Category Archives: CSR

Sustainability’s Infrastructure

Ethnographies of the global value chain of certified tea (SUSTEIN)

By Hannah Elliott, Martin Skrydstrup and Matthew Archer.

Why SUSTEIN?

Currently, the world’s tea industry is on a race with time to source tea sustainably before 2020. But what is “sustainable tea” and how do we know if tea is sustainable or not? This project entitled SUSTEIN (SUStainable TEa INfrastructure) will focus on this question by way of looking at localized translations of transnational sustainability standards in Kenya, United Arab Emirates and corporate headquarters in Europe. We aim to advance our understanding of the global value chain of certified tea.

3 Research lines

The theoretical objective is to venture beyond the notion of global value chain by reinterpreting sustainable supply chain management through the concept of infrastructure, a notion anthropologists and other social scientists have deployed in recent years to emphasize the political and temporal aspects of networks such as transnational supply chains. We hope that this concept will allow us to better comprehend how sustainable certification schemes manifest in global value chains.
SUSTEIN consists of three sub projects, which each address a core question posed by the project:

  • How does certification shape agrarian production in the form of cultivation and factory processing, and vice versa? Who benefits from which sustainability standards? (Line A)
  • How does certification influence the valuation of tea, assessed in terms of taste, grade and price? How is the value of certification performed and capitalized? (Line B)
  • How do corporate professionals and independent auditors distinguish between “sustainable/unsustainable”? What lines of evidence are recognized? (Line C)

Each of these questions will be answered by the corresponding research line:

tea plantation
Tea plantage in Kericho; one of SUSTEIN’s field sites.

Research line A

explores agrarian questions, enquiring into the ways contemporary drives towards sustainability shape and are shaped by modes of tea production in Kenya. The research focuses on the institution of the tea plantation and its associated factories and outgrower farms, all key components of the infrastructure of sustainable tea. The tea plantation has been described as having a “dual character” (Besky 2008: 1); it has its roots in British colonialism while being contemporarily positioned in international markets for certified sustainable commodities. This research line enquires into what ‘sustainability’ comes to mean and materialise within this apparently contradictory setting. How do contemporary measures seeking to ensure sustainable tea production, such as certified standards, affect the way tea is produced in the context of the plantation? And to what extent do longer-standing modes of plantation production endure through the present, in turn shaping contemporary sustainability ideologies and practices? The research line addresses these questions through ethnographic inquiry. The researcher will spend time with the people working on tea plantations and in factories certified by different certification bodies and on the farms of outgrowers contracted to supply the companies owning plantations with supplementary sustainable tea. Through interviews and participant observation, the ethnographer will enquire into the social, political and ethical worlds surrounding sustainable tea production in contemporary Kenya.

Research line B

will follow through on the plantation and factory sites to the auction sites in Mombasa and Dubai. Ethnographic fieldwork will be conducted in the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai with no tax regulations, no strict labor laws nor import/export duties, making it the perfect infrastructural hub to blend and pack tea according to corporate logic. Likely as an outcome of this, the Dubai Tea Trading Centre has since its establishment in 2005 risen to re-export 60% of the world’s tea production. These volumes are predominantly traded on virtual platforms.
In contrast, the Mombasa Tea Auction holds two weekly auctions under the auspices of the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA), which conforms to national regulations (Tea Act of Kenya & Tea Board of Kenya). Recently, this auction site voted “against the mouse and for the hammer,” maintaining the tradition of the Dutch auction style vs. virtual trading. The ethnography for this research line will move between these two sites, following tea blenders who purchase in Mombasa vs. Dubai and investigating tea expertise and technologies as it pertains to the valuation of certified tea.

Research line C

builds on these ethnographies of production and exchange to try and understand the relationship between corporations and standards/certification regimes. There is a tension between these groups of actors whereby standards organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade International need to appear independent in order for their certifications to remain credible while at the same time remaining sensitive to the financial obligations of for-profit corporations in order to promote “buy-in.”
This research line will draw on interviews with people working in these organizations and participant observation at sites where they interact, including industry conferences and trade fairs. These are the sites where sustainability is negotiated as both a concept and as a set of practices. With that in mind, interview questions will focus on, among other things, the extent to which specific agricultural and trading practices are integrated into broader definitions of sustainability and their manifestation in different certification regimes, the challenges of maintaining a critical distance between certifiers and corporations, and the way standards govern markets and, crucially, vice versa.

