Environmentally sound and financially rewarding? Key findings from an exploratory study on the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi)

By Milena Bar, Ottilia Henningsson, & Dr. Kristjan Jespersen

◦ 5 min read 

The Science-Based Targets initiative aligns firms’ emission reduction targets with a net-zero emissions pathway. Firm commitment yields significant abnormal returns which are larger for firms committed to larger emission reductions and for high-emitting firms. 

The IPCC’s sixth assessment established a code red for humanity and provided mounting evidence of widespread, rapid, and intensifying climate change. The Paris Agreement, ratified by over 190 states and non-state actors in 2015, formally stipulated the goals of limiting global warming to ideally 1.5°C and at a minimum well below 2°C with the aim of reducing the most catastrophic damages related to climate change onto the natural environment, human health and global financial market. The need for climate action is urgent and requires engagement from governments, individuals as well as corporate and investor participation.

Combatting climate change requires voluntary private sector engagement

Incentivizing corporations and investors to act voluntarily on climate change is critical to redirect private capital towards environmentally responsible business practices. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is becoming the global standard for firms seeking to set emission reduction targets aligned with the required global decarbonization targets established in the Paris Agreement. By encouraging voluntary corporate carbon emission reductions, the SBTi is a critical tool to reduce the private sector’s reliance on fossil fuels. 

2021 record year for new approved targets and committing firms for SBTi

Since its founding, just seven years ago, SBTi has experienced exponential growth in the number of committing firms and has mobilized firms representing more than a third of global market capitalization to reduce their carbon emissions. In 2021 the initiative took steps to increase the ambition level of firms’ emission reduction targets. When first established, firms could commit to reduce their emissions either aligned with the reduction targets of 1.5°C or 2°C. However, from summer 2022, the initiative will only be accepting the more ambitious emission reduction target, as set out in their campaign Business Ambition for 1.5°C.

Since company engagement ultimately comes down to whether committing to SBTi will drive wealth for shareholders, understanding the stock market response to firm commitment to the SBTi is essential not only for businesses looking to commit, but also for investors. To justify the integration of a climate credential such as the SBTi in investment management, it needs to be able to provide excess returns. To understand the stock market reaction to firms’ announcement of SBTi commitment, we conducted a short-horizon event study on a portfolio of 1.535 firms.

Firm commitment to the Science Based Targets initiative aligns environmentally sound practices with financial viability 

Firm commitment to the SBTi indeed yields a positive announcement abnormal return and thus speaks to the credibility of SBTi in constituting a credible signal of firm commitment to sustainable business practices. Even more encouraging is the finding that firms committed to the 1.5°C target experienced substantially higher returns, indicating a stronger positive market reaction when exhibiting a higher cost of commitment and higher target ambition level. The market evidently differentiates between ambition levels by rewarding businesses that are pledging themselves to more demanding emission reductions and a more climate-friendly business strategy. These findings are particularly relevant in light of the SBTi making the more stringent emission reduction target the new standard for all firms via their campaign Business Ambition for 1.5°C and may encourage more firms to increase their efforts in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

Stock price reaction in response to commitment to the Science Based Target initiative

In turn, high carbon emitting firms, proxied here by firms identified by the CA100+ list, reaped the largest reward in their stock price following commitment. This finding further confirms the market’s more sensitive reaction to costlier commitments, but also creates concern about whether the SBTi may have to rethink a recent strategic decision. The SBTi announced that they will not be accepting targets set by firms operating in the Oil and Gas industry, thus abandoning the industry specific methodology for fossil fuel firms which had been in development for several years. Fossil fuel firms have a key role to play in successfully achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, thus begging the question of whether the SBTi is not missing out on covering an industry critical to combatting climate change and a sector of firms who are highly rewarded by the market for committing to reduce their emissions. 

As climate disasters become more prevalent and more severe, firms who fail to transition to a low, or zero, carbon business model can be expected to become more vulnerable in the long run. To expand the analysis, we further tested the performance of a portfolio strategy screened for firms committed to the SBTi. Despite the underperformance of an SBTi screened portfolio against a portfolio consisting of only non-committed firms in the medium-term, there is reason to believe that a portfolio with SBTi committed firms may provide higher returns in the future. Given that SBTi commitment represents a commitment to aligning the firm’s operations with the net-zero emissions pathway, it can be perceived as a safer bet in the long run. Moreover, portfolios consisting of SBTi firms were shown to be characterized by lower volatility. The objective of investors is shifting to increasingly sustainable and impact focused investment profiles, hence portfolio and asset managers may use SBTi commitment as a filter in security selection to achieve their client’s demand.

Looking Ahead

Financial institutions have a key role to play in driving systematic economic transformation towards a global net-zero carbon emissions economy in their power to lend and invest. As evidenced, firm commitment, ambition level and cost of commitment are reflected in the stock’s pricing mechanism, making the business case for the firm to set ambitious targets for decarbonization, and providing rationale for investors to in the short run utilize the market’s reaction to firm commitment in investment processes and strategies. 


About the Authors

Milena Bär is a recent graduate in MSc Applied Economics and Finance and is working as a student researcher in ESG and Sustainable Investments at Copenhagen Business School. Her research projects are mainly within the field of ESG metrics and regulation, with a focus on the investor’s side.

Ottilia Henningsson recently graduated with a MSc in Applied Economics and Finance from Copenhagen Business School with a keen interest in the transition towards a more sustainable financial industry. 

Kristjan Jespersen is an Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He studies on 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.


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Foodback Loop: Developing Sustainable Food Systems for a Circular Society

By Bruna Carvalho and Lucia Reisch

◦ 4 min read 

The Sixth IPCC Assessment Report warns that crops are more frequently lost due to extreme weather conditions than ever before. At the same time, communities across the globe are facing increased – and in many cases acute – food insecurity.

Feedback loops in food production may increase future food insecurities

While suffering the consequences of climate change, our food systems also act as major contributors to it by accounting for one-third of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by human activity. This potentially creates a feedback loop where food production increases GHG emission, which in turn accelerates climate change leading to more extreme weather events that threaten and damage crops, reducing food availably and increasing food insecurity, which increases demand for food production and takes us back to increased food GHG emission stemming from food systems. Something like the diagram below:

Figure 1: Example of a feedback loop within a food system
Figure 1: Example of a feedback loop within a food system

This is, of course, a snippet of much more complex food systems of provision out there. A full assessment of these systems would consider other elements such as biodiversity, water use, mass production and small scale agriculture, health and nutrition, culture, local, regional, and global scale systems, to mention a few.

The chain of actions and reactions shown in the diagram are what we call a feedback loop, where elements of a system interact, amplifying or dampening each other’s effects. This may sound complicated but becomes easier to grasp through examples. Referring once more to the diagram above, it is easy to see how producing more (+) food could lead to increased (+) GHG emissions, while enduring more (+) extreme weather events could damage crops and reduce (-) the availability of food. This is useful when analysing complex systems and especially handy when it comes to developing solutions that can disrupt a link in the system hence leveraging change towards a desired state.

Mainstream food systems are designed to operate in positive feedback loops – and that’s not positive

As illustrated in our diagram, the current mainstream food system is designed to operate in a positive feedback loop, where the word positive (unfortunately) does not mean something nice or beneficial, but instead that the relationships within the loop (and possibly the whole system) create a snowball effect. This is certainly not what we want. To go in the direction of operating within the planetary boundaries, we must work on the links that offer the most leverage for change (preferably with the least use of resources), and ideally operate only with bounded trade-offs.

A previous BoS article on the importance of food systems for building resilient societies highlighted two major behavioural changes that substantially mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from food systems: avoiding food waste and dietary shifts to plant-based nutrition, which can be leveraged by individual choice.

“Because individual choices are the basis of any healthy and sustainable food system, understanding and influencing consumer behaviour is a promising route to achieving sustainability, resilience, and healthfulness of our food systems and society generally”.

In this sense, we envision that nudging people into making more environmentally friendly food choices will lower “GHG emission” stemming from food systems and will have a beneficial impact on the other elements with which it interacts due to the nature of feedback loops and systems.

The BEACON project explores pathways to shift to a sustainable food system

But how can we move consumer-citizens towards more sustainable diets and reduced food waste? Moreover, how can we design a more resilient food system and food environment? These are the questions we seek to answer in partnership with the City of Copenhagen through the BEACON Project (funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation). Here, we work in connection with actors who directly and indirectly shape the city’s food environments to employ interventions in real-life settings, which we expect will enhance the experiments’ validity, yield useful results, and increase engagement and “buy-in”. By finding the answers to these questions, we expect to contribute to developing pathways for change and to harnessing and advancing behavioural insights (nudges) that can inform people-centric food and health public policies as well as mitigation efforts by the private sector. We also expect our findings to apply to other systems of provision beyond food.

Developing a circular society

Ultimately, we aim at further developing the concept of a circular society, which builds on the concept of circular economy but is more far-reaching. Circular societies consider less material forms of value creation, are sustainable, just, resilient, deliver social wellbeing within the planetary boundaries and operate in a balanced state among the biosphere, the sociosphere, and the technosphere (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Circular Society. Source: BEACON Project

Given that societies are collectively built, our ambitious goals can only be achieved through open dialogue and collaborative work with practitioners, policymakers, researchers and civil society. If you would like to contribute to this discussion, you are most welcome to write to us here.


Further readings

Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Working Group II Contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

Reisch, L.A. (2020) How to make food systems more resilient: Behavioural Food Policies. BOS Blog

Reisch, L. A. (2021). Shaping healthy and sustainable food systems with behavioural food policy. European Review of Agricultural Economics.

Bauer, J. M., Aarestrup, S. C., Hansen, P. G., & Reisch, L. A. (2022). Nudging more sustainable grocery purchases: Behavioural innovations in a supermarket setting. Technological Forecasting and Social Change.


About the authors

Bruna Carvalho is Research Assistant at Copenhagen Business School. She brings research experience in the areas of transformational sustainability entrepreneurship, policy reviews and road mapping for sustainable public procurement, and transdisciplinary research in the field ecosystem conservation in partnership with the Waorani indigenous people (Ecuadorian Amazon). As a practitioner, she founded the Sustainability Commission of the Brazilian Federal Justice (State of Paraná), where she acted as Commission Secretary for three years.

Lucia Reisch is the El-Erian Professor for Behavioural Economics and Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, the founder of the Consumer and Behavioural Insights Group (CBIG) at Copenhagen Business School, Department of Management, Society and Communication, and the principal investigator of the BEACON project. She is a behavioural economist and social scientist and one of Europe’s leading academic experts in behavioural insights-based policies for sustainability. Lucia is an Editor of the Journal of Consumer Policy (SpringerNature) and a founding Editorial Board Member of the Journal Behavioural Public Policy (Cambridge University Press) as well as a member of the Editorial Board of Food Policy (Elsevier), among other editorships.


Photo credit: Scott Goodwill

No Trees, No Future: How can we unlock the full potential of conservation finance?

