skills and knowledge, to meet their own needs, reduce their carbon footprint, while creating new entrepreneurial opportunities for them and their community. For this potential to be realized, it is arguably increasingly important to understand how and why people become makers.

No movement can be successful, no community can be effective without engaging, growing, and sustaining its member base.

This was the organizing idea in the previous article. The empirical results from the Pop-Machina project were presented in overview to show the key motives, barriers and driving forces behind the decision to support and be involved in making. In this follow-up note, we complement this baseline with the next step: what can be done to act upon this knowledge.  

We draw this time insights from another running EU project – iProduce. Two large scale studies collected data from regular citizens, makers and manufacturers around Europe and the synthesis of the main quantitative results is taking place to compile some clear and actionable recommendations on how to engage with makers, existing and potential ones. The recommendations below are a preview of the upcoming report on the full findings, so it should be treated as work-in-progress snapshot.

Recommendation 1: Clearly communicate the culture of the community

On the one hand, many new makers seem to be driven by ecological and community progress beliefs and attitudes. The majority of people believe that makerspaces can make a big difference. On the other, respondents reported a lack of information with regard to the exact makerspaces’ scope and actions. Awareness about the maker-movement and its mission and benefits should not be considered a given, yet the alignment can make a considerable (and oftentimes ignored) difference in engagement. Community development and team building should be heavily promoted as in most makers, collaboration with like-minded peers is of highest priorities.

Recommendation 2: Encourage direct knowledge sharing: virtual training and skills exchange

Exchanging knowledge and gaining access to dedicated trainings is very important for makers. Such facilitations can take place digitally in which case users would expect to increase their knowledge and skills. Training could be targeted either to support a specific business venture, a creative project already underway, or for the primary purpose of gaining competencies for later use. Support in terms of direct knowledge sharing and mentorship, peer to peer online learning could be an additional option to allow existing technicians and experts to occasionally serve as mentors and advisors rather than teachers in platform-developed projects. 

Recommendation 3: Support matchmaking and professional networking

Participation in makerspaces opens up new horizons, enabling makers to reach out to a wider network which could also yield more professional opportunities. Or at least this is what the majority of the respondents expect. Makers and consumers want to be empowered, not only to depict their ideas for new products but to also be able to find expertise and manufacturing capabilities to implement them. Matchmaking services are deemed essential and at the same time, the analysis of existing roles and collaborations can set the ground for new synergies to be established and new opportunities to be identified. 

Recommendation 4: Diversity, inclusiveness, accessibility and empowerment

Makers tend to care a big deal about accessibility; they want to see action to involve groups which are underrepresented in the maker movement, such as women, elderly, low socioeconomic status groups or people with disabilities. They stress the importance of a respectful, inclusive and supportive culture, the unwarranted genderisation of tasks/interests and the need for more female role models in the social manufacturing world. While the maker movement has unique cultural elements, these are all cemented on the principles of diversity empowerment and unfettered access. 

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. There are still so many lessons to learn, angles to explore, and diverse experiences and stories to be shared and studied that one should not treat this as anything more than a humble start. The empirical nature of these insights provides some needed confidence to these results, but as is often the case with self-reported data and online data collection methods, there are some limitations to the transferability and generalizability/representativeness of these results. Nonetheless, the people working in iProduce have put considerable effort to help practitioners, policy makers and makerspace managers better reach out to the maker base. These stakeholders sometimes must face an uphill battle, especially in the covid-era, in keeping things afloat, exploring different tools, triggers and business models. One can hope that such insights can still be useful or bring up more discussion about the way forward.   


This publication was based on the work undertaken by the European projects iPRODUCE “Unlocking the community energy potential to support the market uptake of bioenergy heating technologies”. iPRODUCE has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870037.


About the Author

Assistant Prof. Efthymios Altsitsiadis, PhD (male) is a behavioural economist with a mind for interdisciplinary research. A user-centricity enthusiast, Efthymios is set to help provide evidence-based answers to some of the most persistent and evasive behavioural questions in a variety of areas like sustainability, health, energy and mobility. His Phd was in decision support systems and he is currently teaching Machine Learning and Digital Behaviour at CBS. He conducts research in collaborative production and circular economy, in advanced technological agents (smart apps, avatars, chat-bot services) and has worked as a social scientist in several cross-disciplinary research projects. 

Corporate democratic responsibility – messy and difficult, yet urgent and without alternative

By Dieter Zinnbauer

◦ 4 min read 

We live in politically tumultuous times. Authoritarianism is on the rise again across the world. Democratic freedoms have been in decline for 15 years in a row. The share of people living in free societies has shrunk to a meagre 14% of the world population. Meanwhile polarisation and populism, disinformation, mistrust and rising inequality have begun to hollow out the fundaments of even the strongest democracies. Votes for populist parties in mature democracies have risen from 3% in the 1970s to more than 20% today.

With democracy under attack everywhere how does and how should business position itself? What are the democratic responsibilities of companies? A tricky question well beyond the scope of a blog entry, but here some rather random notes and provocations on current trends and gyrations as input to this highly topical conversation.

Inaction is untenable, political neutrality unlikely.

It is less and less of a practical option anymore to hide behind a veneer of political neutrality no matter if rationalized instrumentally  (the Republicans-are-buying-sneakers-too argument), normatively (it’s undemocratic for business to engage in high stakes politics beyond its own narrow business interests) or intuitively (the empirically tenuous claim that business tends to only support moderate, mainstream politics anyway).  Here some reasons why:

For a start, it is not easy to find  real-world contexts, where a principled commitment to free and fair markets and a principled rejection of crony capitalism would not also imply and indeed be predicated upon a commitment to competitive democracy.  Or from a slightly different angle, the normative minimum for business – to respect human rights in its sphere of operation and influence –also entails respect for basic democratic rights and a related duty of care.

Remaining silent on democracy is therefore only an option as long as democracy is not in danger, as long as none of the substantive political forces in a country seek to actively dismantle load-bearing democratic norms and rules.

Yet in many countries this is not the case (any more). From Brazil to the Philippines from Poland or Hungary to the US, formally democratic regimes are under attack from within the political establishment. And in many more other countries fringe groups with dubious democratic credentials and intent often propelled by a toxic mix of populism and nativism are moving closer to becoming part of government. 

Enter corporate democratic responsibility

Corporate responsibility in such contexts entails having a plan for and executing on corporate democratic responsibility on at least three different levels / time horizons. 

  • For a start and most immediately it requires aligning non-market strategies with regard to corporate support for politicians, lobbying, public relations and other business and society interactions with an active stance and role in support of democracy.  E.g. no funding for politicians and parties that have taken to destroying basic tenets of inclusive political participation (not just temporary bans until the PR tempest calms down), no lobbing on issues that corrode the fundaments of political equality, an active promotion of democratic values, for example along the lines of campaigns by German business associations against extremism.
  • In the medium term it calls for a democracy auditan active interrogation of one’s own operations’ “democracy footprint”, and how one’s business model can best respect, protect and promote democratic values. Big tech platforms, for example, are being pushed to better understand and address their role for a healthy democratic discourse. 
  • In long-term perspective it demands a deeper probing on how corporate conduct is linked to some of the underlying drivers of democratic decline and disillusionment. Growing inequality and declining social mobility, status anxiety and a profound sense of losing out and losing authorship of one’s life are all empirically confirmed to provide fertile ground for populism and creeping authoritarianism. To help restore a sense of individual economic and political efficacy, trust in societal fairness and public as well as private authority companies may wish to interrogate how practices around tax avoidance, regulatory arbitrage, shareholder primacy etc. intersect with these issues. This also includes questions around how reforms and new formats in corporate governance can help resurrect a sense of being in it together and revive the idea of the business organisation as a shared venture, an important venue for exercising citizenship and co-authoring one’s economic life world and, capable of collectively evolving  a strong, responsible corporate purpose.
A rough, but necessary ride ahead

Good corporate democratic responsibility does not come easy. It means wading into a messy terrain and facing up to the perennial tension between defending democracy and curtailing freedom. 

It involves business decisions on whether fitness-bikes should be permitted to spread rumours about voter fraud, whether couches and guest rooms should welcome riot tourists, whether rumour-mongers deserve cloud hosting or whether the president of the United States should be kicked off the world’s largest social network.  Yet, all these things need to be reckoned with one way or the other as doing-nothing only cements a status quo of what is often democratic backsliding.

All these tricky questions around corporate behaviour in the context of democratic countries that are at risk of backsliding will also bring into sharper relief the perennial question of what companies can and should do when operating in outright authoritarian settings – a discussion well beyond the scope of this short blog entry but one that is returning with a vengeance given high-growth prospects in authoritarian settings or military coups in popular foreign investment destinations.

Finally, an honest grappling with corporate democratic responsibility will be agnostic to partisanship in principle and approach. But it is highly likely to be partisan in outcomes. Political incivility and anti-democratic behaviour are unlikely to be evenly distributed across the ideological spectrum in any given setting. So brace yourself for a partisan backlash and for a constant tight-rope walk between supporting democracy and being drawn into day-to-day politics.  Getting this right will require the best of corporate strategy, corporate governance and corporate communication. But ultimately there is no escaping from corporate democratic responsibility. Flourishing economies and flourishing democracies ultimately depend on it.  


About the Author

Dieter Zinnbauer is a Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at CBS’ Department of Management, Society and Communication. His CBS research focuses on business as political actor in the context of big data, populism and “corporate purpose fatigue”.


Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

Is Seeing Knowing? When Visibility Reduce Transparency

By Lars Thøger Christensen

◦ 3 min read 

We are arguably living in an era of visibility in which our communicative interactions with others are accessible to the gaze of third parties. Does this mean we understand our fellow beings, our organizations and our governments better? Well, not quite and maybe not as expected.

We tend to assume that we understand what we see. Yet, we see a lot that we do not grasp.

Increased visibility is often taken to represent an increase in transparency. Thus, for example, it is commonplace to associate organizational transparency with visibility management. Many writers use the notions interchangeably as if we automatically comprehend what we see. Such assumption is misguided. Although transparency has come to refer to a host of different qualities and activities, its original and fundamental promise is to increase knowledge and insight and, this way, reduce manipulation, ensure fairness and avoid power abuse (see previous blog). Visibility on its part merely signifies the ability to identify by the eye.

Although it intuitively makes sense to treat these terms as related, especially because they both invoke an ocular metaphor, they differ significantly in terms of the depth of the involved perception. Transparency, in spite of its complexities, absurdities and unexpected consequences when implemented in practice, continues to invoke the ideal of some deeper understanding. What is visible, by contrast, may arouse our attention only in passing without producing any further insight. The conflation of the two therefore weakens our approach to transparency and reduce society’s ability to develop more sophisticated transparency practices.

Visibility is not the same as transparency and may not enhance understanding and insight. 

‘Visibility’ has several related meanings, including the state of being visible, the ability to see or be seen under certain conditions, and the distance at which a given object can be identified with the unaided eye, also known as visual range. In all these senses, visibility is related to observation and suggests that the object in question is accessible to the eye and can be distinguished more or less clearly from its surroundings. While technological developments have turned visibility into a mediated quality freed from the temporal and spatial constraints of the here and now, the visible still refers to “that which is perceptible by the sense of sight”, perhaps augmented by other senses. 

What is perceptible to the eye is heavily shaped by contexts, such as norms, cultures and social structures.

In everyday usage, the notion of visibility is frequently invoked in a more abstract sense that combines sight with understanding. Notions such as discover, observe, notice, recognize, monitor, viewpoint, or perspective, for example, all invoke both dimensions and contribute to the impression that what we see is what we comprehend. As Brighenti (2007) puts it “vision is alias for intellectual apprehension” (p. 327). This belief may explain ambitions to uncoverand expose reality to the naked eye. Although such ambition is often driven by social indignation and a desire for fairness and change, major data leakages such as WikiLeaks illustrate that visibility may confuse, frustrate or pacify rather than inform.

The eye and what it allows us to see is a frequent source of illusion.

Leaving aside the possibility of optical illusions, although this is a quite realistic prospect in a world saturated with images, the gaze is a frequent source of blindness. While the promise of transparency is to help the spectator see into something, there is always the risk that the gaze is blunted or bored by impressions to the effect that objects accessible to the eye are seen through and ignored. Even when this is not the case, the lack of an Archimedean point of observation from which an observer can perceive the object of inquiry in its totality seriously challenges the notion of a single perspective on reality and thereby conventional conception of transparency as visibility. 

Without knowing in advance what to look for, visibility is likely to confuse more than inform.

While the gaze is obviously never “naked” or innocent, it takes a trained gaze as well as understanding of local norms, mores and myths, as anthropologists are aware of, to look systematically and to know what to look for. This problem is evident when we are invited to “see for ourselves”, but lack professional experience to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant material and events. When organizations of various sorts, for example, host “open house” days – a practice that is quite common in in all kinds of organizations from organic farming to higher education – visitors may be able to see a lot without necessarily knowing what to make of it. Here, visibility only makes sense because it is placed in a context of a well-known social ritual.

What happens to insight if visibility affects the objects we intend to understand?

In addition to the limitations of the gaze itself, it is well-known that objects of attention are significantly affected by processes of observation. While system theorists have argued that the properties of an object are relative to the observer, breakthroughs in quantum physics have demonstrated that even small particles behave quite differently when observed. The behavioural effects of visibility are likely to be even more dramatic when the objects of attention are human beings. In such cases, whatever is visible is likely to be shaped by power plays and image management. 

Visibility is a trap.

(Foucault, 1977, p. 200).

The very possibility of being observed affects the behavior of those within visual range. While Foucault described this tendency in the context of prisons, Bernstein has demonstrated how it affects work practices. However, whereas Foucault emphasized that visibility enforce self-discipline, Bernstein illustrates that visibility may reduce productivity because it removes attention from working effectively to practices of signaling that the correct procedures are followed. 

When impression management is prevailing, what we see are ideals rather than actual practices.

When scholars and social critics take visibility to mean transparency, they reproduce a deep-seated conviction that the gaze is a primary source of insight. By maintaining a close link between visibility and transparency, transparency is reduced to a surface phenomenon that only requires accessibly to the eye. Hereby, what visibility does or conceals is ignored. Increasing visibility may hide an object in plain sight. It may also dazzle the observer in ways that reduce the ability to understand what goes on.

The fascination with visibility needs to be tempered by a persistent aspiration for knowledge and real insight.

Further readings

Bernstein, E.S. (2012). The transparency paradox: A role for privacy in organizational learning and operational control. Administrative Science Quarterly, 57(2), 181-216. 

Brighenti, A. (2007). Visibility. A category for the social sciences. Current Sociology, 55(3), 323-342.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish. The birth of the prison. London: The Penguin Group.

Neyland, D. (2007). Achieving transparency : The visible, invisible and divisible in academic accountability networksOrganization, 14(4). 499-516.

Roberts, A. (2012). WikiLeaks: The illusion of transparencyInternational Review of Administrative Sciences, 78(1): 116-133.

Stohl, C., Stohl, M., & Leonardi, P. M. (2016). Digital age—Managing opacity: Information visibility and the paradox of transparency in the digital ageInternational Journal of Communication10, 123-137.


About the Author

Lars Thøger Christensen is Professor of Communication and Organization at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark.


Source: Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

March for Gender #3: We need a manifesto for Maya, not just a celebration of John

By Pierre McDonagh and Andrea Prothero

◦ 5 min read

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, the University of Bath’s Business and Society blog and Copenhagen Business School’s Business of Society blog have teamed up to present March for Gender. This month we will explore research focusing on gender, or research findings that have specific implications for women.

Here Pierre McDonagh and Andrea Prothero call out gender discrimination in the marketing academy. Their latest study, looking at gender representation in marketing’s academic journals, showed that women were significantly underrepresented on editorial boards, and that special issues and awards favour men over women. They use these disappointing findings to call for meaningful change, outlining how the problem could be addressed.

Despite the progress made in recent years, gender inequality persists in all walks of life. In our workplaces, the statistics are especially troubling. In 2020, men earned 15.5% more than women for the same work. As of 2019, only 7% of FTSE 100 companies had a female CEO.

Discrimination also comes in less easily measurable ways, and many women feel that their work is not taken as seriously as their male counterparts or that their gender has caused them to lose out on a promotion.

Wake up! It’s 2021!

We decided to explore this important issue in our latest paper in the Journal of Marketing Management. We looked at gender representation in marketing’s academic journals, through three key areas – the gender composition of editorial boards, special issue celebrations and the awards process. This study is a continuation of a larger research project which examines ‘the development of feminist thought within marketing scholarship from 1993 to 2020’.

Our results painted a disappointing picture. It’s a sad indictment of our field that in 2021 the facts are as stark as they are. So, we think it’s important to pause at this point in the process, to empirically call out one major issue – gender discrimination within our academy.

We wrote about this as we believe many scholars might not realise what is happening in our academy and, as our recent paper suggests ‘it’s hard to be what you cannot see’!

Our goal is to get scholars in the marketing academy to think differently about things that are hidden in plain sight. We also want them to join us in asking for meaningful change with respect to existing gender discrimination in the marketing academy.

A sad indictment of the field

For this study, we examined the gender composition of 20 leading journals [i], considering Editor-in-Chief, Co-Editor, Advisory Board, Associate Editor and Editorial Review Board positions within the journals. We found that, while there has been improvement since 2017, nonetheless in 2020 over two-thirds of the editorial board positions within leading journals in the marketing academy are held by men.

At the same time our research highlighted how journal celebrations also favour men. Special issues for example include reflections from previous editors (who are mostly men), and invited commentaries (who are mostly men). And, where journals and/or their related associations celebrate outstanding research through awards processes, those awards which are named after leading figures in the field are all named after men! We are not arguing that women are deliberately excluded from celebrations, but that there are structural, systemic and institutional biases at play, which means male colleagues are privileged over women. And this of course, also means that injustice and inequality for female academics are perpetuated.

Addressing the problem

How then can the marketing academy and the publishing houses which publish our research help rectify this sad state of affairs? First of all, we can all ask our journal editors and gatekeepers in the Academy to act now. Specifically, we are asking journal editors and publishing houses to review their activities, and we offer here 4 simple steps to tackle gender discrimination specifically, and inclusion and diversity more broadly, in the marketing academy:

  1. Build diversity into existing journal review boards which extends across the globe. Cry out for each Editor-in-Chief to publish a statement for their journal making clear ‘why’ its gender and race composition is the way it is. Ask that they embrace the principles of unity & diversity. Editors-In-Chief are well positioned to lead the charge moving forward.
  2. Introduce a quota system to ensure diversity of people involved in journals from advisory boards, manuscript review boards, Associate Editors, Co-editors, to the Editors-In-Chief.
  3. We should ask awkward questions of the leaders in our field. Why do the majority of named awards in our field honour white men? We request awards which also honour the leading people of colour and females in our field. Quite simply the current status quo is an injustice – not everyone is a white male academic, so why do they dominate everything!?
  4. Celebrations – Our Editors-in-Chief can shape the field by celebrating those who remain invisible within our field. We have female role models for younger scholars to inspire them to greatness, but they are not celebrated or included either in editorial boards or in special issue celebrations to the same extent as men. Let’s rectify this.

Can we please bring the marketing academy up to speed in the year 2021? Let’s not procrastinate here or leave it to DC or Marvel fantasy movies to inspire change, let’s do it ourselves.

We know Rome wasn’t built in a day and change takes time, but we’ve heard all the clichés before – we are fed up, we are here, and we want to be listened to. Our marketing academy should reflect the values we cherish and those we wish our students to emulate. For too long the marketing academy has favoured one gender (and one race) and as a result, women have been pushed to the periphery of the wider academy.

Change, not tokenism

What’s more we want fundamental change, not tokenism.

We need an intersectional approach now more than ever; this recognises issues of race and gender, alongside other examples of subordination such as appearance, class, religion, sexuality and ability which are not independent of each other.

We need what Marian Wright Edelman (founder of the Children’s Defense Fund and civil rights activist) calls a global sense of connection – where everyone can be seen, and all voices are heard and rewarded, whether by being invited to contribute to special issues celebrating our journals or by membership of our editorial boards! We deserve ‘marketing joy’ to underscore what we have in common with others in a multiracial, multicultural, democratic society.

This is important, not only in providing role models for aspiring academics who are not solely “pale, male and stale”, as well as providing equal opportunities in terms of key indicators of esteem within our academy, but also in terms of harnessing what gets published in our journals. In 2021 it is simply not acceptable that 88% of advisory board members within our journals are men or that some journals in our field have never had a female Editor-in-Chief. When publishing houses claim on their websites to be fully committed to inclusion and diversity in their journals, we also need this to shine through within our journals. In the marketing academy, while there has been improvement in recent years, gender representation is still appalling.

We call on those who can to change this. We need parity. Now.


References

[i] Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Marketing Science, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Retailing, International Journal of Research in Marketing, European Journal of Marketing, Industrial Marketing Management, International Marketing Review, Journal of Advertising, Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of Interactive Marketing, Journal of International Marketing, Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, Marketing Letters, Marketing Theory, Psychology and Marketing, Quantitative Marketing and Economics.


About the Authors

Andrea Prothero is Professor of Business and Society at University College Dublin, Ireland, and Co- Director of the UCD Centre for Business and Society (CeBaS). Her research broadly explores the area of Marketing in Society with a key focus on sustainability and gender issues.

Pierre McDonagh is Professor of Critical Marketing & Society at the School of Management, University of Bath, UK. Pierre has researched sustainable consumption & production since the early 1990’s and helps people understand what sustainable communication entails. He also writes about issues in gender equality in marketing and the benefits and challenges of critical marketing communications. He recently co-authored ‘The Dark Side of Marketing Communications’ with Tim Hill, which features as part of the Routledge series on Studies in Critical Marketing.

March for Gender #1: How a feminist collective took on a media giant to challenge everyday sexism

By Sarah Glozer & Lauren McCarthy

◦ 4 min read

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, the University of Bath’s Business and Society blog and Copenhagen Business School’s Business of Society blog have teamed up to present March for Gender. This month we will explore research focusing on gender, or research findings that have specific implications for women.

Here Sarah Glozer and Lauren McCarthy present their latest research into the activities of the feminist group ‘No More Page 3’. They explain why online activists should take a step back for campaigning in order to maintain the energy needed to affect change. This piece was originally published in The Conversation.

The daily image of a topless woman on page three of the Sun newspaper was considered by some to be a “British institution”. Yet it was also increasingly seen as a relic of institutionalised sexism in the media and society.

Then in 2015, nearly 50 years after it was first introduced, the feature was quietly removed from the publication. This decision was credited, in part, to the online campaign efforts of the “No More Page 3” (NMP3) movement, which gained the support of 140 members of parliament and numerous charities, including Women’s Aid and Girlguiding. It also attracted more than 240,000 petition signatures.

The campaign, which helped to force change at one of the UK’s most popular and powerful media companies, was widely acclaimed, described by one MP as a “seismic victory”. Activist Katherine Sladden wrote, “No other campaign has done as much to inspire a new generation of young feminists,” adding that it “became the gateway for women finding the courage to speak out on issues they care about”.

But beneath this success story lies a complex tale of how emotional energy sustained the NMP3 campaigners through personal and painful trolling.

Our research into the campaign reveals how supporters were met with online abuse on a daily basis. They regularly encountered rape and death threats aimed at themselves and their families. Campaign founder Lucy-Anne Holmes has told how she suffered an “overwhelming feeling of helplessness” and “burnout”, recalling:

It was terrifying. I was spent: financially, emotionally, creatively. Just going on Twitter with all of those voices coming at me would bring on a panic attack. I felt like I was being strangled by invisible hands.

Her experience was far from unique. For while the liberating potential of social media to mobilise collective action is widely valued, the toxic climate many experience on social media is all too familiar, and can lead to stress, anxiety and depression.

Yet the relentless online abuse aimed at the NMP3 campaigners – who deliberately tried to engage with their opponents through reasoned and polite posts – was tempered by messages of encouragement, both from each other and from supporters of their cause.

This complex interplay of positive and negative emotions led us to dig deeper into the campaigners’ survival story, and investigate the powerful techniques which kept them going in the face of such overwhelming adversity.

One important element was the underlying sense of solidarity which became a powerful force in helping the campaigners to recharge and replenish, sustaining momentum through emotional highs and lows. Faced with trolling and harassment, many campaigners felt energised simply by being online with other women with shared experiences. This feeling of alignment with others created a valuable store of emotional energy.

As one campaigner told us: “It wasn’t just a campaign … it was a space where we could go and feel completely confident, we could share anything with each other, and work out what we thought about things.”

Stepping back to move forward

Interestingly, this solidarity led to the coordinated and tactical use of a relay system adopted by the team. An exhausted campaigner wrestling with a hostile social media thread would “pass the baton” on to a colleague via a system of online messaging or “tagging” across platforms.

This system became a vital part of keeping the campaign’s momentum at times when some members felt the need to retreat from the front line. There was time and space for activists to step away from their screens, to disengage with the onslaught of social media.

Usually temporary, these moments of stepping away were deliberate and empowering – they offered protection. And in preserving individual wellbeing, they also ensured the continuation of the campaign.

Retreating, far from being seen as a form of weakness or defeat, was supported by the campaigners. It was a strategy which allowed for recovery of emotional energy and healing and, crucially, it rejuvenated the campaigners to return to campaigning.

A genuine connection to the roots of the campaign was also something that sustained the (mostly female) volunteers. They drew on their aligned personal experiences, often reminiscing about teenage shame they experienced related to their bodies or of later episodes of sexual harassment. The emotions related to these experiences meant the campaigners didn’t just “think” shame or anger, they felt it deeply.

One explained to us: “The feminist stuff still remains the thing that really lights me up.” She continued: “I feel it’s personal, it’s maternal, because I have a daughter, and a son who’s affected by toxic masculinity. It’s in my experience of abuse in relationship. I’m angry about it and passionate about it because it’s personal to me and people that I love.”

Another said: “Standing up for what is right is enough to make your legs go weak, your voice grow hoarse, and your hands shake with rage.”

Six years on from the NMP3 victory, more action is needed to fight inequality in both our online and offline worlds – there is still plenty to campaign for. Digital platforms certainly need to better police social media channels which continue to tolerate and excuse trolling and hate speech, particularly that directed towards women.

But we should be encouraged by NMP3’s story of grassroots collective strength, and its journey to success. And we should also consider the lessons it provides about activism and the common advice for women to always “lean in”. Sometimes, it seems, it’s better to simply retreat, replenish and come back stronger.


About the Authors

Dr Sarah Glozer is Associate Professor in Marketing and Society in the School of Management at the University of Bath. She obtained her PhD from the International Centre of Corporate Social Responsibility (ICCSR) at Nottingham University Business School. Sarah has also held a number of industry positions, such as Global Sustainability Manager at Cadbury Plc, UK. She is also Deputy Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society (CBOS). Sarah researches and teaches on topics including corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication, digital marketing and ethical markets / consumption.

Dr Lauren McCarthy is Co-Director of the Centre for Research into Sustainability (CRIS) and a Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies and Sustainability at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research explores in what ways business can contribute to gender equality, with a focus on global supply chains. Lauren’s research has covered cocoa production in Ghana, cotton farming in India, and most recently, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on women garment workers in Cambodia. Equally, her research has explored how feminist social movements interact with business and CSR, particularly through the use of social media.


Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Who really cares about the SDGs when it comes to nobody’s responsibility?

By Suhyon Oh

◦ 2 min read ◦

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the common goals of global development as we all agreed. Since its endorsement in 2015, it has become the norm. Multilateral corporations, aid agencies, development finance institutions and international organizations all refer to one or two Sustainable Development Goals (as their priorities) to legitimize environmental and social impact of their business activities. (I must confess here that I was also one of them). However, what are the actual changes in practices? Does it merely work as one other additional reference to our work? Otherwise, does it provoke transformational changes in our business strategies and practices for sustainability? Ironically, the Sustainable Development Goals are at once too sophisticated and too vague to do so.

The complexity of the goal structure should not be an excuse.  

The development process of SDGs has been grounded based on lessons learnt from the Millennium Development Goals. Because the MDGs excessively focus on the social aspect of development, the SDGs embrace economic, social, and environmental aspects. This led the number of goals to increase from 8 to 17. In relation to the goals, 169 target goals and 231 indicators have been developed to track the progress of 17 goals (In comparison, the MDGs only have 21 target goals and 60 indicators). These vast numbers intend to strengthen progress monitoring and enhance result management; however, such complexity seems problematic to fulfil the initial purpose. Some indicator selection processes are still under the technical review process after five years of SDGs have once passed and almost half of the indicators (106 out of 231) contain technical difficulties producing data on a regular basis to track the progress. I know that measuring the fulfillment of the whole massive SDGs is complex and may not be an easy task. However, when it comes to wrestling with such a giant, the sophisticated skill set (here, seeking clear target goals and indicators) would be a winning strategy rather than hurdles. Thus, how should we deal with the giant?  

 We have to consider which specific target goals and indicators are aligned with my actions if you have a will to achieve the SDGs. Simply stating one of the goals does not track your achievement. Each goal cannot be even drawn in parallel rather they are all interlinked.

Universality matters, but not everyone is in the same boat. 

We know why the SDGs have a principle of “No one left behind” across all the goals. This principle is again a result of lessons from the MDGs, which were criticized for the fact that they did not consider inequality and vulnerable groups in a development process. So that, this core principle is embedded into seventeen goals with the terms “inclusive”, “for everyone”, “for all” regardless of the developmental stage of their nations. Then, how can we make sure this would go far beyond the rhetoric?

We need extreme caution here. Do we have enough knowledge on those who are left behind? To move forward beyond the rhetoric, we need to unpack the word ‘everyone’. Even though ‘universality’ is an essential principle, we have to find out ‘who is left behind’ in every different context to make them not left behind, rather than concealing those excluded people under the name of “for everyone”.

Let’s see microfinance. It was expected as a universal means to reduce poverty and inequality since it provides a way of financial inclusion to those previously excluded to access credit. However, many research findings demonstrate that a particular type of “financial inclusion” which is embedded into microfinance cannot solve the marginalized groups’ economic challenges by itself. Without complementary social support, it was not enough to empower the poor, and even sometimes it resulted in an exacerbating situation for the people. I think this tells us the importance of deeper understanding of the poor, thus the need for a carefully targeted approach for impact. 

In brief, working for “everyone” requires additional attention and effort. Whose reality should count first? How could we guide us to hold clear accountability to turn the “No one behind” catchphrase into concrete actions? I believe one of the roles of research on the SGDs should be founded here.

SDGs as a norm: it should be embedded into everyone’s everyday life. 

Unlike the age of the MDGs, the SDGs involve a variety of actors such as private sectors and civil societies, who were not officially a part of the MDG process. Various stakeholders can create synergy through cooperation, but the responsibility to fulfil the SDGs become vague. According to Jurkovich (2019), three essential elements are needed to become a norm: “a moral sense of “oughtness”; a defined actor “of a given identity”; a specific behaviour or action expected of that given actor”. The SDGs as a global norm neither identify relevant actors for each specific goal and indicator nor have a compliance mechanism.

Sadly, the SDGs do not assign the responsibilities to anybody and the technical difficulty to monitor them also implies oughtness can be weakened. Frankly speaking, we officially have no obligation to contribute to the SDGs. 

Despite its non-obligatory identity, I strongly believe that most of us have a willingness to dedicate to the SDGs. Although we all understand its complexity of monitoring, ambiguity of target people and non-compliance mechanisms. I urge you as an individual, a scholar or a member of the whole global development community to carefully consider what goals/target goals/indicators and for whom I can contribute with a strong responsibility. Otherwise, the SDGs risk losing its political power and may be on track to decay its status as the norm before its completion in 2030.


About the Author

Suhyon Oh is a PhD fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School, and has over ten years of professional experience working with the donor agency, international organizations, development consultancy, NGOs as well as private sectors. As an international development expert, she has worked with the projects on development finance, financial inclusion and global value chain development, etc. Her current research interest is development finance institutions, impact investing funds in developing countries, hybrid organization strategy and strategy as practice.  

Do we need to sacrifice to mitigate climate change?

By Laura Krumm

3 min read

It is not news anymore that a change of consumer behavior is needed in order to have a chance at mitigating climate change. Almost every consumer action today can be quantified in terms of environmental impact. We know that we should opt for the tofu sticks instead of the steak at our neighbor’s barbeque, and we know that we should avoid the all-inclusive vacation to the Caribbean and take a cozy camping trip at Denmark’s beaches instead. What we don’t know is what those behavior changes mean for consumers. What are the consequences for our individual quality of life and well-being?

Self-sacrificing for the planet

The expectation does not seem to be very satisfying. Most of us have heard the word “sacrifice” in the context of environmentally friendly behavior before. The message we receive from climate activists, journalists and researchers is very clear:

We need to change our behavior today to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change tomorrow. We need to change our behavior for our children, the animals, other people in other countries, or our own future lives – even if we don’t want to.

We are expected to change our behavior for the greater good, while our own desires have to wait in line [1, 2].

This sacrifice narrative cannot only be found in climate change communication but also in consumers’ minds: When investigating what was hindering consumers to act environmentally friendly when they generally value the environment, the expectation of sacrifice and lowered quality of life was found to be one important factor [3]. Consumers seem to equate environmentally friendly behavior with a loss in quality of life and comfort. This anticipation, among others, prevents them from changing their behaviors and joining in the efforts of mitigating climate change.

Why is this important?

While altruistic motivation – driving us to self-sacrifice for the greater good – is positively related to environmental behavior [4], it can only get us so far. Another main driver of our actions is egoistic motivation. And as it seems, behaving more environmentally friendly is not perceived as a particularly egoistic action. While there sure are people with very strong altruistic motivation who enjoy behaving in a morally right way, many people are egoistic some or most of the time.

If the perspective of an environmentally friendly life is a bleak one, environmental engagement will be limited.

This is not only relevant for individual consumer behavior and environmental engagement, but also for policy and activism. When an environmentally friendly life seems bleak and uncomfortable to many people, it will be a difficult task to get them on board. Why would I support or vote for somebody who wants my life to become worse right now as a tradeoff for a potentially less catastrophic future?

Aside from elections, citizens who equate environmentally friendly behavior with sacrifice and lower well-being may also have lower acceptance of necessary policy interventions aimed at mitigating climate change. Consequently, the necessary change towards more environmentally friendly consumption will be hard to realize without considering its effects on well-being.

Does it have to be sacrifice?

Is it even true that environmentally friendly consumption can be equated with sacrifice, discomfort and a bleak existence?

Contrary to what the public opinion seems to believe, the relationship between well-being and environmentally friendly (or unfriendly) behavior is empirically not yet clear.

Some correlational studies even suggest the opposite: a positive relationship between environmentally friendly behavior and well-being [e.g., 5, 6]. These studies find that people who behave environmentally friendly are more satisfied with their lives. We cannot infer any causality of course – but these findings at least challenge the sacrifice assumption. This means that there may be a discrepancy between consumers’ expectations and the reality of behavior change. The sacrifice assumption might therefore not only be unhelpful in engaging consumers to behave differently, it may even be completely untrue.

What does that mean for us environmental researchers? We need to explore why consumers expect negative consequences of environmental behavior change and how to change that. We need to understand what these negative expectations are exactly. We need to take consumer well-being seriously and keep it in mind when designing behavior change policies and initiatives. And we need to rethink how we communicate about environmental behavior change and climate change mitigation.


References

[1] Kaplan, S., 2000 – Human Nature and Environmentally Responsible Behavior, in: Journal of Social Issues, 56 (3), 491-508.

[2] Prinzing, M., 2020 – Going green is good for you: Why we need to change the way we think about pro-environmental behaviour, in: Ethics, Policy & Environment, 1-18.

[3] Lorenzoni I., Nicholson-Cole, S. and Whitmarsh, L., 2007 – Barriers perceived to engaging with climate change among the UK public and their policy implications, in: Global Environmental Change, 17, 445-459.

[4] De Groot, J.I.M. and Steg, L., 2008 – Value orientations to explain beliefs related to environmental significant behavior, in: Environment and Behavior, 40 (3), 330-354.

[5] Binder, M. and Blankenberg, A., 2017 – Green lifestyles and subjective well-being: More about self-image than actual behavior?, in: Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 137, 304-323.

[6] Brown, K. W. and Kasser, T., 2005 – Are psychological and ecological well-being compatible? The role of values, mindfulness, and lifestyle, in: Social Indicators Research, 74, 349-368.


About the Author

Laura Krumm is a PhD fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication and a member of the Consumer & Behavioural Insights Group. In her PhD project she explores the intersection of environmental consumer behavior and well-being.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Marching toward the end of enlightenment?

How management and organization scholarship can help explain new forms of anti-enlightenment organizing

By Dennis Schoeneborn

In the scholarly field of management and organization studies, which is traditionally primarily concerned with business firms and their performance, we can lately observe an increasing attention toward addressing some of the most pressing societal challenges of our times, such as climate change, pandemics, inequalities, etc. (see George et al., 2016). At the same time, one of the most striking societal challenges has found comparably little attention by management and organizational scholarship up until today: the rise of anti-enlightenment movements and the potentially corroding effects they have for democratic societies.

The rioters’ march on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021 has showcased in painstaking ways how democracies can be endangered through social movements that center around anti-enlightenment and “post-truth” sentiments, incl. conspiracy theories, “alternative facts”, or other negations of scientific reason (for an overview, see Farkas & Schou, 2020). In the same context, the question arises how the scholarly field of management and organization studies can help address and explain the emergence of such anti-enlightenment movements and how they organize themselves.

To study the phenomenon of anti-enlightenment movements (i.e. coordinated agitation against scientific reason and facts, democratic values, or the rule of law), I suggest three research areas in organizational scholarship are of particular relevance and that each (in one way or another) cross-connect to the neighboring field of media and communication studies: 

(1) Explaining organizational emergence and dissolution

First, management and organization scholarship can explore questions of organizational emergence and design. This may involve questions like: To what extent can new forms of anti-enlightenment organizing (e.g., conspiracy theorists like QAnon or science denialists like the anti-vaxx movement) be explained with existing organizational theories – or to what extent are novel theoretical vocabularies needed to account for these phenomena? Also, how can anti-enlightenment forms of organizing be dissolved or “deconstituted” (cf. Bean & Buikema, 2015)? For example, how to counter and delegitimize anti-enlightenment ideologies in the public debate, if they are based on entirely different language games (Knight & Tsoukas, 2019), where the same signifier may have completely different meanings (e.g., truth is what is factually right vs. truth is when it serves my own interests)?

(2) Studying transformations of how the public discourse is organized

Second, management and organization scholarship can explore transformations of how the public discourse is organized. For instance, how did the media landscape change, especially through the rise of digital media, and how do these changes affect the possibilities of deliberative dialog and public will formation in democratic societies (Bennett & Livingston, 2018). In a similar vein, organizational scholars have critically addressed the spread of “fake news”, incl. the erosion of “the public” into multiple fragmented “publics” that gather info by-and-large from within their own filter bubbles and echo chambers (see also Knight & Tsoukas, 2019; Foroughi et al., 2019). Furthermore, in the same context, the question arises how to “detox” an increasingly polarized public discourse (Ward, 2019)?

(3) Exploring socio-technological conditions of “organized immaturity”

Third, management and organization scholarship can explore the underlying socio-technological conditions under which anti-enlightenment movements tend to emerge. For instance, in a recent working paper, Scherer and Neesham (2020) propose the term “organized immaturity” (which alludes to the notion of immaturity or Unmündigkeit in Immanuel Kant’s theory of enlightenment). As the authors hypothesize, individuals’ delegation of decision-making to socio-technological systems (such as algorithmic filtering of content in social media) tends to lead over time to an “erosion of the individual’s capacity for public use of reason” (p. 4; version from Dec. 22, 2020). Put this way, the concept may also help explain some of the root causes of what observers of the Capitol Hill events termed the “spoilt child version of America – so ‘free’ [that] it ignored the truths, laws and decency that actually enabled that freedom” (Paton Walsh, 2020).

To conclude, while we can find some first and important steps in the direction of exploring anti-enlightenment movements, further research in this direction is urgently needed, also as a chance to demonstrate management and organization scholarship’s ability to address (and potentially help solve) large-scale societal problems. In the same context, a recent Call for Papers by the journal Business Ethics Quarterly (Scherer et al., in preparation) invites for scholarly submissions that address the socio-technological conditions of “organized immaturity” and neighboring phenomena.