The grant

SUSTEIN is made possible by the Sapere Aude Starting Grant (meaning “dare to know”), awarded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF). The Sapere Aude program “is aimed at younger, very talented researchers, who at the time of the application deadline and within the last eight years have obtained their PhD”. The Sapere Aude program targets “top researchers who intend to gather a group of researchers, in order to carry out a research project at a high, international level.”

Reference

Besky, S. (2008) ‘Can a plantation be fair? Paradoxes and possibilities in Fair Trade Darjeeling tea certification’. Anthropology of Work, XXIX: 1, pp. 1-9.


Hannah Elliott is a post-doc in the Department of Management, Society, and Communication at Copenhagen Business School, having recently finished her PhD at the University of Copenhagen. She is responsible for research line A.

Martin Skrydstrup is an associate professor in the Department of Management, Society, and Communication at Copenhagen Business School and is the principal investigator of SUSTEIN. He is also responsible for research line B.

Matthew Archer is an assistant professor in the Department of Management, Society, and Communication at Copenhagen Business School and is responsible for research line C. He recently completed his PhD in environmental studies at Yale University and is interested in corporate sustainability and sustainable finance.


Closing remarks

In a year we hope to update BOS readers about how far we are with answering our research questions. In the meantime, we invite you to swing by our offices at Dalgas Have for a cup of tea.
The SUSTEIN project runs from 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2020.
For further information about the project, please contact the principal investigator, Martin Skrydstrup, at msk.msc@cbs.dk.

One Blog, Many Authors

By Oliver Laier.

This entry is not one of the usual kind. Rather you will find thoughts about this blog as such, its motivation, relevance, and a recap of articles posted in the last few months.

A researcher-blog is a particular thing, the description itself, researcher blog, appears contradictive in the first place. Typically, the researcher’s publishing realm are journals, contributions to textbooks or own publications. Whereas a weblog is typically loosely written, open for ex post published critique and comments, a researcher publication is as clear and precise in language as possible, and peer-reviewed before the print or upload. Scientific papers rarely feature colourful pictures to draw attention, and they always exceed 500 words. Blogs are often about opinions on certain topics, provoke, deal with actual events or contemplate issues; a paper ideally generates insight, knowledge and facts, only as far as possible.

So, why is CBS’ Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (cbsCSR) and the Governing Responsible Business (GRB) research environment maintaining this “Business of Society” (BOS) blog, not to mention the twitter, facebook and even instagram presences? Does it make any sense?

We think it does. Not only are we convinced that sustainability and the responsibility of business and society for a more sustainable future are of concern to everyone but we also believe that related topics and discussions from around and beyond CBS should get out fast to a broad audience, that is, via online publishing. The blog is not only aimed at the ones in the office next door, who might not yet know who is doing research on what, our department, other departments, other universities, in Denmark and abroad. We are also targeting students, practitioners, politicians, friends, family – basically everyone who is concerned with sustainability in some way.

Why maintaining a researcher blog? Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash.

The contributors span from big names in the field to not-yet-well-known PhDs, (visiting) professors, fellows, students, colleagues from other institutions, and guest contributors. We seek diversity on the blog, as sustainability is not one clearly defined ‘thing’. It is related to all kinds of fields and while the term itself stems from forestry, the contested expression is now informing environmental sciences, politics, economics and business; theory and practise; professional and private lives. What do you buy, how do we (want to) live, how about our children?

The Business of Society (BOS) blog is meant to expand every reader’s horizon and to engage you in critical thinking and discussion. Providing short entries in accessible language does not imply a lower relevance of the articles. Rather, it means that the proverbial, non-academic ‘grandmother’ can understand what is at stake and participate in a discussion. Having scientific thought from many different researchers in condensed form is also a source of inspiration for students or and soon-to-be PhDs. Following, a few selected articles are presented to give you a taste of this blog’s spirit and the people behind the articles.