By Dr. Kristjan Jespersen, Dr. Izabela Delabre, Dr. Caleb Gallemore, and Dr. Katryn Pasaribu

◦ 3 min read 

Tropical deforestation continues at alarming rates, with 12 million hectares of tropical tree cover loss recorded in 2018. Much of this deforestation is linked to large-scale agricultural development. Palm oil companies are seen as key deforestation culprits due to high-profile media campaigns being led by NGOs and, in response, recent years have seen the proliferation of private sector pledges and initiatives to address deforestation in the palm oil value chain. There has also been growing international focus on forest conservation in the context of climate mitigation, with countries at 2021’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) pledging to halt deforestation by 2030. Multi-billion dollar initiatives, such as the Bezos Earth Fund are investing in nature-based solutions to address climate change, including through the protection and reforestation of forests and other ecosystems. 

Given these ambitions, an important question for corporate sustainability and conservation research and practice is how to link financing mechanisms for conservation and value chains, two policy streams that are generally disconnected. Actual methodologies for understanding appropriate, long-term financing for forest conservation remain elusive, and this knowledge gap hinders the clear assignment of responsibility, accountability and sustainability of conservation efforts.

Articulating “conservation finance” (the “mechanisms and strategies that generate, manage, and deploy financial resources and align incentives to achieve nature conservation outcomes”) with value chains could help align incentives between actors and facilitate increased financial flows from the private sector to conservation. 

Introducing No Trees, No Future – new research project

An ambitious new research project “No Trees, No Future – Unlocking the full potential of conservation finance”, funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, seeks to design and test a rigorous methodology for understanding the responsibility for conservation finance of influential firms in the palm oil value chain. It addresses important knowledge gaps that currently impede effective conservation finance, examining questions such as: Which firms are responsible for financing conservation? What are the motivations of firms to engage in different types of conservation finance initiatives? To what extent are companies willing to internalize conservation costs? What might cost-sharing models look like? 

This novel, interdisciplinary research project uses a mixed-methods design that combines in-depth case studies, surveys and remote sensing to explore how the costs of conservation may be shared effectively and equitably between palm oil value chain actors, and provides a resource for external stakeholders seeking to identify firms’ contributions to land cover change, in Indonesia to start with.

The research will involve the development of data-intensive methods to assess the spatial footprint of the supply chains of a set of lead firms in the oil palm value chain, as well as in-depth interviewing of stakeholders across the palm oil value chain to identify the feasibility and possible impacts of adopting new methods for conservation finance. 

Our goals are: (1) to develop a methodology that can be readily applied to estimate lead firms’ responsibility for contributing to conservation finance in the palm oil sector, and (2) that business models and strategies integrate conservation finance effectively, supporting more equitable cost sharing. 

The research will identify several possible models for assessing spatial footprints of firms’ supply chains in the oil palm sector, testing their feasibility with a selected group of investors and conservation project proponents. Following this initial project, which focuses on the palm oil value chain, we intend to explore possibilities in other commodity sectors, and how to scale up efforts to support effective and equitable conservation finance.

To what extent will companies be willing to absorb the costs of conservation finance into their supply chain transactions? How might potential barriers be overcome? It is our intention that the project contributes to companies taking on greater responsibility for conservation finance, embedding long-term conservation costs into the palm oil value chain (that are currently externalized), disrupting ‘business as usual’ to support forest conservation, given their critical role in climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation. 

We will share our interim findings on this blog as the project progresses. We would be delighted to hear from researchers from different disciplines and practitioners working in this field. If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch! 


About the Authors

The two-year project is led by Dr. Kristjan Jespersen, Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School (CBS). The research team includes Dr. Izabela Delabre, Lecturer in Environmental Geography at Birkbeck, University of London; Dr. Caleb Gallemore, Assistant Professor in the International Affairs Program at LaFayette College, Pennsylvania; and Dr. Katryn Pasaribu, seconded from Universitas Prasetiya Mulya to CBS.


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EU proposal on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence for human rights and the environment

Advancing responsible business conduct, but failing to consider key functional challenges for remedy

By Karin Buhmann

◦ 9 min read 

Why is the proposal important?

The EU Commission’s draft Directive on mandatory ‘corporate sustainability due diligence’  published in the end of February is already recognized to have the potential to become a game changer for responsible business conduct (RBC) in Europe and beyond. If adopted, the proposed Directive will turn international soft law recommendations for companies to exercise risk-based due diligence in order to identify and manage their harmful impacts on human rights and the environment into hard EU law and therefore binding obligations for companies. Companies will be required to exercise due diligence with regard to actual and potential human rights adverse impacts and environmental adverse impacts, with respect to their own operations, the operations of their subsidiaries, and the value chain operations carried out by entities with whom the company has an established business relationship. 

The proposal also aims to establish accountability through corporate liability for violations related to insufficient due diligence.

What the draft directive refers to as ‘corporate sustainability due diligence’ draws on what the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises refer to as ‘risk-based due diligence’, and what is referred to as ‘human rights due diligence’ by the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Indeed, the proposal refers directly to those two international soft-law instruments, which are generally considered state of the art for responsible business conduct (RBC).

This form of due diligence is a process to identify, prevent, mitigate, remedy and account for risks or actual harm caused by the company (or its partners) to society. Unlike financial or legal liability due diligence, the focus is not on risks to the company, although of course societal (including environmental) harm may also affect the company negatively (see also Buhmann 2018). 

For companies covered by the directive, this will fundamentally change RBC from being voluntary to becoming legally binding

The Draft has generally been welcomed by business associations, although some remain hesitant towards a (much watered-down) proposal to strengthen top-level sustainability corporate governance. Civil society also generally approve although the range of companies covered has been criticized for being too narrow, and business relations too focused on contractual relations rather than impacts. The proposal’s introduction of civil liability with EU courts for victims from non-EU countries has been lauded. Yet this could and perhaps should also usher in a deeper debate on the fundamental characteristics of what constitutes adequate or meaningful remedy for harmful impacts on human rights impacts or the environment, and as importantly, how host-country victims will be ensured a de-facto equal standing with frequently well-resourced EU companies in front of EU courts. This short note addresses all of the above issues.

Part of EU corporate sustainability law

After a slow start up to around 2011, the EU has been moving fast since in an incremental development of increasingly detailed obligations on companies, including institutional investors, with the aim of creating transparency on business impacts on human rights, the environment and climate. Given the speed and political support for adopting EU law on these matters, it is quite likely that the proposed Directive will be adopted, although possibly with some changes. 

The proposal forms part of the larger package of corporate sustainability legislation undertaken by the EU recently. This includes the Taxonomy Regulation (which also refers to procedures that companies should undertake to ensure alignment with the UNGPs ad OECD Guidelines); the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (requiring some information on due diligence and risk assessments on human rights), which is expected to be replaced by the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive; and the Disclosure Regulation, which requires financial product providers to publish certain types of sustainability related information, including information on due diligence related to harmful impacts on environment and human rights.

The draft Directive builds on a proposal from the European Parliament, but it also follows trends in several individual EU countries to introduce mandatory risk-based due diligence. 

What companies are covered?

The draft Directive applies to ‘very large’ EU based companies (more than 500 employees on average and a worldwide net turnover exceeding EUR 150 million). ‘Large’ companies (having more than 250 employees on average and more than EUR 40 million worldwide net turnover) are included if they operate in specific high-risk sectors: textiles (including leather and related goods), renewable natural resources extraction (agriculture, forestry and fisheries), and extraction of minerals.

The draft Directive’s listing of activities related to minerals is quite wide and applies regardless of the place of extraction. They will therefore apply to many types of raw-materials used in the EU, including those used for power and heating, construction and the ‘green’ energy transition.

Non-EU-based companies are covered if their turnover in the EU corresponds to that of ‘very large’ companies, or that of high-impact sector companies for activities in those sectors. It is expected that requirements will be cascaded onto SMEs through the value chains that they are part of. 

What are companies required to do?

Importantly, like risk-based due diligence and human rights due diligence, corporate sustainability due diligence is not a compliance obligation simply discharged by undertaking and documenting a specific action.

Rather, as established by the UNGPs and the OECD Guidelines, it is an ongoing task that requires continuous assessments of risks or actual harm, and re-assessments, follow-up and efforts to prevent risks from becoming actual harm, and mitigation and the provision of remedy when harm has occurred.

Although the draft Directive seeks to establish that, it does rely heavily on companies applying contractual assurances, audits and/or verification. As argued by the expert organization SHIFT, these are not necessarily the best options for the purpose.

The due diligence obligations proposed are generally in line with the UNGPs and the OECD Guidelines, but in some ways narrower. This applies in particular to the limitation of some aspects of the due diligence process to what the draft Directive defines as ‘established business relationships’, i.e. relationships of a lasting character. This contrasts with the UNGPs and OECD Guidelines which do not require a business relationship (e.g. with a contractor, a subcontractor or any other entity such as a financial partner) to be lasting but, rather, focus on the connection between the company and risk or harm. This is one of the points that have generated criticism of the draft. 

Directives must be implemented by Member States. The means that some specific requirements may differ across EU countries. However, regardless of this companies will be required to integrate due diligence into all their policies and have a policy for due diligence that describes the company’s approach, contains a code of conduct for its employees and subsidiaries, and its due diligence process.

This must include verification of observation of the code of conduct and steps to extend its application to ‘established business relationships’. In terms of specific steps, companies must identify actual and potential adverse impacts; prevent potential adverse impacts; and bring actual impacts to an end (whether they were, or should have been, identified) or minimize impacts that cannot be stopped. In that context they should seek to obtain cascading by seeking contractual commitments from business partners in the value chain.

However, contrary to the UNGPs’ recommendations, there is no requirement that the company actively engages with business partners in its value chain to enhance due diligence cascading. Moreover, the provisions on involving potential or actual victims (‘affected stakeholders’) meaningfully in the development of prevention action plans, let alone the identification and redress of risks and impacts, lags behind the UNGPs.

In line with the UNGPs and OECD Guidelines, ceasing business relationships is not considered the first option. Rather, collaboration should be sought in order to advance better practices. If that is not possible, cessation a relationship may be appropriate.

Companies must also set up a complaints mechanism that can be used by affected individuals, trade unions and civil society organisations. Moreover, companies must regularly monitor their operations and due diligence processes, those of their subsidiaries and ‘established business relationships’ in the relevant value chain. They must also regularly report on these non-financial issues. 

Overall responsibility for the due diligence actions is charged on a company’s directors as part of their duty of care.

Enforcement: administrative and civil liability

Companies’ compliance will be monitored by authorities in each EU country. They may request information from companies and carry out investigations based on complaints by individuals or organisations, or on their own initiative. They may impose interim measures to try to stop severe or irreparable harm, and sanctions for violations of the due diligence requirements.

Companies will not be entitled to public support if they have been issued with sanctions under the directive. 