References

Bean, H., & Buikema, R. J. (2015). Deconstituting al-Qa’ida: CCO theory and the decline and dissolution of hidden organizationsManagement Communication Quarterly29(4), 512-538.

Bennett, W. L., & Livingston, S. (2018). The disinformation order: Disruptive communication and the decline of democratic institutionsEuropean Journal of Communication, 33(2), 122-139.

Farkas, J., & Schou, J. (2019). Post-truth, fake news and democracy: Mapping the politics of falsehood. New York: Routledge.

Foroughi, H., Gabriel, Y., & Fotaki, M. (2019). Leadership in a post-truth era: A new narrative disorder? Leadership15(2), 135-151.

George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. (2016). Understanding and tackling societal grand challenges through management researchAcademy of Management Journal59(6), 1880-1895.

Knight, E., & Tsoukas, H. (2019). When Fiction Trumps Truth: What ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ mean for management studies. Organization Studies40(2), 183-197.

Paton Walsh. E. (2020, Jan. 8). America was lucky to be saved by its democracy – even if some don’t realize itCNN.com.

Scherer, A. G., & Neesham, C. (2020). New challenges to enlightenment: Why socio-technological conditions lead to organized immaturity and what to do about it. Working Paper (version from Dec,, 22, 2020).

Scherer, A. G., Neesham, C., Schoeneborn, D., & Scholz, M. (in preparation). Socio-technological conditions of organized immaturity in the 21st century. Special issue in preparation for Business Ethics Quarterly (submission deadline: 31/05/2021).

Ward, S. J. A. (2019). Ethical journalism in a populist age: The democratically engaged journalist. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.


About the Author

Dennis Schoeneborn is Professor of Organization, Communication, and CSR at Copenhagen Business School and Visiting Professor of Organization Studies at Leuphana University of Lüneburg. In his research, he mainly focuses on organization theory, organizational communication, digital media and communication, corporate social responsibility and sustainability, as well as new forms of organizing.


Photo from Unsplash

Sustainability claims: In what sense are they performative?

By Lars Thøger Christensen

The number of products advertised as “green” or climate neutral has exploded in recent years, according to several newspaper articles. Should we be alarmed? To some extent, yes. In addition to cases of blatant fraud and manipulation, there is reason to be concerned when a plethora of green labels for products – ranging from milk over burgers to gasoline – competes for attention, especially when the variety confuses understandings of what it means to be sustainable.

Moreover, since carbon offset programs tend to obscure the fact that neither air travel nor fashion clothing is or can be CO2 neutral, the need to question and test green advertising claims is more pressing than ever. It is therefore commendable that politicians and NGOs in some countries call for more control with corporations that claim to market green or CO2 neutral products. 

The growth in green advertising claims attracts increased scrutiny, regulation and control.

At the same time, the expansion in green advertising claims illustrates the growing social, political and economic premium put on sustainability. Even if many such claims are superficial and hypocritical, their combined existence is performative beyond what individual corporations, NGOs and regulators can imagine and control. 

When all social actors express the significance of sustainability, something has changed.

Scholars of communication often emphasize that communication is constitutive of organizational and social reality. Communication, in their view, is performative because it does something more than simply describe a preexisting reality. Yet, in what sense does this logic apply to issues of climate change and the broader sustainability arena? 

To what extent has communication performative potential in the sustainability arena?

Critics of the performative view on communication view argue that green messages often fail to change anything, either because the senders are insincere or because larger social forces, such as profit motives or efficiency demands, override any talk about sustainability. The power of sustainability communication to shape organizational practices is therefore often described as naïve or overly optimistic. These are important objections to the performativity perspective. Yet, communication still plays a significant role in instigating better practices.

The articulation of sustainability ideals is often “the leading incident” in its performance (Austin, 1962, p. 8).

It is certainly true that sustainability communication is insufficient in and of itself to ensure more sustainable practices. Some sustainability claims may even prevent organizations from moving in the right direction. Nonetheless, communication about sustainability is an important dimension of sustainable action. Without a communicative engagement of major corporations with the values and ideals of sustainability, changes in that arena are likely to be significantly slower. 

Interestingly, critique and control of sustainability claims may help such claims to perform.

Talk about sustainability and green products tend to attract attention of critical stakeholders and increase internal and external pressure to walk the talk. Bold statements combined with public exposure and critique are important dimensions of what we might call the performativity “cocktail”. Green advertising claims and public statements about CO2 neutrality can be used to apply pressure on corporations and remind them of their promises. If major corporations, out of fear of attracting negative stakeholder attention, decide to remain silent on the sustainability issue, critics and regulators have less material to work with. In other words, a willingness on the part of corporations to expose themselves to critique is key.

Communicative performativity in the sustainability arena is a macro phenomenon.

Obviously, an organization does not become sustainable by simply “talking green”. In fact, it is a mistake to think of performativity – especially in complex areas such as sustainability – as a result of discrete and isolated organizational messages or claims. It doesn’t work that way. Even with the best intentions, green talk takes considerable time and effort to materialize into more sustainable practices. Moreover, it is rarely an organizational effect. Performativity is an outcome of multiple claims that are repeated and reformulated again and again over time and across multiple organizations, public as well as private. The sedimented effect of such dynamic interaction that lead to what Butler (2010) calls “socially binding consequences” (p. 147).

The performativity of sustainability claims should be understood as sedimented effects of multiple claims and understandings. 

The communicative performativity of sustainability claims involve reactions of stakeholders, competitors, legislators and consumers who are variously affected, inspired or provoked by the claims to expect and demand better practices. Still, there is no guarantee that the claims will stimulate significant changes. That, of course, is true for all types of messages. Messages and claims can be ignored, forgotten or outright contradicted by subsequent claims or other types of action. Without the claims, however, society and the physical environment is likely to be worse off. The trick is to use them actively to remind the senders of their social and environmental responsibilities. 


Further readings

Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Butler, J. (2010). Performative agencyJournal of Cultural Economy, 3(2), 147-161.

Christensen, L. T., Morsing, M., & Thyssen, O. (2020). Talk-action dynamics: Modalities of aspirational talk. Organization Studies

Fleming, P., & Banerjee, S. B. (2016). When performativity fails: Implications for Critical Management StudiesHuman Relations, 69(2), 257-276.


About the Author

Lars Thøger Christensen is Professor of Communication and Organization at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. 


Photo by Helena Hertz on Unsplash

Polarization and polarized opinions – that only happens to other people, right?

By Daniel Lundgaard

Recent developments in politics, especially during the American election, but also within the Danish system, has inspired a lot of talk about how social media is breeding polarization and radicalized opinions. However, from my experience, polarization is often seen as something that only happens to “those people” – often those of opposing views, and as a result, we often fail to recognize that we ourselves might fall victim to the issue of polarization. 

So, with this blog I hope to encourage you to think about how this could be happening to you – and maybe also help you recognize it when it is happening for “those people”, because polarization is a growing problem in our society. 

What is it?

Polarization – it refers to the division of people or opinions into opposing groups, and while it has been discussed since the 1800s, it has gotten much worse with the emergence of social media.

This is especially seen with regards to politics, in particular in countries with two-party systems, but research suggests that there is also significant levels of political polarization in countries with plurality electoral rule (Urman 2020). Importantly, polarization also extends beyond the political system, and it is a growing issue within society, and this is not just about Apple vs Android or Pc vs Mac, this is happening within both the climate change and the anti-vaccine debate, and it is sowing conflict and stopping us from collectively working to solve global challenges. 

How does it emerge? 

Often when I hear people talking about this topic, they talk about how certain groups of people (rarely themselves) manage to seclude themselves from opposing views. This is what is called selective exposure, and it refers to how certain people only pick news and information that align with their views.

This often leads to the growth of the so-called “echo chambers”, where the same opinions are echoed back to you again and again – eventually reinforcing current views and potentially leading to more radicalized opinions. 

Of course, a lot of you are actively seeking out opposing opinions, and might therefore not see polarization as an issue for you. However, there are some problems with only seeing polarization as something that emerge when people seclude themselves from opposing views, in particular two things are in my opinion overlooked: 

  1. Exposure to opposing views has actually been found to increase polarization (Bail et al. 2018). This means that just because you might be aware of the trap of selective exposure, and actively seek out opposing opinions you might not avoid the issue of polarization. 
  2. Polarization is not just a product of the news sources you are exposed to – but just as much, a result of the people you surround yourself with. This tendency for us to surround ourselves with like-minded others is often referred to as homophily

Homophily, is, from my experience, often overlooked in conversations about polarization, and that’s a mistake, because as humans we all tend to engage with and follow people that are interested in the same things. We watch YouTube videos about things that we are interested in, and we follow people on Twitter and Facebook that are similar to us – just take a look at who you follow on Twitter and I suspect that most are either from within your profession or share your world-views. Importantly, you also need to remember, that this behavior is further amplified by the social media platforms that are built to cultivate this, to consume as much of our time as possible and to ensure that we keep using the platform. So just by using these platforms, you might fall victim to increased polarization. 

Why is it a problem? 

Throughout history the idea of a “good” debate has always emphasized the importance of diversity – and not only that you are exposed to different views, but also that you listen to people with opposing views. However, when you mainly listen to opinions and information shared by linked-minded others, or information confirming your current views, we end up with the echo chambers, where you constantly are exposed to “echoes” of the same opinions. This is highly problematic, because not only does it stop people from developing their current views, it can also lead to more radicalized opinions. 

One example from my own research is from my analysis of climate deniers that often discuss the issue of climate change within more polarized communities. However, while some of these are willing to engage in debates about the issue, others fall victim to the same stories being echoed over and over again. In one of the more extreme cases I have seen how a group of people are arguing that climate change is happening because of a giant red dragon flying around our solar system, hiding behind a second sun. And while I am skeptical about their “evidence”, which includes badly photo shopped images or optical illusions, I also see that others, because it is shared by like-minded others, accepts the “proof” and how it reinforces their belief in the narrative. 

What’s next?

Naturally, I am not saying that any of you believe in a giant red dragon flying around our solar system causing climate change by spitting fireballs, but every time I have investigated an echo chamber, I see that they are certain that they are in the right, and that the other side is being brainwashed. Of course, the fact that a smaller group of people believe this theory might not be a problem in itself, but as we have seen time and time again, radicalized ideas seeps into the general debate, such as Mark Zuckerberg being a robot or in the Pizzagate-case that was covered previously on this blog. I just hope, that with this blog I have inspired you to be aware of the growing polarization in society, to think about how you might experience polarization in your everyday life, and reminded you that it is about more than excluding yourself from opposing views, because polarization and radicalization is a growing issue that goes well beyond politics. 


About the Author

Daniel Lundgaard is a PhD Fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research investigates how communication on social media (e.g. the use of emotions, certain forms of framing or linguistic features) shapes the ways we discuss and think about organizational and societal responsibilities.


Photo by Andrew Shiau on Unsplash

Branding in the COVID-19 pandemic

Not every time is the right time for real-time marketing

By Maha Rafi Atal and Lisa Ann Richey

This article is based on previously written piece for the Centre for Business and Development Studies.

As the global Covid-19 pandemic spread through Europe and North America, companies raced to communicate how they were responding to the crisis. Advertising that focuses on a company’s response to humanitarian crises is hardly new. Every holiday season features a parade of brands touting their seasonal partnerships with charitable causes. Yet these exercises in “Covid-branding” struck a particular nerve with both consumers and media commentators because so many of the brands stuck to the same script. Quickly that script even became the subject of satire.

‘The hallmarks of the coronavirus ad are so consistent they could be generated by bots. They begin with eerie drone footage of empty streets, a shot of a child staring plaintively out the window and then — cue the upbeat musical key change — a medical worker peeling off a mask, a guy jamming on a home piano, maybe a deeply pregnant woman rubbing her belly as if summoning a genie from its bottle.’

Amanda Hess, The New York Times, May 22, 2020

These patterns are important. In the uncertain early weeks of the pandemic, as governments were still crafting their responses, the stories brands told played a role in shaping how the public made sense of the crisis. What kind of a crisis was it? What sort of solutions did it need? What role should business play in delivering them? Covid-branding offered answers to those questions.

In this briefing note, we present a preliminary analysis of Covid-branding by companies in Europe and North America during March and April 2020. Our analysis finds that messaging clustered clearly into two ways could engage: ‘Covid-helping’ and ‘Covid-coping.’ These messages of ‘managing the pandemic’ and ‘managing yourself’ frame the consumption of goods and services as a way that consumers can show they care, presenting shopping as a form of everyday heroism. In this way, they make the case that private sector has a role to play in humanitarian response.

Economic Context

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken an extraordinary toll on the global economy. Measures to combat the spread of the virus, including border closures, and national lockdowns affecting one-third of the world’s population, shut down much industrial production and pushed white-collar professionals to remote work. These measures, coupled with a fall in consumers’ own confidence in response to the health crisis, contributed to rising unemployment, falling consumer activity, and the worst global recession since the Great Depression.

This context, with consumer activity declining overall and shifting from closed stores to online retailers, placed pressure on brands to compete for a share of the smaller e-commerce pie. At the same time, the recession placed pressure on marketing professionals to demonstrate their relevance at a time of overall corporate retrenchment.

Marketing Context

We focus our analysis on online communications, especially social media output. Social media marketing is often informal in tone and crafted quickly to respond to real-time events, so that brands can ride the waves of attention paid to viral news stories, from royal babies to sporting events.4 Most research about this practice has suggested brands choose to focus on positive or neutral stories to avoid mistakes, as humorous tweets about a serious event can backfire. That makes Covid-branding in the early weeks of the pandemic, when infection and death rates were rising, unusual.

We also examine promotional emails and newsletters, a form of content marketing. Content marketers have begun to develop more journalistic skills, including as storytellers and explainers of complex phenomena, and indeed many former journalists are employed as content marketers. Covid-branding, in which brands help consumers make sense of the emerging crisis, is an example of this phenomenon.

These online forms have not received much attention from researchers of corporate humanitarianism, which has focused on more traditional forms of print and broadcast advertising. We hope that this brief typology of how marketers used these newer forms in the Covid-19 pandemic encourages further research into these formats.

Covid-branding as Covid-helping

Brands that emphasized their role in helping to manage the pandemic did so in distinct ways. To understand this, we considered two aspects of each marketing message: First, whether companies are making an engaged or disengaged intervention. Companies which are engaged use their own business capacities toward the Covid-19 cause. Second, we consider whether companies are claiming to directly or indirectly impact the Covid-19 crisis itself. We investigate whether the brand claims to address the medical situation (direct) or indirect societal outcomes of the pandemic, including economic impacts.

The four modes of engagement
Direct Engaged: Business puts its core capacities into directly fighting Covid

Some companies with core operations in the fields directly linked to fighting the pandemic (i.e. health care or logistics companies) quickly began communications around their role.

This Novo Nordisk Facebook advertisement shows healthcare workers holding up a sign reading “Thanks” in Danish. Novo Nordisk is a leading pharmaceutical company. Photographs of healthcare professionals at work in Novo Nordisk-made protective gear signaled company’s direct engagement.


Examples of countries where these products are in use underscores that the company serves a modern, global, and racially and gender-diverse group of professionals. Other direct engagement included shipping company Mærsk tweeting about “Mærsk Bridge,’ an air bridge and supply chain operation to transport PPE to healthcare workers.

Indirect Engaged: Business puts its core capacities into indirectly managing Covid

Since direct business engagement was only possible for companies whose core business was in medical or logistical operations, many companies emphasised managing indirect societal impacts of the pandemic in their early response.

As a food and drinks business with a national supply chain, Starbucks was able to use its core capacities to address indirect economic impact of pandemic on food supply. Promotional email highlights corporate donations of 700,000 meals to food banks and use of company logistics network to assist foodbanks with transport.

Makes the case that hunger “is part of the crisis” to underscore relevance of this indirect engagement.

Other indirect engagement included Draper James, the American actress Reese Witherspoon’s fashion brand, announced on its Instagram account on April 2, donations of dresses for teachers (deemed essential workers during pandemic); campaign backfired when dress supplies ran out.

Direct Disengaged: Business helps others directly fight Covid

Businesses who could not easily link their core operations to medical needs instead highlighted partnerships to help others managing the Cover crisis.

A promotional email from Camper highlights the use of 3D printers from its manufacturing operation to produce medical visors. The Email also highlights donations of shoes and slippers to staff and patients in hospitals.


Camper does not claim that they are themselves engaged in work to combat the medical crisis, but rather that they are making resources and equipment available to others who can do so.

Other direct disengaged examples included fashion brand Armedangels making cloth masks while explicitly stating on Facebook that they could not protect the wearer – “we can’t produce medical masks” – but that 2 euro from the sales of each mask would be donated to Doctors Without Borders, or gas company Crusoe Energy Systems announcing that they were donating computing power to Stanford University coronavirus research.

Indirect disengaged: Business helps others indirectly manage Covid

Businesses who could not easily link their core operations to urgent economic or societal needs instead highlighted partnerships to help others managing the impact of the Covid crisis.

Instagram post by crowd-funding platform GoFundMe promoting that its platform can be used by consumers to identify causes to support. Following the link to “learn more” shows company also offering free consulting to nonprofits on how to raise additional funds.


The company is not mobilizing its own resources to support Covid-related causes, but rather facilitating donations to other organizations through information sharing. Such consulting activity is not an ordinary part of the company’s core business.

Other indirect disengaged examples included Facebook offering grants for small businesses in the United States and using its network to promote the existing loan program from the US government.

Covid-branding as Covid-coping

Many brand engagements we examined did not make any claims to be helping combat the crisis, or its social impact, at all. Rather they focused on helping individual consumers to cope with the circumstances surrounding the crisis and its personal impact on themselves.

Because these “Covid-coping” messages focused on helping individuals, rather than society or the economy, our analysis focused on the demographics of what kind of consumers each type of “coping” message addressed, as well as what the messages said. We identified three coping mechanisms brands sold to consumers in these Covid-coping messages: coping-through-practicality, coping-through-pleasure and coping-through-denial.

1) Coping-through-practicality

Like indirect Covid-helping, it portrays shopping as way to address consequences of the pandemic, but instead of focusing on consequences for society, it targets how consumers can address their own needs.

An Instagram post by Zoku, a real estate company managing coworking spaces, offered private office rooms for professionals needing a socially distant office away from their household. Emphasis is put on a spare and clean layout of the office and “peace and quiet” for workers.


It suggests appeal to professionals with children struggling with disruption to work practices in shared family homes. Coping-through-practicality engagements largely addressed themselves to consumers in their identities as professionals and parents.

Other coping-through-practicality examples included laptop manufacturers advertising tools for working from home; home furnishings brands advertising tools for cooking at home; and phone, internet and electricity providers advertising their services as essential infrastructure for remote working and home-schooling. Marketing of this type emphasizes how brands could help families and businesses carry on “as normal” during a period of crisis.

2) Coping-through-pleasure

Exclusively comprised of brands in the fashion, fitness and lifestyle industries, with messages targeted to young and predominantly white women; present luxury goods as means of coping with pandemic through ‘self-care’.

A promotional newsletter for the “athleisure” brand Jolyn depicts a slim and muscular white woman on an inflatable pool float wearing sunglasses and painted toenails. Sunlight appears to reflect off the body of water in which she floats, with a caption advertising a “Bikini for staycation.” The Image and caption present the lockdown, which compelled individuals to stay home from their usual recreational activities, as a “staycation,” an unexpected source of free time at home.

Other coping-through-pleasure messages included advertisements from fashion brands including Anthropologie and Nicole Miller advertising loungewear as “self-care style” and clothing for “virtual dates or happy hours,” as well as make-up brands offering online tutorials for those with “more time (inside) on our hands.”

These messages present the health crisis as an opportunity for women to take a “break” from work outside the home and relax with home-bound versions of their usual recreational activities. They draw on influencer culture, which depicts recreation as a full-time occupation. Coping-through-pleasure offers the chance to purchase some of the influencer lifestyle, where the pandemic is not a stressor, and one can escape at a moment’s notice to a sunlit pool.

3) Coping-through-denial

Targeted widely to all consumers, these messages suggested that consumers shop as though the pandemic were not taking place, or advertised products which made light of the pandemic.

A full page newspaper advertisement in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s mostread newspaper, on 7 March, by two Italian ski resorts, Bormio and Livigno, captioned “Live the mountain with full lungs: There’s a snowy place where feeling great is contagious!”


At the time of advertisement running, lockdown was dissuading tourists from traveling to Italy, putting pressure on ski resorts, while deaths from the respiratory virus – which kills by targeting the lungs specifically – were at their highest in northern Italy, where ski resorts are concentrated.

Other coping-through-denial advertisements included Passports, a travel rewards program, contacting members in mid-March, when concerns about virus spread were focused on cruise ships, to advertise “the best pricing and exceptional bonuses” on celebrity cruises, and online retailers of topical and humorous T-shirts advertising limited range clothing with coronavirus-related captions. Notably, these engagements came broadly from the early weeks of our sample, and brands appeared to shy away from explicitly seeking to make light of the crisis or encouraging consumers to travel in spite of it, by the end of March 2020 when more severe lockdown and suppression measures were in place across Europe.

Implications for Brands

The different types of early Covid-branding in our sample, whether they focus on helping or coping with the pandemic, offer some cautionary lessons for brands.


About Commodifying Compassion

‘Commodifying Compassion: Implications of Turning People and Humanitarian Causes into Marketable Things’ is a research project focused on understanding how ‘helping’ has become a marketable commodity and how this impacts humanitarianism. An international team of researchers funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (2017-2021), we examine ethical consumption intended to benefit humanitarian causes from the perspectives of consumers, businesses, NGOs and recipients. The research will produce a better understanding by humanitarian organizations and businesses leading to more ethical fundraising, donors weighing consumption-based models as part of more effective aid, and consumers making more informed choices about ‘helping’ by buying brand aid products. To learn more about our work, visit the website.

Download full briefing here


About the Authors

Maha Rafi Atal is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Copenhagen Business School, where her research focuses on corporate power, corporate social responsibility and corporate influence in the media. She is a co- Investigator on the Commodifying Compassion research project. http://www.maha-rafi-atal.com

Lisa Ann Richey is Professor of Globalization at the Copenhagen Business School. She works in the areas of international aid and humanitarian politics, the aid business and commodification of causes. She is the principal investigator on the Commodifying Compassion research project. https://www.lisaannrichey.com


Photo by Colton Vond, “Obey Consumerism,” March 3, 2019. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

Making Corporate Sustainability More Sustainable

For too many firms corporate sustainability is itself not a sustainable endeavor

By Andreas Rasche

Corporate sustainability initiatives are blossoming around the world. While some firms have built robust infrastructures around their efforts, other firms struggle to do so, making their engagement a short-lived endeavor. In other words, corporate sustainability is itself often not sustainable enough to create lasting change in organizations. While there is hope that firms’ sustainability strategies are becoming more robust (e.g., because basic market conditions have shifted in favor of sustainability and make it difficult to ignore), there is still much work to be done to create sustainable corporate sustainability efforts.

The Challenge of Integration

One important barrier is the belief that “integrating” sustainability is more important than having an own dedicated organizational infrastructure around it. In 2019, the Danish multinational Maersk laid off a significant part of its sustainability team (including the head of the division). The aim of the reorganization was to merge its ongoing sustainability activities with work undertaken in other departments of the company. While integration may sound like a sound strategy and for many years consultants advised firms to make sure that sustainability work is not detached from the core of the firm, it also comes at a price:

In many firms, integration “waters down” sustainability efforts, makes them less visible in the organization and hence easy to neglect.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not arguing against integrating sustainability into organizations. I am arguing against using integration as a cover-up strategy to make sustainability efforts themselves less sustainable. Integration can easily be misused. Take the example of business education. For many years, business schools have struggled with finding the right balance between creating standalone courses on sustainability topics and integrating related content into the regular curriculum. Over time, integration proved to be difficult and only very few schools succeeded with truly embedding sustainability content across their curriculum. The main hurdle was to free up room in otherwise already packed courses and to also move beyond a symbolic adoption of sustainability content in classes.  

Business schools’ experience holds a lesson for corporations. If you integrate, you need to ensure that wherever integration happens enough resources support the journey (e.g., time, knowledge but also interest). Often, this is where integration fails…

The Challenge of Corporate Size

Another barrier to making sustainability more sustainable is corporate size. Recently, I published a paper that analyzed which types of firms are delisted from the UN Global Compact (UNGC). We analyzed over 11,000 firms (both active and inactive participants in the UNGC). One key finding was that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were much more likely to leave the initiative than larger firms. It would be easy to conclude from this that SMEs are less sustainable than larger firms – but this would be the wrong conclusion.

What it shows is that SMEs struggle to develop lasting organizational structures around their sustainability efforts. UNGC delisting is based on firms’ failure to submit a mandatory annual implementation report. While larger firms usually do not struggle with such reporting, because this task is anchored somewhere in the organization, smaller firms find it more difficult to make reporting a lasting endeavor (e.g., because of resource constraints or lack of knowledge). Often, sustainability commitments by SMEs are based on internal champions who push relevant efforts and also sign the organization up to the initiatives like the UNGC. Once these people leave the organization or assume a different role within the firm, there are little formal structures that could fill the void that is left behind.

SMEs sustainability work is often more implicit and tied towards the communities they operate in. However, in a more transparent world where sustainability is increasingly datafied and benchmarked such implicit efforts may be easily confused with corporate sustainability lacking sustainable implementation.

Sustainable Corporate Sustainability

So, what is the bottom line? Making corporate sustainability itself more sustainable remains a key management challenge, both for larger and smaller firms. Creating durable organizational structures that can withstand the pressures of crisis situations and related cost-cutting efforts is one important way to address this challenge. Such structures have to be integrated with the rest of the organization to be not an add-on, but they also need to have a life on their own. What may even be more important is that corporate leaders and associated Boards need to develop an unambiguous vision for where the firm is supposed to go with its sustainability activities. This puts Board-level engagement with sustainability topics at the very top of the agenda, both for practitioners and academics.


About the Author

Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society at Copenhagen Business School and Visiting Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. He just released “Sustainable Investing: A Path to a New Horizon” (together with Herman Bril and Georg Kell). More information at: http://www.arasche.com


Photo by Egor Vikhrev on Unsplash

Aspirational talk for a challenging walk

Professor Mette Morsing takes over the UN PRME  

By Jeremy Moon

The CBS Sustainability Centre and the Department of Management, Society & Communication (MSC) recently held a Panel Discussion to farewell Mette Morsing as she becomes the new Head of PRME (Principles for Responsible Management) based at the UN Global Compact office in New York.

This is clearly a challenge. Mette will be a rare academic in a world of international officials. She will lead a small team that supports the PRME initiative. PRME is intended to transform business and management education through research and leadership. It consists of 800+ business and management schools that have signed up to implement six principles concerning responsible and sustainable business education.  

Of course, the 800+ schools reflect very different educational and business cultures, and may have very different understandings of responsible and sustainable business. Doubtless the schools have other concerns so they may prioritize these differently… not least in these troubled times.

So in order to help – as well as challenge – Mette, we designed the Panel around the question: “What Should Business Schools Know and Do about Sustainability?”  The Panel duly raised challenges for Mette, reflecting their various vantage points around business and management education. The Panel members were:

  • Lise Kingo, Independent Board Member and former CEO & Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact (by video)
  • Florence Villeséche, Co-Director of the Diversity and Difference Platform and Associate Professor at Dept. of Management, Politics and Philosophy
  • Gregor Halff, CBS Dean of Education
  • Caroline Aggestam Pontoppidan, Academic Director of CBS PRME & Associate Professor at Dept. of Accounting
  • Claus Meyer, food entrepreneur and Adjunct Professor at the Department of Management, Society & Communication.

Mette Morsing responded to the perspectives raised by the Panelists and other participants were drawn into the conversation. This covered a range of issues and approaches to the sustainability challenges:

From the role of the ethic of care for people in business, to the role of data in sustainability; from how to integrate and govern environmental, social and governance responsibilities to forms of business school engagement for sustainability; and of course, strategies for green transformations.

I was particularly struck by the way that Claus Meyer contextualized his own work in the state of the food business which he described as being characterized by greed, obesity and other recipes for ill-health, over-supply, and starvation among other things. So, Claus takes a big picture and identifies and develops his responsibilities in his bakeries, restaurants and philanthropic work in this light.

How should Deans of Business Schools regard ‘their business’?

On the one hand, they could refer to the market for business management education, demand and supply; vital assets; competitors and collaborators; the impact of and influence upon regulators. But what I get from Claus is the big picture thinking.

So should the Deans bring into their strategic thinking the circumstances from which their students come – and don’t come, and the state of the businesses that their graduates enter (the distributions, resource uses, the dominant values)?

Isn’t this what they need to know for understanding and developing their impact on sustainability?  Is this the logic of a stakeholder approach to sustainability?

OK, Jeremy this is just talk… but as Mette reminded us in one of her most significant papers, aspirational CSR talk may be an important resource for social change … and thus part of the walk [1]. So, my parting advice to Mette is to try and get Business School Deans to better understand and connect with their wider context in order to act for sustainability.


References

[1] L.T. Christensen, M. Morsing & O. Thyssen (2013). CSR as aspirational talk. Organization, 20(3), 372-393.


About the author

Jeremy Moon is Professor at Copenhagen Business School, Chair of Sustainability Governance Group and Director of CBS Sustainability. Jeremy has written widely about the rise, context, dynamics and impact of CSR.  He is particularly interested in corporations’ political roles and in the regulation of CSR and corporate sustainability.

Different pathways to sustainability standard adoption

How local norms may be able to help drive the spread of voluntary programs – the case of the RSPO in Japan.

By Hattaya Rungruengsaowapak, Caleb Gallemore & Kristjan Jespersen

There has been an explosion in voluntary programs targeting value chains’ negative social and environmental impacts (Green, 2013). Working across boundaries, however, is challenging, and requires bridging different business cultures and moral expectations. Tensions and consequential misunderstandings between members from different countries are common.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm oil (RSPO) is a good example. It has seen a five-fold jump in Japanese membership in just five years, going from under 40 members in 2016 to more than 200 in 2020. This has happened in the absence of meaningful governmental support or even consumer demand, making it a particularly interesting case.

Source: The RSPO (as of August 9th, 2020)

The RSPO was founded in 2004, led by WWF, Unilever, and some upstream players in the palm oil value chain. Its objective is to incentivize sustainable palm oil production using voluntary certification. Although oil palm is one of the most efficient oil-producing crops, its growing consumption has led smallholders and large agribusiness to convert tropical forests to plantations, causing habitat and biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and wildfires.
While the RSPO welcomed its first Japanese members the year of its founding, it only recently saw memberships skyrocket, despite limited concern among Japanese consumers. These developments took place in three main phases.

Phase 1 – Testing the waters (2004 – 2011)

For nearly the first decade of the RSPO’s existence, Japanese membership growth was sluggish. Japanese companies that joined the RSPO early on mostly relied on international markets for a significant part of their business.

These companies included major trading houses like Mitsui & Co., Ltd, and consumer goods manufacturers like Kao. Multinational companies headquartered in the West, such as Unilever and Walmart, also implemented sustainable palm oil commitments in Japan, but these actions had little impact on their Japanese suppliers.

Some smaller Japanese companies also joined the RSPO in this phase, in response to some niche consumer demand. These niche actors, however, did not scale up demand across the country.  

Phase 2 – Setting the groundwork (2012 – 2016)

Between 2012 and 2016, a larger number of Japanese firms joined annually than in the previous period, though never more than ten in any given year. In 2012, when Tokyo became a host city candidate for the ultimately ill-fated 2020 summer Olympics, the RSPO began directing more attention towards the Japanese market.

A central goal was to convince the local Olympic Committee to include the RSPO in their official sourcing code. According to an informant, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) began to hold corporate sustainable palm oil workshops the same year. Other events helped boost RSPO recognition during this period. For example, in 2015, the Japanese government officially adopted and started to promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the same year, the Consumer Goods Forum, a global network of manufacturers and retailers, issued its Sustainable Sourcing Guideline. T

The period closed with the largest sustainable palm oil event in Japan to date – the RSPO Japan Day 2016 – where RSPO advocates draw on these events and urged more than 350 attendants from major companies in Japan to become members.

Phase 3 – Takeoff (2017 – 2020)

By 2017, many companies using palm oil in their products were aware of the issues associated with oil palm production. Two powerful actors, however, were central in pushing firms from awareness to action. The first was the Tokyo Organising Committee for the Olympics Games (TOCOG), which officially included certified sustainable palm oil in the Games’ sourcing code. The other was AEON, the biggest retailer in Japan and a member of the Consumer Goods Forum, who vowed to procure 100% certified sustainable palm oil for more than 3,500 of its house-brand items by 2020.

These moves forced several suppliers to seek certified sustainable palm oil sources. Thankfully, RSPO advocates ongoing work had led to the creation of various programs to support Japanese firms’ RSPO membership.

The RSPO opened a Japan office in 2019, and at around the same time, the WWF started Japan Sustainable Palm Oil Network (JaSPON). With suppliers already prepared, some downstream firms found it more attractive to join the RSPO at this time. Competitors of existing RSPO members, in turn, started making sustainability commitments for fear of public criticism. 

Throughout the RSPO’s development in Japan, end-product consumers’ pressure has had a limited impact on firms’ decisions to join. The pressure to conform to sustainability standards created by the advocates targeting lead firms with vast supply networks, however, appears to have accelerated RSPO’s market growth. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is the Japanese norm of long-term relationships between firms with buyers-suppliers ties, which, in some cases, include cross-shareholdings between them. Such a group of firms is alternatively known as keiretsu.

Although keiretsu is not well defined, it is generally referred to as personal, capital, and business relationships in relation to business transactions (Yaginuma, 2014). Collective commitments commonly observed in firms within a keiretsu may have made lead firms more likely to support their suppliers’ efforts to get certified, rather than switching to other suppliers.

Even though RSPO memberships in Japan have increased rapidly, it is unclear whether this will translate into substantial increases in certified sustainable palm oil uptake. Many manufacturers’ suppliers are relatively small. They are often sensitive to any additional costs, and limited bargaining power with which to procure certified oil.

Moreover, since end consumer awareness continues to be low, businesses receive no additional remuneration for their sustainability investments, which may force them to cut costs elsewhere.    

These problems aside, Japan exemplifies an intriguing model of sustainable business practice adoption resulting from the local business norms. Thanks to the strong ties between Japanese firms, the RSPO was able to establish a foothold in the industry despite the lack of demand for sustainable palm oil from the civil society – a sharp contrast to patterns in the West. 


References

Green, J. F. (2013). Rethinking private authority: Agents and entrepreneurs in global environmental governance. Princeton University Press.

RSPO. (n.d.). Members. Retrieved 2020-08-09

Yaginuma, H. (2014). The Keiretsu Issue: A Theoretical Approach. Japanese Economic Studies.


About the authors

Kristjan Jespersen is an Assistant Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He studies the growing development and management of Ecosystem Services in developing countries. Within the field, Kristjan focuses his attention on the institutional legitimacy of such initiatives and the overall compensation tools used to ensure compliance.

Hattaya Rungruengsaowapak is a fresh graduate from Business, Language and Culture at CBS. She has extensive experience in Japan, especially within supply chain and sustainability from a leading consumer goods manufacturer prior to her studies at CBS.

Caleb Gallemore is an Assistant Professor in the International Affairs Program at Lafayette College. He holds a Ph.D. in Geography and within his teaching, he focuses on southeast Asia, global land use, sustainability, research methods and geographic information science.


Photo by Nazarizal Mohammad on Unsplash

What does it mean to call someone a stakeholder?

By Matthew Archer

The word “stakeholder” is ubiquitous in sustainability discourse. We see it in corporate sustainability reports, policy documents, business plans, and sustainable development guidelines. Stakeholders are discussed in parliaments, in corporate boardrooms, at sustainability conferences, and in classrooms around the world.

The stakeholder concept was popularized with the 1984 publication of R. Edward Freeman’s Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, where the stakeholder was defined as a person or group who are able to affect or are affected by an organization pursuing its goals. Although the term has been hotly debated ever since, it is clear that Freeman’s work has had a huge impact on management discourse, especially when it comes to social responsibility and sustainability.

In my own ethnographic research over the past few years among people I refer to as “sustainability professionals,” I’ve heard the word stakeholder mentioned countless times, in nearly every context, from venues like the COP21 negotiations in Paris to casual conversations with friends and colleagues at the pub.

Students in my classes use it fluently to refer to groups as distinct as shareholders, consumers, and factory workers. They’re able to classify these different stakeholders according to how important they are from the perspective of the company. Sometimes, the stakeholder concept can seem too expansive, with students questioning whether anyone is not a stakeholder.

But in my own research, I’ve found that although it is pretty widely accepted that most people are stakeholders in one form or another, there is a particular imaginary surrounding stakeholders. In a recent article, I found evidence for this by looking at the images that accompany mentions of the word stakeholder in sustainability reports and standards guidelines.

More often than not, these images depict workers in the Global South who are almost always people of color, and who are often women.

Similarly, when people use the word “stakeholder” in interviews, they are typically referring to people in producer countries, with the implication that these distant, marginalized stakeholders are the ones who stand to benefit the most from sustainability projects and, crucially, stand to lose the most if those projects are unsuccessful.

This led me to question the power dynamics that are inherent in the stakeholder concept. There’s a big literature in geography and anthropology on the power to categorize groups of people, drawing on decades of critical research on international development. More to the point, when companies talking about engaging with stakeholders in their corporate sustainability and corporate social responsibility initiatives, most of the time they’re actually treating the people we think of as stereotypical stakeholders as stakes, that is, what stands to be lost in a game of chance.

Given the power differences between people who can affect an organization and people who are affected by it, perhaps it’s time to come up with an alternative to the stakeholder concept.


About the author

Matthew Archer is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School. He is an ethnographer and political ecologist interested in corporate sustainability and sustainable finance. Visit Matthew’s personal webpage.

By the same author:  Teaching (and doing) anthropology in a business school


Photo by Antonio Janeski on Unsplash

Tax havens, COVID-19 and sustainability

By Sara Jespersen

At CBS we will host a workshop and two public events (see below for sign up) on corporate tax and inequality next week 24th – 26th June 2020 – the COVID-19 crisis has underlined the pertinence of this topic in major ways.

Taxation, tax havens and corporate tax have been high on the agenda for a while. Since the outbreak of the global financial crisis of 2008 corporations seeking to minimize their tax payments have been under close watch from the media, civil society and politicians with a focus on ensuring that corporations pay their “fair share”. The OECD and the EU have gone to quite some length to try to stop tax-optimizing behavior through revising and modernizing existing rules and legislation. In collaboration with the IMF and the World Bank they have invested time and resources in strengthening tax systems, governance and improving domestic resource mobilization in low- and middle- income countries. This work is ongoing and corporate taxation is already high on the list of priorities for the world community. But then along came COVID-19.

Taxation is central in two ways when we reflect on the pandemic and what will follow. Firstly, governments have passed historic economic recovery packages to ensure that the private sector stays afloat and to avoid mass lay-offs during the lockdown period in 2020. The question is what can we expect in return? Secondly, the emerging discussion on the disruption caused to national economies should be thought into long-term solutions for sustainability including tax.

“Tax haven free” recovery packages

Poland and Denmark, followed by Italy, Belgium and France have attached an explicit conditionality to their COVID-19 state support that companies cannot be registered in tax havens.

In light of this clear conditionality, there has been a media storm in Denmark, when a journalistic investigation revealed that several companies that government support had an ownership structure that was associated with tax havens and with a consumer outcry on social media. This prompted one of the companies, a well-known bakery “Lagkagehuset”, to take out full-page advertisements in daily newspapers to counter the criticism and explain the company structure. The CEO also did a lengthy interview on the issue of the company’s ownership structure to a major daily newspaper. 

Two immediate takeaways can be drawn from this:

  1. It has revived the discussion about the usefulness of tax haven blacklists (see more on this by CBS professor Leonard Seabrooke in Danish).  Which countries should be on them, and what does it mean if you as a business (or individual) are associated with a tax-haven on such a list? One thing is clear, measures to push countries into greater cooperation will not in itself comprise a substitute for measures to make companies act responsibly.
  2. It has emphasized the importance of corporate governance including a reflected approach to responsible corporate tax practice. The fact that there are so-called tax havens out there warrants companies and individuals to decide how or if they want to be associated with these. If yes, companies must accept that they may be liable to critique and journalistic and even political inquiry into what that association means. It should come as no surprise that association with these jurisdictions may entail suspicion.