From the Business of Society archive

Jan Bauer is associate professor at CBS and part of the Governing Responsible Business (GRB) Research Environment. He is doing research in the fields of health economics and consumer behaviour. In June, he contributed to this blog with an article about a sustainable food policy trial, here at the MSC department at CBS. A new choice architecture in regard to the food policy at the department reveals the power of defaults. However, Jan also emphasises the importance of the foundation of guiding principles in such nudging approaches. What is the best way to decide upon a new policy, scientific evidence or democratic process? Follow the link above to get a more comprehensive image of the nudge-experiment and its related issues.

Climate change solutions must naturally consist in a collective effort of different parties: various fields of research, politics, business; technology are often seen as candidates to deliver the solution(s) from a supply side, among others when it comes to decarbonisation. Yet, the demand side must not be overlooked either, knows Kristian Steensen Nielsen, PhD fellow in environmental behaviour change at CBS. In his article in July, he writes about a framework for assessing the potential of behaviour change for global decarbonisation, suggesting that demand-side behaviour change can offer a solution for long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Pointing the fingers at others is easy. But before blaming somebody else, it is sometimes a good idea to look at one’s own backyard. To some people, the Chinese Social Credit system seems to be an idea stemming from 20th century dystopia literature and deserves critique. The Western backyard here would be what tech-industry giants and governments do with the (private) data, and how citizens think and (don’t) act about it. Dieter Zinnbauer and Hans Krause Hansen wrote a brilliant piece on the big fuss about a big policy plan. It is a bit longer but worth the time.

Is the cake really getting bigger? Sharing economy is such an omnipresent phenomenon and buzzword that few people ask what is behind it. Fact is, people have been sharing ever since they lived in communities. It can also be taken for granted that Airbnb and the like neither (re-)invented the sharing-concept, nor act upon non-profit or redistributive beliefs. Attila Marton, from our neighbouring department of digitalization at CBS, depicts in his article generic types of sharing economy platforms and why it is rather a not-so-sharing economy in the case of large-scale business models.

Sharing or not sharing? Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash.

Granting the BOS readers a first taste of his upcoming book, Stefano Ponte from the Business and Politics department at CBS contributed an article based upon ‘just sustainabilities’ in a world of global value chains. Living in the Anthropocene (or, the capitaloscene??), humanity has to take care of how much more it changes the planet’s surface and ecosystems. The problem of global governance has to be tackled from all possible sides, business large and small, politics local and global; yet business of sustainability is not sufficient as a solution for, among others, climate change. What to do? Read yourself.

A common critique towards environmentalist researchers, politicians and activists is the fact that they -if only for the greater good- behave environmentally debatable themselves, such as short trips to conferences involving air travel, the excessive use of resources at conferences  (e.g. paper, i.e. info flyers, posters; plastic bottles, one-time coffee mugs).

Being in charge of organizing a Sustainable Consumption conference at CBS, Louise Thomsen, project manager for CBS PRME and the VELUX Chair, asked how this conference, and events at CBS in general, can be made more sustainable. In her guest post, she contemplates the issue of making events more sustainable and presents the actual measures taken. Just one example: in cooperation with a student group from DTU, a life cycle analysis was done to guide decisions in terms of water supply. Check out the whole article about raising the bar for sustainable events.

As this selection of recent posts shows, BOS is a platform for diverse and rich sustainability discourses, starting here at CBS and extending to topics of global reach and relevance.  Supply chains, politics, sharing, consumption behaviour, ethics, business responsibility, the SDGs, the next conference you’ll be attending, all these issues belong here. If you would like to contribute to the BOS blog of meet for a coffee and chat, write a mail ol.msc@cbs.dk.

Photo by Jordan Heath on Unsplash.

Hybrid organizing in the face of grand challenges

By Ali Aslan Gümüsay.