Importantly, companies can be subject to civil liability for damages resulting from a failure to adequately prevent a potential harmful impact or bring an actual impact to an end. Civil liability means that victims (or in the terminology of the UNGPs and OECD Guidelines: ‘affected stakeholders’) must themselves sue the company. 

A step forward for accountability and victims – but multiple challenges remain

The institution of civil liability for third-country victims in front of courts in EU-based companies’ home states is clearly an advance in regard to establishing formal accountability. However, the complexities of the legal system, especially for those seeking damages through civil liability, can hardly be overestimated. This challenge has been absent from most discussions leading up to the current draft Directive.

By contrast to criminal courts, civil courts generally make judgments based on the ability of one party to convince the court of its arguments. Research has shown that formal civil liability regimes tend to favour those who have the legal knowledge resources to do so. A market based good, legal expertise can be very expensive. The better the record in obtaining results that a client wants, the higher the cost. This may cause a highly problematic discrepancy between the possibilities of victims/affected stakeholders and companies to argue their case. Even if some victims are able to be assisted by civil society organisations, their legal expertise for arguing a case in court, or their resources to obtain such expertise, will not necessarily match those of companies.

Moreover, the civil liability regime focuses on economic damages and compensation. Although that may be relevant in some cases, in others a sum of money does not adequately redress harm suffered. Indeed, the UNGPs emphazise that remedy can take many forms of which economic compensation is only one. 

Arguably, the draft Directive falls short of adequately considering the situation of victims in non-EU countries in regard to having not just formal but actual meaningful access to justice in front of courts. It presents an approach to remedy that does not necessarily fit the complex situations and limited resources of victims/affected stakeholders. It is to be hoped that as the draft will be negotiated and amended towards the version that may be adopted, this issue will gain further prominence.

Conclusion 

The draft directive is an important development towards ensuring that companies based or operating in the EU take steps to identify and manage their harmful impact on the environment and on human rights, and to provide accountability. Although the draft does not cover all EU-based companies, it does cover the largest ones, and large ones in the textile, renewable and non-renewable natural resource extraction, all of which are known to be high-problem sectors. However, the affected stakeholder engagement, remedy and accountability provisions of the draft display too limited understanding of the situation of victims/affected stakeholders.


About the Author

Karin Buhmann is Professor of Business and Human Rights at the department of Management, Society and Communication at CBS, as well as the Director of the Centre for Law, Sustainability and Justice at University of Southern Denmark. Her research and teaching focus on sustainability and responsible business conduct (RBC) with a particular emphasis on social issues, especially in climate change mitigation, business responsibilities for human rights, and sustainable finance.


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How do we find the green elephant in the classroom?

By Lavinia Cristina Iosif-Lazar, Jens Riemer and Caroline A. Pontoppidan

“Environmental sustainability to be at the core of EU education and training systems” – So reads the latest recommendation from the European Commission to EU education ministers, which highlights that “learning for environmental sustainability is not yet a systemic feature of policy and practice in the EU.” How then do we better inform practice and policy? Where does one even start to look at what has already been achieved and what more needs to be done on environmental sustainability, especially in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)?

Coupled with the complexities of incorporating sustainability in HEIs and the diversity of methods used by HEIs in advancing these efforts or curriculum  overhaul, the task of bringing about systemic change and reaching the targets set on climate mitigation and biodiversity can seem daunting. But this is where a good picture of where we are now and where we want to be, can make a difference. 

Global pollution of, among other things, air, soil, and water, increasing exploitation of the resources of the Earth, and global climate change are challenging nature, environment, and public health. Also, Denmark and the world are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis caused by man-made pollution and exploitation of natural resources and habitats, global spreading of invasive species, and climate change. The intensive exploitation of the open land, forests, coastal zones, and marine areas has caused nature to be fragmented and continuously exposed to a number of stress factors, which means that biodiversity is on a constant decline

(p.17)
The EU Context: broadly speaking, all education needs to be green

At the EU level, we do not lack initiatives that have brought into focus the greening of the curriculum and the need to address climate and environmenal issues at all levels of education and training. The European Education Area (EEA) is an initiative aimed at strengthened collaboration between European Union Member States to build more resilient and inclusive education and training systems. One of the five focus topics of the initiative centers on Green Education. GreenComp – The European Sustainability Competence Framework developed by the European Commission was one of the cornerstones in the educational scope of the European Green Deal. Published in January 2022 and aimed at providing a shared competence framework on sustainability to guide educators and learners, the framework can be used by member states as a reference when rolling out educational initiatives on sustainability. 

However, even with all the attention given to education initiatives, there is little  direct appealing to HEIs at the EU policy levelMost of the time, communication is directed towards the whole sector leaving the specific directionality of the initiatives to the individual Member States and HEIs are most often mentioned together with schools and other training institutions. The GreenComp report mentions Higher Education a few times but only to illustrate that Higher Education has succeeded in creating a focus on competences for environmental sustainability in relation to preparing the students to address sustainability challenges and opportunities in their working life.

The Danish Context: The Danish Ministry of Education and the Green Transition

In September 2020, the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, Denmark, published ‘Green solutions of the Future’, a strategy for investments in green research, technology, and innovation. It also highlighted the important role of close collaborations between knowledge-institutions and the business community. To get things moving, the Danish government decided to allocate research funds to boost green research and also bringing more focus on green study programmes.  

And the issue of what was happening in HEIs on  green research quickly became a focal point. In December 2021, the Danish Ministry for Education and Science sent a request for data on the work HEIs were doing to integrate green themes in educational programmes. The Ministry asked institutions to submit an overview of seven green themes and the coverage of those themes in their programmes. Among these themes, two were focused on energy production and effectiveness, and the others addressed agriculture, transport, environment, biodiversity and sustainable behaviour. 

The CBS Context: Green Themes in study programmes 

There are multiple ways in which HEIs can find out what content in their educational offerings addresses the green themes described by the Danish Ministry. The way in which CBS did it, was to build on already initiated course content analysis and expand it to include the seven themes. In the academic year 2021-2022, CBS offered 18 Bachelor (undergraduate) programmes, 36 Master (graduate) programmes, as well as HD, Executive and special Master programmes. This amounts to a lot of data to go through and analyse. Other universities or schools might face the same issue of data being both diverse and difficult to gather, but once it is gathered, the managing the amount of data can become a challenge. 

CBS used the qualitative research tool NVivo, to analyse and code data from courses in all CBS’study programmes. This was done by identifying specific key words related to the given seven green themes (see table below). The data collected was derived from study programme competency profiles, course descriptions and learning objectives. For every search result returned, the context was analysed and only relevant hits were then recorded in the respective codes. 

Theme 1Theme 2Theme 3Theme 4Theme 5Theme 6Theme 7
Energy productionEnergy effectivenessAgriculture and Food productionTransportEnvironment and Circular economyNature and BiodiversitySustainable behaviour and Societal consequences
How do Green Themes look like in a study programme at CBS?

Once the data was collected and the content analysed,  a relatively comprehensive picture emerged of how and where the green themes are present in a study programme at a European business school like CBS. 

Case 1 below, illustrates a visualization  of an anonymised bachelor programme. It presents how the seven green themes can be visualized so to give an “as is” picture. With this information, study programmes can dive deeper into the green content that they already have embedded in their programmes and/or identify that they are interested in additional integration of the seven environment themes into education.

Figure 1: Case 1 – Bachelor Study Programme A (BSc. A)

Bachelor Study Programme A had extensive coverage of Green Themes 5 through 7. The numbers in each cell of the below table represent the number of hits (keywords) per theme. Within the Bachelor Study Programme A, the green themes were identified in both mandatory and elective courses, in their respective course descriptions (CD) and learning objectives (LO). Environment and Circular economy, Sustainable development and Social consequences, as well as Nature and Biodiversity were the themes found represented in the Bachelor Study Programme A courses. 

The continuous loop: research, policy, strategy and the classroom 

The analysis and reporting of course content on green and environmental themes can function as a basis on which discussions about environmental sustainability in an institution’s educational activities can be taken. Getting this overview can inform further work to advance both content and scope that strengthens the advancement of environmental sustainability competences. These can later also find their way into regional strategies as well as inform policy makers at the International and European level. Having a well-informed stance on how, where and which environmental content and competencies HEI graduates obtain during their education can  highlight where efforts need to be targeted. This also means that HEIs become a part of the action on “greening” the curriculum and, in turn, can better inform policy makers and education initiatives.

The business school sector has much to build upon. Pioneering scholars have long focused on issues of the environment and sustainability. There has been a dramatic uptake in the last decade of attention to climate change by business scholars, encouraged by editorial statements and special issues in the leading journals in every one of our disciplines. In the classroom, these issues are increasingly being discussed in core and speciality courses, representing significant curricular shifts, and supported by our accrediting bodies

(Galdon et al., 2022)

To read the full report, please visit CBS PRME InFocus Report series: https://www.cbs.dk/viden-samfundet/indsatsomraader/principles-responsible-management-education/resources/prme-infocus-reports


References

Bianchi, G., Pisiotis, U. and Cabrera Giraldez, M., (2022). GreenComp: The European sustainability competence framework, Punie, Y. and Bacigalupo, M. editor(s), EUR 30955 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2022.

Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science (2020). Green solutions of the future – Strategy for investments in green research, technology, and innovation.

Galdón, C., Haanaes, K., Halbheer, D., Howard-Grenville, J., Le Goulven, K., Rosenberg, M., Tufano, P. and Whitelaw, A. (2022) Business Schools Must Do More to Address the Climate Crisis.


About the Authors

Lavinia Cristina Iosif-Lazar is a project lead on Principles of Responsible Management Education at the CBS Teaching & Learning Department. Lavinia’s work centres on curriculum development, climate and carbon literacy and systemic thinking in management education, as well as assisting in the development of teaching materials. 

Jens Riemer is a Green Transformation Officer at Copenhagen Business School, within Executive Support and Communcations. Jens works with the cross-cutting strategic initiative Green Transition, which focus on bringing together key players in establishing an organizational frame and initiate concrete problem-based research and educational activities.

Caroline A. Pontoppidan, Associate Professor department of Accounting & Academic director CBS PRME. Her research often engages with the institutionalization of global standards into local context – and challenges herein.


Photo by Alex Lvrs on Unsplash

CBS Permahaven: A new campus chapter

By Isabel Fróes and Maribel Blasco

◦ 2 min read 

Sustainability – finding ways to walk the talk

We report here on a new campus initiative to create a permaculture garden on the CBS campus, opposite the Kilen building and very close to Fasanvej Metro Station. CBS owns a piece of fairly large plot of land here that is currently unused.  

A design workshop was held on 4th March, where different groups of participants (students, faculty, representatives from Frederiksberg municipality and others) worked collaboratively on a design for Permahaven.

‘Permaculture’ stands for ‘permanent agriculture’, a term coined by Tasmanian Bill Mollison in 1978.  He defined it as:

“The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.” 