Tax havens are not the only concern in relation to companies’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) behavior in this pandemic. The financial times reported how NGOs and investors are challenging shareholder primacy as it leads to growing inequality. Corporate governance and ESG, including tax, is now more than ever one to watch for companies that wish to be part of a sustainable business community in the short-term and the long-term.

Opportunities in the long term

Recovery packages are short-term measures. However, in the long term,  the pandemic offers an opportunity that must not be missed in terms of taking a serious look at which direction our global society is heading.

While the pandemic, in theory, cannot tell the difference between the poor and the rich, it is clear that the existing inequality in our society is all made acutely visible during COVID-19. In the US more than 40 million have lost their jobs during the pandemic.  In Sierra Leone, there is allegedly just 1 available ventilator in the entire country (for a population of 7 million, where Denmark has more than 1000 ventilators for a population of 5.8 million).  As for the gendered impacts even for the better off, there are indications that women are less able to find time to prioritize research and publishing during the crisis than men are (). While big tech companies look to come out of this crisis more profitable and, possibly, powerful than ever.

These are just examples of how inequality is front and center in this crisis and how it offers an important opportunity to consider if the direction we are heading in is where we want to go.

With many countries having been in a complete]  lockdown and economic activity at a standstill, this presents a unique opportunity to truly rethink how well the existing economy has worked for our societies and planet. The city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands has seized the opportunity to embrace the concept of the doughnut economy and the OECD is arguing that it makes discussions about challenges of digitalization of the economy and a minimum level of tax for MNEs more pertinent.

Tax is the central tool for governments to raise revenue and engage in redistribution. However, it is much more than a technical tool in an administrative toolbox.

It is the modern social contract for individuals and businesses as highlighted by the discipline of fiscal sociology. Short term, long term, whichever way, you approach it tax should, and will, play a central role in the debate about where we want to go from here towards a more sustainable, and more equal, future.

It provides a key source of revenue to finance vital public services, it can act as an explicit redistributive tool central to fighting inequality, and if used wisely, it can incentivize the behavior of corporations and individuals including the transition to more sustainable practices. Some of these things will be discussed at CBS in June.

A timely workshop on corporate tax and inequality

At CBS we are hosting a timely interdisciplinary workshop as a collaboration between the department for Management, Society and Communication, CBS center for sustainability, and the Inequality platform on corporate tax and inequality. We are bringing together researchers from around the world to meet (virtually) and discuss different pieces of research emerging on this relationship. We have legal analysis, economic modelling, qualitative analysis of tax administration efforts, and sociological analysis of tax professionals and wider societal tendencies on the agenda.

Our keynote speaker Professor Reuven Avi-Yonah will give a (virtual) public lecture (SIGN UP HERE) on Thursday 25th of June 2020 at 14:15 CET. He will speak to the short, medium and long term revenue options in light of the pandemic including a chance for a Q & A. He is a renowned scholar and has published widely on international tax, history of the corporate form, and CSR and tax among other topics.

 The workshop concludes on June 26th 2020 with a (virtual) practitioner panel to discuss knowledge gaps (SIGN UP HERE) from the perspective of professionals of various disciplines. Bringing together professionals from media, NGOs, tax advisory services, tax administration and business. This is likely to be a lively debate with the aim of furthering the CBS tradition of engaging the private sector on what could be fruitful avenues for further research in this axis of relevance between tax and inequality.


About the author

Sara Jespersen is a PhD Fellow at Copenhagen Business School. Her research is on the emerging relationship between responsible business conduct and corporate tax planning of multinational enterprises. In a complex governance context, there are now signs of corporations’ self-regulation and the emergence of voluntary standards. Sara is interested in what this means for our understanding of corporations as political actors and the notion of political CSR.


Image by pickpik

I Am What I Pledge – The importance of value alignment and crowdfunder behavior

By Kristian Roed Nielsen

Together with my colleague Julia Binder we recently published a paper on the role of values in driving crowdfunding backer behavior. The study found that altruistically framed campaigns have a higher chance for funding as compared to campaigns that emphasize egoistic or environmental motives, but even more importantly, that message framing needs to be aligned with the personal values of the backers. As such, our study highlights important similarities between resource mobilization in social movements and in crowdfunding.

The growth of reward-based crowdfunding as an alternative source of innovative financing has recently triggered great enthusiasm for its potential to enable a greater diversity of entrepreneurs to access to important seed funds (Gerber and Hui, 2013; Sorenson et al., 2016). This enthusiasm is in part related to the fact that – as compared to other forms of innovation capital and indeed other models of crowdfunding, such as lending or equity-based – the consumer plays a central role as a financier of the reward-based innovation. Considering that consumers represent a different kind of investor (Assenova et al., 2016), they are also driven by a wider and distinct range of motivations as compared to traditional investors (Lehner, 2013).

Understanding this new kind of investor has thus been subject to increasing academic debates, especially regarding the success criteria of reward-based campaigns (Mollick, 2014).

However, empirical evidence to date has produced mixed results – while some studies suggest a social- or environmental value orientation of a given reward-based campaign to significantly increase its odds of receiving funding (Calic and Mosakowski, 2016; Lehner and Nicholls, 2014), other studies have found no such effect (Cholakova and Clarysse, 2015; Hörisch, 2015).

Thus, despite enthusiasm from a range of actors, it is unclear under which conditions reward-based crowdfunding campaigns are successful in receiving funding. In this respect, the role of message framing has received little interest, despite its potential for shedding light on the criteria for crowdfunding campaign success. Against this background, we sought to examine how founders’ framing of a reward-based crowdfunding message affect the mobilization of backers and what values are conveyed in successful crowdfunding efforts.

The study in a nutshell

The study draws on framing theory as utilized in the literature of social movement mobilization, which focuses on how messages attract audience attention and in turn plays a pivotal role in securing movement participation (Benford & Snow 2000). Considering that in reward-based crowdfunding entrepreneurs are equally concerned about mobilizing backers for their campaign, we investigate whether entrepreneurs’ framing affects backer’s attention and influences their interpretation and action towards the crowdfunding campaign.

Based on the theoretical literature on human values (Schwartz 1994), we operationalize these linguistic frames as egoistic, altruistic, and biospheric (Axelrod, 1994; Groot & Steg, 2008;  Stern, 2000). These three values respectively reflect considerations on “what is in it for me”, “what is in it for others”, and “what is in it for the environment” when purchasing a given product (de Groot and Steg, 2008). In order to observe causality between these three linguistic value frames and individual pledging behaviour the study employed an experiment which replicated an online crowdfunding platform to better resemble what individuals would see in the real world and thus providing us with what we hope are more external valid observations (Grégoire et al., 2019).

More specifically, we investigated how the framing of reward-based crowdfunding messages as either egoistic, altruistic, or biospheric affected the success of eight hypothetical projects seeking financing in return for the respective product. Especially this designing of a realistic experimental setting represented a huge hurdle, but also a necessary one.

We find that too often experiments lack the realism of what they are seeking to study which we believe is a real detriment to results they yield. We thus wanted to move outside not only the lab but also create a user experience that best captured what an actually crowdfunding platform looks like.

For researchers entering with minimal programming experience it was a steep, but really rewarding learning curve. If a professional programmer saw our work, they would likely have a meltdown over the messy coding, but it worked and inspired many new ideas. 

Fresh insights

The results provide fresh insights into an emerging debate relating to the potential of crowdfunding to support entrepreneurship.

Firstly, our findings show that while some consumers respond positively to campaigns emphasizing intrinsic benefits, an emphasis on such collective benefits cannot be seen as a silver bullet for crowdfunding success. Indeed, while we find that an emphasis on altruistic benefits leads to an overall higher willingness to support the campaign, we find no such effect in the case of products emphasizing the benefits for the environment, but rather that the attractiveness of a crowdfunding campaign is dependent on the alignment with the values of the respective target audience.

Secondly, when seeking to garner funding via a crowd, the importance of customer segmentation and a thorough understanding of these customers’ values and expectations remains the most relevant task before designing and launching the crowdfunding campaign.

Our results clearly show that the willingness to invest in a campaign largely depends on the alignment between backers’ values with the values transmitted in the campaign.

Finally, the findings provide implications for sustainable entrepreneurs, for whom crowdfunding has been emphasized to provide a relevant fundraising opportunity (Testa, Nielsen, et al. 2019).

On the one hand, the fact that crowdfunding is driven largely by consumers rather than professional investors does not in itself change consumer demands; demands which more often than not fail to correlate with sustainable behavior (Sheeran 2002; Webb & Sheeran 2006). While one may argue that the motivations of funders for pledging towards a campaign may be different from those of a professional investor, our results seem to confirm that consumers seek to satisfy their own values when deciding to invest in a crowdfunding campaign. On the other hand, this does not imply a lack of significant potential for sustainable entrepreneurs’ success in reward-based crowdfunding.

Considering the increasing concern for sustainability and because of our finding that value alignment has a particularly high potential in a crowdfunding context, sustainable campaigns focusing on a clearly delineated target group have a high likelihood to reach their aspired funding goal.


About the author

Kristian Roed Nielsen is Assistant Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research strives to examine what, if any, potential role the “crowd” could have in driving, financing and enabling sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation. Kristian’s Twitter: @RoedNielsen


References

Assenova, V., Best, J., Cagney, M., Ellenoff, D., Karas, K., Moon, J., Neiss, S., Suber, R., Sorenson, O., 2016. The Present and Future of Crowdfunding. Calif. Manage. Rev. 58, 125–135.

Axelrod, L., 1994. Balancing Personal Needs with Environmental Preservation: Identifying the Values that Guide Decisions in Ecological Dilemmas. J. Soc. Issues 50, 85–104. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1994.tb02421.x

Benford, R.D. & Snow, D.A., 2000. Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, pp.611–639. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/223459.

Calic, G., Mosakowski, E., 2016. Kicking Off Social Entrepreneurship: How A Sustainability Orientation Influences Crowdfunding Success. J. Manag. Stud. 53, 738–767. https://doi.org/10.1111/joms.12201

Cholakova, M., Clarysse, B., 2015. Does the Possibility to Make Equity Investments in Crowdfunding Projects Crowd Out Reward-based Investments? Entrep. Theory Pract. 39, 145–172.

de Groot, J.I.M., Steg, L., 2008. Value Orientations to Explain Beliefs Related to Environmental Significant Behavior: How to Measure Egoistic, Altruistic, and Biospheric Value Orientations. Environ. Behav. 40, 330–354. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916506297831

Gerber, E.M., Hui, J., 2013. Crowdfunding : Motivations and Deterrents for Participation. ACM Trans. Comput. Interact. 20, 34–32. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2530540

Grégoire, D.A., Binder, J.K., Rauch, A., 2019. Navigating the validity tradeoffs of entrepreneurship research experiments: A systematic review and best-practice suggestions. J. Bus. Ventur. 34, 284–310. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusvent.2018.10.002

Hörisch, J., 2015. Crowdfunding for environmental ventures: an empirical analysis of the influence of environmental orientation on the success of crowdfunding initiatives. J. Clean. Prod. 107, 636 – 645. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2015.05.046

Lehner, O.M., 2013. Crowdfunding social ventures: a model and research agenda. Ventur. Cap. 15, 289–311. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691066.2013.782624

Lehner, O.M., Nicholls, A., 2014. Social finance and crowdfunding for social enterprises: A public-private case study providing legitimacy and leverage. Ventur. Cap. 16, 271–286.

Mollick, E., 2014. The dynamics of crowdfunding: An exploratory study. J. Bus. Ventur. 29, 1–16. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusvent.2013.06.005

Schwartz, S.H., 1994. Are There Universal Aspects in the Structure and Contents of Human Values? J. Soc. Issues 50, 19–45. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1994.tb01196.x

Sheeran, P., 2002. Intention—Behavior Relations: A Conceptual and Empirical Review. European Review of Social Psychology, 12(1), pp.1–36. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14792772143000003.

Sorenson, O., Assenova, V., Li, G.-C., Boada, J., Fleming, L., 2016. Expand innovation finance via crowdfunding. Science (80-. ). 354, 1526 LP – 1528.

Stern, P.C., 2000. New Environmental Theories: Toward a Coherent Theory of Environmentally Significant Behavior. J. Soc. Issues 56, 407–424. https://doi.org/10.1111/0022-4537.00175

Testa, S. et al., 2019. The role of crowdfunding in moving towards a sustainable society. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 141, pp.66–73. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004016251831953X.

Webb, T.L. & Sheeran, P., 2006. Does changing behavioral intentions engender behavior change? A meta-analysis of  the experimental evidence. Psychological bulletin, 132(2), pp.249–268


Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Supplier perspectives on social responsibility in global value chains

By Peter Lund-Thomsen

Worldwide there is now a search for new ideas, business models, and innovations that can help us in rebounding from the global impact of COVID-19 and bring our planet and world onto a more sustainable future trajectory. One of the areas where this is evident is sustainability in global value chains where we have seen a global disruption of world trade in ways that have affected not only global brands but also suppliers and workers around the world. Some observers argue that this will result in a global backlash against attempts at making global value chains, for instance, the global garments and textile value chains, more sustainable. I.e. that COVID-19 will make brands and suppliers sacrifice long-term sustainability considerations at the expense of short-term business survival.

In my understanding,however, what these recent events demonstrate is not so much the need for new innovations and “thinking out of the box” but rather considering how the current organization of global value chains and thinking around sustainability have overlooked the importance of “supplier perspectives” on what social responsibility actually means in these chains. Amongst many practitioners, especially in the Nordic countries, there has been a tendency to assume that global brands’ adopting corporate codes of conduct and sustainability standards, asking value chain partners (i.e. suppliers) to implement these, and then auditing for compliance as well as helping suppliers to build capacity to enforce these guidelines would be sufficient.

The case of Bangladesh illustrates why this approach is insufficient. First, many brands have cancelled their orders with Bangladeshi garment suppliers, leaving local factories at the verge of bankruptcy, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of workers at risk, potentially without any income to support themselves and their families. Second, even with orders that have been completed, some brands have refused to honor their contracts and either not paid for the goods received, substantially delayed payments, or asked for discounts on present or future orders from suppliers.

Globally, there has been condemnation of these “unfair” trading practices by both suppliers themselves (particularly in Bangladesh but also highlighted via social media) and also international labor advocacy organizations.

And third, the level of outrage is so strong that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association has allegedly been considering placing a ban on particular brands so that they may not source garments from Bangladesh in the future as they have largely failed to live up to their “buyer” responsibilities towards suppliers and workers in Bangladesh.

To me, a key lesson learned from these events is that global brands, business associations, labor advocacy organizations, NGOs, researchers and students can no longer simply “overlook” supplier perspectives on social responsibility in global value chains.

The only realistic way forward is to take account of the concerns of these suppliers if global value chains are to be more resilient in the long run.

Many of these supplier concerns are already well-documented but tend to be either ignored or discarded by “global North stakeholders” in their policies, practices or discourses more broadly – for instance, in how they conceive and talk of sustainability in sustainability conferences around the world.

Just to recap some of the main points that we have learned from studies of supplier perspectives on social responsibility:

a) The factory manager dilemma – e.g., factory managers and owners – for instance, in the global garment industry – have had been asked for continuous price declines by many of their buyers while the same brands have asked for increased levels of social compliance at the same time.

b) The same dilemma arises when factory managers are asked to provide living wages around the year by their buyers when demand is seasonal and price competition is fierce in the global garment industry. For most suppliers having workers sitting around idle for part of the year is not a viable business option.

c) In addition, there is a general unwillingness amongst most (but not all brands) to co-finance – for instance, 50% – of the necessary social upgrading of factories in countries such as Bangladesh. Hence, brands tend to push “social responsibility” onto their suppliers rather than co-investing in and jointly bearing the costs of these improvements themselves.

d) Profits earned from selling goods sold to end consumers in the global North remain highly unequally shared amongst the (ironically called) value chain partners – often with suppliers winding up with 10-20 percent of the value of final retail price.

e) In addition to this, global North (read: Scandinavian) stakeholders including brands, government representatives, NGOs, students, and others often perceive “sustainability” in value chains as mainly relating to environmental and (to a lesser degree) social responsibility in the value chain. Hence, the general talk often seems to be about how suppliers should make environmental and social investments without considering the need for addressing existing inequalities – i.e. unequal distribution of value in these chains – and the business aspects of running supplier operations. In fact, for many suppliers in countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, sustainability is first and foremost related to “economic” or “financial” sustainability. Only when suppliers are profit-making can they afford to invest in social and environmental improvements. This is not exactly rocket-science but a point that often seems to be completely overlooked by Scandinavian “sustainability” advocates.

f) Finally, what is sometimes considered “social responsibility in global value chains” in the global North might be narrowly defined as the payment of minimum wages, overtime payment, social insurance, and the implementation of occupational health and safety measures in supplier factories. Of course, I am all for supplier factories implementing these measures. However, I also sympathize with many suppliers, NGOs and other stakeholders in the global South that point to other aspects of social responsibility that may be more contextualized.

For instance, in South Asia, many studies have pointed to factory managers helping to finance the education/school fees of the children of some of their workers. Financing the weddings of young workers or the weddings of the sons/daughters of their workers is another sign of social responsibility amongst many factory owners in South Asia.

From a Scandinavian perspective, this may not be related to “social responsibility”.

However, in the sub-continent, where your wedding day is often considered the most important day in your life, and very important for your family’s wider social standing in society, employers’ financial support may be seen a very valid act of practicing “social responsibility”.

Providing tea to your workers may also be considered an act of “social responsibility”. Again – from a Scandinavian perspective – this may not be considered a big act of social responsibility. However, then again, is it really that difficult to understand? How many of us in Scandinavia do not value it when our own employers provide us with free tea or coffee? It gives us the opportunity to socialize with our colleagues or take a much needed break between different work tasks. Why should it be any different in countries such as India and Pakistan where tea drinking could almost be considered a national sport?

Moreover, some factory managers in South Asia allow especially young mothers or women with even slightly older children the option of either working part-time (when the kids are in school or someone else is at home to take care of them) or engaging in home-working so that they may look after their kids while engaging in for instance (embroidery) whenever there is a free moment. Of course, I do recognize that home-working is also often associated with receiving very low wages and not having any social insurance.

However, during COVID 19, even in the Scandinavian context, homeworking has become an absolutely essential part of keeping private companies and public institutions afloat crisis under such compelling circumstances. It has also involved many challenges for families with young children who had to engage in home-based work (typically computer-based) and taking care of their children simultaneously.

Yet if homeworking is indeed not only allowed but also encouraged by most employers in Scandinavia, why it is that brands in the global North sometimes impose an outright ban on their suppliers outsourcing particular work tasks to “home-based locations”?

No wonder that many factory owners and managers in the global South believe that global brands practice double standards when it comes to their social responsibility requirements (i.e. ‘do as I say but not as I do’).

In conclusion, there seems to a great need in Scandinavia for raising our own levels of awareness about the commercial challenges faced by suppliers and acknowledge the myriad ways in which “social responsibility” may be thought of and practiced – of course, without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Compliance with core labor standards remains a key concern, but it is not the only way of conceiving of supplier responsibility in global value chains.


About the author

Peter Lund-Thomsen is Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research focuses on sustainable value chains, industrial clusters, and corporate social responsibility with a regional focus on South Asia.


More about Covid-19 pandemic on Business of Society blog:

Building A Better Planet: Toward a Sustainable Post-COVID-19 Society

Small, yet important – and still responsible. Reflections on SMEs and social responsibility in times of Covid-19

How the pandemic can reset cities and transform aspects of urban mobility

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark

How to make food systems more resilient: Try Behavioural Food Policies

Lobbying and the virus – three trends to take note of


Image by International Labour Organization ILO

The rise of social media bots – how do they work, and how can you spot them?

By Daniel Lundgaard

Bots and their impact on online conversations is rapidly becoming an important problem on social media. If we look at the conversation around the current Coronavirus pandemic, somewhere between 45% to 60% of the accounts on Twitter that promoted disinformation were identified as bots, in the anti-vaccine debate researchers have found that bots are used to “weaponize” online health communication and create discord, and in the climate change debate research suggests that about a quarter of all tweets are produced by bots.

These bots are used in a wide range of misinformation “strategies”. Based on findings from my own research and a review of current research on the topic, I have summarized what I perceive as the three main “strategies” where we know that bots have been used:

Amplifying certain opinions. The simplest strategy where bots have been used is in efforts to amplify a specific opinion, often by continuously re-tweeting the same tweet or link, or by only endorsing the shared posts of people with similar interests.

Flooding the discourse. Malicious actors often seek to increase confusion and challenge the current status quo e.g. the scientific consensus that climate change is man-made. In this strategy, bots are used to spread large volumes of information and start multiple conversations (often covering both sides of the debate), which makes it easier to question the current consensus. A similar tactic is as often seen in disinformation campaigns where large amounts of “fake news”-outlets create a new media ecosystem, and because of the increased volume of information, the voice of the validated outlets is “drowned”, which empowers the fake news outlets.

Linking issues to current tensions. Efforts to link debates to current tensions seek to polarize opinions and cause divide as seen within the vaccine debate where a debate was associated with current racial/ethnic divisions. Here bots are mainly used to either explicitly make the connection in their own tweets, or by commenting on content shared by others, suggesting the presence of a link to certain socioeconomic tensions.

With these strategies in mind identifying the users that in reality are bots seems like a crucial task. However, detecting and adequately handling these bots has proven to be a challenge for the major social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Nonetheless, after reviewing current tools made available for bot detection, current research on the topic and my own findings from an analysis of roughly 5 million tweets about climate change, I have identified a few tips that might help you to spot these bots – and potentially their impact on the conversation. For this list, I have left out bot-detection approaches that are based on reviewing patterns not normally visible to most users e.g. network features detection if the same group of users follow and re-tweet/like another group of users with similar language and message.

The user profile

Reviewing the user profile appears as one of the best ways for “normal” users to detect a bot. The most simple indicators could be a missing profile picture, however sophisticated bots might use stolen photos and here a quick “reverse image search” (right-clicking on the profile image and “search google for image”) might reveal something about the source of the image e.g. that it is taken from someone else. A generic (or poorly worded) profile description might also be an indicator, and in my own research I have found that reviewing the content of user profile descriptions is even better than reviewing the content of the tweets shared on a specific topic for predicting opinions.

Different or “stiff” language

The conversation on Twitter is often informal and people often use abbreviations or structure their sentences differently, which can be difficult to copy. As a result, bots might appear mechanical or rigid in its language – often returning to the same topic, share the same link over and over again, or returning to a topic that should have outlived the rather short life-cycle of some topics on Twitter.

Lack of humor

Granted, everyone misunderstands a joke sometimes and people can have trouble with understanding sarcasm. Because of this, understanding humor, especially sarcasm, also remains one of the major challenges for bots to both understand but also respond accordingly. This is particularly relevant on Twitter, where conversations may refer to shared understandings, inside jokes or memes used in a certain way within a community, which even sophisticated bots may have trouble understanding and adapting to.

Temporal behavior

Reviewing past activity, in particular with focus on patterns in temporal behavior might also be useful e.g. by spotting that a user seems to tweet at the same hour every day if it shares multiple tweets pr. Minute, or if the user immediately retweets or comments on other posts, which can be an indicator of an automated and pre-defined response.

It is important to acknowledge that not all bots are seeking to manipulate political conversations on social media. However, while some bots definitely are created for noble purposes, bots are increasingly becoming an important tool for various (potentially malicious) actors and their efforts to shape conversations on social media – especially Twitter. As a result, we, as a society needs to become better at detecting bots and limiting their power to shape the online debate, and I hope that by reading this blog I might have broadened your understanding of bots – and hopefully you have picked up a few tricks to spot potential bots appearing in your Twitter feed.


About the author

Daniel Lundgaard is a PhD Fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research investigates how communication on social media (e.g. the use of emotions, certain forms of framing or linguistic features) shapes the ways we discuss and think about organizational and societal responsibilities.


Photo by ?? Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Building A Better Planet: Toward a Sustainable Post-COVID-19 Society

By Daniel C. Esty

Covid-19 has dominated policy thinking across the world for several months – highlighting our vulnerability to unexpected threats, the fundamental reality of global interdependence, the critical role of science and data, and the value of collaborative efforts in response to a common challenge. And when the short-term public health crisis abates, the middle-term focus will be on economic recovery. But we should think now about the longer term – and the need to build a sustainable society that steps up to another looming threat: the prospect of destabilizing climate change.  Thus, as we rebuild our economy, we must do so in a way that moves us toward a clean and renewable energy future as well as addressing other pressing sustainability issues including air and water pollution, waste and chemicals management, and our depletion of natural resources.

To help launch the conversation about the pathways to a sustainable future, I offer below 10 key elements to consider. These concepts build on the ideas laid out in the recently released book, A Better Planet: 40 Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future, that emerged from a multi-year research and policy initiative at Yale University, where I teach. For more information on the Yale Environmental Dialogue, please see the website.

1 ) End of externalities

A sustainable future requires that we commit to an end of externalities as the foundational principle for environmental policy.  This starting point would require that we implement the Polluter Pays Principle, which means that those who release air and water pollution or greenhouse gases would have to stop these harms or to pay for their pollution.  Likewise, any user of public natural resources – including water for irrigation, forests for timber, grasslands for grazing, or public lands for the extraction of oil, natural gas, or minerals – would be required to pay full price for the resources they take. 

To be clear, making companies pay for the harms they cause will expose some business models as fundamentally unsustainable and only profitable when externalities are not internalized.  These enterprises will have to remake their business strategies or go under.

2 ) Change in systems thinking

We must acknowledge that we live in a highly integrated world, as COVID-19 has so painfully made clear.  Complex human and ecological systems require moving beyond traditional siloes to systems thinking — and regulatory design that links energy, environmental, and economic policies.  More fundamentally, we must accept the fact that we will need to pursue multiple goals simultaneously and learn to do so in an integrated way that accepts the reality that our goals will sometimes be in tension — and thus need to be traded off and balanced.

3 ) Top-down targets & bottom-up implementation

We must recognize that policy frameworks and structures require both top-down targets and bottom-up implementation. This lesson has become plainly evident in the climate change context, where it is now clear that presidents and prime ministers do not control all the levers of society that must be pulled to deeply decarbonize our economy.

 To achieve a sustainable future, mayors, governors/premiers, and other subnational political leaders – who often control economic development, transportation systems, and other key points of policy leverage — must play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building a more resilient society.

Likewise, business leaders – who also make day-to-day choices that profoundly shape the prospect for moving society onto a sustainable trajectory – must also be included in this conversation.  Fortunately, both the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) expressly acknowledge the need for broader engagement of exactly this kind.  

4 ) New economic model

New policy tools must replace the 20th Century command-and-control regulatory model with economic incentives and other market mechanisms.  While the government mandates of the past have allowed us to dramatically reduce pollution levels compared to five decades ago, further progress depends on price signals and a commitment to making emitters pay for the harm they cause.

5 ) New roles & various actors

Environmental progress must recognize new roles for various critical actors.  Specifically, in decades past, the business world was seen as the source of pollution problems. But today, most corporate leaders recognize the need to be good environmental stewards so as to maintain their company’s social license to operate. They recognize that old notions about the mission of corporations being centered on shareholder primary and the maximization of profits has given way to a stakeholder model in which businesses have responsibilities not only to shareholders, but also to their customers, suppliers, employees, and the communities in which they operate. 

Individuals are also advancing sustainability in new and important ways that go well beyond their long-recognized role as voters. Specifically, individuals today can make a difference as green consumers who make choices every day about which products to buy and which companies are selling sustainable goods and services. Likewise, a growing set of sustainability-minded investors are tracking environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance metrics to ensure that their portfolios align with their values – and they hold shares in companies that are showing the way toward deep decarbonization and sustainability more generally. 

And some impact investors are putting money directly into sustainability projects and enterprises with an expectation that their funds will make a difference in society as well as a financial return.

  Finally, all of us with a smartphone can serve as watchdogs — capturing and sharing evidence of environmental wrongdoing on social media.  We are also all positioned to offer comments and participate in public environmental debates in many places and ways that were not possible prior to the Internet era.  This expanded access should deepen public participation and improve the diversity of perspectives that get factored into policy decisions.

6 ) Sustainable markets

We need sustainable markets that incorporate new lessons from various emerging fields of science and other emerging academic disciplines. Industrial ecology, for instance, offers new methodologies for mapping the flows of energy and materials across the economy.  In this regard, as we rebuild business in the many sectors devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, we should look sector-by-sector for opportunities to create closed loop production processes that generate zero waste.  Such a system would focus on water recapture and the reuse and recycling of other materials.

We might, in this spirit, shift away from plastic packaging that generates greenhouse gas emissions as it is produced and too often accumulates after use in the ocean – and move toward fiber-based materials that can be more easily recycled or composted.

7 ) New tools & Big Data

Policymakers have a set of new tools at their disposal that can be deployed in support of a sustainable future.  Big Data, in particular, has abundant applications that can help us to reduce environmental impacts – tracking emissions, identifying best practices in pollution control and natural resource management, and providing metrics that help us to identify policy leaders to emulate and laggards who should be spurred to do better.  And while 21st information and communications technologies have transformed how sports teams pick players, businesses market to their customers, and all of us make purchases, technological solutions have done rather little to reshape the environmental realm.  But recent advances in data analytics, genomics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning all show significant promise for having important environmental applications.

8 ) Ethical foundation

We must build an ethical foundation for 21st Century sustainability that captures the public’s evolving thinking about core values and fundamental principles. Most notably, the idea of environmental justice and concerns about equity and inequality make it clear that our policy programs must pay attention to who benefits from environmental commitments and who gets ignored.

Indeed, who pays for environmental inaction – including lead exposure from aging water pipes or asthma risk when urban air pollution is not abated – has become a fundamental question. 

As we seek to “build back better” after COVID-19, climate change equity issues need to be given a more prominent role – both the intergenerational burden that the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere threatens to leave for today’s young people and the reality that movement toward a clean energy future will dislocate some communities, industries, and demographic groups in ways that will require transition assistance.

9 ) New ways of communication

We need a new approach to environmental communications and a commitment to translate expert guidance and science to the public in a manner that makes sense to everyday citizens. Tony Leiserowitz and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication have demonstrated, for example, that political leaders must learn to distill and effectively translate scientific concepts and results to the public.  And as Thomas Easley makes clear in his Better Planet essay “Hip Hop Sustainability,” we need new strategies that bring the climate change conversation to inner cities and other subsets of society in a way that engages those communities in their own language and on their own terms.

10 ) Innovation

Finally, a spirit of innovation must permeate the push toward a sustainable future.  To create an environmental policy framework that is lighter, faster, and more effective than our regulatory programs of the past, we must harness the entrepreneurial capacity and creativity that exists all across the world.  Innovation broadly-conceived has already brought us technology breakthroughs in wind, solar, tidal, wave, and fuel cell power. But we must seek innovation beyond the technology domain. We need to be equally committed to fresh thinking and new approaches to finance and investments in clean energy, government policies and incentives, public engagement strategies, and public-private partnerships. 

Such innovation can reduce the cost of creating a sustainable future and diminish the perceived tradeoff between environmental progress and economic prosperity.

Despite recent challenges, the promise of a more sustainable society seems ever closer, but still just over the horizon.  Progress thus depends on sustainability pioneers who are willing to run out front, innovate broadly, take on risks, accept failures (and redeploy resources quick when unsuccessful pathways are identified), and redouble their commitment to efforts that show promise.

This commentary builds on Dan Esty’s April 2020 virtual lecture at Copenhagen Business School and the University of Copenhagen.


About the author

Dan Esty is Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale Law School


More about Covid-19 pandemic on Business of Society blog:

Small, yet important – and still responsible. Reflections on SMEs and social responsibility in times of Covid-19

How the pandemic can reset cities and transform aspects of urban mobility

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark

How to make food systems more resilient: Try Behavioural Food Policies

Lobbying and the virus – three trends to take note of


Image by Free images

Small, yet important – and still responsible. Reflections on SMEs and social responsibility in times of Covid-19

By Søren Jeppesen

One thing seems to be clear by now – that we are all challenged by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes all enterprises, large as well as small firms. As states and individuals, also SMEs (Small and Medium-size Enterprises) need to figure out how to respond. SMEs constitute the vast majority of enterprises on the Globe, and their response to the current situation, including how they behave in terms of social responsibilities matter a lot. If jobs disappear, or wages are lowered and/or working conditions deteriorate, a large number of persons (employees) and families will be negatively affected. If environmental standards are lowered the nature and humans will be negatively affected.

The perception of what constitutes social responsibilities varies substantially across countries. As SMEs in different parts of the world face very different situations (see Spence et al. 2018), also in times of Covid-19, the responses will be very different. We already witness intense debates on what is the ‘appropriate way’ of reacting. Most SMEs have a less formalized way of operating compared to larger firms. While this is viewed as leading to being less socially responsible compared to large firms this type of organizing – not being so standardized – maybe be is an advantage in an unknown situation like the one that we are witnessing right now. Agility, creativity and ability to make a decision fast could be an advantage right now like the Danish small firms that have adjusted their production to include critical health products show.

However, the examples are probably the exceptions rather than the rule as only a smaller section of the SMEs typically can be characterized like this. The majority of the SMEs are operating in more traditional, standardized ways and have a more limited range of responses as things stand right now.

In our part of the world, governments have implemented numerous support schemes trying to assist the private sector, including SMEs, in various ways. The Danish SME has various public-funded support packages and a highly formalized labour market cushioned by a number of social benefit programs to factor into the considerations. Hence, we can insist that an important part of managing continues to be keeping an eye on working conditions and the environmental impact. In other parts of the world like the developing countries, governments have so far done less and given the much more informal nature of the economies, SMEs are much harder effected.

The Ugandan SME is faced with no economic assistance and a complete lockdown of the society leading to a dramatically reduced – if not totally halted – operation and turnover. In addition, no social benefits exist to assist employees who are losing their job. So, the overarching topic concerns the socio-economic dimensions of how many SMEs that survive while retaining a good number of the staff – or on the more pessimistic side – how many that go down leaving scores of people unemployed and without an income affecting individuals as well as tons of families.

What can we then expect in terms of social responsibilities in such a situation? Given that some developing country SMEs are characterized as having ‘family-like culture’, we would expect such enterprises to retain the employees (Tran and Jeppesen, 2016). Even though the SMEs retain the employees, owners and managers personally have to handle the insecurity that accompanies the situation as well as relating to the concerns among the employees.

The family-like type of organization could ensure that employees are kept and not fired. Still, we know that a number of SMEs pay little if any wages in times of limited production. Hence, having a job with no income does not make a difference right now.

Small enterprises in developing countries are also praised for their community engagement in taking up activities ensuring women (Langevang et al, 2015) or young people income. The localized response may assist in various ways of helping citizens in dire need. Religion and which church that you are a member of play a role. Some churches, as well as the wealthier members (and among these SME owners and managers), come forward to assist their congregation and the less well-off families in times of need. 

We need to wait for the answer to whether and to what extent Covid-19 will be marked by resilience and a protective and more caring (social) response by SMEs – or rather by the tough reality of downsizing and/or closing down with numerous dire consequences.


References

Langevang, T., Gough, K. V., Yankson, P. W., Owusu, G., & Osei, R. (2015). Bounded entrepreneurial vitality: The mixed embeddedness of female entrepreneurship. Economic Geography, 91(4), 449-473.

Spence, Laura J., Jedrzej George Frynas, Judy N. Muthuri, Jyoti Navaret, 2018. Research Handbook on Small Business Social Responsibility: Global Perspectives. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Tran, Angie Ngoc & Søren Jeppesen. 2016. SMEs in Their Own Right: The Views of Managers and Workers in Vietnamese Textiles, Garment, and Footwear Companies. Journal of Business Ethics, 137(3), 589-608


About the author

Søren Jeppesen is Associate Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research concerns the development of firms in developing countries. He focuses on SMEs, CSR and driving forces (or lack of same) for strategies of SMEs in developing countries in engaging in CSR (or not engaging).


More about coronavirus pandemic on Business of Society blog:

How the pandemic can reset cities and transform aspects of urban mobility

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark

How to make food systems more resilient: Try Behavioural Food Policies

Lobbying and the virus – three trends to take note of


Image by US Army Africa

The problem with CSR: why companies need to listen to their activist employees

By Luda Svystunova and Verena Girschik

The current pandemic has exposed blatant social injustices and inequalities around the world, prompting businesses to face their societal impact. Before the crisis, however, a rising wave of employee activism had already started to call into question the extent to which companies had managed to meet their moral obligations. Employees at Wayfair, Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Amazon have protested against their employers’ stance on issues ranging from climate change to migration, pushing them to deliver on public commitments or refusing to contribute to morally dubious projects, such as Amazon’s facial recognition software that had potential to contribute to racial discrimination.

As the crisis has provided ample opportunities to reflect on and reconsider the role of business in society, we believe that this is the time to learn from employee activism – and to learn to embrace it as a force for change.

The problem with CSR

Virtually all companies today pursue a CSR agenda, strengthened by the global agreement around Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the growing power of corporate sustainability rankings, standardization of sustainability reporting and the proliferation of consultancies who offer support to companies pursuing a shared value approach to social responsibility. Aligning business and societal value creation, such approaches promise win-win solutions in addressing social ills. Yet it is the very promise of win-win solutions that undermines critical engagement with companies’ roles in creating or reproducing social ills.

First, CSR has become the corporate worlds’ dominant paradigm for change that is positive and comfortable. If CSR managers want to avoid eyerolls, especially from top managers and shareholders, they need to speak the language of profit and present a measurable business case for addressing social ills. By enabling companies to do well by doing and looking good, however, CSR may also cultivate complacency. This does not mean that CSR has failed to encourage companies to embrace more responsible business conduct. But it is a potent substitute for engaging with the many uncomfortable social problems as to which companies have hitherto failed to do the right thing.

Second, the triumph of CSR is symptomatic of and reproduces social inequalities. CSR is driven by privileged employees and managers often based in the corporate headquarters – members of the organizational elites. The voices of others in the company, as well as the people affected by corporate activities, are seldomly included. Indeed, Kaplan (2020) suggests that the business case alienates employees and does not deliver on promises to stakeholders. Misguided CSR initiatives can actually make things worse for those they aim to help. By limiting attention to win-win solutions, CSR has failed to pay attention to those who lose.

How can employee activism help?

Activist employees are those employees that care about and actively promote social justice in their company. With this, we call upon companies to stop viewing employee activists as antagonists or nuisance and instead invite activism in order to face problems head on. Specifically, we suggest that companies should consider the following:

1 ) Accept activist employees rather than “handle” their dissent.

Activist employees bring to the front the less comfortable social problems that a company creates, reproduces, or in other ways is complicit in. Commonly, companies manage dissent by firing those employees who speak out against corporate misdeeds. Activist employees’ voices may be uncomfortable, but if fired, they will certainly still be heard – if not by management, then certainly by the public.

2 ) Listen to dissenting voices and engage with uncomfortable truths.

Employee activists can help by shedding light onto just such areas where businesses may have missed the mark. Representing social movements inside the company, they generate awareness of problems it may have missed or not taken seriously and even contribute to solutions. Most importantly, the break with the complacency of corporate CSR practice and drive the more radical change that is so badly needed.

3 ) Confront privilege and listen to employee activists

Companies should be mindful of who gets to have a say in the issues that matter. It is easy to overlook issues voiced by activists on the ground – across the operations and especially in distant local offices. Yet they are often the ones with a first-hand understanding of social ills as well as externalities produced by the company.   

4 ) Tackle social injustices within.

Not all employee activism is driven by personal values and compassion for others: alongside staff walkouts for greener business at Google and Amazon, Google’s temporary workers and Amazon’s warehouse employees fight for fair labour conditions. In tackling social ills, companies should never overlook the struggles of their own employees.

CSR is still needed, but we can do even better. What we are proposing is inconvenient, disturbing, and uncomfortable, but it’s time for companies to get things right.


Our critique of CSR is inspired by the following contributions:

de Bakker, F. G., Matten, D., Spence, L. J., & Wickert, C. (2020). The elephant in the room: The nascent research agenda on corporations, social responsibility, and capitalismBusiness & Society, in press.