Sharing is not always caring

In 2015, thousands of refugees arrived in Europe. A recent paper by Kornberger and colleagues (2017) zooms in on the “Train of Hope”, a civil society organization that organically gained exclusive operational command at Vienna’s main train station during this refugee crisis. The paper is a critical reflection on much of the current sharing economy ‘hype’. In contrast to cases of “collaborative consumption”[1], where platform companies such as AirBnB or Uber offer (share?) other people’s resources, this is an exemplary case of engagement and sharing without expectations for direct individual return: a sharing of a concern for social well-being.[2] Sharing then becomes caring.

Hybridity everywhere

What is Train of Hope? It is probably something of a platform and social movement blend that combines various skills like first aid, translation and accommodation services. It is a hybrid organization – and such hybrids seem to pop up everywhere lately. These novel forms of organizing combine different logics, orders of worth, value spheres, organizational forms and/or identities – struggling for a value(s) synthesis.[3] I see incubators, social ventures, ateliers, fab labs struggling to organize, represent and scale – and find their diverse pursuits fascinating, enriching and complementary. They do hybrid organizing in and for society and are frequently novel, digital, flexible, fluid, cross-boundary, multi-jurisdictional, and temporary forms.

Grand challenges & novel forms of organizing

Why now? A potential answer may lie in the types of challenges our societies face. Scholars from the field of management and organization studies speak of “grand challenges”[4] that are complex, uncertain, and multi-jurisdictional phenomena.[5] They represent fundamental, global societal concerns of ecological or social nature that require coordinated and collective efforts of multiple actors, including business firms, governments, civil society, and academia – as well as new forms of (hybrid) organizing.

Together with Emilio Marti (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Hannah Trittin (Leuphana University Lüneburg), and Christopher Wickert (VU University Amsterdam), I have initiated a scientific network that will be funded by the German National Science Foundation (DFG). The network will zoom in over the next three years on the interrelationship between grand challenges and new forms of organizing. Such organizations attempt to tackle the various sustainable development goals from climate change, decent work and sustainable growth, gender equality, populism and racism, societal cohesion, responsible consumption and production, to sustainable cities and communities.

A Janus face

The scientific network takes the vantage point in the assumption that such new forms of organizing often have a Janus face. They are both potential cause and solution for certain grand societal challenges. On the one hand, social entrepreneurial ventures[6], online communities such as Wikipedia and Linux[7], crowd science projects like Foldit, Galaxy Zoo and Polymath[8], and social initiatives like “Train of Hope” promise novel means to tackle these challenges. On the other hand, they also create new ones. For example, crowdsourcing and other new forms of platform-organized work crafted along the surge of the digital economy[9] often fuel the proliferation of precarious, self-employed and low-paid work that undermines social welfare systems and thus endanger modern democracies.[10] Likewise, in her recent book “Weapons of Math Destruction”, O’Neil (2016) describes how the (ab)use of new, seemingly efficient big data management techniques can promote, rather than reduce, racism, inequality and discrimination. Clearly then, novel hybrid forms of organizing promise many opportunities to tackle grand challenges – yet also create new (grand) challenges for society.


Ali Aslan Gümüsay is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Hamburg and Research Fellow at Vienna University of Economics & Business. Twitter: @guemuesay

 

[1] Botsman & Rogers, 2010.

[2] Gümüsay, 2018.

[3] Gümüsay, 2017.

[4] George, Howard-Grenville, Joshi, & Tihanyi, 2016.

[5] Ferraro, Etzion, & Gehman, 2015.

[6] Mair & Martí, 2006.

[7] Garud, Jain, & Tuertscher, 2008.

[8] Franzoni & Sauermann, 2014.

[9] Bauer & Gegenhuber, 2015; Boes, Kämpf, Langes, & Lühr, 2016.

[10] Morozov, 2015.

References

Bauer, R. M., & Gegenhuber, T. 2015. Crowdsourcing: Global search and the twisted roles of consumers and producers. Organization, 22(5): 661–681.

Boes, A., Kämpf, T., Langes, B., & Lühr, T. 2016. “Lean” und “agil” im Büro: Neue Formen der Organisation von Kopfarbeit in der digitalen Transformation, Working Paper Forschungsförderung. Düsseldorf: Hans-Böckler-Stiftung.