Permaculture offers a holistic framework for creating sustainable ways of living. It aims to integrate land, resources, people and the environment by maximizing beneficial relationships, observing, emulating and working with rather than against nature to enhance resilience, diversity, productivity and stability (Hopkins 2020; Permaculturenews.org 2020). Permaculture advocates three overarching ethics: earth care, people care, and fair share, and twelve design principles – the petals of the so-called ‘permaculture flower’ (see Figure below.

Permaculture Flower – The seven domains of permaculture action (https://permacultureprinciples.com/flower)

Ultimately, the goal is to foster responsible cultivation, production and consumption through a whole-systems approach. But permaculture is much more than that – increasingly, the concept is being applied beyond the field of agriculture to support and inspire more sustainable lifestyles, to improve mental health, sanitize consumption, and design livable, humane social systems (Blasco, forthcoming).

What can a permaculture garden bring to a business school? Regenerating learning through permaculture


More from the event


About the Authors

Isabel Fróes is a postdoc at MSC Department at Copenhagen Business School working in three EU projects (Cities-4-PeopleiPRODUCE and BECOOP). Isabel also has wide industry experience and has worked both as a user researcher and service design consultant for various companies in Denmark and internationally. For more detail please see her Linkedin profile.

Maribel Blasco is Associate Professor at MSC Department at CBS. Her research focuses on management learning and higher education, notably at business schools; as well as cross-cultural inquiry. She is interested in learning not only as the transfer of know-how and technical skills but also more broadly as a process of identity formation, acculturation and development of tacit abilities such as intercultural competences, ethical awareness and creativity and innovation.


How Should Arctic Drilling Be Defined? The 3 Key Problems with Formulating Investment Exclusions

By Zuzanna Lewandowska and Dr. Kristjan Jespersen

◦ 7 min read 

Oil and gas development in the Arctic has long been a subject of controversies, due to the vulnerability and pristineness of the arctic ecosystem, as well as the challenges that the region faces because of climate change. In the light of growing pressure from stakeholders, legislators, and the public, an increasing number of banks, insurers, and investors have been committing to restricting financing of arctic drilling. Typically, this is addressed by formally excluding the funding of oil and gas development in the Arctic from the firm’s investment universe. 

However, several key issues with the current formulations of financial actors’ investment exclusions, make the restrictions potentially ineffective in curbing oil and gas expansion in the Arctic. Firstly, the exclusions typically apply only to financing and coverage, allowing for unrestricted provision of corporate support. Secondly, imprecise financial proxies are used to specify the activity levels at which an exclusion should be applied. For example, exclusions are often based on a revenue threshold, which does not cover early-stage exploration activities that typically do not generate revenue. Lastly, most restriction policies do not refer to a specific definition of the Arctic, which allows for the use of a case-by-case approach when making financing decisions. Where a definition of the Arctic is used, justification is rarely provided for why a specific exclusion zone had been chosen.  

Arctic restriction policies of 10 banks listed among the top supporters of arctic expansionists from 2016 to 2020 (Source: Reclaim Finance, 2021). 
Problem 1: How should the Arctic be defined?

Figure 1 below shows the geographic definitions of the Arctic which arctic restriction policies are most commonly based on. It is evident that they differ significantly in terms of scope. 

Definitions of the Arctic (Source: Nordregio, 2021). 

When choosing which definition of the Arctic to use in their exclusions, financial actors are presented with a difficult choice.

Selecting a wide-reaching exclusion zone, such as the arctic region monitored by the Arctic Monitoring Assessment Programme (AMAP), helps ensure that all assets located in the Arctic are covered. This said, however, such broad exclusions place investors at risk of missing out on profitable investments in ambiguous locations such as the Barents Sea, which has been argued to not be significantly different from the Norwegian sea in terms of oil spill response preparedness or ecosystem vulnerability. This dilemma becomes especially relevant in the context of asset managers’ fiduciary duty. 

At the same time, if the exclusion is based on a definition of the Arctic which is too narrow, the policy is rendered largely ineffective, as it fails to restrict the financing of arctic oil and gas projects which continue to have negative environmental and social impacts. Which definition of the Arctic should be used as basis of a restriction policy, needs to establish based on a nuanced understanding of the geographic distribution of material issues associated with oil and gas development in the area. 

Problem 2: Identifying the negative impacts of arctic drilling

To be able to argue for a targeted exclusion as part of a responsible investment policy, financial actors must credibly prove that the environmental and social impacts of a given activity are particularly dire. Indeed, the discussion is still ongoing as to what extent the documented harmful social and environmental processes in the Arctic can be categorized as by-products of arctic drilling, rather than as cumulative consequences of other activities.  

One of the most common environmental concerns regarding arctic drilling is that it contributes to the melting of the polar ice caps. However, research has found that while black carbon emissions from oil and gas exploration in the Arctic reduce the ice cover’s reflective properties, polar caps are primarily melting due to the increases in global temperatures. As such, one could argue that for an exclusion to significantly tackle the issue of polar ice cap melting, it should extend to investments in all fossil fuel developments worldwide. 

The negative environmental impacts which have been uniquely linked to arctic drilling (e.g., offshore oil spills, black carbon emissions, and biodiversity threats) are notably difficult to capture within a territorial exclusion zone. This is due to the lack of consistent data on their dynamically changing distribution. 

Black carbon emissions in arctic waters in 2015 (Source: ICCT, 2019). 

The issue with addressing the negative social impacts of arctic drilling (e.g., land conflicts, threats to food security) in an exclusion policy, is that similar issues are faced by local and indigenous populations in other vulnerable areas, where oil and gas extraction also takes place, and where investments are not subject to restrictions. Here, a notable example would be the Amazon. 

An additional complication results from the differing perspectives on arctic oil and gas development, with many local stakeholders crediting it with having improved infrastructure and employment opportunities in the region. 

Problem 3: A double materiality perspective – addressing the risks to oil and gas development operations in the Arctic 

From a risk management perspective, a comprehensive investment restriction policy should also account for the unique material risks to profitability of oil and gas projects in the Arctic, which make financing and coverage more volatile. This also falls in line with the double materiality approach to impact assessment. 

The most significant material risks to oil and gas operations which are distinctive to the Arctic are caused by permafrost thawing, sea ice and icebergs, and extreme weather conditions. Similarly to negative environmental impacts, the dynamic nature of these arctic risk factors makes them difficult to capture within a geographic exclusion zone.

The monthly arctic sea ice index for December 2021 (Source: National Snow & Ice Data Center).
What have we learned?

Based on the discussion of the complexities associated with arctic exclusions, it can be concluded that the weakness of key financial actors’ arctic policies is that they deploy ex ante investment restrictions as standalone policy solutions. Arguably, exclusions can be an effective instrument, but only as part of a comprehensive responsible investment strategy, which covers all stages of the investment process and addresses the extensive information needs regarding material issues. 

A well-formulated exclusion can help streamline the pre-investment negative screening process by filtering out investments which:

  1. Have been proven to be associated with unique material risks and negative impacts,
  2. Can be identified with high precision, accounting for the dynamic changes and complexities in the underlying material issues.  

Those of the material risks and impacts which cannot be captured in an exclusion policy should be addressed using other pre-investment (positive and negative screening, information requests and questionnaires) and post-investment (active ownership and thematic engagements) measures.

Such a nuanced approach to policy exclusions could provide a powerful responsible investment tool for financial actors in areas and sectors which require additional due diligence. 


About the Authors

Zuzanna Lewandowska is a student researcher in ESG and Sustainable Investments at Copenhagen Business School. She studies responsible investment strategies and the state of the art of measuring and reporting information on ESG factors. She has a background in international business and strategy, global market intelligence, and policy consulting.

Kristjan Jespersen is an Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He studies on 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.


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Lobbying as if it mattered

By Dieter Zinnbauer

◦ 6 min read 

The corporate political activities of a business – let’s call them “lobbying” as a shorthand, although they comprise much more from public relations to political spending to sponsorship of thinktanks etc – have long played a rather minor role in discussions on corporate responsibilities. 

And this relative insignificance also converted into rather minimalist expectations about what responsible lobbying should look like: stay within the bounds of the law (i.e. in some jurisdictions, file some lobbying reports and do not hand out bribes); don’t lie egregiously, although puffery and other tricks of the trade are acceptable; and as some scholars in business ethics would cautiously add: don’t do anything that excludes others from contributing to the democratic discourse in an informed manner. 

In many ways this anodyne conception of responsible lobbying mirrors the equally thin conception of corporate responsibilities under the old shareholder-first-and-only paradigm that started and stopped with making profit bounded by legal compliance as the primary responsibility for business.

A growing mismatch

Such a close alignment is hardly surprising.  Yet while the broader expectations for corporate responsibility have substantively evolved and expanded since then, no such trajectory can be discerned for corporate political responsibilities. The former moved from negative responsibilities of don’t be evil to a growing set of capacious positive obligations of how companies ought to treat their various stakeholders and the environment. The latter – expectations for what constitutes responsible lobbying – appeared to largely remain stuck with this minimalist canon of obligations outlined above. True there have been some improvement at the margins, more reporting on political spending and lobbying and more ad-hoc pressure for taking sides on a small segment of social issues in some jurisdictions.  

But despite the best efforts of a small, dedicated band of good governance advocates the scope and urgency of public expectations on what responsible lobbying should look like have not budged much and certainly have not grown in line with broader corporate responsibilities. 

Enter the climate emergency

But things have changed dramatically over the last few years. Responsible lobbying is receiving much more attention in the policy debate and in academia and it is increasingly associated with a set of positive corporate obligations and much more stringent boundaries for which tactics are considered illegitimate. As I would argue, there is one principal engine that drives these much higher expectations for what responsible lobbying should entail: the climate crisis, the civilisational challenge to decarbonise the world economy and several dynamics that it has unleashed in the policy arena.

There is a growing recognition, for example, that what companies do in climate politics is at least as important and often more important than what  they do operationally to reduce their own carbon footprint. Then there is the emergence of a rapidly expanding climate governance and corporate accountability ecosystem whose tracking capabilities, incentive levers and accountability mechanisms dwarf anything that is available for governing lobbying in politics more conventionally. Unfortunately, there is not enough space here to elaborate on these and other such drivers. 

From projecting future aspirations to back-casting for present obligations

For the remainder of this blog I would like to suggest and focus on another, perhaps less obvious and more difficult to grasp contributing dynamic: a shifting normative corridor of what is considered responsible lobbying driven by the particular nature of the climate challenge. The argument goes like this:

Ever more precise climate science and the Paris Agreement to do what is necessary to reduce global heating to a 1.5 to 2 degrees rise to at least avert the most catastrophic scenarios provide a clearly defined, time-bound landing zone for policy action. The days of outright climate change denial are thus over. Seeding doubt about the facts of climate change or the decarbonisation goal has thus terminally shifted out of the Overton window of what constitutes acceptable viewpoints and (barely) tolerable public relations messaging. But more interestingly, things have not stopped here. The civilisational urgency of getting to net zero by 2050 leaves only a few years and a very narrow and rapidly narrowing corridor of necessary action options.