Feix, A., & Philippe, D. (2020). Unpacking the narrative decontestation of CSR: Aspiration for change or defense of the status quo?Business & Society59(1), 129-174.

Kaplan, S. (2020). Beyond the business case for social responsibilityAcademy of Management Discoveries, 6(1), 1-4. 

Khan, F. R., Munir, K. A., & Willmott, H. (2007). A dark side of institutional entrepreneurship: Soccer balls, child labour and postcolonial impoverishmentOrganization studies28(7), 1055-1077.

Schneider, A. (2019). Bound to Fail? Exploring the Systemic Pathologies of CSR and Their Implications for CSR Research. Business & Society, in press.


About the Authors

Luda Svystunova is a Lecturer in International Management at the Institute for International Management, Loughborough University London. Luda’s research examines multinational firms’ interactions with their non-market context through corporate social responsibility and corporate political activity, particularly in non-Western settings. She is also interested in the role individuals within and outside companies play in these interactions. Luda’s Twitter: @LudaSV

Verena Girschik is Assistant Professor of CSR, Communication, and Organization at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School. Verena’s research focuses on the responsibilities of companies in the contexts of complex societal problems and humanitarian crises. Interested in relations between companies, governments, NGOs, and other societal actors, her research explores how companies negotiate their roles and responsibilities, how they perform them, and to what consequences. Verena’s Twitter: @verenaCPH


Image by GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg

Lobbying and the virus – three trends to take note of

By Dieter Zinnbauer

Writing about anything in relation to Covid-19 is rather hopeless. Any attempt to describe current developments has a half-time of 30 minutes. Any attempt to speculate what lies ahead drowns in the flood of near infinite plausible trajectories. And any and every attempt usually ends up with the hammer and nail problem, resulting in the author pushing his favorite pre-existing policy to ask  as an essential ingredient in the crisis response, much as the whole world looks like nails when you hold the proverbial hammer in your hand.

Nevertheless here a foolish attempt to jot down some small observations of how the Covid situation is currently influencing how businesses lobby government, or in jargon corporate political activity. In a nutshell: there are indications that there is more, that it is more conventional and that integrity in lobbying is more in demand than ever.  In detail:

1) A lot to win and a lot loose means a lot to do or: “Everybody is upside down. All the clients are upside down” (US lobbyist)

Lobbying is typically understood as anti-cyclical as it tends to experience an uptick in economic downturns. Yet this time is a difference in scale and a difference in kind. Covid-19 is an essential threat to a vast array of industries and companies that until a few weeks ago looked very solid. At the same time, the scale of financial support and transformational depth of regulatory responses that are being considered and dispersed are absolutely unprecedented in the post WW2 era.

Existential stakes convert into a sharp increase in lobbying. Recent data shows that lobbying spending in the US has climbed to near-record levels already and the centrepiece of legislation, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is the second most lobbied upon a piece of legislation.

There are new clients – that also fuel the lobbying boom – three quarters of lobbying filings in the US that mention COVID issues are by new principals. And there is a flourishing new service line out there helping companies shape new rule-writing and expedite approval for their anti-corona products. Many are desperate, everyone is out to get a piece of the cake and as even the most adept watchdogs have a hard time with tracking all proposed rule-changes and handouts it may also be a good time to slip in this long-coveted, yet unrelated regulatory tweak in one’s own favour that otherwise might have not withstood public scrutiny.

2) Forward to the basics tools, tactics and incumbents.

It seems likely and there are indications that corporate political activity is for the time being concentrating on tried and tested tools and relations. First, the Covid-19 response is the hour of the executive as the first phases of the policy response are firmly driven by the executive in most countries around the world. Emergency powers are being invoked, far-reaching policies are hastily cobbled together in small committee, and implemented qua executive orders. Ex-ante legislative deliberation is compressed, public consultations are limited and judicial reviews are only slowly kicking into gear.  All this means that lobbying is currently heavily focused pragmatically on very tangible outcomes and the executive branch of government as for example, a top German lobbyist has described in a recent interview.

Expected budget cuts and trimmed client accounts for public relation agencies in the first-affected Asia-Pacific also suggest that more sophisticated upstream strategies for framing and influencing public debates in the longer run are being put on the backburner and efforts are shifting towards core government relations work. Add to this that social distancing measures and going virtual makes it difficult to cultivate new relationships. As a result, existing, networks and long-time friends who may have walked through the revolving door between public office and private practice carry the day dealing substantive incumbency advantages to the already well-connected and established players both in terms of in-house lobbying departments and hired firms.

3) An incipient debate about the fundamentals close to home – and high stakes for integrity

Financial distress and zero-sum dynamics in what are ultimately finite support programs demand maximum resolve when making one’s case to the government. Many more interests than usually have come to the fore to compete for the pie and some of these competitors can be expected to act very opportunistically. All this puts enormous stress on integrity in lobbying. But this comes at a time when the integrity of the corporate political activity is perhaps more important than ever. 

Policy-makers enter into uncharted territory with many of their interventions and stabilization efforts. Peak uncertainty means they need accurate information on the situation of different interests and stakeholder groups and how they may be affected by different policy options. Policy-makers need more of this information more urgently than ever. Extreme fragility means that the consequences of mis-judgments are substantive.

All this highlights how important the honest, proportionate, evidence-supported articulation of interests and concerns to government is at this moment in time. In the eye of the public business appears to be largely failing in this area. Less than 40% of respondents in a very recent 11-country survey – the spring update to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer –  perceived business to be a reliable source of useful and accurate information during the pandemic, a number that dropped to even more staggering lows of 24% and 15%  in France and Japan respectively.

Yet, the relevance of credibly upholding integrity in lobbying goes even deeper. The specter of special interests hijacking the Covid response looms large as a tremendous PR nightmare. Such a storyline is ready to combine with the bitter aftertaste of the last financial crisis response that many perceived to be undermined by strong industry lobbying. The prospects of a special deal for special interests could thus further inflame the very anti-business sentiments that are already on the rise: in the same survey as referenced above respondents put business CEOs last when thinking which types of professions and leaders do a good job in meeting the demands the pandemic puts on them, while only 38% thought business did a good job in putting people before profits.

Pushing public opinion that is already at the edge further into the negative territory through reckless corporate political activity looks like a bad idea even from a narrow tactical perspective. This is because another fallout from Covid is an emerging public debate about the basic bargain between business and the public and the increasing readiness to consider options for a fairer settlement that until recently seemed to have difficult to find acceptance in the mainstream.

The 11-country Edelman survey again captures some of these sentiments: a remarkable 64% of people agreed with this statement:

“This pandemic has made me realize how big the gap in this country is between the rich and the working class, and that something must be done to more fairly distribute our country’s wealth and prosperity”

Massive public financial support is a great lever for updating the social licence to operate for the corporate world. This is not a theoretical possibility but has already become a reality. Widely discussed provisions to bar companies that engage in overly aggressive tax planning or pay out dividends in times of crisis from benefiting from post-Covid support is one example. So is the observation that a debate about the legitimacy of share buy-backs that despite its policy relevance was more or less confined to the fringe of experts and specialized advocates all of a sudden features prominently in the policy mainstream. It has even prompted the European Commission to require a ban on share buybacks as a central condition when government prop up companies by acquiring equity ownership.

This public limelight for a seemingly arcane issue is well deserved considering that for example the top airlines in the US that are currently clamoring for public support are estimated to have spent 96% of their free cash flow during the last decade on share buybacks and built no meaningful reserves to weather a major crisis, a strategy termed by a banker from a top firm as “a staple arrow in the quiver of companies… to optimize how they drive the most value for their shareholders”. From a corporate lobbying view not particularly productive narratives to feed any more.

Many, including this author, view this as a much needed and welcome conversation about how to refresh the principal compact between business and society in view of sharing the benefits and costs from business activity fairly and within planetary boundaries. Business will not do itself a favor when flexing its lobbying muscle too hard for special treatment at this point in time when the public is increasingly prepared to doubt and revisit the basic tenets of this compact.

Responsible corporate activity, transparent, well-governed and aligned with purpose, planetary boundaries and broader regards for all stakeholders is not a nice add on for good times. It is essential to protect the public trust in functioning institutions, functioning crisis response and a functioning societal bargain with business. This is not the time to call in special favours and push a narrow agenda. This is the time to do act as a responsible corporate citizen on all fronts and particularly when it comes to government engagement.

Now there it is:  my policy agenda framed as essential in Covid times. The whole world looks like nails when you have a hammer in the hand.  But in this instance, of course, it is for real.


About the author

Dieter Zinnbauer is a Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at CBS’ Department of Management, Society and Communication. His CBS research focuses on business as political actor in the context of big data, populism and “corporate purpose fatigue”.

Twitter: @Dzinnbauer

Essays: https://medium.com/@Dzinnbauer

Working papers:  https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=1588618


More about coronavirus pandemic on Business of Society blog:

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark

How to make food systems more resilient: Try Behavioural Food Policies

Photo by Dieter Zinnbauer

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark

By Lisa Ann Richey

This article is based on her previously written piece for the Centre for Business and Development Studies.

My first memory of the Corona virus, before we became politicized enough to refer to it as COVID-19, or the “new” Corona virus—or for some special politicians, the “Wuhan” virus—was in Tanzania. Enjoying the evening breeze from the Indian ocean in the public area of our workshop hotel, I sat with a couple of our research team members catching up on life via apps on the smartphone. I came across a small shitstorm on my social media about our Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. Technically speaking, she is not ‘my’ Prime Minister as my citizenship application was denied last year on the grounds of having spent too much time living outside of the country in South Africa, Italy and the US during the past 20 years. The “Wuhan virus” bleach-your-lungs guy, is actually the current head of the nation where I vote.

Yet, our Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was in the media adamantly refusing to issue a public apology for a Danish cartoon that had been published on January 27th by Jyllands-Posten, a second-rate, nationally distributed newspaper, infamous for publishing the 2005 “Muhammed cartoons” which led to international violence, boycotts and around 200 deaths. The latest cartoon was a drawing of the Chinese flag with its five gold stars replaced by five virions of Corona. China’s embassy accused the cartoonist of insulting China and demanded an apology. The Danish Prime Minister refused and her response is on record as saying ‘we have freedom of expression in Denmark – also to draw.

Most politicians and many Danes supported the cartoonist, attributing the outrage of many Chinese as ‘cultural difference.’ The newspaper editor defended that the publication was not ‘poking fun of the situation’ stating: ‘We cannot apologise for something we don’t think is wrong. We have no intention of being demeaning or to mock, nor do we think that the drawing does. As far as I can see, this here is about different forms of cultural understanding.’ When the Corona flag was published, 100 deaths from the virus had been documented in the Chinese city of Wuhan and ‘cultural’ understandings of right and wrong ways to portray the virus, to call its name, to recognize its symptoms, to document its death rates, to protect citizens within closed borders were just beginning.

But it was only January, and our international research team starting a five-year project on how people outside of the formal humanitarian sector respond to crises in Tanzania, had no idea the ways that this Coronavirus would come to affect us. We still don’t. We live quite specifically in Copenhagen, Dar es Salaam and London. But many of us are a bit of an Afropolitan/Cosmopolitan mish-mash by parentage— Chagga/Meru, British/Dane, American/Italian, Kenyan/Tanzanian and we have lived across various countries in Africa, Europe and Asia for work, studies, or by the accident of birth. We are all employed by the state in university jobs. For all of us, these are good jobs. We are comfortable. But, now, we are uncomfortable.

We are in different stages of our careers—from doctoral students to full professors—and these days, as the global pandemic settles over all of us in different and forcibly separate parts of the world, we feel differently the burdens of different responsibilities. One of our team wrote to me: ‘I work like hell while managing a family who is also sick and tired of being locked up… I’m trying to manage 200 staff members’ teaching, supervision and examination responsibilities, plus their externally funded research projects, their problems with spouses, kids and dogs… I want my life back…’

Another of us had to travel upcountry to Kilimanjaro to look after her ageing mother who lives alone on a farm. I imagine her weighing the risks of the transport, the confusing messages from the government about whether anyone should travel, or even leave their house, of whether the handful of cases that had been officially reported in Tanzania were exaggerated hyperbole or grossly under-reported with those of your own mother, and getting on the bus. I would have done the same.

But I am getting ahead of the story, back in January when we were planning how to study earthquakes and floods, refugee camps and their communities and perhaps locusts, we had no possible imagination of the new crisis that would consume us. We held our workshops, discussed the academic literature, planned the plans, drafted the MOUs, enjoyed our barbecue and good conversations and parted ways. Since January in Dar es Salaam, our team’s intellectual energy has become professional, intellectual, political and highly personal about whether to hoard supplies or wear medical masks, how much hand washing with which kind of water could be enough, how would people help each other when the most helpful thing they were told to do was to stay apart?

My flight went from Dar es Salaam to Istanbul. When I arrived in the crowded airport, something felt a little different to me, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. As I neared the gate for my connecting flight to Venice, I noticed that about half of the passengers were wearing medical masks. Thinking about our Danish Corona-flag incident, I remembered to check my cultural bias as I noticed the masks around me. Many appeared Asian and I know it is good hygiene to wear masks when in crowded public places, so I thought it mostly a sign of politeness. Yet, many were also Italians, headed on the plane with me. Not checking my cultural bias so effectively when considering a culture that I now also claim as my own, I remember thinking, ‘hysterical, over-reacting Italians.’


About the author

Lisa Ann Richey is a Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at the Copenhagen Business School.


More about coronavirus pandemic:

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan


Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

By Dennis Schoeneborn

Language is a reef of dead metaphors (Guy Deutscher)

We are in the midst of an unfolding crisis that humanity is struggling to understand. To make sense of the unknown, humans tend to rely on metaphors, analogies, or other rhetorical figures. What do metaphors do? They allow for giving meaning to a (rather unknown) target domain by projecting and transferring insights from a (presumably better known) source domain.

For instance, in the public discourse about the current Coronavirus pandemic, the sensemaking process includes analogies within the same domain (e.g., Trump stating at the beginning of the pandemic: “It’s just like a regular flu”; Bolsonaro maintaining for a long time that it’s just a “little flu”) –  or metaphors that tap into the source domain of natural disasters (e.g., the “tsunami” metaphor used by various medical professionals) or of human warfare (e.g., Trump’s more recent framing of coronavirus to be an “invisible enemy”; Macron’s insistence that “we’re at war”).

World leaders, journalists, social media influencers, epidemiologists and other contributors to the public debate can be presumed to mobilize such metaphors not only to foster sensemaking but ultimately also to steer citizens’ behavior.

For all that we know, metaphors tend to “have profound influences on how we conceptualize and act with respect to important societal issues”.

(Thibodeau & Boroditsky, 2011, p. 1)

Accordingly, it is worthwhile studying how and to what extent the use of different metaphors can inspire, influence and “organize” individual and collective behavior.

As the work by Joep Cornelissen reminds us, the fruitfulness of a metaphor depends on (1) its aptness (i.e. whether a metaphor ‘fits’ and it’s meaningful) as well as (2) its heuristic value (i.e. the extent to which a metaphor offers new insights into an unfamiliar domain; see Cornelissen, 2004).

However, aptness and heuristic value tend to be in a trade-off relation: While close proximity between source and target domain can help strengthen the aptness of a metaphor, it tends to diminish the metaphor’s heuristic value, at the same time. The latter problem also occurs when the metaphorical connection between two domain becomes so well-established (e.g., the link between epidemics and warfare) that the metaphor loses its ability to lend new meaning to the target domain (i.e. a term’s metaphorical quality “dies” so-to-speak; e.g., the term World Wide Web, where hardly anybody today would think of spider webs). In contrast, metaphors can be kept vivid and alive via the power of dissimilarity: the greater the contextual distance between two domains, the better the chance of a metaphor to be insightful.

This may be one of the reasons why novel and unusual combinations of metaphors, such as Tomas Pueyo’s notion of “The Hammer and the Dance” (while being aptly chosen in that case, as well) may have better prospects to lend new meaning to the pandemic and thus inspire new and desirable modes of behavior.

Taken together, the current crisis situation is also a crisis of collective imagination and sensemaking. Hence, in these turbulent and worrisome times it is more important than ever that contributors to the public debate think twice before mobilizing metaphorical imaginations – and to consider not only their aptness, heuristic value, or “retweetability” but also their potential (and sometimes unintended) consequences for individual, collective, and organizational behavior. Ultimately, it is not only the “brute fact” (Searle) of the pandemic that can severely harm us – but also the meanings that are ascribed to it (e.g., via metaphors) and that can materialize in very concrete actions.

For instance, individuals and collectives are likely to act less careful if they believe the Coronavirus to be “just like a flu” – and more careful if they grasp the virus to have chameleon-like features that make it hard to detect (e.g. recent evidence that the virus can also surface in damages to the heart and brain).

To conclude, the current pandemic serves as painful evidence for the importance of theories that highlight the constitutive role of communication for phenomena of orga­nization and organizing. In other words, communication in forms of metaphors, narratives, or other rhetorical means, especially if voiced by opinion leaders, tends to be not just “cheap talk” but can be highly consequential (as also powerfully shown by recent studies on “Narrative Economics” by Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller).


About the author

Dennis Schoeneborn is Professor of Organization, Communication, and CSR at Copenhagen Business School, and Visiting Professor of Organization Studies at Leuphana University of Lüneburg. He serves as head coordinator of the Standing Working Group “Organization as Communication” at the European Group of Organizational Studies (EGOS). He furthermore serves as Associate Editor of the journal Business and Society.


More about coronavirus pandemic:

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic


Illustration by Dan Page

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

By Jette Steen Knudsen, Erin Leitheiser, Shaidur Rahman & Jeremy Moon

What is the responsibility of Western retailers to the workers who make their garments as the coronavirus forces factories to shut down?

Shopping malls are closed, gatherings are banned, thousands of employees have been furloughed, and movement outside of one’s home is discouraged if not outright illegal.  This has meant bad news for apparel brands and retailers as nervous customers cease buying. In the U.S., for example, retail sales in March were down almost 9% compared to in February.  Those brands and retailers which have built their businesses on a fast fashion model – predicated on the continuous churn of high volumes of cheap clothes – face unprecedented challenges and questions about responsibilities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Retailers have responded in different ways.  As they have had to shut down their stores many have stated that they will not pay rent. For example, German sportswear producer Adidas stated (March 26 200, Reuters) that

“Almost all over the world there is no normal business anymore. The shops are closed. Even a healthy company like Adidas cannot stand this for long”.

Adidas was one of a string of retailers in Germany that said they wouldn’t be paying their landlords while their stores are closed as part of efforts to stem the coronavirus spread. Adidas said it would need credit even after staff cut their working hours, executives waived part of their pay and the company stopped share buybacks. Adidas’ decision was met with an uproar in Germany eventually forcing the company to formally apologize and to report that it planned to suspend a planned 1 billion euro ($1.09 billion) share buyback in an effort conserve cash after closing its retail outlets in Europe and North America. Adidas also said it would pay rent.

In Denmark, Anders Holck Poulsen, the owner of the clothing company Bestseller and Denmark’s wealthiest man, also announced that the company would not pay rent for its stores. Bestseller (parent company for brands like Vera Moda, Jack & Jones, Pieces, and Name It, among others) later reversed the decision following a public outcry and the CEO went on national television to apologize. Bestseller subsequently laid off 750 employees and sought financial support from the government.  This decision was met sharp with sharp criticism because over the last five years Mr. Holck Poulsen has paid DKK 7.6 billion (more than $ 1 billion) in dividends to his private holding company Heartland.

Not all companies have responded this way. Patagonia, for example, has promised that all of its employees will continue to receive their regular pay during store closures.

However, with many large brands scaling back their social responsibility in the Western part of the world, what kind of responsibility can we reasonably expect from Western retailers in places such as Bangladesh?

Bangladesh is heavily dependent on apparel production. Apparel comprises more than 80% of the country’s total export revenue and the sector employs more than 4 million workers, most of them women.  However, in recent weeks many Western brands have cancelled their orders from Bangladesh, and it is estimated that more than 2 million workers have lost their jobs.  H&M is the largest buyer of garments from Bangladesh and has reluctantly agreed to take and pay for the shipments of goods already manufactured as well as those that are still being produced. Inditex, PVH and Marks and Spencer have also agreed to pay suppliers for orders that are already produced but not all companies have done so. Primark, for example, has cancelled orders, and virtually all buyers have pulled orders that have not yet gone into production.  At the end of March 2020 orders for more than $1,5 billion had been cancelled, and Bangladesh reported -19% year-on-year export volume for the month.

What is the responsibility of large brands like Bestseller or H&M for their supplier factories in Bangladesh? Western brands have a long tradition for stating their commitment to CSR in global supply chains, including elaborate Codes of Conduct for social and environmental performance in supplier factories. Bangladesh has staked its claim as the low-cost producer of garments, and its costs and production capacities cannot be easily matched elsewhere in the world. The model of fast fashion needs Bangladesh, and Bangladesh, in turn, needs fast fashion. 

Now that crisis reigns upon all of us in the form of a global health pandemic, it is the most vulnerable of workers who have been left in the lurch, be it the retails associates who stock shelves or the stitchers who sew together T-shirts.  As buyers cancel orders, few recognize the perilous position that these workers are left in. For those working on the factory floor in Bangladesh, more than 2 million have been furloughed, many without pay, despite a governmental scheme intended to address these issues.  The meagre wages of garment factory workers have not allowed for savings that could support them in such times, and the prospect of long-term closures – or at least, no orders to fill and therefore no paid work – means almost certain disaster for them and their families. 

Garment workers in Bangladesh have risen up in protest, stating that

“…we don’t have any choice.  We are starving.  If we stay at home, we may save ourselves from the virus.  But who will save us from starvation?”

(13 April 2020, The Guardian).

While some brands, like Primark, have set up charitable funding pools to help support workers, the money has yet to make it to their pockets, and the “charitable” framing of this funding on behalf of brands speaks volumes about what they see as their responsibilities.  Yet, when the crisis passes and shopping malls re-open, brands will again be reliant upon these workers to satisfy their demand for an endless supply of cheap garments. 

Given that cheap labor is a fundamental need for fast fashion companies to survive, shouldn’t brands likewise ensure the survival of those on which it depends? 


This is the first in a series of blogs which will further explore the responsibility of the Bangladesh government, factories, Western governments and civil society organizations for dealing with COVID-19 in places like Bangladesh.  


About the authors

Jette Steen Knudsen is Professor of Policy and International Business at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and holds the Shelby Collum Davis Chair in Sustainability.  She is also a Velux Fellow at Copenhagen Business School where she is part of the Regulation of International Supply Chains (RISC) project

Erin Leitheiser is an Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School and Project Manager of the Regulation of International Supply Chains (RISC) project

Shaidur Rahman is Professor of Sociology at BRAC University where he is part of the Regulation of International Supply Chains (RISC) project

Jeremy Moon is Professor of Sustainability Governance and Director of the Sustainability Centre at Copenhagen Business School.  He is the Project Coordinator of the Regulation of International Supply Chains (RISC) project.

Photo by ILO Asia-Pacific

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

By Faith Hatani

In the midst of the global coronavirus crisis, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government finally decided last month to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics until next year. The general public across the world may have different views on the Olympics – positive and negative, or simply indifference. But with regard to the Tokyo Games, there is a fair reason for not just postponing them but reconsidering their relevance and preferably cancelling them altogether. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the long-standing controversies surrounding the Tokyo Olympics, and it is indeed sustainability that is at stake.

Economic problems in the host country

A tag line that Tokyo, the host city of the 2020 Olympics, has been using is “Recovery Olympics” for a sustainable future. The “recovery” is primarily referring to the recovery from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the ensuing nuclear disaster in Fukushima, a city in northern Japan. When Tokyo was successful in its bid to host the Games, it estimated that the market effect of the Olympics and Paralympics would be more than JPY 32 trillion in total, which would be a huge boost to Japan’s shrinking economy. Clinging on to this rather optimistic figure, the IOC and the host government were reluctant to make any change to the original schedule in spite of the coronavirus pandemic, and their attitude was criticised as “wildly irresponsible” (Boykoff, 2020).

Besides the cost-benefit analysis of the Tokyo Games, it should be noted that, as of March 2020, nine years after the Fukushima disaster, approximately 48,000 people were still living in evacuation zones in Japan. Despite this, a huge amount of money has been spent on constructing new facilities for the Olympics, rather than aiming to reconstruct “sustainable cities and communities” (Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11) in the disaster-hit northern city. Meanwhile, the Tokyo Olympics has been the most over-budgeted Games ever, because of Tokyo’s lax policy.

Postponing the Olympics will entail an extended preparation/maintenance period for another year amid uncertainty, which is likely to impose an additional tax burden on citizens. It is highly questionable whether the host government has appropriately prioritised key issues and allocated resources accordingly.

Environmental issues: Value chains in the global sports industry 

The Olympics is big business, involving not only elite athletes, but also a large number of stakeholders such as sponsors, media, providers of various products, and spectators. A mass of people moves across borders and within the host country, consuming a great number of goods in just a few weeks. The huge amount of greenhouse gases and waste that each Olympic Games generates has been the subject of continuing international debate. These are also the problem areas addressed by SDGs 12 and 13.

On the other hand, the United Nations recognises that sport can be an enabler of sustainable development (UN General Assembly, 2018). If the host is committed to the SDGs, and stakeholders and resource-rich companies/countries collaborate to implement environmentally friendly technologies and practices, the Olympics could be a showcase of new ideas to facilitate sustainability. In this regard, the Organising Committee of the Tokyo Games has promoted several sustainability concepts and plans. Nevertheless, a group of non-governmental organisations has raised a question concerning Tokyo’s approach (Heineken, 2019). They reported that a huge new national stadium for the 2020 Games was built by cutting down trees in Indonesia and Malaysia, thereby damaging these countries’ efforts to preserve their rainforests (SDG 15).

When it comes to a mega sporting event such as the Olympics, we tend to, somewhat naively, pay attention to the downstream, in which big brands, celebrities, impressive new technologies and goods to consume are all visible, and we are often ignorant of what is happening in the upstream.

If the upstream of the whole value chain is neglected and sustainability is used (or misused) as just a fancy concept, while economic actors act irresponsibly, the SDGs will never materialise.

Health concerns: Summer heat as usual, and now Covid-19

Since Tokyo was selected as the host city for the 2020 Olympics, persistent health concerns have been raised. One of the almost inevitable problems in Tokyo is, in fact, a hot summer, which Weather Atlas describes as “oppressive humidity and extremely high temperatures”. Indeed, many people actually suffer illness each year due to the summer heat in Japan; in 2019 alone, more than 70,000 people were admitted to hospital due to hyperthermia.

Although Tokyo insists that the Olympic venues will be closely monitored with adequate safety measures, it is unclear how this can be guaranteed, not just for the athletes but also for the volunteers and spectators in the different locations.

Now, a new and bigger concern certainly involves Covid-19. To date (as of mid-April 2020), the number of confirmed cases in Japan has been significantly lower than the other G7 nations as well as neighbouring Asian countries. However, medical experts and other countries are sceptical, questioning whether Japan may be overly restricting coronavirus testing in order to maintain its safe image for the sake of the Olympics. Of course, the slow testing could be due to other factors such as the limited availability of testing kits, which has also been a problem for other countries. Nonetheless, the root cause of the concern is the slow response of the authorities in taking the necessary action, because this would trigger an explosion of infection cases as we have witnessed in other countries.

Although Tokyo eventually declared a state of emergency on 7 April, this was a few weeks later than the lockdowns enforced by many major countries, and two months after a coronavirus outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored offshore in Yokohama, just 30 km from Tokyo. Tokyo’s lenient approach casts doubt on its capability of dealing with communicable diseases when a rapid response is crucial (SDG 3). 

The point is not to abolish all future Olympic Games as this global sporting event can be an important platform for athletes, and potentially a contributor to peace (SDG 16), or at least a symbol of it. However, the Tokyo Olympics is missing the meaning behind sustainability in many ways. Furthermore, amongst other factors, it is also ill-timed. The world is now facing a serious challenge on a global scale.

One clear message that the coronavirus pandemic has taught us is that we may be vulnerable wherever we are – even in a wealthy country – and that we all have a responsibility to strive for sustainability.

In this context, financial resources should be invested in essential products and vaccine research to tackle Covid-19, and human resources should be allocated to immediate needs to sustain local societies. In short, get the priorities right. Then, strong global partnerships and cooperation (SDG 17) will hopefully facilitate our efforts and achieve a more meaningful positive outcome.


About the author

Faith Hatani is Associate Professor at the Department of International Economics, Government and Business at Copenhagen Business School. Her research interests reside in the role of international business in sustainable economic development, focusing on responsible management of value chains and institutional constraints in different industries and countries.


References

Boykoff, J. (2020) Cancel. The. Olympics. The New York Times.

Heineken, H. (2019) Olympic timber scandal. The Understory.

UN General Assembly (2018) Sport for development and peace

Photo by hitsujiotoko_xx

Read more about sustainability and Covid-19:

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?


Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

By Steen Vallentin

The coronavirus and responses to the pandemic are right now defining human existence inside and outside of organizations. All societal attention and communication are centred on the virus, its day-to-day consequences and possible future repercussions for the people, the economy – and the planet.

Indeed, we are living through a gargantuan social experiment, and these can turn out to be the defining weeks and months of the new decade. Social distancing. Lockdown of public institutions and private businesses. Closing of national borders. No travelling, no tourism. All live entertainment (sports, music, culture) suspended. Places for social gatherings (restaurants, cafés, bars) closed (except for takeaway). Until further notice. The mind boggles.   

The closing down of open societies is blocking the blood flow of large parts of the economy, spelling potential disaster for many businesses and cultural institutions – in spite of large relief packages. Meanwhile, waters are clearing and air pollution is going down due to the drop in industrial production. There is an ominous air about these climatic improvements, though. They seem more like a morbid dress rehearsal for life on earth after human civilization than a silver lining.

Is it the end of the world as we know it? Certainly, we can expect – at least in the privileged global north – that life will soon return to something much more normal than the current ‘show responsibility by staying as far away as you can from other people’. In Denmark, the gradual reopening of society is already underway.

However, the question remains whether we will look at each other and on human interaction (particularly in large social gatherings) in the same way as we did before. Will the awareness of ‘the others’ close to us as potential carriers of disease somehow stay with us.     

Certainly, the comparisons with war are fitting. Who would have thought that anything except a worldwide war could affect all people’s social lives and the workings of government and business so rapidly and profoundly?

The pandemic constitutes a crisis of public health and health systems of unforeseen magnitude. The noun ‘crisis’ derives etymologically from the Greek krinein (Latin: krisis), which means ‘turning point of a disease’. This point was made repeatedly in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008-9: a crisis constitutes a turning point and thus an opportunity for new things to happen, for things to be different and perhaps better than they were. As the saying goes: ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’.

After sickness, there is newfound health. A crisis is not supposed to persist. However, recent years have taught us new lessons. Crisis has to understood in the plural, as crises, there are many of them (climate crisis, refugee crisis, trust crisis etc.), they are systemic and interconnected and they do not seem to go away.

Thus, we live in an age of perpetual or recurrent crises. We can imagine another side to where we are now, a new and more social normal, but it is becoming more and more difficult to imagine a future without some profound element of crisis.

Speaking of the interconnectedness of crises, what impact will the pandemic have on sustainable development and the green agenda? Will the public health crisis, its resultant need for emergency relief and its immediate and longer-term negative impacts on the economy take the wind out of the sails of green transition for a while? Making us waste precious time.

Or will this crisis and the efforts needed to get the economic wheels turning again turn out to be the greatest of opportunities to invest in green infrastructure and the solutions needed to create a more sustainable future? At this time, it is anyone’s (more or less qualified) guess. Not least because the answer depends on actions not yet taken by government and business leaders. Both narratives are out there.

The pandemic obviously lends itself to many interpretations. Among them faith-based apocalyptic visions of the end of times. Others see potential in this for putting an end to capitalism, as we have known it. Certainly, market-based solutions are taking a backseat to government intervention in our current predicament. It appears that in times of profound crisis we have to rely on big government (federal, local) and political leadership to take care of the common good and sort things out.

Time will tell whether or how the pandemic and all that comes with it will change people’s view of the market economy and of the need for government intervention in the market economy – not to mention people’s proclivities to consume, travel, engage with (many) others in the experience economy etc.

The more moderate take is that we need a regulated market economy and that the current crisis shows the limitations of cost/benefit analysis and the neoliberal urge to subject all things to marketization and economization. In light of the human suffering and the deaths caused by the coronavirus and facing health systems and heroic health professionals in distress, the cost/benefit mindset has come up short. This calls for immediate action and full commitment – even if the odd economist may question the utility of such a course of action.

We should take this lesson with us into the broader realm of sustainable development. Market thinking will not suffice.


About the author

Steen Vallentin is Director of the CBS Sustainability Centre and Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research is centred on CSR (corporate social responsibility) and sustainable development in a broad sense.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Normalizing Sustainability

By John Robinson, University of Toronto

We often hear the argument that, given the urgency of climate change and sustainability concerns,  significant changes to individual behaviours and lifestyles are required. This has led to a wide array of public education and climate literacy campaigns aimed at changing such behaviours. In this blog, I will argue that some fairly strong research findings suggest that such campaigns are of limited value in influencing behaviour change, and moreover that focusing on changes in individual behaviours may be distracting us from much more significant possible steps.

There are many models of behaviour change in the literature, and of the relationships among values, attitudes, intentions and behaviours. It is probably fair to say that many of the most influential conceptualizations of behaviour change assume that most individual behaviours are the result of some form of conscious decision-making about desirable outcomes based in turn on some assessment of the consequences of different courses of action. [1]

On this view, people act in environmentally irresponsible ways because they lack the information they need to make better decisions. Such an ‘information deficit’ model leads in turn to what we might call a persuasive communication approach to stimulating behavior change, which assumes that providing more information as to those consequences, through information provision, educational programs, and science and climate change literacy campaigns, will lead to better and more environmentally responsible decision-making [2].

Unfortunately, the relevant research on the relationship between information and behaviour shows that persuasive communication approaches based on an information deficit model are not only ineffective in changing behaviours in the desired direction [3], but may in fact have perverse consequences.

Studies of the relationship between knowledge and attitudes have found that increased science literacy does not lead people to become more concerned about climate change, but on the contrary, actually increases polarization on this issue[4]. It seems that educating people on the science of climate change, or other sustainability problems, will not lead them to change their views on the problem itself, but instead may further reinforce their prior position.

In fact there is evidence from many fields of study, going back multiple decades, that information is only weakly connected to behaviour change. Studies of the effectiveness of energy efficiency programs [5], research in health promotion[6], or community-based social marketing[7], over many decades have all reached similar findings. So widespread are these findings that it can be said, in the words of my colleague David Maggs that:

The best evidence that information does not change behaviour is that we have decades of evidence in multiple fields that it does not do so, yet we continue to create and implement pubic education campaigns intended to change individual behaviour.

While this is bad enough, the problem gets worse.

It turns out that it is not clear that changing individual consumption behaviour is the right goal anyway. A number of studies have shown that there is no significant difference in either the carbon or ecological footprint of individual who cares deeply about environmental issues and behave accordingly, and those who do not care at all and do not behave in environmentally responsible ways [8]. The reason is that the ecological and carbon footprints of individuals are determined much more by their income than by the degree to which they choose more environmentally appropriate behaviours such as recycling or buying sustainable products.

So we seem to be in a depressing circumstance: information and literacy programs won’t change behaviour; moreover, it wouldn’t much matter, in term of overall environmental impact, if they did.

But rather than ignoring this evidence and intensifying our efforts to educate people into sustainability, or else throwing up our hands and retreating into apathy, perhaps a more fruitful approach is to reframe the original questions and ask whether a different approach altogether might be useful, on both these questions.

With regard to information provision, instead of a persuasive communication approach, it might be more useful to take what we might call an emergent dialogue approach [9]. Instead of assuming that we know the right answers and we have to get those answers into the heads of our audience, perhaps we need to listen as much as we speak, and to find two-way approaches to dialogue in order to co-create narratives with citizens that describe our circumstances in ways that are more faithful to the disparate views and values of different groups and that thereby offer the possibility of finding common ground on controversial societal problems.

The goal switches from a focus on changing behaviours to a focus on trying to create shared narratives, in order to better inform collective decision-making processes, and to foster social mobilization in support of policy change.

With regard to individual behaviour change, perhaps we need to rethink our ideas about change itself. As long as sustainability requires change, then it is fragile because human activities and practices will often snap back to prior unsustainable normals. Instead, we need to normalize sustainable practices, so that they become the default, not the required change [10]. In this connection, it might be useful to move from a focus on conscious individual behaviour and pay more attention to more collective processes of activity. There has been an upsurge of work on social practice theory approaches to human activity, which suggests that much of that activity is unconscious and collective, connected to social processes and relationships, and social and cultural norms [11]. Can a focus on collective social practices lead us towards processes of normalization of sustainability?

Following this line of thought, it is not about encouraging behaviour change instead of technological change, but of exploring how the overall socio-technical system itself, including powerful social norms, influences and is influenced by individual choices and actions, including political demands or support for changes in collective decisions. Perhaps we need to try to create ‘virtuous cascades’ 12 of positive normative change and identify leverage points that will allow us to foster and encourage more sustainable outcomes. Trying to convince people to change their lifestyles in the absence of change in the overall system will be ineffective and may even work against larger system change.


About the author

John Robinson is a Professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and the School of the Environment at the University of Toronto.  He is also an Adjunct Professor at Copenhagen Business School. His research focuses on the intersection of climate change mitigation, adaptation and sustainability; the use of visualization, modelling and citizen engagement to explore sustainable futures; sustainable buildings and urban design; the role of the university in contributing to sustainability; creating partnerships for sustainability with non-academic partners; the history and philosophy of sustainability; and, generally, the intersection of sustainability, social and technological change, ways of thinking, and community engagement processes. 

References

[1] E.g. see Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 179-211

[2] Masud, M.M., Al-Amin, A.Q., Junsheng, H., Ahmed, F., Yahaya, S.R., Akhtar, R., & Banna, H. (2016). Climate change issue and theory of planned behaviour: relationship by empirical evidence. Journal of Cleaner Production, 113, 613-623. See the discussion in Kollmuss, A., & Agyeman, J. (2002). Mind the Gap: Why Do People Act Environmentally and What are the Barriers to Pro-Environmental Behaviour? Environmental Education Research, 8(3): 239-260.

[3] See, for example, Kollmuss & Agyeman, op. cit.; Sheeran, P., & Webb, T.L. (2016). The Intention-Behaviour Gap. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10(9), 503-518; Ungar, S. (1994). Apples and oranges: probing the attitude-behaviour relationship for the environment. Canadian Review of Sociology, 31(3); Steg, L., Perlaviciute, G., & van der Werff, E. (2015). Understanding the human dimensions of a sustainable energy transition. Frontiers in Psychology, 6; Owens, S. 2000. `Engaging the public’: information and deliberation in environmental policy, Environment and Planning A, 32, pages 1141-1148; Shove, E. 2010. Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change, Environment and Planning A, 42, 1273-1285. 

[4] Kahan et al, (2012) The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks, Nature Climate Change, 2(10), pp.732-735; Drummond, C., & Fischhoff, B. (2017). Individuals with greater science literacy and education have more polarized beliefs on controversial science topics, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(36), 9587-9592.

[5] Stern, P. C. 1986. “Blind spots in policy analysis: What economics doesn’t say about energy use.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 5(2), 200-227; Hirst, E. (1990). Progress and Potential in Evaluating Energy Efficiency Programs. Evaluation Review, 14(2), 192–205; Robinson. J. (1991). “The proof of the pudding: Making energy efficiency work.” Energy Policy, 19(7), 631-645; Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C., & Rothengatter, T. (2005). A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation. Journal of environmental psychology, 25(3), 273-291.

[6] Green, L. W., & Kreuter, M. W. (1993). Health promotion planning: An educational and ecological approach. McGraw-Hill

[7] McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2011). Fostering sustainable behavior: An introduction to community-based social marketing. New society publishers.