Botsman, R., & Rogers, R. 2010. Beyond zipcar: Collaborative consumption. Harvard Business Review, 88(10): 30.

Ferraro, F., Etzion, D., & Gehman, J. 2015. Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited. Organization Studies, 36(3): 363–390.

Franzoni, C., & Sauermann, H. 2014. Crowd science: The organization of scientific research in open collaborative projects. Research Policy, 43(1): 1–20.

Garud, R., Jain, S., & Tuertscher, P. 2008. Incomplete by Design and Designing for Incompleteness. Organization Studies, 29(3): 351–371.

George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. 2016. Understanding and Tackling Societal Grand Challenges through Management Research. Academy of Management Journal, 59(6): 1880–1895.

Gümüsay, A. A. 2017. Unpacking entrepreneurial opportunities: an institutional logics perspective. Innovation: Organization & Management, 1–14.

Gümüsay, A. A. 2018. COMMENTARY: Sharing is caring: From material to socio-material sharing. Academy of Management Discoveries. [Forthcoming]

Kornberger, M., Leixnering, S., Meyer, R., & Hoellerer, M. 2017. Rethinking the Sharing Economy: The Nature and Organization of Sharing in the 2015 Refugee Crisis. Academy of Management Discoveries. https://doi.org/10.5465/amd.2016.0138.

Mair, J., & Martí, I. 2006. Social entrepreneurship research: A source of explanation, prediction, and delight. Journal of World Business, 41(1): 36–44.

O’Neil, C. 2016. Weapons of math destruction: how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy. London: Allen Lane.

Pic: SDGs, circle, by UN WMO; edited.

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.

Bottom-up Sustainability: Let’s make CBS the First Business School with a Green Community Currency!

by Stine Eiersholt & Lena Tünkers.

In an earlier BOS article, Louise Thomsen from CBS PRME asked the question whether universities are falling behind on the green transition. We, as students, might not feel resourceful enough to bring up the debate about sustainable development and large-scale transitions. But in fact, we have tremendous possibilities to help our own institutions walk the walk towards reaching a more sustainable environment, for example with a campus currency.

One foot first and then another

We are students. We don’t have to wait for people in a boardroom to decide whether or not to add sustainability to the agenda. We can start taking the first steps now. Today. You can actively engage with socially responsible or green student organizations, participate in events concerning everything from circular economy to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and you can try and influence such things as how the canteen handles food waste. Why not just take an extra step and start transforming the campus ourselves? That is what the SuPo community currency project is all about: Creating bottom-up sustainability at CBS campus. Since the beginning of the project, we have already taken many steps, some of which took us down the busy streets of Manhattan towards the office of the UN Global Compact.

1 Hackathon, 4 SDGs and 3 strangers

Let’s rewind for a second to explain how we ended up in the Big Apple on a chilly day in March. This recap is for those of you, who have been so focused on this semester’s curriculum that words such as SuPo, Sustainable Campus Hackathon and PRME have escaped your vocabulary.

The number 3 has always been magical. We were three girls, from three different countries and three different universities who met for the first time during the Sustainable Campus Hackathon in November 2017 at the Student & Innovation House. The hackathon involved four SDGs and the aim was to encourage sustainability-driven changes of the CBS campus. Coincidentally, we decided to team up to develop an idea related to green infrastructure during the day-and-a-half long case competition. After walking around in circles for 6 hours trying to come up with the right idea, we somehow had a ‘light bulb moment’ after some much-needed pizza: the idea of SuPo was born.

SuPo; a CBS community currency to promote sustainable behaviour where virtual points can be earned and spent around the campus. Suddenly we were rushing through a 4-minute pitch, first at a preliminary heat, then the finale. It felt unbelievable, but we won. Now to the exciting stuff: Besides implementing SuPo at CBS, the prize included flying to New York City to present our idea to the joint UN Global Compact and PRME office!

The project takes off

Thanks to our jetlag, there was no need to set an alarm as we were wide awake by 3 am anyway. Over the last few weeks we have been excitedly talking about this day so many times, each day with increasing anticipation. Today was finally the day: The bags were packed, the presentation was tuned, the shirt ironed. We were ready to present at the UN Global Compact office and share with them how we thought this project could transform our campus for the better. It felt like a massive step. And it was still just 5 am.