To oversimplify just a bit: responding to the climate crisis is by now more of an exercise of back-casting, deriving the necessary public and corporate policy action from what must be achieved, rather than an open-ended experimentation space guided by a rough compass for direction of travel.

We are by now so short of time and so clear-sighted about the science that we basically know what fossil assets must stay in the ground, what infrastructures need to be blitz-scaled etc. This clarity of goal and techno-economic pathway also means that most not-so-good-faith lobbying tactics aimed to stall, distract, or opportunistically suggest some costly detours are much easier to spot and call out – than would be the case if the option space was still more open.  The normal-times policy deliberation on what business could be imagined doing to help us move towards a desirable future has morphed into a policy imperative for what business must and must not do by when to help achieve net zero by 2050.[1]

Attesting to these dynamics, for example are the emergence of reporting frameworks, assessment exercises, shareholder action and CEO commitments that judge or design a company’s lobbying efforts against scientifically derived necessary policy actions for decarbonizing by 2050. But perhaps even more emblematic for the rising expectations for responsible lobbying is the action plan that one of the leading global PR agencies working for fossil fuel interests has been forced to put forward very recently amidst intense public pressure, including from its own employees. Here some excerpts:

  • Put science and facts first. We seek a better-informed public on climate issues so that we enable swift and equitable action. We will ONLY be led by the science and base our work on objective, factual and substantiated data.
  • We will establish and publicize science and values-based criteria for engagement with clients. This goes farther than our principle of not accepting work from those who aim to deny climate change. We will not take on any work that maintains the status quo, or is focused on delaying progress towards a net-zero carbon future. We will support companies that are committed to the Paris Agreement and transparent in reporting their progress in accelerating their transition to net-zero emissions. 
  • Hold ourselves accountable. We hold ourselves and our clients accountable to continual progress, with transparency on results through regular reporting.

A PR maestro engaging in PR spin for managing its own PR crisis? Perhaps. But there are enough concrete actions included that makes it worthwhile to track this and hold the company up to its commitments.  

And such a forced response by a world-leading PR company clearly demonstrates that expectations for responsible lobbying against the backdrop of the climate crisis, have rapidly matured from compliance and do no outright evil to a concrete set of positive obligations against which political footprint of companies and their service providers can be evaluated.

The ingenuity required to get us to net-zero is 20% technical and 80% political of how to incentivize, mobilize for and administer a just, legitimate transition. 

This outmost importance of climate politics and policy-making combined with the outsize role that businesses and their associations play in this space as the best-resourced and most influential interest group, clearly highlight that responsible lobbying as a set of substantive, positive obligations is an essential piece of the puzzle in solving this civilisational challenge. And my bet is that things will not stop here: higher expectations for responsible lobbying on climate issues are likely to lift all boats over time and translate into higher expectations for how business ought to behave in the political sphere more broadly. 


[1] There remain of course a number of important unresolved policy choices with regard to carbon capture, geo-engineering, bridging fuels etc. but the overall option space and available policy pathways are by now much narrower than two decades ago or relative to many other big policy challenges.


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 Tania Malréchauffé 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 transparency may not lead straight to CSR paradise

By Dennis Schoeneborn

 2 min read ◦

Business firms worldwide are increasingly engaging in practices of corporate social responsibility (CSR), a trend strongly driven also by the agenda of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. However, when doing CSR, firms tend to face recurrent suspicions by the media, NGOs, and other civil society actors that they would not put the money where their mouth is; in other words, that they would adopt CSR practices only ceremonially rather than substantially (a.k.a. “greenwashing”).

High transparency demands are commonly seen as the main ‘remedy’ that would ‘cure’ firms from mere ceremonial adoption and would drive them towards substantive adoption of CSR practices. However, in recent years we can find increasing evidence that high transparency demands do not always lead straight to CSR paradise. In a Financial Times article from 2020, Jason Mitchell raised the provocative question: Is greenwashing a necessary evil? The author argues that firms often require some leeway to experiment with CSR and sustainability practices to begin with, and without such leeway CSR efforts tend to get cut off too early by too high transparency demands and greenwashing accusations. After all, some decoupling between talk and action can also be due to a time lag between aspirations and the actual implementation of CSR practices within a firm (see here).

In the same context, Patrick Haack (HEC Lausanne), Dirk Martignoni (University of Lugano), and Dennis Schoeneborn (Copenhagen Business School) have recently published an article in the Academy of Management Review that draws on a computer-based simulation to study the dynamic interplay between transparency demands and CSR practice adoptions in a field or industry. By drawing on a probabilistic Markov chain model, the authors demonstrate that under certain conditions a regime of opacity followed by transparency (i.e. intially low and later high transparency demands) “outperforms” a regime of enduring transparency (i.e. high transparency demands right from the start) with regards to maximizing the share of firms in an industry that would adopt CSR practices in a substantive way. But what are such boundary conditions?

In the article, the authors explain that the optimality of the “opacity followed by transparency” regime tends to apply only for practices that are characterized by low adoption rates (i.e. those costly to implement) as well as by low abandonment rates (i.e. once adopted firms tend to stick with the practice, also since they may face public backlash if they abandon a practice after adoption). Interestingly, these are exactly the kinds of conditions that characterize CSR as a practice area.

What to learn from all this? NGOs and other civil society actors can benefit, in the long run, from cutting business firms some slack (i.e. putting rather low transparency demands onto firms), at least in the initial stages of CSR adoption processes. Instead, societal actors should then try to increase transparency demands at later stages in the adoption process to push firms further towards substantive adoption.

Haack et al. (2021) explain this process to work due to what they call a “bait-and-switch” mechanism of CSR practice adoption. Initially lower transparency demands allow for larger numbers of firms to adopt practices, even if they do so for ceremonial reasons to begin with. Importantly, when transparency demands are then increased over time, a number of firms tend to switch from ceremonial towards substantial adoption, thus leading eventually to the desirable outcome (from a societal viewpoint) of rather high rates of substantive CSR adopters in an industry. 


Further reading

Haack, P., Martignoni, D., & Schoeneborn, D. (2021). A bait-and-switch model of corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review46(3), 440-464. 

You can also access a (non-layouted) version of the same article at ResearchGate. The article has been picked up in a recent story by Forbes magazine. And if you want to learn more about the ‘backstory’ behind the AMR article, you can watch a video interview with two of the authors, Patrick Haack and Dennis Schoeneborn, on YouTube


About the author

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


Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

Social impact bonds in the Nordics: insights from ‘Copenhagen Impact Investing Days 2021’

By Mikkel M. Andersen and Ferran Torres

◦ 5 min read 

A social impact bond (SIB) is an innovative model for public service delivery characterized by flexible service interventions and an outcomes-based payment structure. SIBs use private investments to drive new types of welfare activities, shifting the risk from the public to the private sector. Today, several SIBs are emerging in Nordic countries, but do rich welfare states even need these financing mechanisms? And in case they do, for what? These questions were discussed by three leading SIB-experts during the ‘Copenhagen Impact Investing Days’ 2021.

During the last few years, the use of social impact bonds (SIBs) and other social finance-instruments has increased dramatically in Nordic countries. SIBs were originally used as financing tools supporting public organizations in the UK experiencing budgetary restraints. Thus, as the model spread into other contexts, the question begged whether this tool would be appropriate for Nordic countries as well. The following piece summarizes some key reflections from the panel discussion regarding this question at Copenhagen Impact Investing Days 2021 (CIID). 

SIBs in the Nordic countries: an emergent but fast-growing field 

While more than 200 SIBs have officially been developed worldwide, they are still an emergent phenomenon in most Nordic countries. Currently, 17 SIBs have been initiated in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway – primarily within employment, preventive health, and social welfare. Also, at least 7 additional SIB-projects have been announced. The first SIB-evaluations are also starting to come up; for example, the assessment of the first Swedish SIB in Norrköping shows promising social effects, despite not creating a financial return for investors. Finnish intermediary-organizations are also planning to develop SIB-projects within environmental areas, including recycling and energy efficiency in housing.

Overall, Finland seems to be on the forefront in the Nordic regions, followed by Sweden, while Denmark and Norway are a few years behind. On the investment side, significant progression is also being made. A Finnish fund-of-funds is currently being developed with an expected capital of 100 million Euro. In Sweden, work is also being done to set up a national outcomes financing structure to ensure the scaling of future outcome-based initiatives. Last, legislative action to ensure social finance practices has been taken – most recently in Denmark with Børnene Først promising more focus on social investment-practices to ensure preventive social welfare.  

Emerging practices for Nordic SIBs 

Some early experiences regarding the relevance and usage of SIBs in the Nordic countries were discussed during the CIID-conference. First and foremost, SIBs seem to be a part of a much larger trend in public welfare, oriented towards measuring, incentivizing, and resourcing towards long-term social outcomes. While SIBs might constitute effective solutions in themselves, they are also catalysts for evolving social investment practices because they can 1) showcase the benefits of new types of welfare services by linking social and economic outcomes, 2) provide practical solutions for realizing preventive and proactive welfare services, and 3) facilitate cross-sectoral coordination through new procurement frameworks by bringing new stakeholders to the table. 

The SIB can be a useful way to show the municipalities, and the government, how to buy the solutions that actually work. 

Hans Henrik Woltmann, Investment Manager, The Social Investment Fund (DK)

What seems to be critical is also the perception that SIBs in the Nordic countries should not function as a replacement to or a privatization instrument for public welfare services. Instead, SIBs should be understood as a supplement to these, allowing public actors to change how they buy public interventions while testing new welfare solutions through de-risking strategies. Still, the novelty of the method, and its experimental character, makes it challenging to assess its true potential.

Does the SIB really allow us to scale or is it just a fancy way of financing projects? I think the question is still out there 

Tomas Bokström, Project Manager, Research Institutes of Sweden
Looking into the future: necessities for a social finance-ecosystem 

Summarizing the points from the debate, SIBs in the Nordics are on the rise and have the potential to become welfare instruments themselves, and a vehicle for promoting a social investment agenda. Looking ahead, three key aspects will be important for enhancing the Nordic social finance ecosystem: 

  1. Establish more evidence from practice and leverage these actively with public organizations to spark discussions. 
  2. Insist on experimentation and a methodological openness towards the SIB-model. Its value also resides in its ability to test innovative social interventions to later diffuse them through public practices fitting better into specific welfare situations. 
  3. Follow and engage in political discussions regarding the ambitions for SIB-practices. The SIB market is still in its infancy and relies heavily on market-maturement initiatives to develop better infrastructure.