[8] Csutora, M., 2012. One more awareness gap? The behaviour–impact gap problem.  Journal of Consumer Policy, 35(1), pp.145-163; Tabi, A., (2013). Does pro-environmental behavior affect carbon emissions. Energy Policy, 63, pp.972-981; Moser, S., & Kleinhückelkotten, S. (2018). Good intents, but low impacts: diverging importance of motivational and socioeconomic determinants explaining pro-environmental behavior, energy use, and carbon footprint. Environment and Behavior, 50(6), 626-656.

[9] Robinson, J. (2004) “Squaring the Circle: Some thoughts on the idea of sustainable development”, Ecological Economics, 48(4): 369-384; Antle, A. N., & Robinson, J. (2011). Procedural Rhetoric Meets Emergent Dialogue: Interdisciplinary perspectives on persuasion and behavior change in serious games for sustainability; Bendor, R., Lyons, S. H., & Robinson, J. (2012). What’s there not to ‘like’? sustainability deliberations on facebook. JeDEM-eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government4(1), 67-88; Maggs, D. and Robinson, J. (2016) “Recalibrating the Anthropocene: Sustainability in an Imaginary World”, Environmental Philosophy, 13(2), 175-194; Robinson, J. and Cole, R. (2015) Theoretical underpinnings of regenerative sustainability, Building Research & Information, 43(2), 133-143; Westerhoff, L. and Robinson, J. (2013) “’Practicing’ narratives: exploring the meaning and materiality of climate change”, Proceedings of Transformation in a Changing Climate, June 19-21, 2013.

[10] John Robinson, “Normalizing Sustainability: from behavior change to metamorphosis”, Keynote Presentation at IST2019: Accelerating sustainability transitions: Building visions, unlocking pathways, navigating conflicts, Ottawa, Jun 25 2019

[11] Gram-Hanssen, K. & Georg S. 2017. Energy performance gaps: promises, people, practices, Building Research and Information 46(1), 1-9; Strengers, Y., & Maller, C. (Eds.). (2014). Social practices, intervention and sustainability: Beyond behaviour change. Routledge; Shove, E., Pantzar, M., & Watson, M. (2012). The Dynamics of Social Practice. London, UK: SAGE Publications; Hargreaves, T. (2011). Practice-ing behaviour change: Applying social practice theory to pro-environmental behaviour change. Journal of consumer culture, 11(1), 79-99; Reckwitz, A. (2002). Toward a theory of social practices: A development in culturalist theorizing. European journal of social theory, 5(2), 243-263.

[12] Homer-Dixon, T. Coronavirus will change the world. It might also lead to a better future. The Globe and Mail, Mar 5, 2020  https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-coronavirus-is-a-collective-problem-that-requires-global/

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

Just announced: And the world’s worst company is …. Really?

Why naming a hardly known German company as the world’s most controversial company inadvertently makes a lot of sense

By Dieter Zinnbauer

Business bashing is a popular spectator sport in some quarters – sometimes justified, sometimes not. So there is certainly no shortage of strong contenders for the most controversial company contest. Who would be your pick for the 2019 shortlist? Perhaps one of the companies that led millions of people into opioid addiction? The biggest carbon dioxide emitter? Or someone from the big tech side that as many believe has ushered in a new, toxic era of surveillance capitalism?

Picking the unlucky winner is as difficult as it is subjective.  But as is always the case these days big data and AI are riding to the rescue. They are claimed to power an evidence-infused attempt by a boutique ESG consultancy to identify the most controversial company in the world. According to the inevitable marketing pitch, a secret-sauce algorithm churns through a proprietary database of millions of new and old media mentions for more than 140,00 companies to bring science to the art of naming and shaming and to reveal the 2019 most controversial company in the world.

And as just announced last week, the winner is:

Tuev Sued!

?

Tuev Sued?

If you are not a German car owner (the company is best known there for carrying out the obligatory and feared periodic car inspections) or an expert in technical certification issues you may have never come across this name before.

Tuev Sued is one of the big players in the global certification-of-everything business. Born as the Duev (“Dampfkesselueberwachsungsverein” – steam boiler inspection association) in 1800 to bring technical oversight to the issue of exploding steam boilers during the industrial revolution, the Tuev Sued (and its brother) Tuev Nord have grown into multinational enterprises that provide technical audits and certification services for an ever-growing number of products, processes and service across industries and across the world.

Arguably the main reason why Tue Sued was picked as the most controversial company (besides a weighing in favor of novel entries that guarantees sustainable newsworthiness to an annual ranking now in its 10th edition) is that it is implicated in the infamous 2019 Brumadinhu dam disaster in Brazil. A collapse of a dam erected by a mining company unleashed a toxic mudflow on the downstream communities that killed more than 250 people. Tuev Sued had carried out technical inspections of the dam and allegedly assessed it as safe. The case is still in court, no conclusive verdicts have been reached.

So is it fair to put the spotlight so fully on a comparatively small technical certification outfit, rather than say the big mining company that built and ran the dam?

Irrespective of what one thinks about the merits of this choice,  the case highlights what I would submit is one of the most fundamental and unresolved drivers of corporate irresponsibility: the persistent challenge to make all kinds of certification and assurance processes that are so essential to functioning markets and economies work as intended.

From the never-ending string of accounting and auditing scandals to the crucial role of rating agencies in the 2007+ financial crisis to emerging examples of greenwashing in the carbon market certification business, there as common thread: certification and assurance often fail to provide the independent, effective vetting that it is supposed to deliver.

Issues involved include:

  • the under-resourcing of the inspection process as neither principal nor agent have strong interests in overly strict and deep inspections,
  • pitching certification as loss leaders to open the door for upselling into other lucrative consulting services;
  • borderline rubberstamping of certifications to secure repeat business and avoid being viewed as difficult in the industry and thus putting off other potential clients.

Strengthening liability, setting more stringent standards for the standards watchdogs, tightening compliance measures and building public reputational pressure go some way to rework incentives towards more credible certifications.

But at the end of the day they are more ameliorative than tackling the root problem:

As long as certification services are selected by and directly paid for by the very clients that are meant to be certified, assured, rated or audited and as long as certification is strictly a for-profit business there are fundamental conflicts of interests at the root of these services that put their efficacy and independence at risk.

Ideas of how to rewire these markets and business models abound yet so far the problem of thin political markets seems to hold: both certifiers and certified have strong interests to preserve the status quo and formidable lobbying power to advocate for this, while the dull technical nature of the issues at stake and the dispersed group of beneficiaries from alternative solutions prevent a forceful, concerted push for better arrangements.

Yet there is hope that this fundamental conflict of interest issue will gain more prominence in the policy and public debates very soon. The emerging transformational push to de-carbonize businesses and economies relies in part heavily on carbon credits, carbon offsets and other green-impact instruments whose efficacy and the very reason for existence relies on proper certification and assurance.

 How to move beyond and away from issuer-directly-pays certification services will have to be an important part of the policy designs in the making.

Tuev Sued is a symptom of the problem – it is the systemic issue at the root of the case that justifies putting it into the spotlight – although it is unclear of the secret-sauce algorithm at work had this in mind when making the selection. 

Let’s hope that in twenty years’ time the idea of a rating agency, a dam examiner, a medical device inspector or a carbon credit certifier being selected by and paid directly by the people they are supposed to pass an independent judgment on appears as strange as the notion that a pharmaceutical company would be able to choose between different agencies to get its drugs approved and directly funds large parts of their budgets.


About the author

Dr. Dieter Zinnbauer is a Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at CBS’ Department of Management, Society and Communication. His CBS researches focus on business as political actor in the context of big data, populism and “corporate purpose fatigue”.

Twitter: @Dzinnbauer

Essays: https://medium.com/@Dzinnbauer

Working papers:  https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=1588618

Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

Lead where others follow

By Sim de la Torre

One of the most exciting and influential areas of business today, Governance & Sustainability has also become a must-have skillset for business leaders looking to stay on top of their game. An MBA level certificate in Governance and Sustainability from CBS will enable you to take your organisation to the next level.

Providing sustainable directions

There’s little doubt that today’s business environment is evolving at a striking rate. And the increased focus on sustainability from the perspective of risk management, compliance and governance can often leave business leaders searching for clarity when they should be providing direction. These are strategically critical elements – some might say preconditions – of business today and they are defining the debates that are being held in boardrooms across the globe.

Andreas Rasche, Professor of Business in Society and CBS Associate Dean, explains more about this cutting-edge Concentration.

“To date, a lot of the conversation has been focussed on either the CSR or philanthropic agenda, but ours is based on the modern understanding of sustainability and how to govern; how to set agenda; and how to include cutting edge thinking and action across the sustainability field.”

Sustainable finance is one example of where managers are being challenged in this arena. How do you integrate wider social and environmental concerns – or responsibilities –  into your financial decision making? This is one of the Concentration’s key topics and MBA students will learn to balance the needs of society with the needs of their organisation.

Sustainability toolset

“Meanwhile,” says Professor Rasche, “another trend that we cover is corporate governance and risk management, which is all about steering an organisation and equipping you with the tools to make intelligent and reasoned recommendations to the board. The course will enable you to plot a path for the company from a business mindset while weaving in sustainability. And of course, we also help you to identity and exploit the opportunities that your organisation will face as a result of this agenda.”

Across the globe, the corporate governance debate is happening at the highest level of business and the leaders of today and tomorrow need to know how to have these conversations and how to steer their organisations effectively.

Be where the focus is

Other aspects covered by the course include circularity, which is particularly relevant to modern leadership, as well as risk management which often appeals to practitioner students. Says Professor Rasche,

“These mindsets can have a huge influence on an organisation and again, we’ll give you the tools you need to not just understand the conversation, but to make a valued input and be part of the debate. The things you learn today on this course will equip you for tomorrow. If you want to really know more, come and join us. Be where the focus is.”

In April 2020, you can start your CBS Executive MBA with a Concentration in Governance & Sustainability.  


About the author

Sim de la Torre is a former journalist turned freelance writer working with the CBS MBA programmes.

Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

Helpful hypocrisy? The ‘ironic turn’ in corporate talk about sustainable development

By Sarah Glozer and Mette Morsing

Do you feel uneasy to think that companies use a humorous tone in their communications about grave challenges such as climate change, pollution and inequality? We suggest the notion of helpful hypocrisy to coin this new ironic turn in recent corporate communications.

Ironic campaigns

We have ourselves been intrigued by this new ‘ironic turn’ in corporate communications. Large international fashion brands such as Patagonia, Benetton and Diesel have recently challenged conventional informational approaches to marketing communication about sustainability, choosing instead to incorporate a humorous (or more precisely, an ironic) edge to their visual representations as they address issues of climate change.

Such campaigns are ironic because they bring a twist of message incongruity and ‘double talk’, where they show a world within which ambiguity, incongruity and contradictions are real and leaving it to consumers what to make of it. This stands in sharp contrast to conventional prescriptions in marketing communications where the idea of ‘one message’, or what we refer to as ‘single talk’, prevails with the purpose of targeting consumers effectively. In our recently published paper, we suggest the term ‘helpful hypocrisy’ as a way of coining the ironic turn.

On the one hand, these new ironic messages show consumers the dire consequences of pollution, climate change, flooding and deforestation (i.e. implications of consumption) and on the other hand, they simultaneously carry strong aesthetic appeals to enjoy life and consume more, comforting consumers that ‘life goes on’ and hedonistic lifestyles will continue. In new ‘twisting’ advertising campaigns, companies blend these two narratives in complex, ironic visualization.

Such double talk is often deemed hypocrisy and greenwashing in research as well as in practice. And while we agree with such assessment, our analysis shows that there is also something else going on.

Double talk

We point to how such double talk may also provoke critical reflection and surprise through displaying inconsistencies between ‘talk’ and ‘talk,’ and hereby engage its audiences as more than passive recipients. In a cosmopolitan context, where people like to think that they are able and capable of critically reflect on their own lives and make their own decisions, preaching and moralizing communications about ‘good behavior’ is becoming increasingly less effective.

Youth is particularly opposing being told what to do. And even in spite of the severe consequences of continued consumption, a certain ‘climate change fatigue’ has entered the market. Consumers know that they should buy less and more sustainable products, but they are resistant to messages that give them feelings of guilt and shame.

In such a world, we suggest, one way to gain traction is to engage audiences in ironic and humorous communications in which the receiver is him- and herself activated to interpret incongruous ambiguous messages.

Helpful hypocrisy

Analyzing Diesel’s Global Warming Ready campaign, we find how the technique of irony is particularly outspoken as beautiful people in beautiful clothes are inserted into out-of-place environments, juxtaposing them if you will, by the dire implications of climate change, in a way which makes the whole scenery appear absurd.

In our analysis, we develop an analytical model that positions irony and double talk vis a vis conventional marketing campaigns.

We point to how the blend of climate change and luxury consumption is an ambiguous affair, and we show how incongruity is present across four levels of Diesel’s use of irony: fantasy versus reality (framing), survival versus destruction (signifying), utopia versus dystopia (symbolizing) and political activism versus consumer society (ideologizing).

Without moralizing or telling consumers what to do, or even restraining from telling consumers how good the corporate sustainable activities are, Diesel exposes the ambiguities of society and sustainability by using humor.

Now, we are not fooling ourselves. Diesel is a company with an ambition of selling more products. And where satire is a technique that intends to improve humanity by critiquing its ‘follies and foibles’, companies are generally known to have less noble ambitions.

But we argue – with Swedish sociologist Nils Brunsson – that “hypocrisy appears to be exactly what we demand of modern organizations: if we expose organizations to conflicting demands and norms, and expect that they should respond to them, then we must also expect hypocrisy” (1993: 8-9).

We propose that irony may be considered a means of ‘helpful hypocrisy’ in which the public is exposed to the contradictions and vices of society with the purpose of changing people’s opinion and create betterment of society.


References

Brunsson, N. (1989). The Organization of Hypocrisy: Talk, Decisions and Actions in Organizations. Wiley.

Glozer, S. and Morsing, M. (2019). Helpful hypocrisy? Investigating ‘double-talk’ and irony in CSR marketing communications, Journal of Business Research


About the authors

Sarah Glozer is Associate Professor of Marketing and Society in the School of Management at the University of Bath, UK. She is also Deputy Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society (CBOS). Her research focuses on corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication, digital marketing and ethical markets/consumption.

Mette Morsing is Professor and Mistra Chair of Sustainable Markets at Stockholm School of Economics (Sweden) and Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility at Copenhagen Business School (Denmark). Her research concerns how organizations govern and are governed in the context of sustainability. She is particularly interested in how communication, identity and image dynamics work in this regard.


The image is one of the eight images displayed in Glozer & Morsing (2019) from the Diesel Global Warming Ready campaign: New York City submerged in water

Fake news and the future of the truth

By Jan Michael Bauer

At least since the last U.S. elections in 2016, the issue of “fake news” is frequently debated in the public and the news. The strategic and targeted distribution of misinformation to undermine political opponents peaked in the conspiracy theory termed “Pizzagate”.

Originated from leaked emails, the story suggested that the former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton along with other high-level Democrats ran a child trafficking out of a pizzeria in Washington[1]. Despite these absurd claims and the lack of any credible evidence, the owner received multiple death threats and the restaurant was attacked with an assault rifle[2]. Luckily, nobody was injured.

The hunger for likes

Though admittingly an extreme case, this is only one example of many fake news stories shared on social media and often echoed among equal minded users. Even though multiple psychological studies emphasize the human tendency to believe information that supports prior beliefs, it remains astonishing that even the most outlandish fakes find their believers and are frequently shared. This phenomenon fueled by the hunger of many users for likes and reach of their posts, which seems to be extended with more extreme content.

These dynamics have given prominence to the recent focus on “fake news” but looking at the latest technological developments the future might even hold dire prospects.

Modern computer software, like Photoshop©, allows for realistic manipulations of images since many years. While some faked photos have famously traveled through the internet, I would argue that people have developed a healthy and critical attitude towards digital images as people can no longer trust their own eyes. Increasing processing power and novel algorithms start to enable trained users to not only alter photos, but also voice recordings and video material [3]. While not yet perfect, with enough training data these technologies are able to rearrange and even create new audio and video material that is hard to distinguish from the original.

Thinking a few years ahead, it is not hard to imagine that these methods become better and better, and fakes will ultimately be indistinguishable from real footage.

This will allow the creation of fake content about individuals using their own voice and presented by a realistic video of the person without their knowledge. While this will certainly trigger a cat and mouse game between people creating fake material and others trying to identify the fake through digital forensics, it will always be easier to create a fake than detecting one. Hence, one might hope that people develop a similar skepticism towards videos and voice recordings than most have towards images. In any case, the line between what is real and what is fake will inevitably become blurrier as technology increases.

Type 2 error

Currently, the discussion about fake news focuses on the spread of what is literally fake news, the spreading of information that is not true – like Pizzagate. Borrowing from the language and ideas of statistics, people believing the Pizzagate conspiracy make what is called a Type 1 error: they believe a story to be true, even though there is nothing to it.

I, however, would like to focus attention on the second type of error that has so far received less attention. A Type 2 error occurs if someone does not believe a story, even though it is actually true. In other words, declaring something fake news, even though it is real. There are a few recent cases that highlight this problem.

For instance, in 2015 a real video of the former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis surfaced where he showed “Germany the middle finger”. However, in the name of satire, a German comedian wrongly claimed to have created the video by showing a fake video of the Minister only raising a clenched fist and declared it to be the original before his team added the raised middle finger digitally [4]. This “Varoufake” controversy circulated the media until an official clarification stating that the video with a raised middle finger is actually real footage. Resolving the confusion took several days. A long time for the current speed of information on social media.

A more recent example stems from Prince Andrew involved in a sex scandal [5]. Confronted with the accusation of an inappropriate relationship with, at the time, underaged Virginia Giuffre, he claimed to not remember ever meeting her and responded to a photo showing him with his arms around her that there is no way to prove the authenticity of this image and suggested that it could have been faked.

Fakes affecting social media and public opinion

While fakes might ultimately be identified by experts in the famous cases or the court, it is unlikely that social media and public opinion will not be affected by this issue. The mere possibility of fake images, audio, or video evidence might undermine the credibility of real incriminating evidence and help perpetrators spread doubt about the authenticity of evidence against them.

In 2012, a shaky video surfaced where republican candidate Mitt Romney declared 47% of the nation as government-dependent and his job would not be to “worry about these people”. In 2016, a hot microphone recorded Donald Trump before leaving a bus bragging about sexual assault. In the latter case, Trump on numerous occasions suggested that the audio might be a fake,[6] creating doubt at least among some voters, and ultimately won the election.

An increase in such “Type 2 fake news” issues might be even more problematic than the currently discussed Type 1 problems.

If the public can no longer trust any of their senses to separate truth from fake due to technological progress, the democratic process is certainly in danger. And if at some point even experts struggle to clearly identify the authenticity of the evidence, the issue might even spread into our courts and the legal system.

When teaching my students about the different error types in statistics, the lecture generally concludes with the lesson that the probability of making either of the errors is connected. Being more skeptical reduces Type 1 errors but increases the probability of making the 2nd types.

Despite this link, it is ex ante not clear which errors cause more harm and we should be careful that our current emphasis on “fake news” focusing on type 1 error not inadvertently creates too much skepticism which will leave us with many more type 2 errors. “Pizzagate” is the former, climate change denial is the latter.


References

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/10/business/media/pizzagate.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/05/business/media/comet-ping-pong-pizza-shooting-fake-news-consequences.html?action=click&contentCollection=Business&region=Footer&module=WhatsNext&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&moduleDetail=undefined&pgtype=Multimedia

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ54GDm1eL0

[4] https://www.euronews.com/2015/03/19/varoufake-when-satire-acts-as-media-watchdog

[5] https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/11/26/cal-forensics-expert-casts-doubt-on-prince-andrews-claim-sex-slave-photo-was-faked/

[6] https://observer.com/2018/09/trump-still-wants-you-to-think-the-access-hollywood-tape-is-fake/


About the author

Jan Bauer is Associate Professor at Copenhagen Business School and part of the Consumer & Behavioural Insights Group at CBS Sustainability. His research interests are in the fields of sustainability, consumer behavior and decision-making.


Last year, the Seminar on Fake News – Digital Transformation Platform took place at Copenhagen Business School. The organizers highlighted: The problem of Fake News and other problematic online content is one of our times’ most pressing challenges — it is widely believed to have played a major role in the election of Trump and the current situation with Brexit.

Read more by the same author

Are you choosing what you really want?

Behavioural change in the work environment: a first review on MSC’s sustainable food policy

A Story of Poison, Pork and Consumer Protection

Photo by Christian Gertenbach on Unsplash

Why consultations on large projects should matter to citizens as well as companies

By Karin Buhmann, Sanne Vammen Larsen and Anna-Sofie Hurup Skjervedal. This article is based on their previously written piece for the Centre for Business and Development Studies.

Insights into the concerns or needs of communities or individuals who may be affected by planned or proposed private or public energy projects or infrastructure projects is important for those who will eventually decide whether the project will be approved to make an informed decision. Such insights can be gained through consultations carried out as part of assessments of the environmental or societal impacts of projects.

This begs the question: what is a good process for stakeholder engagement of local communities and citizens in impact assessment processes? This is a global issue that in recent years has come to be high on the agenda in countries from the Arctic to the Global South.

Consultations as part of impact assessments

Consultations allowing for stakeholder involvement in impact assessments are common in regard to private projects concerning the establishment of mines, windfarms, sun-power farms and dams for hydro-power. The same applies to public infrastructure projects such as airports, roads and ports, which are often necessary for the transport of the products to be gained from private projects.

Societal impacts of projects are typically assessed through social impact assessment (SIA), environmental impact assessment (EIR), or human rights impact assessment (HRIA), or combined approaches such as ESIA or ESHRIA. All aim at identifying and preventing or mitigating adverse impacts and advance positive impacts, of planned projects or extension of existing ones. It is customary and often mandatory for the impact assessment to involve local stakeholders who are or may become affected by the project.

This typically takes place through consultations, which may take a variety of forms to enable public participation in the identification of the impacts of the planned activities. Consultations are organized by authorities or the organization having applied for a permit to engage in the new activity. In addition to environmental impacts, impact assessments often include the project’s effects on a range of broader societal issues, such as health and safety in the local areas, employment, local business and sources of income generation, etc.

The Nordics and many other countries have introduced mandatory consultations of local communities. Some international development banks, e.g. the World Bank, have made certain loans conditional on impact assessments.

Uncertainty about consultations

Despite the great significance of consultations for stakeholder involvement, there is often uncertainty with local communities and other groups of affected stakeholders in regard to what exactly a consultation is, what it entails and what to expect of the process. Moreover, even when consultations have taken place it is not infrequent that affected communities are unhappy with the process or the extent to which authorities take their concerns or needs into account.

For example, Sami groups living in the High North have complained to authorities in Norway and Sweden because they are concerned that windfarms disrupt the grazing areas of their reindeer and, as a consequence, the traditional way of life of the Sami. Authorities and business enterprises can also be unsure about what constitutes the proper process or ‘best practice’ for consultations with affected stakeholder.

Photo: Reindeer at Kvalsund, Norway/ K. Buhmann, 2019

What is a consultation?

Consultations on project activities are carried out to provide an informed foundation for decisions to be made. In providing access to participation in decision-making on activities that will affect one’s life at the everyday level, consultations contribute to a form of very direct democracy and can be argued to be part of the human right to public participation.

Consultations provide citizens with an opportunity to ask questions and express their views on a project. But as is the case for other democratic processes, one does not have a claim to seeing one’s views winning out. This is an important aspect for the appreciation of what to expect of a consultation; how to engage in a consultation process; and the information that authorities, companies and consultants must or should provide when conducting consultations.

It is not infrequent that consultations are conducted by a company involved in the project. A good consultation process marked by sincere dialogue and appreciation of local concerns can build understanding and acceptance of the final design of the project. A process that does not live up to local stakeholders’ expectations of influence can lead to the opposite result.

Accordingly, it is important for involved companies as well as authorities to ensure that stakeholders are given the information necessary to understand and assess how the project may affect them, what their rights are and what they can expect of the consultation process.

Local stakeholders’ expectations and understandings

Our investigations have demonstrated that it is not infrequent for actually or potentially affected stakeholders in a local community to be uncertainty of what a consultation entails or what to expect of the process and result. Others have shown that frustration results when authorities do not seem to take views made during a consultation into consideration in their decisions.

During meetings in northern Scandinavia in June 2019, we met with several inhabitants in Sápmi, who expressed frustration with consultation processes. Sápmi is the cultural region traditionally inhabited by the Sami people, an indigenous people who traditionally live from reindeer herding and fishing. Grazing areas on which the Sami’s reindeer depend are adversely affected by the establishment of windmills and mines.

Sami communities are involved and asked for their views through consultations, but they also see authorities granting permits to put up windfarms and new mines on contravention of the contesting views and concerns presented by the Sami during consultations. Authorities in Norway have granted permission to open a new copper mine in Northern Norway despite the opposing views submitted by the Sami Parliament (Sametinget). The motivation to engage actively in future consultations easily gets reduced, even with those who are aware that a consultation does not equal a claim to one’s views to be granted when central authorities are seen to make decisions affronting local democracy.

Some of our other meetings have shown that when English is a working language or the common ’lingua franca’ in an area that does not have English as its main language, mistranslations may occur and lead to misunderstandings about the process and objectives. For example, the Danish term for consultation, ‘høring’, often gets translated into English as ‘hearing’. This may give unintended associations to the conflict-oriented type of ‘hearing’ that takes place in courtrooms and it’s objective of determinations leading to a winner and a looser, thereby disrupting the understanding of the consultation’s objectives of dialogue and developing workable solutions. Our fieldwork in Greenland and elsewhere offers several examples of this mistranslation.

Consultations and the corporate ’social license to operate’

Consultations can contribute to risks of adverse impacts being identified and addressed before they develop into actual problems because consultations offer opportunities for local stakeholders, including those who are actually or potentially directly affected by the proposed project or project idea to express their concerns.

Because of this consultations not only matter to the longer-term well-being of the local community, but also to relations to the organization that is behind the project giving rise to the consultation.

For example, a consultation concerning a proposed mine matters not only for local stakeholders who are concerned with the mine’s impact on grazing areas or the quality of water, but also for the perception of the company that wants to carry out the project, and for trust in authorities who will be granting the permit or prescribe changes and conditions.

Authorities often delegate the task to conduct a consultation to the company that applies for an exploration or exploitation permit. One the one hand, this may strengthen the consultation process because the company conducting the process knows the project very well and is able to reply to questions of a technical character. On the other hand, participation in the consultation and trust in the process may suffer if local stakeholders, who are worried about contamination or other harmful effects, suspect that the consultation may be influenced by the company’s interests.

‘Fox in the henhouse’

Allowing the company that applies for a permit for the project to conduct the consultation can appear like letting the fox into the hen house.

However, if performed well, the company will obtain a better appreciation of the project’s impacts and will be able to make relevant adaptions. Likewise, authorities often lack both the necessary technical knowledge and other resources to conduct consultations. Companies lack knowledge, for example in regard to local issues are expected to purchase relevant expertise through consultant advice. The company thereby invests in establishing the necessary informed knowledge foundations for the permit to be granted by authorities.

When companies are given the responsibility to conduct consultations that may affect the decisions to be made by authorities, it is important that they carry out a correct and good consultation process that allows local stakeholders to participate at times suitable to them. If a consultation takes place during normal working hours many local stakeholders may decide to stay away because participating would mean a loss of income.

Likewise, participation may be limited if the consultation takes place in a location that requires long transport. Consultations conducted in another language than the local one reduces the opportunity for local stakeholders to engage in a dialogue. Unless technical or health-related issues are explained in a manner that matches the prerequisites of local stakeholders, risks arise that they will not obtain an adequate understanding of the impacts of the project. This will increase risks of misunderstandings and that relevant questions remain unasked, or that relevant concerns are not voiced.

Photo: Sheepfarm in Qassiarsuk, Narsaq area /K. Buhmann 2018

During field workshops in Southern Greenland in August 2018, we were given insights into a diversity of local experience of consultation processes and expectations. The point of departure for our meetings was a proposed mine in Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld) by the town Narsaq. Greenland’s eight largest towns, Narsaq has a population of around 1,500 and is placed in an area with extensive sheep grazing and tourism based around ruins of the Norse settlers. The mine will produce diverse minerals and rare earth elements, with uranium as a by-product due to high uranium contents at this specific site.

Consultations have been conducted by the company. We met with several sheep-farmers and actors in the emergent tourism sector who expressed concern whether uranium dust from the mine would harm their business, income and human and animal health in the area. Several individuals were frustrated with the process of the consultation, such as meetings taking place at locations or times of the day or year that made it difficult for the sheep farmers to travel to the meetings and take part in them. Moreover, as the Sami noted above, several people in the Narsaq area were basically concerned that the authorities do not seem to take the concerns voiced into account. Several questioned whether the process is accordance with the ideals of a democratic society.

Ups and downs of consultations

When consultations work well they can contribute to a sense of common or including decision-making. Research shows that this underscores the acceptance of the resulting activity, related to what is sometimes referred to as the legitimacy of the activity.

When consultations do not work well they can have the opposite effect and undermine trust, not just in the specific project but also in the company or companies involved. This relates to what is sometimes referred to as the ‘social licence to operate’. The term ’social licence to operate’ relates to the risk of loss, that a company (or companies) run as a result of local protest or opposition to a project for which they have applied for a legal licence.

Even if a company has obtained a legal licence, for example, to undertake the exploration of minerals, local opposition may be present. There are indications that a weak social licence to operate is on the rise in Greenland, thereby affecting the local legitimacy of projects like the Kuannersuit mine in Narsaq (Bowles and MacPhail, 2019).

Greenland is a country based on the rule of law with strong institutions and regulation and traditionally a relatively high level of trust in authorities and their decisions. Observations that in such a society and despite formal requirements, there is lack of trust in consultations and arms-length between authorities and companies conducting the consultations, and that concerns voiced by local stakeholders during consultations are taken seriously and acted upon are severe indications that formal procedures are not sufficient for a good consultation process. Accordingly, it is important to understand what constitutes a good consultation process from the perspective of the individual stakeholder, even if there is still no claim to having one’s way in regard to the final decision.

References

Bowles, P & MacPhail, F (2019) Coming to the Surface: The Social Licence to Mine in Greenland. Paper submitted for international seminar ‘Problems and Perspectives of social responsibility in natural resources exploration, exploitation, and management’, Pskov State University, Pskov (Russia) 23-25 October 2019 (on file with lead author).

About the authors

Karin Buhmann is Professor at Copenhagen Business School, where she is charged with the emergent field of Business and Human Rights. Her research interests include what makes stakeholder engagement meaningful from the perspective of so-called affected stakeholders, such as communities, and the implications for companies and public organisations carrying out impact assessments.

Sanne Vammen Larsen is an expert in the field of environmental planning and impact assessment, with a focus on integration of climate change in Impact Assessment, local processes and social impacts, and dealing with risk and uncertainty. She is employed as an associate professor at The Danish Centre for Environmental Assessment at Aalborg University, Denmark.

Anna-Sofie Skjervedal is PhD from Ilisimatusarfik – the University of Greenland and Aalborg University, and special consultant in public participation within the Municipality of Sermersooq, Nuuk, Greenland. Anna-Sofie specializes in public participation within impact assessment processes in relation to extractive industry development in Greenland with a focus on meaningful youth engagement.

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

Better than nothing but still “exSASBerating”!

By Dieter Zinnbauer.

Why a powerful push by the world’s top asset manager towards more sustainability reporting still falls pretty short.

Great news

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager promises to leverage its weight and voting power for more consistent and comprehensive corporate reporting on sustainability. And this includes corporate lobbying.

Good news

The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) standard that BlackRock backs also includes a reporting dimension on what it calls “Management of the Legal & Regulatory Environment”. According to the SASB this category “addresses a company’s approach to engaging with regulators in cases where conflicting corporate and public interests may have the potential for long-term adverse direct or indirect environmental and social impacts.” 

Now, this sounds quite promising.

It really seems to recognize the urgent imperative for business to align corporate political activity with its social and environmental responsibility and to assure all stakeholders in your reporting that this is the case.

Or to take a plain language and not entirely hypothetical example: as a responsible corporate citizen show everyone that you are not a hypocrite and that you do not lobby against improved fuel efficiency standards while at the same time celebrating your green credentials by supporting smart transport initiatives.

As the SASB further elaborates on this reporting dimension, the category addresses among other “a company’s level of reliance upon regulatory policy…  actions to influence industry policy (such as through lobbying) … [and ] it may relate to the alignment of management and investor views of regulatory engagement and compliance at large”[1]. And the related accounting metric mandates a “discussion of corporate positions related to government regulations and/or policy proposals that address environmental and social factors affecting the industry.”

One could be a stickler and criticize that this is not comprehensive and specific enough, as it, for example, does not require to disclose how much money is spent on specific lobbying issues or what other of the growing repertoire of corporate influencing and communication strategies beyond lobbying are deployed to shape the public policy debate on these issues.

But let’s be pragmatic, the fact that the world’s largest asset manager has chosen to explicitly demand reporting on lobbying from the many companies it invests in and also threatens openly to vote against boards of companies that do not play along is a great step forward.

But then the really not so good news

The SASB only requires companies to report on corporate political activity in sectors where this category is judged to be material. And quite startlingly corporate political activity is only viewed as material for some segments of the oil & gas sector, biofuels, and chemicals. That’s it.

How can this be? No mention of air freight & logistics, airlines, marine transportation or the car industry  – sectors in which many (but not all) companies are out in force to lobby against green taxes and/or higher resource efficiency standards, thus delaying much-needed investments in future-proof technologies and creating a regulatory backlog that all but exacerbates the material risks of stranded assets and failing business models further down the road.

How about construction materials or the steel industry whose future trajectories in energy efficiency or recycling and the rules and regulations that will apply are material to global sustainability and corporate success alike?

How about the meat, poultry and dairy sector? I have not researched their lobbying activities but would imagine that they are very much engaged around evolving rules for methane emissions as one of the most potent climate gasses in a world of growing appetite for meat. No need for investors to know how corporate strategy, public policy engagement and sustainability dynamics line up?

Or how about coal and electricity & power generation? Are these sectors viewed as a lost cause where corporate political action will simply be assumed to be misaligned with societal sustainability goals and thus not worthwhile accounting for? Does this do justice to and incentivize responsible corporate political engagement where it is perhaps more material and needed more than in many other areas?

These are just some examples with regard to climate change. Corporate political engagement is plausibly a material issues for many other sectors as well, for example when thinking about social aspects of sustainability, e.g. how platform economies craft business models and lobby on the rules that apply to gig work, how big tech seeks to shape privacy rules that are closely linked to their advertising-based business models…

Corporate political activity is a highly cross-cutting material issue. Expecting corporate reporting on it is urgent and most welcome. Yet, limiting this push to only five of overall more than seventy business sectors is more than unfortunate. Trailblazing trustees of our savings and investments and the reporting standards that they promote must and can do better.

About the author

Dr. Dieter Zinnbauer is a Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at CBS’ Department of Management, Society and Communication. His CBS researches focus on business as political actor in the context of big data, populism and “corporate purpose fatigue”.

Twitter: @Dzinnbauer

Essays: https://medium.com/@Dzinnbauer

Working papers:  https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=1588618


References:

[1] Annotations as extracted from SASB materiality map https://materiality.sasb.org/

Photo by Guido Jansen on Unsplash

We can’t better the world at once. So let’s do it together!

By Julia Köhler

Sustainability – a concept that accompanies us every day: whether it is sustainable consumption, sustainable nutrition, sustainable traveling or sustainable management. What does sustainability actually mean and does it only serve as a means to an end?

Meet oikos Copenhagen

A big topic that concerns a student organization. Founded in 1987 in St. Gallen, oikos has ever since grown into an international student initiative with 50 local “chapters”, as we call it, on almost every continent in the world. With the underlying idea of ​​integrating sustainability as one of the core topics in economics and business, this initiative has now been running for more than 30 years.

With its 48 active members, oikos Copenhagen is one of the largest chapters and contributes to the sustainability discussion at the Copenhagen Business School since 2012. By bringing students of different backgrounds together, the six projects are looking at the topic from various perspectives and are aiming at more sustainability in business and management education.

Image by oikos Copenhagen
Image by oikos Copenhagen

The triple bottom line is at the center of our values. Future leaders should be empowered to take change into their own hands. Integrity is a central component of organizational DNA: members stand behind the core values ​​and actively develop them further. For this, our members are in a constant dialogue with each other and deal critically with the topic.

We see ourselves as representatives of the sustainability movement and each fulfills the role of a moderator in discussions with social environments.

That’s the way it should be. On the way there, oikos regularly encounters hurdles. Not only in management issues but especially on a personal, cultural and financial level. Our core values ​​reflect a way of thinking that is becoming more and more recognized but is still not adequately represented and acknowledged by our educational system. Is it even possible to combine sustainability and business at all or is a system change required first?

What if you can make a change?  

I started my time at oikos in 2018 as the Project Manager of oikos Impact, one of the six projects of the Copenhagen chapter. The project objective is to improve sustainability on the CBS campus.

Our team was negatively surprised that a university in one of the sustainable Nordic countries does not recycle.

In May 2019, we launched a pilot project with two recycling stations on campus. Recently, the campus management decided to launch recycling stations inspired by oikos Copenhagen at every canteen.

A very central project of our organization – Curricular Transformation – deals with the integration of sustainability topics in the curricula of all degree programs. oikos Copenhagen does not intend to create separate study programs exclusively on the subject of sustainability.

We see sustainability as a relevant topic just like accounting, taxation, innovation, strategy and entrepreneurship.

Our team is in touch with the Dean of Education and would appreciate supporting departments, course coordinators and professors in the shift to a greener curriculum.

oikos Career reflects the typical cycle of a student preparing for a career in the sustainability scene. Initially, students are accompanied by the content design of the curriculum vitae. Afterwards, networking event participants have the opportunity to meet potentially attractive employers. With the Career Fair, we optimally made it easier for some students to enter sustainable businesses.

Social Pioneers offers companies, mostly start-ups but also established smaller companies, a platform to teach students that it is possible to profitably combine entrepreneurship and sustainability. Students gain insights into the day-to-day work of companies, find out which obstacles founders have encountered on their way and can clean up the assumption that one cannot be profitable in running a responsible business.

Image by oikos Copenhagen

As one of our most established projects, the annual GreenWeek marks a week in which the CBS campus and teaching activities are focused exclusively on sustainability. Here we invite guest speakers, representatives of sustainable companies, experts, researchers, and generally interested people to discuss the topic together and to seek mutual exchange. In addition to lectures, keynotes, and panel discussions, we offer workshops on the topic. This year’s GreenWeek will take place from the 10th to the 12th of March 2020.

The oikos Case Competition is a project that connects students with different backgrounds to an interdisciplinary collaboration. Students from across the Copenhagen area: from the Danish Technical University (DTU), Copenhagen University (KU) and the Copenhagen Business School (CBS) work together with companies and/or public institutions on sustainability issues. Our past cooperation partners include Accenture, the city of Copenhagen and IBM.

Let’s make a change, altogether…but how?

Since June 2019, I am sitting on the board of oikos Copenhagen with five other members and as the president and head of project management, I am leading the organization.

When requesting more support from decision-makers I often get asked about the competitive advantage the university could expect from oikos’ work. oikos Copenhagen stands for values ​​that are hard to ‘sell’ as a business case.

The general opinion about sustainability is an important cultural barrier for oikos Copenhagen, as it is still considered an annoying side issue for ‘hippie’ students. The challenge is to build and maintain an exchange of ideas and communication about the relevance of the topic. I believe that business schools are an extreme example of this.

Meanwhile, several other organizations are being founded around the topic of sustainability and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of the various initiatives. Questions like: ‘Who works on which topic?’, ‘How can we collaborate on solving the problem most efficiently?’ and ‘How do we communicate that we are working on something?’ pop up.

Another problem is the lacking overlap with other disciplines outside economics. Currently, our members are mainly CBS students. Although we offer room for students from other universities to be oikos members and to participate in the oikos Case Competition, this is not enough to recruit active members from other universities.

In my opinion, this interdisciplinarity is extremely relevant in all sustainability issues. In addition, it would help us to break away from the typical business thinking so present at CBS and to look at the challenge from several perspectives.

To achieve an effective transition towards a greener Copenhagen Business School, including a sustainable campus and direct as well as indirect education in sustainability for every CBS student, we want to be the bridge to bring all actors together to work on a solution.