SuPo took a bite of the Big Apple

To start off on the right leg that morning, we had a good old American bagel with coffee before rushing through the busy underground metro network to the first meeting of the day. After an introduction by the UN Global Compact and PRME, we took the floor and presented the Sustainable Campus Hackathon as well as the ideas, collaborations and visions behind the SuPo project. The 2-hour long meeting was an incredible experience for us and everyone present participated in the discussion after the presentation. The idea about a community currency based on sustainable behaviour definitely gained support, as one of the UN interns was asked to research the possibilities of inferring a similar system within the UN office. Mission accomplished!

Our next stop was the Social Innovation Lab of Fordham University which is located right at South Central Park. Our morning bagels were long gone by now, so our empty stomachs were rumbling when a range of American pizzas were brought in. You know, the thick, cheesy, mainly meat style pizzas you see Joey eat in Friends. We started the meeting by giving a less detailed presentation of SuPo. Afterwards, the Social Innovation Lab students shared their own projects and interests which ranged from projects on self-sufficient housing to project collaborations with large environmental-advocacy networks. Impressive. Later that day, we received emails from the professors present at the university meeting highlighting their interest in testing SuPo at Fordham as soon as a pilot project has been developed at CBS. They were also eager to organize their own Sustainable Campus Hackathon with help from the organizers in Copenhagen. What a day!

Get involved and create change

It took one hackathon and one good idea before we sat at the long meeting room table in the UN Global Compact office. It took a few more meetings at home before we were able to sit around that table and talk about collaborations on sustainability across the Atlantic. If we can do that in the space of four months, so can you. Get involved around campus, make up your own projects or join the SuPo community. We would love to get involved and take our next steps with you.

Since the hackathon, SuPo has grown to become a CBS-owned project with funding and staff support. The short-term aim of the project is to develop a simulation of the community currency and a pilot project at CBS. Never before has a community currency been introduced to a Business School – SuPo could be the first one. So rather than closing the SuPo chapter after NYC, we embrace the positive response we got on our trip and will use it to push harder for the development of SuPo. The difficult but exciting journey of creating a reward system for sustainable behaviour on CBS campus is just taking off.

If you want to be part of the future SuPo story and join a thrilling sustainable movement to make an impact, get in contact or like & follow us on Facebook and Instagram.


Stine Eiersholt is a MSc in Climate Change student at the University of Copenhagen and works as a student assistant at Climate-KIC – a European climate innovation initiative. In her free time, she hosts a podcast called Influenced by Nature with the aim to highlight people and projects striving to solve climate change, environmental and sustainability related issues.  Follow her on Twitter: @inflbynature

Lena Tünkers is a master student at CBS studying Organizational Innovation and Entrepreneurship with a strong interest in innovative business models that lead to more sustainable behavior.

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.

After #Metoo: Are We as Equal as We Would Like to Think?

By Sara Louise Muhr & Florence Villesèche.

The me too movement was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke to help survivors of sexual violence, but it was not until after the public revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein in October 2017 that it went viral as a hashtag and ended up demonstrating the world-wide prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.

It has been a shock to many how widespread sexual assault and harassment is – not least in a Scandinavian context, where the assumption of equality and respect long has been a foundational societal value. The massive amount of me too stories from Scandinavia – from all social classes, all occupations, all ages and ethnicities – have forced us to take another hard look at our beloved equality and ask the question ‘are men and women after all as equal as we would like to think?’.

Let’s look at some numbers…
And if we look at the numbers, we’re not… Just to take a few examples: Denmark has 6 % female CEOs in private companies, Denmark has a 16 % overall gender pay gap: 30 % among CEOs, 6,6 % among newly educated candidates, 2,6 % among our students. Around 50 % experience sexual harassment at work. Moreover, all studies point to the fact that women (and other minorities) are consistently evaluated lower than (white) men and women (and other minorities) systematically receive shorter, less-praise worthy letters of recommendation compared to (white) men.