Panelists for the discussion of Nordic Impact Bonds at ‘Copenhagen Impact Investing Days 2021’:  

· Tomas Bokström, Project Manager, Research Institutes of Sweden
· Hans Henrik Woltmann, Investment Manager, The Social Investment Fund 
· Mika Pyykkö, Director, The Centre of Expertise for Impact Investing, Finland
· Mikkel Munksgaard, PhD Fellow, Department of Management, Society, and Communication, CBS (moderator)
· Ferran Torres Nadal, PhD Fellow, Esade Entrepreeurship Institute & Institute for Social Innovation, ESADE (moderator)


About the Authors

Mikkel Munksgaard Andersen is PhD Fellow, at CBS Sustainability, Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC) at CBS. Through his PhD-project, Mikkel studies the development and implementation of social impact bonds and payment-by-results methods in Denmark. His work centralizes around the distinct characteristics of Scandinavian impact bonds and their role in supporting and financing public services. The research is driven by a participatory research design and is co-financed by Region Zealand. Mikkel has earlier worked in the social finance-field both on an academic and practical level.

Ferran Torres Nadal is PhD Fellow at the Entrepreneurship Institute and the Institute for Social Innovation, ESADE Business School in Spain. His PhD advisors are Lisa Hehenberger and Tobias Hahn. His work is focused on understanding and explaining tensions and paradoxes around complex phenomena. He is particularly interested in studying the challenges and opportunities that come with cross-sector initiatives, such as social impact bonds.   


Photo by Katt Yukawa 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. 

Like oil and water…. Shell’s climate responsibility and human rights

By Kristian Høyer Toft, PhD

◦ 4 min read 

In a landmark verdict at the district court in the Hague on 26th May this year, Royal Dutch Shell lost a case to the Dutch branch of ‘Friends of the Earth’, Milleudefensie, and other NGOs. The court ordered Shell to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 against a 2019 baseline. The decision breaks new ground for the possibility of holding private corporations accountable for climate change – Shell-shocked and a Black Wednesday for the fossil fuel industry, according to expert commentators in international environmental law.

The verdict emphasizes the international consensus that corporations like Shell must respect basic human rights, such as the rights to life and family life. In the ruling, human rights are seen in the context of climate change and the aspirational 1.5-degree target stated in the Paris Agreement (2015), scientifically supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2018).

The verdict is a significant example of a general surge in climate litigation cases globally in which human rights are invoked.

Holding a fossil fuel company accountable based on the standard of human rights might sound as futile as the effort to mix oil and water.

And this sort of skepticism has roots in the recent history of attempts to connect business, human rights and climate change in what could be seen as a ‘bizarre triangle’ of irreconcilable corners.

However, the Shell verdict can be seen as a firm rebuttal to such skepticism. The court argued that Shell had violated the standard of care implicit in Dutch law. To clarify the content of the standard of care, the court used the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGPs) which provide a global standard for businesses’ human rights responsibilities. This is, however, a bold interpretation in light of the UNGPs silence on human rights responsibilities with regard to climate change. 

In fact, human rights might not fit so neatly with the difficult case of climate change. Firstly, it is difficult to trace the causal links between the emitters and the victims of climate change, although this is contested by recent studies that have traced two-thirds of historical emissions to the big oil and gas companies, the so-called carbon majors.

Secondly, human rights basically apply only to the state’s duty to protect citizens, and thus only indirectly to private companies. This state-centric approach is core to the human rights regime and tradition, and the UNGPs uphold this by allocating less stringent responsibilities to non-state actors such as corporations.

However, the UNGPs also state that private companies have human rights responsibilities independently of the state. The district court in the Hague reaffirms this in its ruling against Shell, stating that corporate responsibility “exists independently of States’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations, and does not diminish those obligations. [..] Therefore, it is not enough for companies to [..] follow the measures states take; they have an individual responsibility.” (4.4.13). 

A third source of skepticism resides in understandings of environmental law and the central role of the polluter pays principle. Accordingly, emitters are responsible for their historical output of COas enshrined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC 1992), but the scope is usually taken to be limited to the unit of production (scope 1), e.g. the refining of crude oil. The standard view of pollution is local, as for instance when a factory pollutes the local river. 

However, in the Shell ruling scopes 1, 2 and 3 are taken into account, meaning that consumers’ incineration also counts and therefore Shell must take responsibility for consumers’ emissions as well. The consequences of including all three scopes incur far-reaching and demanding responsibilities on corporations, where previously the distribution of responsibilities between producers and consumers has been disputed, for instance in the carbon majors case.

In sum, the Shell verdict raises the bar considerably for the expected level of corporate climate responsibility. The verdict also challenges the assumption that human rights don’t fit the complexity of climate change; though in fact the UNs first resolution on human rights and climate change appeared back in 2008. Moreover, the verdict goes against the widespread liberal assumption that businesses’ responsibilities are mainly to comply with the law of national jurisdictions and that consumers are comparably responsible for causing climate change. 

It might be time to rethink such assumptions and not simply continue ‘business as usual’ by seeing climate change and human rights-based climate litigation as a managerial risk factor to be handled instrumentally and in isolation from the moral duty to solve the climate crisis. 

One key lesson could be to acknowledge that corporate responsibilities are not just legal but moral as well, since the distinction is not so clear in soft law instruments like the UNGPs nor even in the notion of human rights themselves, not to mention the moral demands following from the need to respect and realize the targets of the Paris Agreement and related transition paths.

When the Special Representative to the United Nations on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie, started exploring pathways for developing the field, he was inspired by the American philosopher Iris Marion Young whose ‘social connection model’ of global responsibility in supply chains suggests a forward-looking kind of responsibility for mitigating structural injustices. Young’s notion of responsibility was designed to solve large-scale structural problems like climate change by attributing responsibility to all agents according to their powers, privileges, collective capacities and level of complicity. 

This is the kind of thinking now supported in the court verdict against Shell, and it signals a new beginning where climate change reconfigures how corporations and human rights connect… perhaps making the ‘oil and water’ metaphor obsolete.


Acknowledgements

Among the many expert commentators, Annalisa Savaresi’s work provided particular inspiration for writing the blog. I am grateful to Florian Wettstein, Sara Seck, Marco Grasso, Ann E Mayer and Säde Hormio who all gave comments to my article ‘Climate change as a business and human rights issue’ published in the Business and Human Rights Journal (2020) 5(1), pp. 1-27. The blogpost is based on the approach of this article. Julie Murray was helpful with proofreading.


About the Author

Kristian Høyer Toft, PhD in Political Science, Aarhus University 2003. During 2020-21 a guest researcher at the CBS Sustainability Centre, Copenhagen Business School. His research focuses on corporate moral agency, political theory of the corporation and climate ethics and is published in Business and Human Rights JournalEnergy Research and Social Science, and in the book Corporate Responsibility and Political PhilosophyExploring the Social Liberal Corporation (Routledge 2020). 


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Mapping unchartered territory: Ecuador’s journey to sustainable palm oil

By Mathilde Birn, Sanne Qvarfordh, & Dr. Kristjan Jespersen

◦ 3 min read 

Sustainability certifications have become a widely used mechanism to signal to consumers that a product was ostensibly produced sustainably. Nevertheless, such certifications typically fail to scale beyond at most a fifth of global production. Within the palm oil sector, widely known as a major deforestation driver, the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)’s Jurisdictional Approach is one of a growing number of examples of upscaling strategies. Under the Jurisdictional Approach, all value-chain actors within a province or even an entire country would be certified simultaneously. Ecuador is piloting the initiative at the national scale and is currently developing a national commitment.

The research is informed by 21 interviews with a variety of actors in the Ecuadorian palm oil sector. After qualitatively coding these interviews and looking for common patterns, we identified four main motivations behind Ecuadorian interest in jurisdictional palm oil certification. First, interviewees reported a concern that Ecuador risked losing market access due to sustainability-related import restrictions and consumer preferences in certain markets. Second, 90% of Ecuador’s palm oil producers are smallholders, whose resource limitations make it difficult to achieve RSPO certification on their own. Under the Jurisdictional Approach, smallholders would be grouped together, allowing them to pool resources and share costs. Third, the Jurisdictional Approach facilitates governmental sponsorship for smallholder capacity building. Fourth, previous experience and institution-building around sustainability in general and anti-deforestation in particular produced forward momentum on the part of the civil society and the Ecuadorian government that has led to an institutional infrastructure favourable to ideas like the Jurisdictional Approach.

In the most optimistic scenario, the Ecuadorian government’s commitment to the Jurisdictional Approach, strengthened by multi-stakeholder support, could encourage more sustainable production practices. However, we also identified certain risks associated with the implementation of the initiative. These risks especially significant given the Jurisdictional Approach’s relative novelty. As one interviewee put it: “we have been flying the plane while we’re building the plane”.

We have identified six key risks to Ecuador’s implementation of the RSPO Jurisdictional Approach and paired them with mitigation recommendations. This list is certainly not exhaustive and ought to be further assessed and developed by local stakeholders equipped with relevant expertise.

The Jurisdictional Approach affects several different stakeholder groups with diverse interests that must be actively engaged in the process to achieve success. To this end, efforts should be made to include representatives of stakeholders that are currently missing (or insufficiently represented) in the governance structure of the RSPO Jurisdictional Approach in Ecuador. These stakeholders include academia (which was involved in the beginning of the process but no longer is), domestic civil society organizations, local communities (including Afro-Ecuadorian and indigenous peoples), local governments, and representatives of the global palm oil industry.


About the Authors

Mathilde Birn graduated from CBS with a BSc and MSc degree in International Business and Politics. Academically, her main interest is within the field of sustainable development and the impact of stakeholder dynamics on such development, with a focus on emerging economies.

Sanne Qvarfordh graduated from CBS with a BSc. and a MSc. degree in International Business and Politics. Her main academic interest is sustainable development in emerging economies, with a focus on multi-stakeholder initiatives in Latin America.

Kristjan Jespersen is an Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He studies on 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.


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Unaccounted Risk: The Case of Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6) in Offshore Wind Energy

By Esben Holst & Dr. Kristjan Jespersen

◦ 5 min read 

Carbon accounting provides a science-based measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, achieving greater accountability of companies’ emissions causing global warming. GHGs are reported in CO2 equivalents (CO2e), meaning GHGs with widely different chemical qualities and environmental impact can be presented in a single understandable metric. However, the underlying methodology is debatable. This article questions whether the CO2e of Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6) is misreported.

What is SF6 and why is it a hurdle for a green energy transition?

SF6 is used as an insulator in a wide variety of electrical equipment, mainly to prevent fires in incidents of short circuits. It is found in transformers inside windmills, offshore and onshore substations, and in power cables.