For more information about oikos Copenhagen, visit our website at www.oikos-copenhagen.org

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/oikosCopenhagen/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/oikoscopenhagen/

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/company/oikos-copenhagen.

You are also very welcome to contact me personally via e-mail: president@copenhagen.oikos-international.org.

About the author

Julia Köhler is the President of oikos Copenhagen and a student in the management of innovation and business development at Copenhagen Business School.

Teaching (and doing) anthropology in a business school

By Matthew Archer

For a while now, the discipline of anthropology has studied relatively marginalized or dispossessed people and communities, often in developing countries or poor parts of developed countries. What this means is that anthropologists are often critical of powerful organizations like governments, banks, and multinational corporations.

For the past year, I have tried to integrate these critical perspectives into my teaching at Copenhagen Business School. Although CBS is not a typical business school in the sense that it is not primarily an MBA-granting institution, many of my students are pursuing careers in finance and consulting that are typical of business school graduates.

Challenging business students

For young professionals who have been trained in both their classes and their internships to simplify and synthesize difficult concepts, it can come as a bit of a shock to be asked to read an essay about climate change adaptation in Guyana or vanilla bean farming in Madagascar, and unpack the theories and methods to think about how they relate to questions of corporate sustainability and sustainable finance.

But while this may be challenging, I’ve found that students often find it exceedingly valuable.

One of the hardest things to deal with as a young professional is often the tension between personal, ethical values and the pressures a company puts on you to increase profits.

The critical theories that anthropologists use to make sense of the world help students make sense of their work, especially those who are planning to go into sustainability-related careers. Understanding the way humans have navigated the relationship between nature and culture across time and space turns out to be a key piece to the puzzle of how the financial system or tech companies mediate that relationship in more familiar contexts.

Critical thinking

Just as important, it helps them learn to critically reflect on their choices as consumers, investors, citizens, and the numerous other social roles they inhabit, roles that tend to evolve fairly dramatically over time (for example, after they graduate, after they get their first promotion, after they’ve started families, etc.). This kind of reflection is key to building a more just and sustainable society.

Thinking about the role of emotions in determining who has access to clean water in Bangladesh, for example, might seem far removed from concerns here in Denmark about pension funds and money laundering, but as we’ve learned in my classes over the past few semesters, emotions like hope and anxiety play a big role in the way financial resources are distributed and accessed.

Anthropological theories and methods might seem far removed from the quantitative approach to management that defines contemporary sustainability. But to understand the role of businesses in society, the study of societies has to be taken at least as seriously as the study of business, and anthropology is a fruitful way of introducing this perspective in business schools.

About the author

Matthew Archer is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School. He is an ethnographer and political ecologist interested in corporate sustainability and sustainable finance. Visit Matthew’s personal webpage.

By the same author: Sustainability’s Infrastructure

Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash

Football and the Meaning(lessness) of Management Concepts

By Esben Rahbek Gjerdrum Pedersen

Romanticized management concepts often seem to fall short in capturing actual management practices in today’s corporate world. Experiences from other types of organisations may help deepen the understanding of the concepts and the phenomena they are trying to portray.

Romanticized concepts

The management literature is full of concepts, which indicate passion, engagement and community. Internally, terms like corporate culture, values, karma, spirituality, passion and even love and religion express a deep symbiosis between the individual and the organization. Externally, corporate communication is soaked in references to sustainability, citizenship, social responsibility, and community engagement.

If we are to believe the “About Us” sections, corporations today are more about benevolence than business.

There is a problem though.

What happens if you compare the rosy picture of business with harsh business realities? One illustrative example is the talk about management commitment. How does it go along with the fact that the average tenure of CEOs is steadily decreasing? And how do you combine talks about commitment with the recurrent discussions about bonus schemes? It seems like an awful waste of money to approve exorbitant compensation packages to CEOs if they were driven solely by an inner sense of duty and dedication to the job.

What all these management concepts have in common is that they try to give business personality, heart, spirit, and soul.

However, if we are interested in concepts like commitment, passion, and loyalty, today’s corporate world is perhaps not always the right place to look. Probably more than ever before, these concepts seem more meaningful in private life and collectives rooted in the local community.

Like community football…

As part of a survey among Danish football clubs (supported by a UEFA research grant), I asked club representatives a simple, open question: – What is the main reason to be engaged in the club? A few quotations are found at the bottom of the text and well illustrate some of the differences between the corporate world and community sport.  A few examples:

  • Stickiness. Commitment means being in it for the long haul. It is not unusual that volunteers are members of football clubs for 20, 30, and 40 years. When managers drift from one company to another, it serves as proof that they are committed to their career. Not the organisation.
  • Obligation. The quotations from the survey indicate that commitment to community sport is often linked to an obligation to support the local community and paying back for own experiences as active players.
  • Community. In community sport, commitment has roots. You are committed to something: – the sport, the people, the club, and the community. It is probably no coincidence that local club names usually refer to a city or a region, whereas the corporate names are mostly faceless abstractions referring neither to activity nor geography.

The real motives

The point is not that club volunteers are all saints dedicated to the greater good of society. Most volunteers probably start off with instrumental motives when they become engaged in club life; either because they play themselves and/or have children in the club. However, for some volunteers club life gradually becomes part of one’s identity and network.

The question remains, however, why the management literature seems so eager to wrap business in romantic rhetoric about commitment, loyalty, authenticity etc. when these concepts often seem to reflect what has been lost rather than what can be found in today’s corporate world. Of course, part of the management vocabulary can be passed off as organizational bullshit, but even the disregard of truth may reveal some truths about our society.

Maybe the abundance of romantic management concepts reflects a dream about relationships in a market characterized by transactions.

A seek for passion in a highly professionalized work life. Longing for a community when people have all become individuals. Whatever the reason, a researcher should restrict the use of concepts to organisations where they have not yet become emptied of meaning.

Like community football…

Table 1: Respondents about the main reasons for being active members of the football club (Translation from Danish)
”Make a difference in my local community and support my interest in grassroot football. Jeg am a club person and believe voluntary work should be a ”citizen duty” (…)”
”After a whole life as active in the club, also as trainer and board member, it was natural to continue (…) and give something back. I think it is fun to work with kids and people, who also give me a lot I can use in the work life”.  
 ”I like the social life in the club and want to help others in getting the same experience”.
”I have played football from when I was a kid and had wonderful experiences that I like to hand over to the youth”
”Because I love football and like to give something back for all the years when I was more on the field than outside. Moreover, it is important that somebody do something in the associations in our community”. 
”Because my kids play in the club and because I think you should make an effort in the associations in the city. And not least because I like to be part of making a difference in the local associations.
– ”Have been an active football player all my youth, where I met engaged trainers and leaders. So it is probably to give something back”
”Help our city in having a place where children, young and elderly can play football under good conditions”
”Funny, I have asked myself the same question:-) I have been an active player from when I was 8-9 years old, to league player, to old boys – so it is simply paid back time for all the experiences (…) to all the people who made it possible.” 
”Always been involved in football. Somebody helped me when I was playing myself. Think that you have to give something back.”
”Payback to the club which has given me a lot of good experiences. My contribution to Danish associations – the voluntary brigade!”
– ”Lifestyle after more than 30 years of voluntary work. Help young athletes to get a good future. This has been my goal throughout the years and has given me a lot of good experiences”

”Voluntary work helps in creating a well-functioning local community. For children, it is important to promote active living. And it is also developing you personally. Unity and identity”
– ”For many years, I had children in the club and therefore I am involved in the work. I have enjoyed playing football and would like to give others the same experience. ”
”As a child, I experienced a lot of good things. Now when I have the opportunities, I feel obliged to give something back.” ”Have always been a volunteer in community sport and for more than 50 years. Nice to see things grow and do something good for a lot of people. Not least the social element of the club.  And you get to know a lot of people and build some friendships for life”. 
”Have been involved in football for 45 years. Good friends and good network. Be part of making a difference on a voluntary basis”.
– ”For 20 years, I have played football in the same club. To have a good club I also have to take responsibility”
– ”The community and the joy of working with other people who love football”.”Football has always meant a lot to me and I think you have an obligation to contribute to the continuation of football. Every community needs a football club. Everyone should have an opportunity to do team sport which can also be a great foundation for your future life.”

Learn more about our research on football and CSR here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/16184742.2018.1546754


About the Author

Esben Rahbek Gjerdrum Pedersen is Professor at the Department of Intercultural Communication and Management at Copenhagen Business School. He researches CSR, Corporate Sustainability, Non-financial Performance Measurement, Supply Chain Management and Process Management.

By the same author: The Business (and Politics) of Business Cases

Photo by Click and Boo on Unsplash

Regulating 300,000 Years – Nuclear Waste, Sustainability and the Need to Talk to the Distant Future

By Andreas Rasche

Whenever we think about regulating sustainability problems, we usually think about the here and now or at least about the not too distant future. Even with regard to climate change, which clearly is a problem for future generations, regulators have a time horizon of not more than 30 or 40 years. The Paris Accord is a case in point – it sets targets for 2050. Also, the European Union’s climate strategy sets goals until 2050. But, what happens if regulators need to think about a very distant future?

Consider the example of nuclear waste. The challenge is not only to find a secure location to store the byproducts of burning uranium. The challenge is also, and maybe most of all, to prevent future generations to disturb the deep underground storage facilities, be it intentional or not. This requires “talking to” distant future generations. Chlorine-36 (one of the byproducts) has a half-life of approximately 300,000 years. Compare this to the roughly 40,000 years that the behavioral homo sapiens is supposed to be around – i.e. human beings which engaged in the development of language and early forms of religion – and you get an idea about the scope and scale of the underlying challenge.

Deep underground storage is, at least as of now, the only option to deal with nuclear waste. In the 1980s, some governments considered the idea of simply firing nuclear waste into space. This idea was rejected due to security concerns. Right now, there are few final repository sites for nuclear waste, such as the US-based Waste Isolation Plant in New Mexico.

>>How do we secure these sites from future human intervention? What is needed is a way to communicate with future generations. <<

By definition, the future is unknown and we do not know whether future generations may try to dig at the sites where nuclear waste is disposed. There are many reasons why such underground storage sites could be interesting for future generations, ranging from pure curiosity to a danger that they misread/misinterpret warning signs or other artifacts. What will be a symbol of danger in, say, 150,000 years from now? How does memory survive?

Governments around the world have developed different approaches to talk to the future. One possible US solution includes giant granite markers that are supposed to prevent human intervention (see picture). The US Department of Energy writes:

“Regulations require that waste disposal sites use markers and other controls to indicate dangers and locations of waste.”

One problem with these giant markers is exactly that they are giant and that they are supposed to signal fear and danger. What, however, if signals of fear and danger incite curiosity? The US facility will not be closed until 2050, so there is still time to decide otherwise.

Source: US Department of Energy (Concept: Mike Brill, Drawing: Safdar Abidi, Image courtesy of BOSTI)

If a written message were to be attached to any warning markers, how would such a message look like? One current proposal is to use the message (see below) which is then to be translated into every written UN language. Although there is no consensus on the content and nature of the message among members of the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), it is clear that such a message needs to be developed.

“This place is a message… and part of a system of messages …pay attention to it! 
Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture. 
This place is not a place of honor … no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here. 
What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger. 
The danger is in a particular location… it increases towards a center… the center of danger is here… of a particular size and shape, and below us. 
The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours. 
The danger is to the body, and it can kill. 
The form of the danger is an emanation of energy. 
The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.”

Trauth, K.M., Hora, S.C., & Guzowski, R.V. Expert judgment on markers to deter inadvertent human intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. United States. doi:10.2172/10117359, pp. F49-F50

Alternative?

An alternative solution would be to adopt a more evolutionary approach. Such an approach would not put the message into granite (or other materials). Rather, it would create “an enduring culture around the nuclear waste depositories.” (Financial Times, 14 July 2016) Keeping the memory alive, then, would be an accomplishment that is passed from generation to generation (e.g., via stories, exhibitions, songs, art). As language and symbols change over time, this evolutionary approach would adapt the message to the contextual particularities that evolve in the future. Such a community-based approach would then rely on locals, who live around a waste storage site, to warn others.

There are pros and cons for both approaches and it is uncertain what regulators will do. However, what this example shows is that thinking about regulating actions in the distant future requires drawing on insights from multiple disciplines, ranging from linguistics to nuclear scientists and anthropologists.

Does all of this have something to do with sustainability? Just think about a world in which we cannot securely seal nuclear waste…

About the Author

Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society at CBS and Associate Dean for the CBS Full-Time MBA Program. He is also Visiting Professor at Stockholm School of Economics. More at: www.arasche.com.

By the same author:

Why Corporate Sustainability is Bullshit (And Why This is a Good Thing)

The Ethical Blindness of Corporate Sustainability

Photo by Ra Dragon on Unsplash

Are we trying to solve climate change, or are we merely playing the “blame game” on social media with the future of the Earth at stake?

By Daniel Lundgaard.

The climate change debate is something that is on the minds of most people these days. The most recent elections in Denmark have been dubbed “climate-elections”, and we have recently seen massive demonstrations throughout the city of Copenhagen, and all around the world. These demonstrations take place both offline and on social media, where the #FridaysForFuture-movement recently has had a central role in inspiring engagement, especially among the younger generation.

The central role of social media as a platform cultivating a pursuit for social change is not something new. Recently #Metoo became a viral phenomenon with millions of people contributing worldwide, and a few years back we saw the rise of the Black Lives Matter-movement – as well as the Arab spring.

Civil society is associated with responsibilities for contributing to solving the problem rather than “playing the blame game”

However, while it is widely acknowledged that social media is used to discuss societal issues, there is so far little knowledge about how these discussions associate global issues such as climate change with the question of responsibility. Based on an analysis of around 3 million “climate change”-tweets – tweets mentioning either “climate change” in the text, use the #Climatechange-hashtag or share a link containing “climate change” in the headline, I dove in to the climate change debate on Twitter, and explored how the issue of responsibility was discussed. I was in particular curious about how the question of responsibility was framed, and how this question was associated with various actors. As I emerged from the data, three trends could be identified:

1. The issue of causing climate change is associated with the fossil fuel industry

Tweets referring to the issue of causing climate change are to a large extent explicitly referring to the fossil fuel industry, oil companies or similar, arguing that “the fossil fuel companies are responsible for causing climate change”. An argument emphasizing society’s responsibility also appeared, although not in the way that I would have assumed. The attempts to frame climate change as something caused by society was raised, but quickly dismissed, and instead used to emphasize the role of the fossil fuel industry, e.g. by linking to a report on how just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, while stating “please keep this in mind if you feel personally responsible for climate change”.

2. Responsibilities for remedial activities is associated with society as a whole

Despite corporations being “blamed” for causing climate change, a lack of trust in these actors’ ability to change their ways was expressed in the tweets. Interestingly, one of the primary ways of framing the issue of solving the problem was that while corporations can be blamed for causing the problem, and we (civil society) should not feel personally responsible for what has happened until now, it was emphasized that we need to stop pointing the finger at corporations. We need to stop blaming the fossil industry for what has transpired, and instead re-think our way of living, and consider the daily choices we make e.g. “Swap your car or plane ride for a bus or train” or “stop eating meat”. Thus, civil society is associated with responsibilities for contributing to solving the problem rather than “playing the blame game”.

3. The debate is highly politicized

Finally, while corporations are blamed for causing the problem, and consumer behavior is emphasized in terms of solving the problem, the politicization of the debate permeates these trends. In relation to both trends, I found multiple references to political actors, emphasizing their contribution to the problem. This was often identified in tweets referred to the issue of climate denialism, but also in relation to how politicians haven’t sufficiently regulated the oil industry or that politicians in some cases even protect the fossil fuel industry – often related to discussions about money. Interestingly, while the politicization permeates the debate, the tweets discussing the role of political actors also emphasized the responsibility of civil society. An example of this is the argument that civil society have voted for these individuals, and that we need to consider our actions, and consider who we vote for in the future.

What can we learn?

Reviewing the way that climate change is discussed on social media, there is a general agreement that politicians and – in particular the fossil fuel industry – is to blame for what has happened. However, as the debate unfolds, there is a highly valuable argument in that playing the “blame-game” doesn’t solve any problems, and instead we, as a global society, need to think about our ways of living, and consider how we can be part of the solution.


About the author

Daniel Lundgaard is a PhD Fellow embedded in the Governing Responsible Business research environment and part of CBS Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School. His research is mainly focused on how communication on social media shapes the ways we think about organizational responsibilities, and how responsibilities become associated with emerging issues, as millions of citizens, politicians, NGOs and corporations engage in highly fluid debates.

By the same author:


Image

Photo by Con Karampelas on Unsplash

Who cares about sustainable fashion?

By Erin Leitheiser.

Can ever-higher rates of consumption ever truly be sustainable?  Consideration of up-and-coming consumers will be key to making progress in the sustainability of the fashion industry.

Each year in May, Copenhagen hosts the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, which brings together fashion industry leaders to consider the environmental and social sustainability issues rife within the industry.  While this year’s event promises discussions on important supply-side issues like materials and design, circularity, supply chains, wages, and the like, there seems to be precious little time dedicated to demand-side issues, principally the role of consumers.  As such, this post offers a review of some key facts and trends that foreshadow the landscape of the future of (sustainable) fashion, and in particular, the role of consumers.

First, some key facts about the scale of the fashion industry and its impacts:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from the textile industry account for 8% of all carbon emissions globally, more than those emitted by all international flights and maritime shipping combined (Quantis, 2018). 
  • The top 20 companies in the clothing industry, mostly in the luxury segment, account for 97% of its economic profit (McKinsey, 2019).
  • Clothing sales have more than doubled in just the last 20 years (Ellen McCarther Foundation, 2017), and apparel consumption is projected to rise an additional 63% by 2020 (Global Fashion Agenda, 2017). 
  • Despite growing efforts to collect and recycle old textiles, less than 1% of materials used in clothing is recycled (Ellen MacCarthur Foundation, 2017). 
  • Companies – particularly luxury companies – often prioritize brand image over sustainability.  For example, Burberry found itself embroiled in scandal after it chose to burn US$37 million in excess stock last year, rather than discount or donate it.

While many of these issues skew toward supply-side, consumers’ habits play a key role in the vast excesses of the fashion industry.  Consumption rates seem to grow ever-higher.

  • Nearly half of young female consumers buy clothing at least monthly (Farsang et al, 2015).
  • An article of clothing in a woman’s closet is worn a mere 7 times on average before being discarded (Barnardo’s, 2015)
  • In the past year, a quarter of Australians (24%) have thrown away an item of clothing after wearing it only once, and 1 in 6 have binned 3 items or more after a single wear (YouGov, 2017). 
  • A third of UK women consider a garment “old” after wearing it 3 times or less (Barnardo’s, 2015).
  • 38% of Millennials have bought at least half of the clothes they own within the past year (YouGov, 2017). 
  • In China, clothing utilization (that is, the number of time a garment is worn before being discarded) has fallen by over 70% in the last 15 years (Ellen MacCarthur Foundation, 2017).  At the same time, Greater China is projected to overtake the U.S. in 2019 as the largest fashion market in the world (McKinsey 2019).

The consumer landscape is changing rapidly when it comes to “sustainable” fashion, so much so that fashion firm executives identified consumer behaviors that force industry to “self-disrupt” as the #1 trend for 2019 (McKinsey, 2019).  Key consumer trends underscore the significance, scale and potential of consumers in the quest for (more) sustainable fashion.  Younger consumers – Millennials (born 1980-2000) and Gen Zers (born 2000-now) – are largely responsible for pushing companies to become more sustainable.

  • 94% of Gen Zers believe that companies should address social and environmental issues (Cone, 2017). 
  • Gen Z alone will account for 40 percent of global consumers by 2020. (McKinsey, 2019)
  • 90% of Millennials would boycott or otherwise refuse to buy from a company that is doing harm (Cone, 2017)
  • Consumers want to support brands that are doing good in the world, with 66 percent willing to pay more for sustainable goods (McKinsey, 2019).

As younger generations increase their buying power – and couple it with ethical evaluations – companies will need to become even more responsive to and diligent about addressing sustainability issues.  Yet, high consumption rates threaten to curtail gains made from sustainability advances, like textile recycling.  In addition to more sustainable production practices – and subsequent ethical purchasing – consumption must decrease if the perils of the industry are to be addressed.

“Younger consumers are seriously concerned with social and environmental causes, which many regard as being the defining issues of our time. They increasingly back their beliefs with their shopping habits, favouring brands that are aligned with their values and avoiding those that don’t.”

McKinsey, 2019: p. 45

I am often asked what one can do as an individual to be more sustainable when it comes to fashion.  My answer is in two main parts.  First, buy fewer, better quality items and wear them for longer.  Classic, good quality pieces will wear better and last longer.  Even if they cost a bit more at purchase their extended life makes them a more affordable option in the long run.  Second, re-think how you care for your clothes.  Washing them less, at lower temperatures, and hanging them to dry will all result in gains for both your energy bill, as well as the environment, estimated at a 3% carbon reduction (WRAP, 2017).  Some proponents even argue that you never need to wash your jeans!  (though this might be a bit extreme for some)

There is no silver bullet to solving the unsustainability of the fashion industry.  But one thing does seem clear: advances and changes must come from all sides if progress is to be made.  As the Copenhagen Fashion Summit kicks off this week , please keep in mind the importance and role of everyone involved in the production, sale, and disuse of fashion, as well as the very premise that the industry is based on: consumption.


About the author

Erin Leitheiser is a postdoctoral researcher in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School. Her research interests revolve around the changing role and expectations of business in society. Prior to pursuing her PhD, she worked as a CSR manager in a U.S. Fortune-50 company, as well as a public policy consultant with a focus on convening and facilitating of multi-stakeholder initiatives. She is supported by the Velux Foundation and is on Twitter as @erinleit.

References

Barnardo’s. (2015). One worn, thrice shy – British women’s wardrobe habits exposed!.  Retrieved from https://www.barnardos.org.uk/news/Once-worn-thrice-shy-8211-British-women8217s-wardrobe-habits-exposed/press_releases.htm

Cone. (2017) “Gen Z CSR study: How to Speak Z”. http://www.conecomm. com/2017-cone-gen-z-csr-study-pdf

Ellen MaCarthur Foundation. (2017). A new textiles economy: redesigning fashion’s future. 1–150. Retrieved from https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications/a-new-textiles-economy-redesigning-fashions-future

Environmental Audit Committee, House of Commons. (2017). Fixing Fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability.

Farsang, A., Gwozdz, W., Mueller, T., Reisch, L. A., & Netter, S. (2015). Survey Results on Fashion Consumption and Sustainability Among Young Consumers in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK and the US in 2014. Borås: Mistra Future Fashion.

Global Fashion Agenda. (2017). Pulse of the fashion Industry. Retrieved from https://www.copenhagenfashionsummit.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Pulse-of-the-Fashion-Industry_2017.pdf

McKinsey & Company. (2019). The State of Fashion 2019.

Quantis. (2018). Measuring Fashion.

WRAP. (2017). Valuing Our Clothes: the cost of UK fashion. Retrieved from http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/valuing-our-clothes-the-cost-of-uk-fashion_WRAP.pdf

By the same author

The Government of Business Responsibility

Role Reversal: When Business Safeguards the Public Good


Photo: Courtesy of Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2018.

Let Me Lend You a Hand: How Behavioural Economics Can Restore Trust in Science

By Noah Peters.

Society’s declining trust in science in general and economics in particular is a much debated topic. Martin Wolf’s recent commentary for the Institute of New Economic Thinking (INET) is only one way of addressing the conundrum. This blog post draws on two prominent contentions underpinning the obscure notion of distrust in economics. Firstly, economists (allegedly) live in their ivory towers surrounded by mathematical formulas no outsider would even vaguely understand. Secondly, they are accused of not being able to adequately forecast crises, let alone fend them off.

One increasingly influential sub-discipline in economics tries to overhaul these stereotypes. Stemming from psychology, behavioural economics shows that humans are multi-faceted, empathetic and guided by values and social surroundings. For readers not familiar with economics, this finding might not be a major surprise. But it goes against the grain of long-standing economic traditions emphasising people’s pursuit of profit maximisation. Acknowledging people’s genuine driving forces and behavioural patterns counteracts the first contention I presented earlier: economists’ penchant for technical abstractions of human action.

Moreover, behavioural economics and behaviourally informed policy interventions address everyday problems – retirement savings, administrative procedures or identifying the healthiest product on a supermarket shelf. Behavioural policy interventions aim at improving the lives of ordinary people. Economic and financial crises unequivocally affect the lives of everyone, from investment bankers to bakers. But loosening people’s daily constraints is as important and contributes to the bigger picture. This is what behavioural policy does.

Consequently, those interventions and their economic foundations are relatable. I argue that this relatedness to the real world is pivotal in regaining societal trust and convincing citizens of the value that economic theory can add.

While this demand is not new and maybe trivial, it is worth stressing over and over again. And especially behavioural economics got the message. Unsurprisingly, key topics for policy-makers are sustainability and public health. Behavioural interventions address these challenges from an individual-level, demand-side perspective. By inquiring how people really judge and decide (using experiments and investigating people’s motivations), the overarching challenges of the 21st century can be traced to the consumer level. This way, we can elucidate how every single person can make a difference. Today’s urgencies become vivid and tangible.

A couple of examples in the domain of food choice shall underpin this connection of behavioural economic theory and everyday applications. A supermarket, for example, constitutes the perfect playground for behavioural scientists. Traffic-light labels indicating how healthy a certain product is draw on the plain fact that simplifications can enhance people’s decisions. Likewise, plate size can affect how much people eat. Restaurant menu design could steer which option customers choose. One additional strategy are default options, e.g. vegetarian snacks automatically ordered for meetings if not otherwise changed for non-vegetarian alternatives. This feature is informed by the fact that people prefer the status-quo and are sometimes too lazy to make simple changes.

This list is not exhaustive, and the interventions presented above are widely discussed in academia and rather trivial. Thus, every serious scholar would automatically defend the originality of her ideas. Others would go even further and completely demonise any form of real-world application.

I contend, however, that the frivolous essence of many behavioural interventions explains their efficacy and acclaim. Psychological underpinnings inform policy interventions in a way that relates to people’s everyday lives thereby addressing the questions of our time.

But it’s not entirely rosy for behavioural economics either. Critics contend that consumers – citizens (!) – are manipulated and deprived of their own capacity to judge. There are compelling reasons why this notion is short-sighted, though. Thus, behavioural scientists must establish guidelines ensuring their legitimate intentions and communicate their toolbox transparently. And of course: mathematics and technical tools are invaluable instruments for the empirical sciences; they are the very departure point to extrapolate the world we live in.

The combination of scientific rigour, tangible applications, and sincere motivations can help restore societal trust. Scientists who are successful in applying and communicating this trinity, can evade the curse of post-truth sentiments and latent hostility to experts.

About the Author

Noah is a visiting research assistant to the Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC). He studies sociology, politics and economics at Zeppelin University, Germany. In his research he focuses on behavioural economics and policy applications, as well as economic and urban sociology. Partaking in an exchange programme between Copenhagen Business School and Zeppelin University, Noah supports current research at MSC’s Consumer and Behavioral Insights Group (CBIG). Connect on LinkedIn or ResearchGate if you are so inclined.


Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

Temporal Dimensions of Hypocrisy

By Lars Thøger Christensen.

Hypocrisy is a serious charge for social actors, especially organizations and politicians, whose profession depends on perceptions of sincerity and credibility. To call someone a hypocrite is to challenge his or her moral integrity and to indicate that the object of the accusation cannot be trusted. In spite of their seriousness, however, hypocrisy charges are frequent occurrences in public debate. Whereas the notion of hypocrisy used to refer specifically to the practice of engaging in the very same immoral behavior for which one castigates other actors, today it is likely to be mobilized whenever gaps, imbalances or disparities between one set of activities and another can be observed and claimed. Hypocrisy, in other words, has become an expansive arena.

Hypocrisy charges have become dissociated from moral preaching and refer today more broadly to perceived inconsistencies between talk and action.

For organizations, such inconsistencies are countless. This is especially the case when their talk concerns complex activities that extend far beyond the immediate present and involve dimensions of the organization’s past and future. Organizations, for example, are often accused by stakeholders for inconsistencies between their current ideals and their former practices. Similarly, stakeholders frequently reject future-oriented goals with reference to present-day activities. Since hypocrisy charges can be damaging to one’s reputation, however, organizations are likely to counter such challenges by reasserting some sort of consistency between their past, present and future. While such endeavours tend to attract criticism, they are quite common practices in contemporary organizations.

Influenced by an expanded understanding of hypocrisy, many organizations are engaged in practices of consistency management.

Instead of admitting the existence of inconsistencies, disjunctures or dilemmas among different dimensions of their practices, organizations engage in “communicative acrobatics” in order to navigate in the unruly waters of their past, their present and their future. Examples of such acrobatics are aspiration, deferment, evasion and re-narration.

Aspiration denotes organizational ambitions camouflaged as accurate self-descriptions. While aspirations might come across as more credible if they were presented as future-oriented goals, the combined desire to improve the organization’s reputational standing and motivate internal audiences towards better practices implies that such self-descriptions tend to be formulated as if they reflect already existing practices.

Deferment refers to delays, extensions or suspensions of organizational action towards better futures. While such delays may be accepted in some contexts, they are likely to be met with suspicion when they involve responsible or sustainable practices. Organizations that find themselves behind schedule or not yet able to evidence the results of their initiatives, must therefore engage vigorously in justifications.

Evasion describes organizational attempts to bypass, neglect or otherwise distance themselves from dubious or irresponsible decisions and behaviors of their past. Since the past is frequently evoked by critics to dismiss the credibility of current organizational goals and visions and to support charges of hypocrisy, it is crucial for many organizations to stress that what used to be common practice has been terminated long time ago.

Re-narration refers to attempts by organizations to mobilize and reedit their past in self-flattery ways. As a particular practice aimed at retroactively editing the past in the interest of the present and the future, re-narration involves selecting and rearranging specific events and symbols of the past into an idealized picture that can be used as a resource to guide and justify current practices and future goals.

These are just a few examples of organizational attempts to bypass hypocrisy charges in the shape of inconsistencies or tensions between their past, their present and their future. Interestingly, such attempts tend to reproduce hypocrisy in new forms – forms, which are just as likely to attract attention and criticism. As such, hypocrisy has potential to do something to organizations and society over time.

The combination of hypocrisy and stakeholder criticism has performative potential.

Many aspirations, for example, are hypocritical because they exaggerate organizational abilities and accomplishments. At the same time, they have performative potential to the extent that they mobilize employees and NGOs to demand better practices. Also, aspirations may inspire similar aspirations among competitors such that they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Similarly, while deferment practices may relieve the organization from immediate pressure to do exactly as they say, they simultaneously indicate that organizations are sensitive to their social standing and hold on to their future-directed ideals and goals.

Such sensitivity might be used by stakeholders to demand further explanations and updated timeframes. By holding on to long-term-ideals and goals, even when they are difficult to implement in full, organizations seem to acknowledge what is right and what they ought to do. Similarly, even if evasion may be a tempting way out for organizations when facing negative publicity about their past, such practice indicates that organizational actors are aware that certain practices no longer are acceptable.
Finally, the fact that many corporations seek to re-narrate their past indicates some awareness that change is called for and that organizational endeavors are being vigilantly observed by others.

Without hypocrisy, organizations may relieve themselves from pressures to become better.

None of this is to suggest that hypocrisy automatically generates better practices. Rather, it is a call to investigate further how hypocrisy in the shape of inconsistencies can be mobilized to perform in the interest of society.


Suggestions for further readings

Brunsson, N. (2003). Organized hypocrisy. In B. Czarniawska & G. Sevón G. (Eds), The Northern lights – organization theory in Scandinavia (pp. 201-222). Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press.

Cho, C. H., Laine, M., Roberts, R. W., & Rodrigue, M. (2015). Organized hypocrisy, organizational façades, and sustainability reporting. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 40, 78-94.

Christensen, L.T., Morsing, M., & Thyssen, O. (2013). CSR as aspirational talk. Organization, 20(3), 372-393.

Haack, P., Schoeneborn. D., & Wickert, C. (2012). Talking the talk, moral entrapment, creeping commitment? Exploring narrative dynamics in corporate responsibility standardization. Organization Studies, 33(5-6), 815-845.

About the Author

Lars Thøger Christensen is Professor of Communication and Organization at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark.

By the same author: License to Critique: Inoculating Standards against Closure.


Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash.

“We’re just geeks”: Do emergent disciplinary identities among business students affect their sense of personal responsibility?

By Maribel Blasco.

Georg*: I don’t think people from Maths are like that [selfish] because it’s another environment. We treat each other kindly. We are not like these types that want to be in front and want to be the best, and want to be in the top.

Fransisca*: We are more down to earth, just because we are geeks and people don’t show up in suits and small briefcases.

Mette*: I think we are much more down to earth than other study programs at CBS. And I think the environment at Maths makes us more responsible in some way and that we are not like “I just have to reach the top no matter what.”

(Quotes from group interview with undergraduate business and math students).
*Names changed.

Business schools invest a great deal of effort in forging a sense of shared identity among students from different subject specializations. Freshers’ weeks, introduction events, team-building exercises, and invited speakers are just a few examples of initiatives designed to strengthen students’ sense of belonging to a particular professional group.

But what if this is backfiring? Although belief in the positive features of one’s own group is known to support teamwork and cooperation, among other benefits, we also know that it can have a dark side in the form of responsibility disavowal, prejudice and discrimination towards groups perceived as outsiders. These dynamics beset firms and other organizations, where sub-groups can be a major source of conflict, and where silo thinking – unwillingness to collaborate or sometimes even communicate with other groups in the same organization – has been found to erode responsibilities and foster a culture of promoting one’s own group rather than the organization as a whole. Recent financial scandals have also revealed how such groupthink can lead people to deny personal responsibility for wrongdoing.

In this research, I show how students’ emergent professional identities can work against their sense of personal responsibility by providing rationalizations for moral buck-passing. The data consist of group interviews involving students from fifteen undergraduate business programmes. Among the most intriguing findings that emerged were three logics that students used in talking about responsibility.

Logics of Responsibility Talk

The first logic was the notion that the intrinsic nature of certain disciplines, notably numbers-oriented subjects like maths and economics, obviated the need for a responsibility focus. The second logic was that students generally felt that their own disciplinary specialization was ‘more responsible’ than others’. The third logic was that almost all students appeared convinced that decisions about responsibility were an individual matter – but they mostly regarded irresponsibility as something that other people or groups got up to.
So even though most insisted that responsibility was ultimately up to the individual, that individual was seldom itself.

“Missing from most students’ accounts was a critical appraisal of their own fallibility.”

All three logics provide rationales for disavowing personal responsibility. Missing from most students’ accounts was a critical appraisal of their own fallibility, that of their discipline, or that of their disciplinary in-group, in regard to the potential for irresponsibility. Only a few questioned their ability to resist temptation if placed in a morally dubious situation.
Particularly worrisome was that business students across all specializations regarded so-called ‘harder’ subjects, notably maths and economics, variously as neutral, objective, technical, theoretical or basic subjects that were not ‘about’ responsibility. Students tended to accept the models and theories taught in those subjects pretty much unequivocally, arguing that since these were ‘used by major institutions’ they must be responsible in and of themselves.

Separation Thesis

This kind of thinking reflects what scholars have referred to as the ‘separation thesis’, i.e. the notion that business decisions have no moral content and moral decisions have no business content (Harris & Freeman, 2008; Freeman, 1994; Wicks, 1996). This idea that facts can be separated from values is, according to some scholars, ‘ingrained in all that we do in business schools’, and leads to the notion that business theories can be morally neutral ‘while surreptitiously encapsulating certain ethical values and assertions’ (Harris & Freeman 2008: 543; Freeman, 1994: 412; Ghoshal, 2005).

Alongside this, many students, notably those from numbers-oriented specializations, associated responsibility with so-called ‘softer’, ‘discussion’ subjects like organizational studies and corporate social responsibility, and displayed a disdain for these that is also mirrored in the business world where ‘financial and market strategists who have been conditioned to respect only “hard” and quantifiable “facts” ‘with “hard” data to support them’ find it easy to dismiss human factors as ‘“soft” or “mushy” issues’ (Cartwright & Cooper 1995: 35).

Learnings

As management educators, what can we learn from this study? First, the findings open up for a debate about how to educate for subject-specific forms of responsibility without fostering a ‘silo mentality’ that may serve to disavow personal responsibility.

To address this, first, we might explore ways to render disciplinary boundaries more porous by explicitly and critically discussing, with students, their disciplinary mental models and the beliefs, identifications and behaviors they foster. Second, initiatives that encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration should be encouraged. Finally, we need to raise students’ awareness of the limits of their individual agency, and of their own fallibility when confronted with the appeal of solidarity, when it comes to responsibility decisions. In sum: we must find ways to teach students to take personal responsibility even in situations when they do not consider that it is theirs to take.

The Author

Maribel Blasco, Associate Professor, Department of Management, Society & Communication, Copenhagen Business School. Research area: Management learning and education.


References

Cartwright, S., & Cooper, C. L. (1995). Organizational marriage:“hard” versus “soft” issues?. Personnel Review, 24(3), 32-42.

Freeman, R. E. (1994). The politics of stakeholder theory: Some future directions. Business ethics quarterly, 409-421.

Harris, J. D., & Freeman, R. E. (2008). The impossibility of the separation thesis: A response to Joakim Sandberg. Business Ethics Quarterly, 18(4), 541-548.

Ghoshal, S. (2005). Bad management theories are destroying good management practices. Academy of Management learning & education, 4(1), 75-91.

Wicks, A. C. (1996). Overcoming the separation thesis: the need for a reconsideration of business and society research. Business & Society, 35(1), 89-118.


Photo by Alex Chambers on Unsplash.

Youth Perspective to the Sustainability Agenda

By Charlotte Piller, Luna Stæhr Andersen and Mikkel Mezer Morgensen.

If not now, when?

As the days get shorter and the year slowly draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on 2018. This last year, has seen endless headlines of shocking and fatal natural disasters around the world; From Tsunamis, hurricanes, rapidly spreading forest fires to severe drought and horrifying floods are only a few of the hardly bearable events that confronted us this year.

The last year has clearly shown us that numerous climate disasters with countless deaths, devastated countries and millions of climate refugees, demand strong action for the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals with its 169 targets – and if not now, when? And if not the young, then who?

If not us, then who?

Charlotte Piller (Copenhagen Business School).

We are representatives from Sustainability Influencers, an initiative which wants to inspire students to challenge the status quo – our current economic and societal system of linear economy and lack of effective resource management appropriate to the challenges we face. We are a movement initiated by Student and Innovation House and CBS PRME, consisting of various students from universities around Denmark. We aim to engage students across different educational backgrounds to increase commitment towards the SDGs. We are convinced that in order to achieve the UN SDGs, we need to mobilise, engage and empower fellow students to create change. Among other things, we organise for instance events such as a SDG festival, a sustainable Start Up challenge, a SDG bar through which we aspire to simultaneously create awareness, involve actively and empower our participants to inspire others.

We, the young generation, want to lead the way to a more sustainable future. Fortunately, UN SDGs provide us with a framework and a common language to push for sustainable development, foster needed innovation, social inclusion and green economic growth.


Luna Stæhr Andersen (Copenhagen University).

Why should it be us?

Growing up in an age of climate change, we question how the issue is currently dealt with and believe that one of our main tasks is to drive the green transition of our society; since this can never happen by the actions of just a few, a youth movement for sustainable development is crucial. Besides the fact that we are impatient and enthusiastic, the answer to how we can help transform our world, may be found in understanding the way we perceive, interpret and ultimately act today. There is a basic change going on with the young people of the world, which re-defines fundamental concepts of freedom, power and identity to community.

In contrast to the previous generation’s understanding of freedom as autonomy and exclusivity, we feel free when being part of a community with access to others in our network. Freedom therefore means inclusivity to us. We also have a different perception of power. While others believed in top-down power, we are convinced of the power of the many – of our community. Moreover, we are seeing a change in the way younger generations’ identity is intertwined with their community. As we begin to see climate change impacting our communities, and understanding that there’s nowhere to escape, we begin to realize that we’re part of a world community. Nothing is a zero-sum game, with just a few winners. And so, we are beginning to strongly empathize with our fellow humans around the planet.