What’s in a fight?
This means that we are not as equal as we would like to think. Some bodies fit the business world; some have to fight their way up and deal with a lot of resistance on the way. The difference here lies in the fight. Those women who make it to the top, are those who don’t give up. They are those who can take it, who have the power (or patience) to deal with or fight off the sexism and sexual harassment they are faced with on the way, every day.

Other bodies who fit the context of the business world, don’t have to fight. They just fit in. We might therefore on paper have equal opportunities, but some bodies meet resistance, some fit and do not meet resistance. As Sarah Ahmed argues in an essay about ‘Phenomenology of Whiteness’, if whiteness is our starting point – the default – then the black body is out of place. A black body is a black body; a white body is just a body. Similarly, the female body is out of place, not at home, not natural in a top management context. A female leader is a therefore always already a female leader; a male leader is just a leader. A female leader cannot escape her body.

The privilege of invisibility
This links to the privilege of invisibility, the privilege of ‘fitting’ the context, fitting the room. Karen Ashcraft refers to this as the glass slipper. Certain bodies fit certain occupations, whereas other bodies need to adapt and adjust and never really fit, always stand out. This is both the female top-manager and the male kindergarten teacher; the female fire-fighter or the male stay at home dad. The problem here, is not necessarily ‘not fitting the room’. Rather, the problem is the harassment, which is normalized against the ones not fitting the room. This is what the wide impact of the me too campaign has shown: The normalization and naturalisation of sexism against women at the workplace – from demeaning comments to actual sexual assault – which holds women back, keeps men in a positions of power; makes it necessary for women to fight for their right to a career, stick it out, deal with all the crap. It is a normalization of harassment and bullying of various kinds targeted the bodies that don’t fit in. And as Jaqueline Rose points out in a recent article in London Review of books, although sexism and harassment is often excused by being just for fun or a singular slip, it is ‘’never innocent, or a mere trifle, playful, or a ‘joke’‘.

The aggregation of micro aggressions
We therefore need to call out the sexism that sieves through every layer of our society and is weaved into our workplace cultures. Sexism is naturalized to a degree that many even feel entitled to it. Like the other day when one of us was presenting a diversity and inclusion plan to increase the number of female professors at our university, where a male participant in full honestly claimed that the low number of female professors was ‘natural’ as ‘it is scientifically proven that men are more intelligent than women’. Nobody said anything, nobody called out the injustice of such a remark, it was seen as his right to say this. The problem here is that nobody realises that micro aggressions like this – or remarks and behaviour which are even worse – are repeated every single day. And where they in and of themselves possibly can be seen as innocent and as jokes or as a remark from one radical person, together they construct the foundation of our work culture and in this way aggregated create systematic discrimination. The below quote from the everyday sexism project powerfully shows how everyday micro aggressions function in bulks:

Board member in my office: “how’s my little staff girl doing?” Same board member at an event: “it’s okay about your tits — I’m an ass man.” Another board member: “how’d a pretty girl like you get so smart?” Another board member, “I actually like that you’re so outspoken.” Another board member: “just type this up for me.” Sign on my way to work: “real men vote for Trump.” Bumper sticker on the car in front of me: “don’t be sexist — broads hate that!” At the supermarket, “gimme a smile, baby.” In the parking lot, “move it, you fat bitch.” New stories every day, every day, every day. (Website post, April 2017, Tags: Everywhere, Public space, Workplace. Themes Bodies; Experience; Resignation)

It is about time we wake up and realize that gender imbalance at management and board level, is not just because women rather want to stay at home or are less ambitious or don’t have what it takes. We have a problem with systematic discrimination in the form of every day micro aggressions – covering everything from demeaning comments to sexual harassment. And it is not a sustainable development. We do not use all the talent we have at hand when we systematically discourage parts of the population. Times up!


Sara Louise Muhr is Associate Professor at Copenhagen Business School. Her research focuses on critical perspectives on managerial identity, diversity, and HRM, and has appeared in journals such as Organization Studies, Organization; Gender, Work and OrganizationJournal of Business Ethics, Culture & Organization and Scandinavian Journal of Management.