(Illustration to the left shows a sideview of a windmill turbine – Source: CAT-Engines. Right: an offshore wind energy system – Source: Nordsee One GmbH)


SF6 is a synthetic man-made GHG and cannot be reabsorbed naturally like CO2, meaning once emitted, it does irreversible damage. Most GHGs remain in the atmosphere around 100 years – SF6 remains for 3,200 years. These numbers are given by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GGP) based on calculations by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

The IPCC’s metric Global Warming Potential (GWP), reveals environmental harm of a given GHG in CO2e. What then, makes SF6 problematic when converted into CO2e? SF6 has a GWP 23,500 times higher than CO2 – a value that is difficult to comprehend. The GWP metric is calculated using a 100-year timeframe based on GHG’s environmental harm. Yet, SF6 has an atmospheric lifetime of 3,200 years, essentially leaving 3,100 years of environmental harm unaccounted for. Using a simple logarithmic function incorporating IPCC data accounting for the missing 3,100 years, the GWP almost doubles. As illustrated below, this indicates how SF6 may be misrepresented in terms of environmental harm in CO2e emissions reporting.



As found by AGAGE – MIT & NASA, other worrying trends are observed. The atmospheric concentration of SF6 has more than doubled in the past 20 years. Luckily, its current concentration in the atmosphere remains low relative to other GHGs such as Methane or Nitrous Oxide.


Source: AGAGE


Regardless, the GWP of these two GHGs pales in comparison to the mindboggling detrimental effect of SF6 on the environment. Emitting this gas should therefore be strictly regulated.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting – Diverging Approaches

It only takes a little digging into offshore wind energy players to uncover diverging conversion methods of SF6 into CO2 equivalents (CO2e). The GHG emissions reporting methodologies of industry leaders use different emissions factors to convert SF6 into CO2e. An example of underreporting is illustrated by Vattenfall in their 2019 sustainability report, reporting SF6 as 15,000 times more potent than CO2. The emissions factor given by the GGP is 23,500. Ørsted uses a GGP emissions factor for the same gas in their 2019 ESG report. Yet, while Energinet also states it uses the GGP reporting framework in their 2020 CSR report, it uses an emissions factor of 22,800. The ownership distribution between Vattenfall and Ørsted in the Danish wind farm Horns Rev 1 of 40% and 60% respectively, thus blurs accountability and severity of reported emissions. As highlighted by the BBC, atmospheric concentration of SF6 is ten times the reported amount by countries. The IPCC and GGP are also aware of this.

During the past decade…actual SF6 emissions from developed countries are at least twice the reported values. (Fifth Assessment Report of the IPPC)

Measuring Impact of SF6 Leaks by Offshore Wind Players

SF6 emissions will rise exponentially alongside expanding electrified energy infrastructure using equipment containing this gas. This, together with repeated SF6 leaks, perpetuates the worryingly steep upward trend in atmospheric content of SF6 shown above. In 2020, Energinet reported a leak of 763.84kg SF6, or 17,950,240kg CO2e. The environmental impact of this leak is about the same as the emissions of 53 SpaceX rocket launches. Energinet has since admitted to years of underreporting of SF6, leading to amended SF6 emissions related to normal operations doubling.

Leaks of SF6 are too common. In Ørsted’s 2020 ESG report, a major leak at Asnæs Power Station was mentioned without disclosing the actual amount – withholding important risk-related data from investors. However, Energinet disclosed an SF6 leak of 527kg at that same facility in their 2020 CSR report. The leak for which Ørsted is responsible, yet feels is not material to disclose, is therefore potentially around 12,384,500kg CO2e. Indicating light at the end of the tunnel, Vestas has included SF6 on their Restricted Materials list since 2017, as well as introducing a take-back scheme for infrastructure containing this gas – setting a better example for business models of our green energy transition leaders.

Strengthening the Global Response to Climate Change Risk

It is vital that we understand SF6 is so detrimental to fighting climate change beyond 2100 that it has no place in sustainable business models today. Even if CO2 emissions are reduced in alignment with 2100 Paris Agreement goals, reporting in a 100-year timeframe will not save a planet billions of years old. GHG reporting must be better regulated and scrutinised in order to deliver a truly green energy transition. Releasing a gas causing irreversible damage cannot be an acceptable trade-off for a short-term “green” transition. While most company reports claim no alternatives exist, this is not true. Therefore, SF6-free equipment must be mandatorily installed.

A green transition goes beyond 2100, yet poor regulation enables energy companies to present SF6-CO2e favourably by using lower emission factors. Offshore wind energy players have not provided comparable, accountable, and transparent reporting – indicating stricter regulations on GHG reporting are necessary.

The Way Forward: Better Regulation

In 2014, an EU regulation banned the use of SF6 in all applications except energy after lobbyists argued no alternatives exist. The EU acknowledges the environmental harm of SF6, yet EU action has been described as inadequate. Asset managers, institutional and retail investors are exposed to hidden environmental risks related to SF6 in terms of double materiality. Double materiality referring to the financial costs related to management of SF6 incurred once completely banned. Non-financial reporting of GHG emissions and CO2e needs to be regulated far more than current global regulations. Investors, society, and most of all our environment deserves better protection.


NOTE: This article is based on a Copenhagen Business School (CBS) research paper in the course ‘ESG, Sustainable & Impact Investment’ taught by Kristjan Jespersen – Associate Professor at CBS – as part of the newly introduced Minor in ESG. The paper questions the greenness of wind energy by using the case of three large offshore wind energy farms in Denmark: Horns Rev 1 & 2 and Kriegers Flak. The findings are based on ESG, sustainability & annual reports from 2015-2019 of all involved OEMs, manufacturers, operators, and energy grid providers. Implications of the findings point to a coming hurdle within the electrification of a global green energy infrastructure transition. 


About the Authors

Esben Holst, an SDG and CSR research intern at Sustainify, is a Danish-Luxembourgish masters student at Copenhagen Business School. Besides attending the newly introduced Minor in ESG at CBS, his past studies focus on international business in Asia and business development studies.

Kristjan Jespersen is an Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He studies on 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.


Photo by Karyatid on Unsplash

Remote research: A story about “being there”

By Elizabeth Cooper

◦ 2 min read 

It has now been more than a year since researchers have been forced to move most of their data collection online and, where this has not been possible, to cancel it completely. Doing research remotely has revealed some benefits: it is much cheaper, it is better for the environment, and it usually saves time, to name just a few. So, why should we go back to the “field” when this is all over? The following is a story about the importance of ‘being there’ – and about how the things that go wrong can indirectly lead to better quality research.

The settlement of Kulusuk is home to about 200 people and is located on a small island off the eastern coast of Greenland. As I touch down in a helicopter, I can see nothing but empty and dull terrain – different shades of brown rock contrasted against the electric blue sea, which glitters with the even brighter white of scattered icebergs floating endlessly into the distance.

The year is 2017 – summer, although the untrained eye wouldn’t guess so, judging by the snow-covered mountains drawn sharply on the horizon. I have been travelling around Greenland for a few weeks now, and my task is to interview tourists about their experiences in the country, as part of a market research project for Greenland’s national tourism board. 

The problem with interviewing tourists in one of the most remote places in the world, however, is that there aren’t that many. This is a problem I have been dealing with throughout my travels, but one that is markedly more pronounced here on the east coast. There simply aren’t that many tourists who have the perfect combination of sufficient wealth and excess adventurous spirit that it takes to travel to Greenland, and most of those who do, head to the more accessible and well-equipped towns on the west coast. Here in the east, things feel incredibly…local. It’s an atmosphere that simultaneously excites me and fills me with panic about how on earth I will secure enough interviews to make my research statistically valid.

I drop my bags off at the town’s only hotel and start preparing for the twenty minute walk into the settlement itself, where I’ve heard there is a museum – and perhaps the chance to bump into a tourist or two. However, as I begin to march determined out of the door, a member of the hotel staff blocks me. She tells me that there is a “piteraq” on its way, and although I have no idea what a piteraq is, her expression in itself is grave enough to stop me in my tracks and make me step back into the warmth for an explanation. 

The Greenlandic word “piteraq” literally translates to “the thing that attacks you”, and refers to a cold and incredibly fierce wind that originates on the polar ice cap and sweeps down the east coast. With wind speeds that are usually comparable to a category 1 or 2 hurricane, these storms effectively cut off the island for days on end, as flying in or out, or sailing anywhere, is made impossible. 

Overcome by renewed frustration about the feasibility of my research, I head upstairs to the hotel restaurant, where the first stages of the piteraq are already playing out on its huge, panoramic windows – spatters of tiny raindrops are gathering on the glass, accompanied in surround sound by the occasional distant roar of wind gusts picking up momentum. To my surprise, the restaurant is full. As I soon learn, these are tourists who were supposed to be passing through, but who have now become stranded due to the weather. Grabbing a plate at the buffet, I sit down with an Austrian family who invite me to play cards with them.  

Over the next two days, I don’t go anywhere – and neither do the tourists. We are imprisoned by the storm, and for lack of anything better to do, my fellow inmates are happy to engage me. I move from table to table, drinking coffee after coffee, and then wine after wine, with all of the other characters who have found themselves at this point in the world at this point in time. I hear stories from the British man who accidentally left all of his luggage (including his phone and wallet) on the tarmac at Reykjavik airport, and, upon arrival in Greenland, knocked on the nearest front door, told the family who lived there his story, and was taken in by them for three days; the elderly Canadian woman who had been dreaming about visiting Greenland since she was 14, when she saw a picture of a Greenlandic Inuit woman who, to her, “exuded happiness”; the two skittish French ladies who mistook a sled dog for a polar bear and sent the whole town into emergency response mode for no reason. 

The skies after a piteraq are some of the bluest and clearest skies you will ever see in Greenland – it’s like going to sleep in black and white and waking up in colour. Mother Nature’s twisted sense of humour, I conclude, as I finally head to the airport, with a folder full of interview notes, a deeper connection to my research environment, and a newfound appreciation for going with the flow.


About the Author

Elizabeth Cooper is a PhD Fellow at Copenhagen Business School, within the Department of Management, Society and Communication. Her research aims to link the fields of behavioural science and tourism, by experimenting with strategies to ‘nudge’ cruise tourists into behaving in more sustainable ways, specifically in the ports of Greenland.

SFDR, NFRD and the EU Taxonomy – What is their relationship?

By Andreas Rasche

◦ 5 min read 

The new Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) is on the minds of many investors these days. While a lot has been written on SFDR itself, I discuss how it relates to the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD) and the EU Taxonomy on sustainable economic activities. Taken together, these regulations can be overwhelming and maybe even confusing. While this is not the right place to comprehensively discuss all three regulations, I make some clarifications on their interlinked nature. 

SFDR, NFRD, and the EU Taxonomy – What are we Talking About? 

To start with, let us briefly review the three legal instruments, all of which belong to a series of EU regulations under the EU Action Plan on Sustainable Finance.