Mikkel Beyer Morgensen (Aalborg University).

These changes in the understanding of freedom, power and identity that we are seeing is the basis upon we are acting and gives us hope that we can help support the needed transformation of our societies and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals not only for Denmark, but for everyone.

Seize the opportunity and be like Greta!

Every change starts with a vision and people who fearlessly fight for it by inspiring, mobilizing and engaging others to drive this change – in each of their communities. In these communities the share of influence by us, the millennials, who by definition are restless seeking of the meaning in life is becoming bigger. We are looking for the opportunities to do fulfilling and useful work and at the same time has a positive impact on the world. An opportunity to change life for the better.

Dear young generation, open your eyes and look around, you are surrounded by opportunities! Seize them professionally or personally, but in any case, as world citizens, drive inspiration.

We need more people like 15-year-old Greta Thunbergs, a strong-headed and exemplary girl, who skips school every Friday in order to draw attention to climate change in the streets of Stockholm, and fewer American billionaires researching new planets to populate instead of fighting for our planet – our home. Do not just recklessly give it up, but rather be like Greta: foster change and make for different headlines in the future.


Authors

  • Charlotte Piller – graduate student at CBS in Organizational Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Luna Stæhr Andersen – graduate student at KU in Agriculture Economics
  • Mikkel Beyer Mogensen – graduate student at Aalborg University in Applied Philosophy and Business Administration

We Need To Pay More Attention To Business Associations

By José Carlos Marques.

Despite their key role in both national and international affairs, business associations remain strangely absent from academic discourse, teaching and research on corporate responsibility and sustainability. We clearly need to pay more attention to business associations.

The prominence of business associations

Business associations play an important role in promoting corporate responsibility and sustainability. One need to look no further than the events of recent weeks for evidence of their prominence and influence. At the UN summit in Katowice, Poland, national institutional investor associations – representing some of the planet’s largest asset managers, pension funds, and insurers – sent a clear message to the world’s governments: we need to end fossil fuel subsidies and introduce substantial carbon taxes if we want to avoid both environmental and financial calamity [i].

Recent headlines also point to how business associations may work to inhibit progress. Just before the UN summit began welcoming delegates, a number of fossil fuel trade associations, led by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, were busy lobbying the U.S. government. Their objective? Ensure that the U.S. Senate and Congress kill any hopes of reviving the federal tax credit for electric vehicles (EVs). That’s the same EV credit that helped Tesla grow its market share in the U.S. and is similar to programs that boosted EV usage in numerous other countries [ii]. While the credit program is a tiny fraction of what the fossil fuel industry receives in subsidies, it represents an obvious threat [iii].

Ensure that the U.S. Senate and Congress kill any hopes of reviving the federal tax credit for electric vehicles.

These are just some of the more visible examples of the considerable influence exercised by business associations. Countless other business associations lobby governments, develop self-regulatory programs and engage in a variety of activities that both advance and impede progress on a variety of key social and environmental issues including human rights, labor rights, climate change and inequality. Some have become highly prominent and visible in international circles – take the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

What is a business association?

Business associations are membership organizations composed of, funded, and governed, by firms with shared interests. They represent and defend the interests of their organizational members to outside parties and frequently offer services to their membership base (Schmitter & Streeck, 1999; Lanzalaco, 2008; Barnett, 2013). Associative action is distinct from other forms of business collective action such as alliances, business groups, networks and multi-stakeholder initiatives. It is also one of the most common forms of inter-organizational business activity. There are thousands in the U.S. alone. Every industry and sub-industry has one or several associations and most companies are members of one or several associations – a trade or industry association, a chamber of commerce, an employers’ association, a sustainability coalition, a lobby group, an economic club, etc.

The peril and promise of business associations

As the examples in the introduction illustrate, collective action via business associations can serve multiple ends. In some cases, they operate as special interest groups and rent-seekers whose narrow, self-serving objectives benefit only the industries or coalitions they represent… or even a small subset of member firms within the association. As such, business associations may stall or undermine sustainability efforts and capture regulators and legislators. In these cases, they are detrimental to society and must be countered and contained by markets, governments and social movements (“peril”).

In other cases, their interests are aligned with broader social goals, and as such, they serve as powerful, well-resourced advocates for mobilization and pro-social change. Under certain conditions, business associations may also exert normative pressure upon its membership, mediate member interests, and operate as effective self-regulatory institutions, resulting in beneficial social outcomes (“promise”).

The need for more research

The idea that companies who compete in the economic sphere can also collaborate to address social and environmental concerns has taken hold in both academic and practitioner circles. However, scholarship from various disciplines suggests that achieving the institutional conditions conducive to beneficial social outcomes is difficult and that more research on business associations, and the broader topic of collaboration amongst competitors, is required. Depending on the theoretical grounding and audience, the phenomenon is being addressed under a variety of labels: trade associations, green clubs, meta-organizations, pre-collaborative collaboration, coopetition and self-regulation. Clearly, there is a strong need and there are growing opportunities to address the prominence, peril and promise of business associations.


[i] Carrington, D. (2018, Dec 10). Tackle climate or face financial crash, say world’s biggest investors: UN summit urged to end all coal burning and introduce substantial taxes on emissions. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/10/tackle-climate-or-face-financial-crash-say-worlds-biggest-investors?CMP=share_btn_tw

[ii] Lambert, F. (2018, Nov20). Oil companies officially ask Republicans to kill effort to extend electric vehicle tax credit. electrek. Retrieved from https://electrek.co/2018/11/20/oil-companies-republicans-kill-electric-vehicle-tax-credit/

[iii] Nuccitelli, D. (2018, Jul 30). America spends over $20bn per year on fossil fuel subsidies. Abolish them. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jul/30/america-spends-over-20bn-per-year-on-fossil-fuel-subsidies-abolish-them


The Author

José Carlos Marques is Assistant Professor, Strategy, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, at the Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa, and Visiting Research Fellow (Governing Responsible Business) at the Copenhagen Business School. His research program, at the intersection of strategic management, sustainability and transnational governance, examines the drivers and organizational strategies of inter-organizational coalitions that address social and environmental challenges – these include business associations, multi-stakeholder initiatives and business-state interactions. His work has been published in MIT Sloan Management Review, Organization Studies, Journal of Business Ethics and Journal of World Business.
contact: jc.marques@telfer.uottawa.ca
twitter: @jcmarqz

Bibliography

  • Aldrich, H. E. (2017). Trade Associations Matter as Units of Selection, as Actors Within Comparative and Historical Institutional Frameworks, and as Potential Impediments to Societal Wide Collective Action. Journal of Management Inquiry, 27(1), pp.21-25.
  • Barnett, M. L. (2013). One Voice, But Whose Voice? Exploring What Drives Trade Association Activity. Business & Society, 52(2), 213-244.
  • Buchanan, S. and Marques, J.C. 2017. How Home Country Industry Associations Influence MNE International CSR Practices: Evidence from the Canadian Mining Industry. Journal of World Business, 53(1): 63-74.
  • DiVito, L., & Sharma, G. (2016). Collaborating with Competitors to Advance Sustainability: A Guide for Managers. Network for Business Sustainability (NBS). London, ON. Retrieved from https://nbs.net/p/guide-collaborating-with-competitors-to-advance-sustai-a95dc170-b857-49f4-82ba-42033c09b6cc
  • Grayson, D., & Nelson, J. (2013). Corporate responsibility coalitions: The past, present, and future of alliances for sustainable capitalism. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Lanzalaco, L. (2008). Business Interest Associations. In G. G. Jones & J. Zeitlin (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Business History (pp. 293-318). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Marques, J. C. (2017). Industry Business Associations: Self-Interested or Socially Conscious? Journal of Business Ethics, 143(4), 733-751.
  • Nidumolu, R., Ellison, J., Whalen, J., & Billman, E. (2014, April). The Collaboration Imperative. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/04/the-collaboration-imperative-2
  • Potoski, M., & Prakash, A. (Eds.). (2009). Voluntary Programs: A Club Theory Perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Rajwani, T., Lawton, T., & Phillips, N. (2015). The “Voice of Industry”: Why Management Researchers Should Pay More Attention to Trade Associations. Strategic Organization, 13(3), pp.224-232.
  • Schmitter, P. C., & Streeck, W. (1999). The Organization of Business Interests: Studying the Associative Action of Business in Advanced Industrial Societies – MPIfG Discussion Paper 99/1. Cologne, Germany: Max-Planck-Institut.

Photo by Sebastian Bednarek on Unsplash.

The CBS Sustainability (re-) Launch

This is blog post one of two throwbacks providing key insights from the speakers.


By Oliver Laier.

On Monday, December 3rd, a new centre was officially launched at Copenhagen Business School’s Management, Society & Communications department (MSC), located in Dalgas Have.

A crowded lobby in Dalgas Have, when the participants got their name tags. With fruit and coffee, the guests had a chance to chat and mingle, before the event began.

CBS Sustainability

New? Not quite. From 2002-2018, there was cbsCSR, a centre for Corporate Social Responsibility; and for five years starting 2011, the Business in Society (BiS) Sustainability Platform. Insofar the launch was more the rebirth of the phoenix than something completely new. The “masses of success” from the two mentioned formats are now continued and expanded in a new suit that acknowledges the plethora of themes and issues under Sustainability, which have long gone beyond merely corporate aspects.

Steen Vallentin, giving the first speech at the CBS Sustainability Launch.

Research and teaching will of course remain the core features of the centre. But CBS Sustainability is also a  platform. In this function, it is going to focus on outreach and inreach also, as Steen Vallentin (lecturer and director of the centre, see photo) explained in his opening talk to the event.

CBS Sustainabilitiy’s focus areas:

  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Government and governance of responsible business
  • Behavioural public policy
  • Sustainable consumption
  • Sustainable development
  • Social innovation/ entrepreneurship
  • Corporate communication
  • Business and human rights

The new centre is precisely about research beyond corporate social responsibility, and rather about working with a broader sustainability agenda. It is about defining both solutions and problems, and to find critical and constructive approaches. CBS Sustainability will be focal point for resources at CBS and outside, but at the same time platform for dialogue, connection and coordination in the diversified field which now ranges from governance across behavioural science to human rights.

Being sustainable, or becoming less unsustainable?


Henrik Schramm Rasmussen from Danish Industy (aka. Dansk Industri or simply: DI) joined as a speaker from the business world. Representing DI, he had an unmistakable notion of the sustainability theme and the global goals in particular: the UN SDGs as business driver. They bare the capacity to offer a growth strategy including market opportunities, drive innovation and are therefore linked to economic growth.

Henrik Schramm Rasmussen from Danish Industry (DI).

The global development goals are per definition common, since we share the planet; and although they are not exactly written in business lingo, they are clearly formulated, underpinned by specific targets and come with a network offering advice and inspiration.

Companies should engage for several reasons Henrik claims: firms can harvest new market opportunities, attract workforce, brand and license themselves to operate in sustainable business. Needless to say, this is no walk in the park, neither for small, nor for large or established companies. DI has therefore launched a page (in Danish), introducing the goals to firms and explaining how they can strengthen a company by providing guidance and exemplary cases. With member companies covering the most diverse fields, from architecture, over production, to consumer goods to event management (yes, I refer to Roskilde Festival!), there is already a rich collection of inspiring cases.

There is a shift going on among the businesses: from rather passive, preventive and risk reducing compliance, to active and courageous creation of business opportunities and development. The new way involves customers and partners, R&D, sales and communication, but of course also risk. However, ambitious goals can also foster innovation and competitive power – and this is what to aim for.

Henrik’s key take-aways:

  • SDGs are about innovation and new business models.
  • Sustainability must be owned by top leadership, not compliance managers!
  • It’s about innovation, sale and a rethinking of companies’ purpose.
  • Sustainability starts with a bold mission statement about the company’s contribution to a sustainable world.

Current issues in Business and Human Rights: report from the 2018 Annual Forum in Geneva

By Karin Buhmann.

‘Building on what works’ was the key topic for the annual Forum on Business and Human Rights that took place in Geneva on 26. to 28. November. With more than 2000 participants, the Forum has become the world’s largest gathering of practitioners, academics, civil society, governments and just about anyone else with an interest in the field of business and human rights. The sessions were streamed online, making the Forum accessible also for those not able to attend in person in Geneva.

Now in its seventh year, the Forum is organized by the United Nations (UN) as a multi-stakeholder event to take stock of and advance the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), and to discuss other issues related to this fast-evolving field. The UNGPs build on three ‘pillars’:

  1. The state duty to protect human rights against infringements caused by companies;
  2. the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and
  3. enhanced access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights infringements.

Each year’s Forum has a special topic, and the Forum is organized to seek to involve relevant stakeholders in bringing relevant issues, dilemmas, challenges and opportunities to the foreground. It is intended to help building knowledge of how companies, governments, civil society and others can help advance business respect for human rights.

Prior to the 2018 topic, for example, the 2017 Forum addressed the issue of ‘access to remedy’, and previous Forums have addressed, for example, leadership and leverage in regard to human rights in the global economy. Some topics are recurrent at the Forums, such as the role of institutional investors, and the implementation and effectiveness of human rights due diligence.

’What works’ and how human rights impact on the economies of companies

In line with the ‘What works’ topic, this year’s Forum featured a special ’snapshot’ track. Here, a large number of individual companies and managers took turns to share their experience on their work to advance the corporate respect for human rights in their own organisations, in their value chains, and with stakeholders. Other tracks featured, for example, the connection between climate change and business responsibilities for human rights; and debates on the human rights implications of the tech-industry, ICT and artificial intelligence. Reflecting other debates during the past year, human rights issues highlighted in the ICT and AI contexts included risks to privacy, the freedoms of communication and information, free and fair elections, and jobs. Increasing attention is also paid to human rights and sports, for example in regard to mega-sporting events and related construction projects, such as those for the 2022 FIFA football world cup in Qatar.

Not surprising, from an academic perspective one might sometimes wish for a broader discussion that could engage more with the strategies adopted and help challenge managers to further deepen their efforts to respect human rights. However, the ‘snapshot’ presentations along with the many other sessions jointly did confirm the extensive and important implications of human rights for many core business activities and areas: the Forum’s tracks and debates confirmed that human rights issues are increasingly significant in relation to business communication, due diligence and risk management, human resources and labour, supply chain management, finance, public procurement, non-financial reporting and beyond.

For example, the expansion on mandatory non-financial reporting in the EU and elsewhere that has taken place in recent years is strongly connected to and related to the development of the risk-based due diligence approach that is at the core of the UNGP. However, there is a persistent risk that regulators’ emphasis on formal disclosure after an activity takes place, results in too limited focus on preventing harm before or during an activity.

Academic networking

Aiming to benefit from the presence of a large number of individuals from regions around the world, several academic events take place at the Forum or, particularly, back-to-back with it. Advancing teaching and research on business and human rights was the topic of a half-day meeting at the University of Geneva, featuring a multi-disciplinary group of scholars and universities from many countries.

Organised by the CBS-hosted BHRights Intiative for Interdisciplinary Research and Teaching on Business and Human Rights (BHRights), a global research workshop gathered 25 scholars presenting their research on various topics of business and human rights. The presentations covered a range of very diverse topics, such as for example what national institutional factors condition business respect or dis-respect for human rights, corporate reporting on business and human rights in various countries, dilemmas around socially responsible green transitions, the rights of nomadic Sami reindeer herders, and the prospective international treaty on business and human rights.

UN Forum 2018 – Roundtable: Academic Networks in Conversation with Stakeholders (KB).

For the first time, the Forum organisers decided to include a specific session for various academic networks on business and human rights. Jointly organized by some of these networks, the session prioritized interaction with stakeholders from business, civil society and other organisations to stimulate mutual collaboration and understanding of the connections between theory and practice of business and human rights.

The 2019 Forum is currently scheduled to take place in late November 2019. Registration is expected to open in mid-2019.

The Author

Karin Buhmann is professor at Copenhagen Business School where she is charged with special responsibilities in business and human rights. Appointed by the Danish Minister of Commerce upon nomination by Danish Civil Society, she is also a member of the Danish National Contact Point to the OECD set up under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Professor Buhmann was a member of the Danish delegation to the 2018 UN Forum.

Why Corporate Sustainability is Bullshit (And Why This is a Good Thing)

By Andreas Rasche.

Corporate sustainability is full of statements, terms, and concepts that are empty, unclarifiable and vague. Instead of rejecting such vagueness altogether, we should embrace it. Bullshit can be productive.

Consider the following statement:

“The concept of shared value can be defined as policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates. Shared value creation focuses on identifying and expanding the connections between societal and economic progress.”

The sentence is taken from Michael Porter’s and Mark Kramer’s well-known article Creating Shared Value (2011, p. 66).

Now, consider this statement:

“The concept of strategic CSR can be defined as policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates. Strategic CSR focuses on identifying and expanding the connections between societal and economic progress.”

You are right, I replaced “shared value” with “strategic CSR”. What is interesting is that both statements sound equally plausible. I consider such statements to reflect bullshit, and I am using the term not in a disrespectful sense. I refer to bullshit, because I think we need to be precise.

What is Bullshit?

In 1986, Princeton Professor Harry Frankfurt published a little essay titled On Bullshit in the Raritan Review, which was later published as a book (2005). Frankfurt’s argument was this: While the liar is aware of the truth, but seeks to avoid it, the bullshitter does not care much about the truth. As Frankfurt writes:

“It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth – this indifference to how things really are – that I regard as the essence of bullshit.”

(2005, p. 33)

The bullshitter deceives others about his enterprise. He does not want others to know that he is not interested in the truth. And, of course, we are all thinking about current US President Donald Trump here. He not only is a notorious liar (The Washington Post has counted more than 5.000 false or misleading statements so far), but also a skilled bullshitter.

“Unclarifiable Unclarity

Frankfurt defines bullshit with regard to the bullshitter. This is helpful, but it may also be problematic for a variety of reasons (e.g. an assumed intentionality). Others have, therefore, expanded this debate. Cohen (2012), for instance, looks at the bullshit itself rather than the bullshitter. He sees bullshit as statements that are characterized by an “unclarifiable unclarity” (p. 105) – i.e. statements that are vague, airy, and hard to render unobscure. He suggests that when it is possible that key terms within a statement can be exchanged without altering its plausibility, at least a sufficient condition for the existence of bullshit is met.

Corporate Sustainability as Bullshit

Corporate sustainability (and related discourses such as CSR, ESG etc.) are full of bullshit. Actually, the very fact that it is still unclear whether relevant practices are labelled “CSR” or “sustainability” (and that both labels are often used interchangeably), shows that there is a lot of unclarifiable unclarity.

Within corporate sustainability there are at least two sources of bullshit.

First, academics and management gurus produce a lot of it. Recently, André Spicer has offered a sharp and entertaining analysis of such kind of bullshit in his book Business Bullshit (though mostly without reference to corporate sustainability). The mere fact that concepts like “shared value” and “strategic CSR” are exchangeable without any loss of plausibility shows that the discourse is “full of it” (on the lack of distinction between CSV and strategic CSR see also Andrew Crane and colleagues 2014, p. 134). Also, a lot of emphasis has been placed on “transforming business models” in discussions around corporate sustainability. But, the very term “business model” faces a certain emptiness and means different things to different people. I have seen many different interpretations of what a “business model” could be or should be. These are just two examples, but the list is long… just think about “materiality” or “transformative leadership”.

Second, corporations are also in the business of bullshit production. Especially the communication of sustainability aspirations is often based on bullshit. Consider Carlsberg’s recent Towards Zero campaign. One pillar of the campaign is to reduce irresponsible drinking to ZERO. Of course, this is not only an ambitious goal, but a nearly impossible one (also because the company’s control over peoples’ level of responsible drinking is limited). Understood in this way, this broad claim is bullshit in the Cohenian sense – there is unclarifiable unclarity involved. But, most people know that the statement should not be taken at face value; it is supposed to raise awareness and signal a high level of ambition. And this is exactly what can make corporate sustainability as bullshit a productive (and maybe even inevitable) enterprise.

Why We Need Bullshit

Bullshit is a two-edged sword. It certainly comes with a number of problems (and Spicer’s book, which I mentioned above, discusses some of these complications). Also, too much of it, can be dangerous, because it may obscure important pillars of meaning construction.

But, corporate sustainability as bullshit can also be productive. Ambitious statements, like the one by Carlsberg above, have a certain necessary emptiness. The resulting ambiguity can motivate employees and hence change corporate practices, especially as the statement was publicly communicated, which, again, increases the likelihood that others will hold the company accountable (on this see also Christensen et al.’s discussion of Aspirational Talk, 2013). In other words, corporate sustainability as bullshit may spur self-fulfilling prophecies.

“Bullshit sells.”

The same can be said about concepts like “Creating Shared Value” (CSV) or “Strategic CSR”. Their meaning is vague and it is certainly difficult to make them less obscure. Bullshit is built into these concepts, and usually this is a deliberate choice of those people who create and diffuse them. Considering the enormous success of concepts like CSV, we could even say: Bullshit sells! Why? Because the ambiguity that surrounds the concept makes it attractive to a large audience. Firms can bend the concept in ways that fit their specific needs.

So, what is the bottom line? I would say it like this: Let us be clear about when corporate sustainability is moving towards bullshit. Let us also understand the productive nature of such bullshit. But, let us also be aware that “too much of it” can be a major problem for the future of sustainable business practices, both in theory and in practice.


Author

Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society at Copenhagen Business School and Director of CBS’s World-Class Research Environment “Governing Responsible Business”. He is Visiting Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. Andreas can be reached at: ar.msc@cbs.dk and @RascheAndreas. More at his personal homepage.

References

  • Christensen, L. T., Morsing, M., & Thyssen, O. (2013). CSR as aspirational talk. Organization, 20(3), 372–393.
  • Cohen, G. A. (2012). Complete Bullshit. In M. Otuska (Ed.), Finding Oneself in the Other (pp. 94–114). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Crane, A., Palazzo, G., Spence, L. J., & Matten, D. (2014). Contesting the Value of “Creating Shared Value”. California Management Review, 56(2), 130–153.
  • Frankfurt, H. (2005). On Bullshit. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
  • Porter, M. E., & Kramer, M. R. (2011). Creating Shared Value. Harvard Business Review, 89(1/2), 62–77.

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash.

Corporate contributions to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

By Amanda Williams.

The days of corporate greening are over. Many companies kicked off their sustainability strategies decades ago by picking the low-hanging fruit. But there is nothing left within arm’s reach to pick. Now we expect companies big and small to demonstrate their contribution to broader societal and environmental sustainability challenges beyond firm boundaries.

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are arguably the most pertinent framework for corporations to demonstrate commitment to broader sustainability goals. The SDGs were adopted in September 2015 by 193 world leaders. They offer a comprehensive agenda of pressing economic, social and environmental issues. The goals are for everyone—governments, nonprofits, businesses, universities—everywhere—in all countries.

What are Companies Doing?

Encouragingly, the SDGs are showing up everywhere on corporate websites and reports. However, all this hype around the goals may not necessarily translate into more sustainability action. Many companies are taking advantage of the SDGs to repackage their existing sustainability initiatives. For example, let’s say a beverage company has a water stewardship program to increase access to clean water in the countries that they operate. It is easy for the beverage company to demonstrate a contribution to SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation. But this approach does not leverage the full potential the SDG framework nor business contribution to the goals.

“All this hype around the goals may not necessarily translate into more sustainability action.”

More ambitious companies are taking the SDGs as an opportunity to embed sustainability across the firm and improve their sustainability strategy. This goes beyond using the SDGs to highlight existing sustainability efforts. It requires an in-depth analysis of business operations against the goals to identify positive and negative impacts. Then it requires setting ambitious goals and developing a strategy to achieve those goals. It requires radical changes in the way the business operates. Companies that are taking the goals seriously have much to gain. Research by the Business Commission for Sustainable Development finds that there is over $12 trillion in market opportunities created if the goals are achieved by 2030.

Challenges of Implementing the Goals

Despite the potential benefits of engaging, implementing a corporate strategy that truly aligns with the goals is not easy. Many managers express that the SDGs are too complex. With over a 169 targets, it is no wonder that some sustainability managers might feel overwhelmed.

In addition to complexity, another challenge is language. The SDGs are a political framework and working with the framework requires some work to translate them into actionable business strategies and targets. It may be tempting to prioritize and identify a handful of SDGs that are most material for the company without going into much detail. But the goals were designed as a holistic agenda to capture connected economic, social and environmental issues. For the beverage company, that means they have to consider how their operations and supply chain positively and negatively impacts all the SDGs, not just singling out the positive contributions to SDG 6 through their water stewardship program.

Overcoming the Challenges

There are many success stories out there to show that making a meaningful contribution to and aligning corporate strategy with the SDGs is possible. Here are some tips for making it happen:

1. Partner

The goals are broad and complex. To help cut through some of the complexity, managers can collaborate with international organizations or universities. Many international organizations offer services related, helping companies understand the complexity of the SDGs. Collaborating with scientists can give you access to specialized and local knowledge about SDG issues and help set firm specific goals that are based on science.

2. Engage the entire company

The goals are not just for the sustainability department. They are for the entire company. Sustainability managers might take the lead on engaging with the SDGs but involving the entire company helps to create a culture of sustainability and embed sustainability across the firm. Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile phone operator, provides a best practice example. They embedded the SDGs into their purpose statement and each one of their business units made a specific commitment to the goals.

3. Use tools

Don’t start from scratch. Luckily, many tools are out there to help managers formulate a strategy to achieve the goals. The SDG Compass offers advice on how to deliver on the goals and is a large database of commonly used business indicators to measure and report on contribution to the goals. Also, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development runs the SDG Business Hub, a large inventory of all the resources related to business and the goals.


Author

Amanda Williams is a Senior Researcher at ETH Zurich in the Sustainability and Technology Group. She recently completed her PhD from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. Currently, she is a part of Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business (GRB) World Class Research Environment Fellowship program.


Photo by Caitlyn Hastings on Unsplash.

Fake news and what it means for discussions about CSR-related issues

By Daniel Lundgaard.

There is a saying on online forums that

“About 78% of all statistics shared online are made up to prove a point – including this one.”

This has become particularly relevant lately, where we have seen many discussions about fake news. And while it is often discussed in relation to politics, in particular during political elections, there has been little attention on the impact of fake news in discussions about CSR-related issues. As such, this blog elaborates on the rise of fake news and explores how fake news might have grave implications for CSR-discussions.

What is “fake news”?

The increasing relevance of fake news can, in part, be attributed to the rise of a networked society. Here, mass communication technologies and the rise of the post-truthera has created new circumstances where

“objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”

(Oxford Dictionaries.)

Fake news is often compared to disinformation, which is described as

“intentional falsehoods spread as news stories or simulated documentary formats to advance political goals.”

(Bennett & Livingston, 2018)

This, along with an increased distrust in news outlets ability to disseminate objective information, has caused more and more people to turn to social media as their primary source of information. This is especially seen with the younger generation, as they grow up in a world defined by more racial, ethnic and political diversity than ever, and consequently distrust news outlets ability to disseminate information from a single “objective” point of view (Marchi, 2012).

As a result, the younger generation often prefer information that they know to be subjective, e.g. from opinionated talk shows or shared by friends. This has created a more polarized news landscape, where people often seek out information from social media contexts and news outlets that confirm their views, which means that it has become possible to live a life where you can almost completely avoid serendipitous encounters with conflicting views that forces you to rethink your opinion.

What are the implications for CSR-related discussions?

This development towards a preference for information confirming current beliefs combined with a fundamental distrust in objective information is particularly relevant for discussions about CSR-related issues. The main issue is that a defining part of disinformation, is that it is described as intentional, which suggests a serious concern, seeing how social media has amplified the impact of intentionally misleading statements. Consequently, we have seen that some organizations, in an attempt to pursue economic and sometimes illegitimate goals, exploit this distrust in information and diminished impact of objective facts to polarize opinions and derail discussions about important issues such as climate change.

As a result, the increased awareness of disinformation has created a context where companies, instead of adopting more socially responsible practices, attempt to question the legitimacy of the research and the groups trying to prove the ramifications of neglecting these issues e.g. that climate change is a real and serious issue. This is especially seen with the rise of astroturfing organizations – a term derived from ‘AstroTurf’, a brand of a synthetic grass often used on football fields – which describes the practice of masking the sponsors of a message to make it appear as something that originates and is supported by grassroots participants. The goal with astroturfing is to ensure that a message or an idea (e.g. fake news) appear as something that emerges through legitimate processes, often with the intent to cause confusion and distrust in legitimate information. Companies thereby attempt to derail CSR discussions, as seen for example when ExxonMobil allegedly created and funded a think tank to appear independent and legitimate, but with the sole purpose of challenging the consensus around climate change as a serious issue and a result of human action.

What are the implications – and what can be done?

This does however present us with a bit a paradox, as increasing awareness about the use of disinformation and shedding light on the existence of astroturfing organizations is not only a positive thing. The challenge is that while questioning the legitimacy of research or news shared by friends is positive, increased awareness about the existence of astroturfing organizations might spark a distrust in the legitimacy of “real” grassroots movements.

Increased awareness thus not only affects the illegitimate ones, but potentially also undermines and questions all forms of grassroots movements, thereby eroding the very foundation that some of the movements fighting for CSR are built on. Consequently, the key is balance. You need to be critical about what you read online, but the increased awareness about fake news should not discourage you from pursuing collaborative goals, after all

“The main idea underlying collaborative projects is that the joint effort of many actors leads to a better outcome than any actor could achieve individually”

(Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010)

Therefore we need to be aware of the destructive power of disinformation, but also understand that not all ideas and opinions are the product of hidden political agendas – some are and it is crucial to be able to identify those – but some are still trying to make the world a better and more sustainable place.

Literature

  • Bennett, W. L., & Livingston, S. (2018). The disinformation order: Disruptive communication and the decline of democratic institutions. European Journal of Communication, 33(2), 122–139.
  • Kaplan, A. M., & Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons, 53(1), 59–68.
  • Marchi, R. (2012). With Facebook, blogs, and fake news, teens reject journalistic “objectivity.” Journal of Communication Inquiry, 36(3), 246–262.

Author

Daniel Lundgaard is a PhD Fellow embedded in the Governing Responsible Business research environment and part of CBS Sustainability. His research is mainly focused on the impact of the digital transformation, in particular, the influential dynamics that shape the communicative constitution of public opinion as citizens, politicians, NGOs and corporations engage in a highly fluid negotiation of meaning between millions of actors. Daniel is currently focusing on the influential dynamics shaping this communicative constitution within the field of sustainability and responsible business, in particular, how interactions on social media shape the sustainability agenda and thereby the production of governance for responsible business.


Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

Trusting Nudges?

By Lucia Reisch.

Policy makers all over the world increasingly choose nudges from the toolbox to combat challenges of society including public health and the environment. However, when we embrace nudges we should not only consider their benefits for society. We should also ask: Do people approve of using them, and why?

Nudges cover different interventions that steer people in certain directions. They can be everything from warnings on tobacco products to defaults for green energy. What is important: A nudge always allows people to choose themselves – and to opt out of a default. The approval of nudges is the focus of my new article written with co-authors Cass Sunstein and Micha Kaiser, recently published in the Journal of European Public Policy. Our analysis draws on an international survey from five countries: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, South Korea and the US. We asked a representative group of people in these countries if they approve of 15 widely used health and environmental nudges. We also checked for a long list of socio-economic, psychological, and social variable – including their trust in public institutions.

Most people do

A high level of support for nudges exists across countries and cultures. This is what we had found in earlier studies in about 25 countries worldwide. Yet differences in attitude show up across various beliefs, traits, and behaviours. Women and people with marked environmental concern are most likely to approve. At the same time, conservatives are less likely to do so. We see the force of behaviour when, for instance, a “meat-free Monday” in a cafeteria is less well supported by meat-eaters. Interestingly, this also applies to smokers who tend to disapprove of government anti-smoking campaigns.

Nudging from “above” requires trust from the base.

Trust is a must

While our analysis points to several findings, one might outshine the others. Approval comes with trust. To be more specific, we find the trust in public institutions strongly connected with social approval. In other words, when people have high trust in, e.g., government or police, they are likely to be supportive towards nudges. As expected, those who strongly believe in the free market to solve challenges of society will be less in favour.

Openness and transparency

The finding of trust gives a very important lesson. We should make sure to cultivate trust in arguing for nudges. Even though most people already approve of nudges, policy makers should not rest on their laurels but rather engage citizens in the development of new policies and ways of assessing their cost-effectiveness and acceptance. The best way to obtain trust is to earn it, and to invite citizens to participate. This is why we propose a “bill of rights for nudging” that sketches out the rules a government should follow when using nudging as a policy tool. Transparent rules and processes tend to create trust in institutions.

Author

Lucia A. Reisch is Full Professor for Consumer Behaviour and Consumer Policy at Copenhagen Business School.

Full article

Cass R. Sunstein, Lucia A. Reisch & Micha Kaiser (2018): Trusting nudges? Lessons from an international survey, Journal of European Public Policy, DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2018.1531912


Images

Header photo: a trash bin in Copenhagen.
Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash.

Raising the bar for sustainable events

By Louise Thomsen

How often do we as event coordinators ask ourselves: how can I minimize the plastic use, the waste, the paper? I could also reverse the question and ask: Could we imagine a smarter, more efficient and even more inspiring new way to host events?

Copenhagen Business School hosts a significant number of conferences and other events throughout a year and all carry the opportunity to be managed more sustainably. But, what makes an event sustainable? In June, the Sustainable Consumption Conference hosted by the VELUX Endowed Chair in Corporate Sustainability at CBS became the first pilot conference for implementing sustainable initiatives at a bigger event at CBS.

Hosting events is a wasteful affair

We all know exactly what to expect when attending a conference. You receive a name tag when you register, which you usually throw in the waste bin when you leave. You get a plastic bottle of water, and when you are done with that, or even before you are done, you get another one. You get the conference programme and the participant list which you look at a couple of times before that goes into the waste bin. Often printed in colour.

Now, imagine attending a conference with no plastic bottles, no paper, no meat, and no food waste. Imagine, how this conference would increase the level of awareness, communication and engagement between the participants and the hosts. And ignite fruitful discussions because we would realize, how much we can actually achieve with little changes in our everyday lives.

Sustainability taken to new heights

On June 27-30, more than 200 scholars and policy practitioners participated in an international conference on sustainable consumption at Copenhagen Business School, The conference topic Sustainable Consumption naturally raised the question how a sustainable conference could look like at Copenhagen Business School? No attempt at all to satisfy the conference’s title would be more than hypocritical.

In order to make sure that the sustainability initiatives implemented at the conference were the most sustainable solutions and had a high impact factor, the conference organizers allied themselves with a group of students from the Danish Technical University (DTU) who were doing a course on Life Cycle Assessments.

The students received 2 cases

  1. How should the conference supply water?
  2. How should the conference be catered?

Over the course of 4 months, the DTU student teams collected data from CBS and carried out life cycle assessments taking into account various impact factors such as production, transportation, use and disposal etc. Based on the results, all conference meals were vegetarian, and all conference participants received one glass bottle that could be filled from water dispensers throughout the entire conference.


The conference participants also received information about the sustainability initiatives that they could expect prior to the conference. The findings from the life cycle assessment were communicated on posters and on the back of the staff t-shirts. All conference staff engaged with the participants and assisted with water bottles and waste sorting. Furthermore, the conference participants were continuously encouraged to share feedback and discuss the attempts made with each other and the staff.

Implemented sustainability initiatives at the Sustainable Consumption Conference

  • Each conference participant received one reusable glass bottle, which replaced single-use plastic bottles for the distribution of water throughout the conference.
  • Every meal served at the conference was vegetarian, reducing the environmental impact of the conference’s catering by 44% compared to meat-based meals.
  • Participants were asked to sort their waste throughout the conference, using designated bins for paper, plastic, food, and general waste.
  • The conference was largely paperless. Programs and other general information were made available in ways that reduced the need for paper, such as printed posters and an app with, among other information, the timetable.
  • The lanyards for name tags were made from recycled polyester, and both name tags and lanyards were collected for reuse after the conference.
  • Food waste was minimized by asking participants to give notice in advance about which meals they were going to participate in, and any leftover food was brought to a nearby centre for homeless people.
  • All conference staff wore a sustainable and organic cotton t-shirt with key sustainability messages on the back.

Invitation to a learning journey

When hosting an event at CBS, you are in touch with many different stakeholders who have procedures on how to efficiently meet requests on catering, waste handling, or cleaning. This means that it must be a collaborative effort if you want to change the existing structures. Engagement and communication are key.

We should not get carried away by the belief that the easiest solutions to implement will necessarily be the most impactful or more environmentally significant than our starting point. There is a big difference between solutions that carry a high degree of reducing CO2-emissions (real impact), and solutions that have the purpose of creating awareness. Both aspects are highly important. However, we should be aware of when we spend resources on one or the other and communicate this clearly.

I want to invite you to think about how we can improve our ecological footprint when we host events at CBS and elsewhere. As you will soon learn, there is no such thing as a “sustainable event”. However, there are well-founded decisions and much to learn if we dare to ask the question:

How can we raise the bar for sustainable events?


Louise Thomsen is Project Manager for CBS PRME and the VELUX Chair in Corporate Sustainability at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, CBS. Louise is focused on implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals in an university context through student engagement. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Save the date: 29 August, 15 h, Dalgas Have, Copenhagen Business School.

Creating a whole conference to have a significantly reduced amount of waste, use of paper and plastics is a big challenge. But many people also wonder, what they can do as individuals to limit climate change, if there is anything at all.
This issue is treated in another edition of the Sustainability Seminar Series at the department of Management, Society and Communication at CBS.

For more information and sign-up click on “What Can the Individual Do to help Limit Climate Change?”.

A framework for assessing the potential of behaviour change for global decarbonisation

By Kristian Steensen Nielsen

Addressing climate change requires an urgent implementation of far-reaching solutions. Policy-makers and natural scientists have mainly offered supply-side solutions to solving the climate problem, such as widespread adoption of new or innovative technologies. While of critical importance, strictly prioritising supply-side solutions is unlikely to deliver the necessary greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions within the desired time frame. An often-overlooked demand-side solution is behaviour change, which can offer both immediate and long-term reductions in GHG emissions.

There is an urgent need for rapid decarbonisation to reduce the magnitude of climate change. The Paris Agreement reflected this urgency in its formulation of ambitious goals to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C and preferably 1.5°C. Since the Paris Agreement, researchers—often affiliated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—have with accelerated frequency been building scenarios for potential pathways to reach the temperature goals.[1] These far-reaching—and arguably radical—pathways involve urgent transitions to renewable energy sources and the majority assumes the use of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies, such as afforestation or bio energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Neither of the pathway scenarios take behavioral changes into account despite the fact that studies have shown its potential to reduce GHG emissions. For example, Thomas Dietz and colleagues (2009) found that a national implementation of behavioural changes in the United States could reduce U.S. households’ direct emissions by 20% within 10 years (representing 123 million tons of CO2). Although not sufficient single-handedly, behaviour change can help speed up the decarbonisation of societies.

 

Three dimensions of behaviour change

To identify the potential of behavioural changes to reduce GHG emissions, it is critical to consider three dimensions[2]:

  1. the technical potential (TP) of a behaviour, or the emissions reduction achieved if an individual or a target population collectively adopted the behaviour;
  2. behavioural plasticity (BP), or the proportion of the technical potential achievable through the most effective behavioural interventions; and
  3. feasibility of initiatives (IF) to induce change, which refers to the likelihood that the most effective interventions are achievable within a target population.

Focusing exclusively on either of the three dimensions will result in skewed analyses from which only imperfect interventions can be developed. For example, substituting a GHG-intensive behaviour with a less GHG-intensive alternative (e.g., flying to Bermuda on vacation versus vacationing in one’s own country) will promise a high TP but the extent to which people are willing to make such a behavioural substitution may be less promising (BP) and so might the feasibility of achieving the behavioural change across a large population (IF). Conversely, a behaviour could be easy to change (e.g., getting people to shut off lights in unoccupied rooms) and feasibly be implemented in a large population, yet hold a very low TP and therefore even in the aggregate fail to reduce emissions by much.