Florence Villesèche is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School. She is a Marie Curie Fellow and received an Emerald/EFMD Highly Commended Award for outstanding doctoral research. Her published work about diversity, identity and networks includes contributions to Human RelationsEuropean Management Review, Personnel Review, and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion.

Pic by Kristopher Roller, Unsplash. Edited by BOS.

The Ethical Blindness of Corporate Sustainability

By Andreas Rasche.

Corporate sustainability (and related concepts like ESG and materiality) have been reduced to discussions around financial value. This makes these concepts “ethically blind”. We are in need of a resurgence of business ethics, otherwise the endless discussions of the “business case” for sustainability will turn out to be the error at the heart of true leadership for sustainable business practices.

My LinkedIn and Facebook feeds are filled with great stories about how well corporate sustainability aligns with financial measures (be it revenue, profit or another metric). Sustainability practitioners seem to love these research findings. No one can blame them. They are the ones who need to “sell” sustainability efforts to top management, and having evidence that sustainability aligns well with financial goals makes this task a lot easier. I do not necessarily doubt these findings, although any researcher will tell you that results always depend on how a study is built, and also that correlation and causation are often confused in these studies.

What I am concerned about is that research findings are turned into normative prescriptions without much reflection: just because some research finds that corporate sustainability efforts support the financial bottom line of a company, we should not conclude that these efforts should only be undertaken whenever they support the financial bottom line. Corporate sustainability is most urgently needed whenever it does not support the financial bottom line. In those situations, the decision for sustainability is a tough one; it requires courage and, in many cases, ethical reflection.

Future thinking, writing, and speaking about corporate sustainability needs to much better balance the financial gains and the moral dilemmas attached to relevant issues. Otherwise, we risk to become ethically blind. Such blindness is often referred to as the “inability of a decision maker to see the ethical dimension of a decision at stake.” (Palazzo et al., 2012: 325) Practitioners’ and academics’ obsessions with the business case has clearly diminished our ability to turn a problem/issue into a case for moral reflection and imagination.

A good example are materiality assessments. These assessments rank ESG issues according to their influence on a firm’s strategy (incl. financial bottom line) and the interest of the firm’s stakeholders in these issues. The moral need to address an issue, because it is the right thing to do, falls off the agenda. Corporate sustainability becomes a pick and choose exercise, which corporations often frame in whatever way they please.

The field, which we nowadays refer to as corporate sustainability (incl. ESG and materiality etc.), started out with discussions around the moral responsibility of businessmen. Back then the focus was, among other things, on how moral dilemmas can be resolved. I am not saying these are the good old times. But it is clear that the discourse has not only changed label (from ethics to responsibility to sustainability), but also that this very discourse has been hijacked by the belief that corporate sustainability is only a worthwhile endeavour whenever it creates financial value for a company.

All of this is not to say that corporations should not financially profit from their corporate sustainability efforts. It is also not to say that managerial tools like materiality assessment are completely useless – they can be of great help. However, it is to say that we cannot and should not reduce discussions around sustainability to a single dimension: be it the financial one, the moral one, or any other one. Corporate sustainability issues are by design multi-faceted, and so must be our thinking about them.

Former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, once famously declared:

On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy …your main constituencies are employees, your customers and your products” (quoted in Moon, 2014, p. 106)

We should extend this argument to the business case for sustainability. The idea of a business case itself is a stupid one; such a case should never be the sole motivation of engaging in corporate sustainability, although it can be an outcome of such engagement.

I prefer morally informed decisions. But it is getting harder to convince practitioners and academics that there is more to corporate sustainability than the financial bottom line. Having a business case for corporate sustainability should never be a precondition for addressing an issue or a problem. Otherwise, we move towards moral mediocrity…


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 also Visiting Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. Andreas can be reached at: ar.msc@cbs.dk and @RascheAndreas. More at: http://www.arasche.com

Sources:
Moon, J. (2014). Corporate Social Responsibility: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford et al.: Oxford University Press.
Palazzo, G., Krings, F., & Hoffrage, U. (2012). Ethical Blindness. Journal of Business Ethics, 109(3), 323–338.

Pic by Caleb Jones, Unsplash.