Identifying the most promising target behaviours

The task of researchers (across disciplines) in collaboration with policy-makers and companies is to identify the behaviours with the highest potential to reduce GHG emissions while considering all three dimensions in cohesion. Making such calculations is no easy task—as the dimensions may vary substantially between and within countries—but neither is adopting innovative technologies at a massive scale. However, focusing on both supply- and demand-side solutions will heighten the likelihood of achieving the Paris goals.

[1] Rogelj et al., 2018.

[2] Dietz et al., 2009; Vandenbergh & Gilligan, 2017.

 

References

Dietz, T., Gardner, G. T., Gilligan, J., Stern, P. C., & Vandenbergh, M. P. (2009). Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences106(44), 18452-18456.

Rogelj, J., Popp, A., Calvin, K. V., Luderer, G., Emmerling, J., Gernaat, D., … & Krey, V. (2018). Scenarios towards limiting global mean temperature increase below 1.5° C. Nature Climate Change8(4), 325.

Vandenbergh, M. P., & Gilligan, J. M. (2017). Beyond Politics. Cambridge University Press.


Kristian Steensen Nielsen is a PhD Fellow in environmental behaviour change at Copenhagen Business School. His research interests are self-control, behaviour change, and environmentally significant behaviour.

 

Pic by Duncan Harris, Flickr.

Behavioural change in the work environment: a first review on MSC’s sustainable food policy.

By Jan Bauer.

  • MSC reviews six months of its sustainable food policy
  • Setting defaults can be highly effective
  • Guiding principles for the “right” defaults are not always easy to determine

During the summer 2017, the Department for Management, Society & Communication (MSC) at CBS hold a competition among its members to come up with ideas to foster sustainable behaviour within the daily work-life of the department. In addition to talking the talk in lectures and research, MSC hosts the CBS center for Corporate Social Responsibility, we also wanted to walk it.

Among many interesting submissions, the newly founded sustainable infrastructure task force (SIT) awarded the best idea, based on the potential impact and the feasibility of application within MSC. An idea to reduce the consumption of meat was declared as the winner. According to many studies, the reduction of meat reduces CO2 emissions and is associated with various health benefits.

Despite this evidence, banning meat in the department would have certainly and rightfully created substantial backlash. Banning meat would have unlikely been supported by a majority of the department members or its leadership as it can be arguably considered as an overly strong infringement of individual freedom.

Behavioural policy and the power of defaults

Based on a behavioral policy approach, the new food policy, publicly discussed in a department meeting and implemented in October 2017, ultimately changed the choice architecture of the way people order meals for meetings and events. For a trial period of six months, all meals became vegetarian by default; meaning that people get a vegetarian meal unless they actively opt-out and order a meat-based dish with a short email reply or by ticking a button (see example from a recent workshop invitation).

This idea is based on the principle of libertarian paternalism, which aims to steer peoples’ behaviour without restricting the freedom of choice and has been famously advocated by our colleague Cass Sunstein.

The power and controversy about purposefully setting defaults is often discussed in the context of organ donation. There is little doubt about the fact that people’s inertia to register as a donor can be linked to preventable deaths under the opt-out rule. The Netherlands recently change the default on the issue, but not all countries are expected to follow their example.

Predominant support for a sustainable default rule

The trial period of our food policy helped to understand the difficulties of implementing such a policy, e.g. what to do when you cannot ask participants. But it also aimed to collect data on how many vegetarian and meat-based meals were ordered. After the end of the trial period, a survey was conducted to elicit peoples’ attitudes towards and experiences with the policy.

More than 90% of the self-reported food orderings were vegetarian and the survey revealed that a majority supports to expand the policy beyond the trial period. However, the policy was not exclusively received with praise. Different concerns were raised about the policy, including the perception not feeling free to publicly speak up against such an initiative aimed and officially framed to “save the planet”.

Guiding principles: scientific evidence or democratic process?

I am confident that this pilot project will resolve its remaining issues, but the process itself has been a valuable learning experience and sparked some reflection. One issue is the rather simple question on what guiding principle should the default be selected in such an example. Two ideas come to mind instantly: assuming there is corporate interest in the health of employees and low CO2 emissions, the scientific evidence suggests that the vegetarian default should be the preferred way. However, decisions based on naturally broad scientific claims might miss important case-specific aspects, neglect the (corporate) culture and individual preferences.

Alternatively, setting the default by a democratic process might suffer from limited debate for such a morally loaded topic and individual biases against the abstract value of one’s own long-term health or reducing global warming. In principle, the aim should be to maximize overall welfare and nudge people to be “better off as judged by the themselves”. For reasons outlined above, it is not always easy or even fully clear, how and when individual judgement of such a policy should be assessed.

Judgement at the right time

When it comes to the food itself, having the light, vegetarian meal could be judged as less appealing before or during lunch when being extremely hungry, but evaluation might already change shortly after the meal. Reflecting on a meal in a satiated state can alter the importance of different aspects. Research suggests that hunger shifts preferences towards more palatable and less healthy foods, but also repeated exposure to a specific food increases preference for it. Hence, only 30 minutes could make all the difference, but potential benefits to health and environment might manifest in 30 years and only by then alter retrospective evaluation of such a policy.

Even though there is no natural default, most people like eating meat despite potential adverse health effects, including myself, which makes justifying any default rule difficult. In our case, all approaches we tried point towards the same result, which makes us hopeful to do the right thing. A decision to prolong the experimental policy by another year was recently made in the Department Forum. However, it is important to keep in mind that at its worst, this specific policy presents a die-hard meat lover with a vegetarian meal that he forgot to opt-out of – a hopefully rare event I am nevertheless sorry for.


Jan Bauer is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School and part of CBS’ Governing Responsible Business Research Environment. His research interests are in the fields of health economics and consumer behaviour. As part of the Nudge-it Project, he focused on fostering healthy food choices of children and adults.


Photo: courtesy of Felix Bärmann.

Big fuss about a big policy plan – and why this matters for corporate social responsibility: the Chinese social credit system

By Dieter Zinnbauer & Hans Krause Hansen.

Few statist policy blueprints on matters pretty technical have captured our collective imagination as has the Chinese Social Credit System (SCS). Announced by China’s State Council on June 14, 2014, and building on experimentation with related mechanisms since the early 2000s, it sets out a hugely ambitious effort, officially described to instil societal trust, integrity and cohesion in a highly complex society. To get there it seeks to combine cutting-edge technology and vast amounts of data to create incredibly granular behavioural profiles of both companies and individuals. Good and bad behaviours are meant to be recorded in and through elaborate rating systems and blacklists, and made public on digital platforms. The expectation is that punishments and rewards will deter deviance and incentivise good conduct in close to any sphere of life.

With the West in the mirror

After years of relative in-attention, the SCS has loudly burst onto the Western media landscape. Here, it is typically described in Orwellian terms as a totalitarian system of surveillance and control. On closer inspection, the SCS is in fact embryonic, fragmentary and faced with enormous implementation challenges.

But the scale, scope and level of invasiveness associated with the data collection effort currently emerging in China should not look so shockingly unprecedented to Western publics once they begin to scrutinize their own backyards. Take the use of social media in the policing of protests as an example. Here the UK government engages in the analysis of big data to predict, pre-empt and respond in real time to a range of issues, including public dissent. Take information on someone’s physical whereabouts as another example. As it turns out the exact location of cell phone owners in 95% of the US is being tracked with the help of all major carriers in close to real time (ok, with a 15 seconds delay) and related data is being available to nudge people’s behaviour for a wide variety of purposes, e.g. by sending them last-minute campaign pitches when they wait in line outside a particular polling station or anti-abortion messages when they are found to linger outside health clinics that carry out these procedures or by sending political messages when they wait in line outside a particular polling station.

Or take the most popular new media companies. They are collecting extremely granular dockets of what their users do, say and who they socialise with on their own platforms. But less in the spotlight they also track users and non-users alike across millions of other websites and across the bulk of the most popular mobile applications, recording anything from detailed surfing behaviour down to the modes of movement – is the user currently cycling or on the train? What’s more, they increasingly merge theses profiles with billions of data points collected by other parties. One leading new media company claims to have access to information on 70% of all credit card purchases and thus approximating a rather totalitarian 360 degree, 24/7 view of user conduct, all the way to – no kidding – the barometric pressure of the users’ environment.

Public and private entanglements

A special matter of concern in the West relating to SCS is its fusion of socialist government and private sector capabilities, technical affordances and interests that make such a system feasible in the first place.

However, long gone in the West are the times when governments were the main purveyors and guardians of data about their citizens.  Even the holy grail of state information prowess, the census is not immune to private sector resources and influences. The UK government for example is exploring ways to make its census more cost-effective with the help of other big data sources and acknowledges that this will also have to include privately-held ones.

And there is also a proximity of big tech and political actors on a much more fundamental level. Tech companies evolved into some of  the most vocal and most prolific donors and lobbyists on the political scene. An entirely legitimate democratic engagement, but it raises questions about outsize influence given the scale of these efforts. Yet, much more unnerving, the leading social media and tech companies in the US   seconded staff as pro-bono experts to become part of the support teams of most presidential candidates in the run up to the 2016 presidential elections, giving them unique insights and connections into the affairs of some of the leading politicians in the country.

Subtle social sorting and weak institutional safeguards

A factor that explains the extraordinary attention that the SCS has received might pertain to the breadth of sanctions and consequences that these early uses have already resulted in. Bad social credit makes it more difficult for Chinese citizens to travel, find a home or get a job.  Unfortunately, this is nothing new and happens all over the world.  Under the label of risk- management citizens whose criminal record or financial credit history contains some irregularities have long been subjected to inferior treatment when renting a home, looking for a job or seeking insurance.

In principle, the protection of individual rights and limits on state over-reach and surveillance in most western countries relies on a host of elaborate institutional safeguards, checks and balances. While some of the egregious examples referenced above have actually been remedied when they were exposed, thus attesting to some degree of efficacy of legal and broader societal protections, other incidences have not been resolved and are somehow even seen as acceptable.

So shifting some of the attention and moral outrage that is being directed towards the Chinese SCS back to the home turf, and to investigate what troubling data practices and regulatory gaps that are germinating over here is more than warranted. In the wake of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandals this has begun to happen and more commentators are noting the troublesome parallels between Chinese SCS and emergent data surveillance and discrimination issues in the West.

Enter the urgent business of business

And this is where business and its social responsibility comes in. Because one of the fundamental differences between the SCS and many issues in the West is that the disciplinary power, control functions and discriminatory implications of big data-driven social scoring are not primarily organised and instrumentalised through government, but deployed by the private sector and working their way into everyday lives.

Egged on by a growing populist Tech-lash, a whirlwind of new regulatory efforts and undoubtedly also in many cases by a deeper sense for doing no harm, the new tech companies have begun to take note, moving from denial to a gradual re-examination of some of their working principles, practices and normative anchoring.

Yet, the proof is still in the pudding whether this is a substantive change of minds and hearts. The Performance of the new tech sector on some standard measures of corporate integrity and transparency is still mediocre and lagging many other established industries.

The ways to a much more comprehensive, proactive and transformational integration of corporate social responsibilities into the strategy and practice of tech will have to coalesce around a broad band of issues, ranging from responsible stewardship of data, platform power and emergent artificial intelligence capabilities to bread and butter CSR issues such as responsible corporate political activity and supply chain and subsidiary integrity.

Think tanks and tech activists are putting forward a sprawling pool of ideas and initiatives from data collaboratives or privacy by design standards to high-profile research endeavours into artificial intelligence ethics. Meanwhile  European regulators are putting into force trailblazing rules as we write this column.

But a big tech embrace of a substantive and comprehensive notion of corporate social responsibility is urgently required to stave off the threat of an even more populist, illiberal, unequal, misogynistic and fragile future in which the tech industry is more part of the problem than a solution to it.


Dieter Zinnbauer is Governing Responsible Business Research Fellow at Copenhagen Business School in the Department of Management, Society and Communication.

Hans Krause Hansen is Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. He teaches and researches about various aspects of public and private governance, including corruption, anti-corruption and transparency regimes in the global North and South.

 

Pic by Alias, Flickr.

Wonder Tech and the Institution of Gender

by Jeremy Moon

“I didn’t realize that I was a woman until I went to the US.”

This was the rather arresting comment of a keynote speaker at the WonderTech Summit in Copenhagen, organized by a group of, mainly female, IT professionals. The speaker in question (a Senior Vice President of a leading MNC and leader of a women’s innovation initiative) explained that this awakening to gender was because in her home country, Denmark, she was used to being treated as another ‘person’ and, by inference, equal to men.

I have noted elements of equality in Denmark in: the extent of public funding for schools (overwhelmingly mixed sex) and parental leave; and the involvement of fathers in parenting. However, this is not to suggest that there is no gender institution in Denmark. The speaker referred to her disappointment that Denmark was only ranked 14th in the World Economic Forum Report for Women, and some other speakers alluded to the institution of gender in the tech industry and higher education in Denmark, and the way it worked against women.

Gender as an Institution – marco, meso and micro level

This comment struck me as a nice illustration of the idea of gender as an institution[1]: the way gender delineates the largely taken for granted roles of men and women. At the systemic (macro) level there are the respective norms, laws and rules. At the organizational (meso) level gender regimes shape the ‘way things are done here’. At the individual (micro) level there are the gendered practices in daily interactions. Of course, the gender institution is manifest in different ways in different places as illustrated by the aforementioned speaker’s contrast of its operation in Denmark and the USA.

So what, I wondered, would be the approach to this issue recommended at the conference whose purpose was ‘to celebrate the achievements of women in the industry and inspire diversity in tech’?

I was interested in the way participants addressed gender in their contexts. The aforementioned speaker advised that women disappointed in job / promotion applications, should not complain but try harder and better next time. Another speaker referred to a role model for women in blockchain entrepreneurship who advised ‘not to talk about gender’. The emphasis was upon innovation and taking initiatives at the individual level, and the numerous awards that were made enabled yet more such personal stories to be told. Wilma Rudolph was a used as a role model by one speaker (check out her amazing story of overcoming obstacles of socio-economic means and physical disability alone).

Network merit

Another key theme of the conference was at the meso level but focusing not on the oppressive organization, but on women’s self-help networks for mentoring, capacity building, career modelling, and sheer encouragement. The conference was replete with evidence of network organizations and social enterprises working in the field.

All this was so positive. The conference speakers and participants seem confident in their abilities to work professionally and effectively. There was little sense of inferiority or ‘being a woman’ in their organizations. How representative or scalable are these stories?

Too little attention on the political level

Which leads to my final observation that there was little attention to the systemic, or political, level of the gender institution to advance the careers of participants at WonderTech, even though the conference did give cases of ‘solving problems for people, businesses, and the planet’ (e.g. how ICT could be deployed to address systemic obstacles to equality for women in developing countries?).

Solving Problems for People, Businesses, and the Planet.

Can the inspiring individual stories and the network values and achievements carry the day or will more political action along the lines of the suffragettes or #MeToo be required? This might be to increase female participation in Tech science education, to increase women leaders in the Tech industry, and to enable women not to need ‘to feel like women’ – at least when doing so is a sign of adverse effects of the gender institution?[2]

 

[1] The subject of a forthcoming paper with Lauren McCarthy (more when it is published)

[2] Former Soviet countries lead the EU rankings of women in the tech workforce, presumably a legacy both of their policies of enrolling the brightest students in specialist maths high schools, and of current practices of selecting equal numbers of boys and girls in these schools, and encouraging girls to study computer science at university https://www.ft.com/content/e2fdfe6e-0513-11e8-9e12-af73e8db3c71


Jeremy Moon with some help from Marjahan Begum, Plamena Cherneva, Lavinia-Cristina Iosif-Lazar and Lauren McCarthy.

Jeremy Moon is professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, member of the Governing Responsible Business Environment and holds the VELUX Chair of Corporate Sustainability, all at Copenhagen Business School.

 

Pic by Jennifer C, Flickr.

A Taxonomy of Sustainable Business Model Patterns

By Florian Lüdeke-Freund & Sarah Carroux.

In recent years, so-called “sustainable business models” are increasingly gaining in importance in both practice and research.[1] There is hope that business models and business model innovation could, for instance, support the diffusion of ecologically and socially-beneficial products and services in the market.[2] Despite the growing interest, there still exists a lack of systematically-generated knowledge about the different shapes (or “patterns”) such business models can take. Hence, our research project aims to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of presently known business model patterns that can contribute to the diffusion of ecologically and socially beneficial innovations. We developed a structured patterns system, a new taxonomy, of 45 patterns organized into 11 groups, including experts’ expectations for their contributions to sustainable value creation.

Key Objectives of the Study

A broad range of business models are being discussed in current scientific and applied literature. These are often identified as “patterns”.[3] Following Christopher Alexander, a pattern theory pioneer from the field of architecture, a pattern basically represents a solution to a reoccurring problem.[4] What makes patterns so special is that their solutions can be applied in different contexts. For instance, a window is a universal solution for the problem of a lack of lighting in a room. A window exists in different variations and can be applied in various contexts (e.g., for residential buildings, skyscrapers, small windows, large windows etc.). Similarly, business model patterns can be understood as replicable and modifiable solutions to reoccurring business challenges. For instance, the “freemium” business model can not only be used for online services such as Spotify, but also to market high-quality medical services that, depending on patient type, are offered either for “free” or for a “premium” (e.g. Aravind, an eye-care service provider in India).[5] The key objectives of this study are (i) to consolidate the current knowledge about business model patterns with the potential to support sustainable innovations, i.e. to develop a new taxonomy, and (ii) to prepare the foundations for a “sustainable business model pattern language”.[6]

Methodology

We identified a total of 102 potential business model patterns in the relevant literature. These were critically assessed and duplicates or irrelevant items were eliminated, resulting in a sample of 45 patterns. These were reviewed and organized into groups by 10 international experts to condense the large number of patterns in a way that allowed recognizing a systematic order. In the second survey round, the international experts were asked to assess the patterns with respect to their potential contributions to ecological, social, and economic value creation. This enabled us to develop a structured patterns system, a taxonomy, of 45 patterns organized into 11 groups, including experts’ expectations for their contributions to sustainable value creation.

 

Results and Practical Implications

The patterns system is comprised of 45 patterns that were each allocated to one out of the 11 identified groups according to their problem-solution combination. The following groups of sustainable business model patterns were found:

  1. Pricing & revenue patterns
  2. Financing patterns
  3. Eco-design patterns
  4. Closing-the-loop patterns
  5. Supply chain patterns
  6. Giving patterns
  7. Access provision patterns
  8. Social mission patterns
  9. Service & performance patterns
  10. Cooperative patterns
  11. Community platform patterns

These groups can be characterized based on (i) their specific problem-solution combinations (e.g., solving the problem of limited access to health care through a specific pricing model), and (ii) their expected ecological, social, or economic effects (i.e. their expected contribution to sustainable value creation). The patterns system is highly practice-oriented, given the input provided by the experts. For instance, it could be used as an instrument in innovation workshops. Furthermore, our patterns system could be used in combination with business model innovation tools such as the Business Model Canvas, the Business Innovation Kit, or the Smart Business Modeler. Our pattern taxonomy is based on an essential principle in business and innovation: “learning by example”. Companies that want to integrate sustainability into their business models can refer to our taxonomy for guidance and inspiration and use it as a catalogue that also includes practical examples. This means that companies do not have to start from scratch and, instead, can learn from the experiences of others and use these to progress towards sustainability. All-in-all, our sustainable business pattern taxonomy is an efficient and effective instrument that enables practitioners and scholars alike to benefit from vast years of experience. The sustainable business model pattern taxonomy is dynamic in nature and can be easily expanded with new patterns and examples. It can already be used for online business modelling by using the Smart Business Modeler.

[1] Lüdeke-Freund, F. & Dembek, K. (2017): Sustainable Business Model Research and Practice: Emerging Field or Passing Fancy?, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 168, 1668-1678. [ DOI | ResearchGate ]

[2] Boons, F. & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2013): Business Models for Sustainable Innovation: State of the Art and Steps Towards a Research Agenda, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 45, 9-19. [ DOI | ResearchGate ]

[3] E.g., Remane, G.; Hanelt, A.; Tesch, J. & Kolbe, L. M. (2017): The Business Model Pattern Database — A Tool for Systematic Business Model Innovation, International Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 21, No. 1, Article No. 1750004. [ DOI ]

[4] Alexander, C.; Ishikawa, S.; Silverstein, M.; Jacobson, M.; Fiksdahl-King, I. & Angel, S. (1977): A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Cambridge, MA: Oxford University Press. [ Website ]

[5] Breuer, H. & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2017): Values-Based Innovation Management: Innovating by What We Care About. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan. [ Website ]

[6] Lüdeke-Freund, F.; Bohnsack, R.; Breuer, H. & Massa, L. (forthcoming): Research on Sustainable Business Model Patterns – Status quo, Methodological Issues, and a Research Agenda, in: Aagaard, A. (ed.): Sustainable Business Models. Houndmills: Palgrave.


Florian Lüdeke-Freund is a Lecturer at ESCP Europe Business School, Berlin, where he also holds the Chair for Corporate Sustainability. Since 2013, Florian facilitates the research hub www.SustainableBusinessModel.org.

Sarah Carroux is a research associate and doctoral candidate at the University of Hamburg. As member of the Chair of Management and Sustainability, lead by Prof. Timo Busch, Sarah researches topics related to sustainable finance with a strong focus on impact investing, as well as the business case for sustainability and sustainable business models

 

Pic by Eli Duke, Flickr.

Researchers in BLOXHUB seeking to improve indoor climate

by Lara Hale

In the second week of May 2018, the architectural and design worlds were abuzz with reviews of the new green glass giant looming over the Copenhagen harbour – BLOX. There have been critiques of design, urban planning, participation processes, and more, but perhaps less likely to emerge in your social media and news feeds is the nature of organizational development and experimentation designed into the very heart of BLOX.

Physical, organizational and cultural diversity under one roof

BLOX as a physical building is composed of various building elements but is also socially composed of diverse elements. The property is home to the old military storage buildings at Fæstningens Materialgård, still stunning with their yellow-washed walls and currently under renovation for becoming part of the BLOX family of offices and meeting spaces. The new building houses top-floor apartments, a large fitness centre, the Danish Architecture Center (DAC), the Danish Design Center (DDC), and last but not least, BLOXHUB, the new building industry innovation hub.

These last elements are where the organizational potential lies. Firstly, there are the yet-to-be woven together threads that draw across DAC, DDC, and BLOXHUB, opening up for potential co-conferences and exhibitions that not only blend spaces, but blend disciplines. Secondly, BLOXHUB is a non-profit organization of around 150 members (and anticipated to grow) aiming to stimulate innovation for sustainable building and urbanization by facilitating co-working, co-creation, and experimentation. Beyond the potential stemming from sharing working spaces, the hub supports the organization of seminars and conferences and offers access to labs that can serve as platforms for new products or services, including, for example, epiito’s virtual reality (VR) lab and UnderBroen’s maker-space equipment. And thirdly, nested in BLOXHUB is the Science Forum, hosting a suite of built environment researchers.

Smart Building research among industrial researchers

Now the Science Forum is one of my offices-away-from-the-office. Since the start of this year, we are a cluster of nine industrial researchers – seven PhDs and two postdocs – with projects concerning “Smart Buildings and Cities” (read here about the formation of the cluster). Launching from my postdoc project with VELUX and CBS on smart building business model innovation, we have already  identified several crossovers and synthesis possibilities within the first months. This begs the question: what happens when you combine companies, universities, and industrial researchers into an innovation hub? How does this change how research, investment, and innovation are done? And how does this change how industry can relate to academia?

With user-friendly tech to better indoor climate

With VELUX, the starting point is smart device automation, but based on the people who live and work in buildings (read: all of us). But even if the indoor climate is ubiquitous and something we all experience, we also take it for granted and may not even notice how we are feeling unless something disturbs us. Even more importantly, the more serious health consequences of a poor indoor environment stem from factors that cannot necessarily be noticed just by paying attention, including for example, high CO2 levels from poor ventilation or off-gassing chemicals from unsustainable building materials. My research investigates both how smart devices can be designed based on an organization’s inquiry into the user experience, but also how the nature of these user-driven digital devices can change the way traditional manufacturing companies do business.

Much more to expect in the future of BLOX

The project has only been running a few months, and BLOXHUB has only been open not even a month – so there will be many more exciting developments and synergies to report in the future. In the meantime, swing by the great glass giant and experience the shifting landscape around Langebro. You can visit the most recent DAC Exhibition “Welcome Home” looking at how the meaning of home has shifted historically and continues to adapt in Denmark, and your kids can have a go at the new playground on the city-side of the building. A new bicycle and pedestrian bridge is planned for 2019, as well, and then the connections will go even further; from connecting industry and researchers to connecting the city on a level we all can meet.


Lara Anne Hale is an industrial postdoc fellow with VELUX and Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business World Class Research Environment. The 3-year project is part of Realdania’s Smart Buildings & Cities cluster within BLOXHUB’s Science Forum. It builds upon her PhD work on experimental standards for sustainable building to look at the business model innovation process in organizations’ adaptation to the smart building business. Follow her on Twitter.

Pic by Michael Levin, taken from BLOX.dk.

Acting Collectively and Bottom-up for Sustainability: Does it work? How do we know? Why does it matter?

by Maria Josefina Figueroa.

Collective bottom-up actions for sustainability are on the rise in many corners of the global community. Actions are inspired by a realization that local solutions present opportunities to also pursue and reach global commitments, especially those agreed by all nations with the Paris climate agreement and the Agenda 2030, and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (short SDGs).

What counts as collective bottom-up action?

A wide array of actions and forms of engagement by civil society, public and private actors can be counted as forms of collective bottom-up action. Examples range from actions of green activist and volunteers in organized community-led activities, over private entrepreneurs in small and medium enterprises and local businesses, to local authorities seeking to engage citizen participation in the implementation of sustainability solutions. With the sense of urgency attributed to both achieving climate goals and the SDGs, a logical expectation can be that increasing bottom-up engagement and action will easily translate into contributions for sustainability. Moving away from a mere presumption to gaining knowledge in support of this case requires posing questions such as these: “Does bottom-up collective acting work for sustainability?”, “How can we know?”, and “Why does it matter that we know?”

Does it work?

From a systems perspective, a simplified affirmative answer can be offered: bottom-up collective actions can play a big or small part toward systemic change. They can do this by setting in motion key system levers or eventually by helping catalyse a movement that can potentially contribute toward systemic change. However, even if this is the case, how can we know that the change set in motion will be advancing important sustainability goals?

How do we know?

The answer can be approached within a variety of disciplinary fields. These include (but are not limited to) social science, engineering, psychology, economics, political science, technological innovation studies and economy-energy studies. Some approaches target consumption and production, behaviour, lifestyles, and service provision; others target systemic infrastructure impacts and technology choices. Each approach favours a partial disciplinary assessment. Each field converges towards certain expert knowledge which tends to make its use difficult in an open public conversation or public deliberation. Gaining full understanding of the way collective bottom-up actions can work for sustainability requires further efforts to synthesize partial field approaches and for learning in action.

Recent efforts by the international research community are helping advance multidisciplinary frameworks for assessment and systemic thinking in approaching complex sustainability challenges and solutions. Evolving research efforts in multi-disciplinary teams are helping find ways of bridging evidence from natural and social systems with political and ethical considerations. The results offer a more complete evaluation of bottom-up actions’ impacts, synergies and potential conflicts. Similarly, they offer a scope for creative thinking and innovation enlarging the sustainable solutions space.

Experimentation, assessment, learning and knowledge creation approaches are a necessary component of the transition

Why does it matter to know if bottom-up actions work for sustainability?

Here are three reasons why it matters. First, because gaining knowledge of what constitutes effective collective action is essential for informed decision-making at all levels. There is a short time span for countries to deliver on their commitments to limit global warming below dangerous levels and to achieve SDGs as an integrated vision. More knowledge can make clear the opportunities for innovation and help to understand where trade-offs may be unavoidable.

Second, because sustainability gains may be easier to obtain and assess locally but it is also important to learn how they can be scaled up and offer improvements toward global goals.

Finally, because experimentation, assessment, learning and knowledge creation approaches are a necessary component of this transition, in this process universities have a very important role to play.

The task of universities is to form well-equipped sustainability professionals with strong capabilities to work in multi-disciplinary teams. General eagerness to understand the systemic interconnections between sustainability and climate challenges and solutions is just as important.

So far, this task has been addressed in Denmark by the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), the Danish Technical University (DTU) and Copenhagen Business School (CBS) joint developing electives (e.g. this and this) that can be chosen by students from any discipline and from any of the three universities – provided their study board will accept the course for credit.

Universities have unique resources and facilities to contribute in strengthening the knowledge creation, self-awareness, complex system thinking and multidisciplinary learning process. They can help enrich and transform the scope of bottom-up collective action into plausible solutions that pave a sustainability-transition path.


Maria Josefina Figueroa is assistant professor and academic coordinator of the Copenhagen Sustainability Initiative COSI at Copenhagen Business School. She is also lead author of the IPCC Fifth and coming Sixth Assessment Report.

Pic by Sharon Mollerus, Flickr

Why it Doesn’t Matter that Facers are Annoying

By Jacob Schjødt.

You are walking down a high-traffic street in Copenhagen minding your own business. You’re thinking about the new pair of pants you’re about to buy. But then. About 30 meters ahead. You see something that immediately provokes a feeling of mild anxiety. You decide to take a detour, and walk to the very edge of the street. But it’s too late. You have already been spotted. A friendly looking young man with long hair, piercings and a big smile calls at you. ‘Is it me, he’s calling at?’ you ask yourself – hoping the answer to be ‘no’. But it is you. You have been caught. By a Facer.

What is a Facer?
In the most general sense, a Facer is a professional salesperson who sales products, services or memberships face-to-face. Facers are usually found on high-traffic shopping streets in large cities. Facers can take many forms and promote various causes, ranging from Scientology to insurance and memberships to charities. In this blog, I will only consider the latter, as you know them from Unicef, Amnesty, Care etc.

Why Facers are annoying
Usually when people talk about facers, they readily settle on the apparent fact that Facers are rather, if not very, annoying. And, in general, I agree with these people: Facers are annoying. They force you out of your comfort zone, they completely ignore your interests, and they ask you to consider something that is not at all related to your life. Facers force you into a situation in which you have to choose between two negative outcomes: 1) feel bad about not helping someone in need or 2) give away money that you had other plans with. Also, facers are fake. Facers pretend to like you, just to get your money. This creates an unfamiliar and unpleasant encounter in which it’s easy to feel that you have to be rude to maintain a sense of control. And the list goes on…

And Why it Doesn’t Matter That They Are
The situation is clear. Facers are super annoying. But to jump from this fact of reality to the conclusion, that one should not support their cause – or that it’s fine to talk ill of them – is a school book example of an ad hominem argument. Contrary to many other cases of ad hominem thinking, however, we can actually justify Facer’s annoying behaviour (assuming that we sympathize with the charity they are promoting).

A decent facer can sign up 3 new members on a 6 hour shift, and these member will donate around 75-150 DKK per month. A charity membership lasts about 1.5 years on average (an estimate), and a Facer makes around 120DKK per shift (depending on their salary model). If a Facer works 2 times per week, he/she will then make around 60.000 DKK in a year, and earn the charity well above 400.000 DKK. If you thought being annoying could save lives, wouldn’t you be annoying?

Beware of the Facer Fallacy
Our tendency to found moral arguments on unpleasant feelings is one of the most heavily supported claims in moral psychology (Haidt, 2001; 2012, Haidt et al., 2000; Greene, 2001; 2009; 2014). I think that Facer-bashing is a solid example thereof. I think that we too readily succumb to a ‘if the messenger is annoying, he cannot be on to something’, fallacy when it comes to Facers, and that we should make an effort to develop a more positive attitude towards these people and their work.

References

  • Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108(4), 814–834. https://doi.org/10.1037//0033-295X.108.4.814

  • Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind. Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion …, (January), 1–508. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

  • Haidt, J., Bjorklund, F., & Murphy, S. (2000). Moral dumbfounding: When intuiton finds no reason. Working Paper. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

  • Greene, J. (2014). Moral Tribes. Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them, 300. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

  • Greene, J. D., Sommerville, R. B., Nystrom, L. E., Darley, J. M., & Cohen, J. D. (2001). An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment. Science, 293(5537), 2105–2108. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1062872

  • Greene, J. D. (2009). Dual-process morality and the personal/impersonal distinction: A reply to McGuire, Langdon, Coltheart, and Mackenzie. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(3), 581–584. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2009.01.003

Jacob Schjødt is a Master student of Business Administration and Philosophy at CBS and Student assistant at CBS PRME. He has been responsible for organising the first Students for the Global Goals Festival at CBS on April 11, 2018. Follow CBS PRME on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates.

Pic by Daniel Lombraña González, Unsplash. Edited by BOS.

CSR: When High Aspirations Go Low – and How to Avoid it

By Peter Winkler & Michael Etter.

Managers’ public claims to improve CSR can have self-persuasive effects on corporations and their members. However, sometimes such “aspirational talk” can have the opposite effect. We explain why this may happen and how to avoid it.

“Green washing” or “smoke and mirrors” are labels that are often attached to the promises of managers who publicly claim to improve CSR. CBS researchers have challenged this sceptical view and argue that “aspirational talk” by managers, by raising public expectations and scrutiny, can make corporations and their members live up to these aspirations.

Sometimes, however, we argue that even the best-intended aspirations can have opposite, even detrimental effects. In the following we provide some reflections on the conditions, under which high CSR aspirations may “go low” and we suggest some ideas how to prevent such outcome.

From persuasive to provisional aspirations
Aspirations are helpful to direct and motivate employees. However, the last thing managers need on a mission towards substantial corporate responsibilisation are “blind believers”. Employees, who simply rely on a visionary manager and do not voice, where current business conduct impedes aspired CSR, will contribute little to change. Hence, we propose that managers should avoid getting too persuasive and creating “corporate cultism” around aspired CSR. Rather, managers should signal that visions are provisional and that employees, who critique contradictions between vision and reality, are the true driver of change.

From insistent to revisable aspirations
We suggest that managers should not stick too closely to their initial CSR aspirations. As innovation research tells us, insistence on initial ideas is never a good advisor to affect change. In contrary, managerial insistence on initial CSR aspirations may prevent that different ideas about future CSR by employees develop. Hence, managerial willingness to revise their aspirations in accordance to what employees consider responsible practice is crucial. After all, it is the employees who enact CSR in their daily work.

From broad to locally grounded aspirations
Aspirations, by nature, have a bias when it comes to envisioned scope and gravity. Dreams are larger than life. On a managerial mission towards better CSR, hence, the goal cannot, and maybe should not be to live up to managerial ideas. Rather, we suggest that corporate responsibilisation is about local grounding and depth of CSR in situated understandings and practices. In other words, CSR is less a question of reaching an aspired scope, but about winning depth and grounding in corporate practices.

Our ideas should by no means discourage managers to think big and speak out about CSR. However, we suggest that voicing CSR aspirations is only the first step. In a second step, managers might need to modify or sacrifice these aspirations for locally committed CSR practices.


Peter Winkler is a FH professor at the FHWien der WKW – University of Applied Sciences in Management and Communication, Vienna, and guest professor in organizational communication at the University of Salzburg, Austria. He is interested in sociological approaches to organizational and management communication research. In 2015/16, he was a research fellow at the Governing Responsible Business Research Environment at CBS.

Michael Etter, Ph.D., is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Cass Business School, City University of London. He is interested in CSR, new ICTs, and social approval of firms. He tweets about media, technology, and business & society issues @MichaelEtter_.

Pic by Nick Fewings, Unsplash.

Is Social Media Redefining the Pursuit of Social Change?

By Daniel Lundgaard.

  • Social media has become a battleground where NGOs with global perspectives, corporations and new digital social movements all fight to shape public opinion in the pursuit of social change
  • Though often criticized for the low quality of online deliberation, social media has become one of the primary avenues for diffusion of information, and increasingly an embedded part of our infrastructure
  • This calls for more research on how social media is changing various aspects of our lives and how we, through collaborative efforts, may foster change

Approximate Reading Time: 2-3 min.

Social Media for Social Change?
The impact of social media on the way we live our lives is undeniable. Recent statistics suggests that there are more than three billion active social media users. This makes social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter some of the most influential contexts regarding diffusion of information and they are, to a certain extent and as many of us would admit, emotionally contagious. This has created a digitalized world where social media has ‘given a voice to the people’, as civil society can use social media to express concerns. However, the debate about whether expressing concerns through social media leads to any substantial change is only just at the beginning.

What is your take on this? Is social media cultivating global collaboration and facilitating a pursuit for a better world, or instead disrupting the debate by cultivating polarization and fragmentation? – And are these two arguments necessarily mutually exclusive? Join me as we explore these two sides a bit further to understand how social media might be the key to pursuing social change.

The two sides of the debate
On the one side of the debate, we have the argument that social media facilitates constructive, powerful and impactful digitally networked action to pursue social change, as for example seen with the Arab Spring and recently the #Metoo movement. This follows the argument that these online platforms are evolving from a tool for social interaction towards becoming an embedded part of our infrastructure and some of the primary contexts for collaborative efforts.

On the other side, we have the argument that simply enabling collaborative efforts is not enough to promote social change, as social media is argued to be “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works” (former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya. The challenge is that social media is heavily criticized for disrupting the pursuit for social change by cultivating echo-chambers, destructive polarization, fake-news and filter bubbles which hinder constructive online deliberation. This critique is further substantiated by critics arguing that social media cultivates non-committal activism (often referred to as slacktivism), which can thwart efforts to achieve social change, as ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ still can’t be eaten, and sharing or liking an image of a starving child doesn’t solve any issues by itself.

Why you shouldn’t disregard social media’s potential
The keywords here are “by itself”, because while the isolated ability for social media to cultivate social change is questioned, social media’s ability to connect millions of disparate actors and facilitate engagement in collaborative efforts cannot be denied. Social media has the innate ability to link individual contributions and facilitate large-scale collaboration that leads to a better outcome than what each individual could have achieved on his or her own as for example illustrated by how Change.org and SumOfUs.org use social media to fight social injustice and socially irresponsible corporations. Fostering polarization might very well be destructive, but it can also be constructive and facilitate social change by inspiring stronger commitment within specific groups, which might help ‘fuel’ collaborative efforts towards more substantial change.

These two sides are thus not necessarily mutually exclusive, as the coherent large-scale collaboration potentially benefit from emerging through more polarized communities that can give a ‘voice’ to otherwise squelched and ‘minor’ opinions, as seen with the #BlackLivesMatter-movement and the #Metoo-movement. The key to using social media in the pursuit for social change is therefore to harness the ability for social media to link disparate like-minded actors and facilitate coherent large-scale collaboration, as illustrated by the Occupy Wall Street-movement as well as the Tunisian uprising that sparked the Arab Spring. The ability to connect globally disparate actors based on perceived shared values and some form of collective mind-set is thus one of the primary ways that social media is changing the pursuit for social change.

Social media has become a battleground
These examples illuminate that social media has become a battleground where NGOs with global perspectives, corporations and new digital social movements all fight to shape public opinion on the pursuit for social change. The important thing to note is that we are seeing the beginning of change. Implications of business practices are becoming a matter of civic concern, as evidenced by how consumers use social media to express their concerns and continuously attempt to influence corporate behavior in the pursuit for a better world. Social media is thus at the core of pursuing social change, as consumers can circumvent the traditional ‘gate-keeping’ function of traditional media and directly interact with organizations, which to a certain extent have empowered the digitalized civil society.

The critique of social media should however not be disregarded. Echo-chambers can be highly destructive, and social networking sites can create personalized ‘bubbles’ where your exposure to information is determined by the platform, as illustrated by the recent Facebook-data leak suggesting that data was harvested and exploited in an attempt to reshape political deliberation.

However, using the strengths of social media to unite in numbers has undoubtedly created new opportunities for us as consumers to affect public opinion towards an increased emphasis on social responsibility and social change. The next question is then how these collaborative efforts lead to substantial change, potentially by influencing the behavior of organizations, which is something I will continue to investigate in my research going forwards.


Daniel Lundgaard is a PhD fellow at the CBS Governing Responsible Business Research Environment. His research is mainly focused on the impact of the digital transformation, in particular, how social media has ‘given a voice to the people’ as a way to challenge norms and dominating discourses, and thereby changed our world and influenced the relationship between business and society.

Pic by Kym Ellis via Unsplash, edited by BOS.