  • NFRD is the EU legal framework for regulating the disclosure of non-financial information by corporations. It was adopted in 2014 and states that corporations have to report on ESG information from 2018 onwards (for the 2017 financial year). NFRD is rather flexible – it applies only to so-called “public interest entities” (basically rather big corporations) and it contains so-called comply-or-explain clauses (allowing for non-disclosure of information if this is made transparent and reasons are given). 
  • SFDR is the new EU regulation that introduces rules for financial market participants (FMPs) and financial advisers (FAs) to report on how they account for sustainability risks. SFDR applies at the “entity level” (i.e. requiring financial firms to report on how the whole organization deals with such risks) and also on the “product level” (i.e. requiring firms to report on how their financial products are affected by such risks). SFDR contains few comply-or-explain clauses (e.g., smaller firms, with less than 500 employees, can opt out of reporting on due diligence processes). The regulation asks all FMPs and FAs to report on sustainability risks even if they do not offer ESG-related products. If an entity offers ESG-related products, SFDR requires additional disclosures depending on how “green” the product is considered to be. SFDR came into force on 10 March 2021. 
  • The EU Taxonomy regulation (hereafter: the Taxonomy), which entered into force 12 July 2020, reflects a common European classification system for environmentally sustainable activities. Basically, the Taxonomy tried to answer the question: What can be considered an environmentally sustainable activity? Answering this question is essential for investors to prevent “greenwashing” – i.e. a situation in which financial products are marketed as being sustainable without meeting sustainability criteria. The taxonomy defines six environmental objectives, and it defines an economic activity as sustainable if this activity contributes at least two one of these objectives without, at the same time, doing significant harm to any of the other objectives. 
Differences and Commonalities 

To start with, it is important to note the different legal status of SFDR/the Taxonomy as well as NFRD. NFRD is based on an older EU Directive (2014/95/EU). Directives imply that EU member states have to translate the broad requirements into national regulation. By contrast, SFDR (2019/2088) and the Taxonomy (2020/852) are both based on European regulation, which is immediately enforceable and does not require transposition into national law. 

To understand how the three legal frameworks relate to each other, look at the Figure below. NFRD applies to corporations of all kinds. Hence, for investors NFRD is mostly relevant because it stipulates how investee companies report ESG data. SFDR, by contrast, most concerns financial market actors and ensures transparency about how these report on sustainability risks to their audiences (e.g., retail investors). The Taxonomy was introduced to have a common reference point when trying to figure out whether an economic activity really is sustainable. The Taxonomy therefore has the power to further specify the regulations set out in SFDR and NFRD. 

source: Andreas Rasche
Emerging Relationships  

The linkages between the three frameworks will be further specified throughout the coming years. While SFDR has been in force since 10 March 2021, it is only in the so-called “level 1 stage of development”. As with many EU regulations, level 1 development sets out the basic framework principles for a regulation, however without specifying technical details. SFDR level 2 will come into force once the regulation is complemented with Regulatory Technical Standards (RTS), which are developed right now. The RTS will also specify the linkages to the Taxonomy in more detail (e.g., related to the “do-no-significant-harm” concept inherent in SFDR). 

So, what can we say right now? The current versions of SFDR and NFRD do not yet link disclosures to the Taxonomy. This is likely to change, especially with the SFDR RTS being further specified and rolled out (in early February the European Supervisory Authorities released their final draft of the SFDR RTS). Moreover, the NFRD regulation is currently under consultation and will be revised in the near future. However, two important linkages are important to consider right now.  

  • First, the scope of the Taxonomy is defined through NFRD and SFDR. In other words, if an organization is affected by NFRD and/or SFDR, the Taxonomy will also be relevant for its disclosure practices. It is important to note here that the EU Taxonomy defines further mandatory disclosures in addition to what is laid out by NFRD and SFDR. 
  • Second, the Taxonomy asks companies (incl. asset managers) to report the percentage of their turnover and capital as well as operational expenditures that are aligned with the Taxonomy. It also asks asset managers to report the percentage of their portfolio which is invested in economic activities that are aligned with the Taxonomy. 
The Future

We will witness a good deal of technical specifications of all three regulations throughout the next years. SFDR level 2 reporting will kick in once the RTS standards are part of the reporting (probably by mid-2023); also by 2024 year-on-year comparisons of data points under SFDR will be likely mandatory. The six environmental objectives of the Taxonomy will be specified through technical screening criteria, some of which will be released very soon. 

It is good to see non-financial reporting and sustainable finance being backed by strong European regulations. It allows for more comparison and benchmarking and hence transparency. But, of course, we should also be prepared for a good deal of clarifications that will be necessary until institutionalized reporting cycles can fully kick in and unfold their potential. 


About the Author

Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society at the Copenhagen Business School (CBS) Centre for Sustainability. His latest book “Sustainable Investing: A Path to a New Horizon” (with Georg Kell and Herman Bril) was published recently. Email: ar.msc@cbs.dk Homepage: www.arasche.com

Arguing for Climate Adaptation

By Stella Whittaker

◦ 3 min read

This month saw the publication of the Climate Policy Initiative’s (CPI) long awaited analysis of climate finance flows in cities.  Each year the CPI publish an analysis of the global landscape for climate finance but this year that work was supplemented by this urban analysis.  There will also be another forthcoming CPI report  due in April 2021 – State of Cities Climate Finance Report which will help paint the full picture.  

Cities and urban communities across the globe are highly vulnerable to climate change – heat waves, extreme weather volatility, floods, droughts, coastal inundation, and vector borne diseases. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) data indicates that in 2018, 85% of cities reported major climate-related disruptions, including flash and surface flooding and extreme weather events like heat waves and droughts.

There is an urgency for much more discussion, research and attention on climate finance to address climate adaptation needs in cities. While many cities have begun planning policies and programs to build resilience towards climate hazards, the how and where of finance for those activities is less understood.  

It is plain to see from this practitioner-based work that climate finance for adaptation is not being supplied or demanded at a scale that is commensurate with the size of the impacts of climate change.  Scholars have found that here are significant data and reporting challenges and a myriad of policy challenges and barriers.  I am stressing here the need to argue loud and long for adaptation along with mitigation activities.

CPI recorded annual global climate finance flows of USD 546 billion in 2018. Of this only 4% can be attributed to adaptation. Finance flow in cities for adaptation is particularly problematic. The CPI also found:

Between 2010 and 2014, cities received less than 5% (in the range of USD 109 Million) of global adaptation finance.

Morgan RichmondNidhi Upadhyaya and Angela Ortega Pastor, CPI, 2021

So, based on current estimates, despite all the difficulties with measurement and tracking, potentially less than 1% of global climate finance is flowing to cities each year for adaptation, which is much less than the USD 11-20 billion that what the World Resources Institute (WRI) stated be needed on an annual basis to protect global urban infrastructure from climate risks (WRI, 2019).

This month I launched a new Linkedin Group Adaptation Finance – this is a discussion, research and professional development group for investors, governments and academics alike dedicated to developing an understanding of climate finance for adaptation. By following the Group there is an opportunity to participate in my PhD climate finance research (survey, interview, focus group or information provision), whilst learning and sharing in the latest research and trends from various industries. As climate adaptation practitioners, investors, governments, academics, scientists and researchers we rarely meet to share knowledge and experiences, please join in this unique collaboration. I want to build an active research environment for both investors and city government focused on climate adaptation. 

In addition, in the Group:

  • WE will analyse climate finance flows in cities.
  • WE will also analyse activity against internationally recognized benchmarks for appropriate urban climate change adaptation financing. 
  • WE will collate innovative climate finance practice.
  • WE will generate new knowledge on how to deliver and finance large-scale innovative city financing solutions through public and/or private stakeholders. 

In Arguing for Adaptation there are five practical things to think about in getting the balance right:

  1. Make climate adaptation an equal priority to climate mitigation
  2. Understand future climate risks to your business and/or constituency (look at the guidance from the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)
  3. Understand climate finance flows in your city and region(s) you operate in
  4. Enter into a dialogue with investors and cities to understand each other’s challenges and opportunities
  5. Look for and prioritize climate initiatives that deliver dual or even multiple benefits – climate resilience, mitigation, natural capital etc. such as nature-based solutions NbS

If you like a good cause and a good argument, then please join me


About the Author

Stella Whittaker is a PhD Research Fellow who is undertaking a PhD in climate finance at Copenhagen Business School, at the department of Management, Culture & Communications. Stella is a specialist in the field of sustainability, circular economy and climate change. She has worked for over 30 years as a senior executive in sustainability, climate change, infrastructure sustainability & environment.

Portfolios at risk of Deforestation

How can financial investors better understand underlying risks and act accordingly

By Amanda Wildhaber, Dominik Wingeier, Jessica Brügger, Nico Meier, and Dr. Kristjan Jespersen

◦ 4 min read ◦

Forests play a crucial role in tackling climate change and protecting biodiversity. Around 12 million hectares of tropical forest worldwide were lost in 2018 and approximately 17% of the loss stem from the Amazon alone. The main drivers of deforestations are soy, palm oil, cattle and timber production. As deforestation may harm a company’s reputation, directly affect its supply chains and increase regulatory risks, many institutional investors are concerned about the impact deforestation can have on their portfolio companies.

How can deforestation be measured?

The definition of deforestation risk from an investor’s perspective is difficult to lock-in because different frameworks and approaches focus on different aspects of the risks. The amount of information and the lack of transparency can be overwhelming to financial investors. Therefore, a helpful framework for financial institutions to systematically evaluate the deforestation risk management of portfolio companies has been developed. The framework is divided into two parts, an internal assessment of a company’s commitments and achievements regarding deforestation and an external assessment of outside policies related to deforestation, namely binding laws and private sector initiatives. The framework may serve to complete a scorecard which gives an overview of how well prepared a specific portfolio company is and if it is able to deal with deforestation risks and future regulatory changes. The final scorecard reflects the deforestation risk of financial institution’s portfolio companies.

Is voluntary support sufficient?

Many companies voluntarily support sustainability initiatives and follow zero deforestation commitments (ZDCs) to signal their intention to reduce deforestation associated with the commodities in their supply chain. The reasons behind their commitments include demonstrating corporate social responsibility (CSR), reducing the risk of potential reputational harm and supply chain disruptions. To understand the value of these commitments in mitigating deforestation and associated risks, it is important to critically analyse them in terms of their scope, effectiveness, monitoring and achievements. This includes for example, assessing how companies define deforestation and whether they systematically measure the compliance with their commitments.

External pressure to facilitate internal commitments

It is valuable to see companies implementing robust internal policies and commitments to manage and monitor their deforestation risk. However, it is also important to have external policies in place to hold companies accountable. There are two types of external policies the proposed framework is based on.

  1. The first type are binding laws which apply for portfolio companies and thus represent a regulatory risk. The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) of 2010, which prohibits the sale of illegally logged wood in the EU, is one example for such a binding law.
  2. The second type are initiatives by third parties, which are of a non-binding nature and complement the binding law. One such initiative is the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is an initiative by private companies as well as external parties targeted to eliminate unsustainable palm oil production.
How do the companies score?

Based on the assessment of the two pillars of the framework – internal and external – a scorecard is derived which assists investors to better understand how a portfolio company or a new potential investment is managing its deforestation risk. Answering questions with scores from 1 to 3, whereby 1 is the best score and 3 the worst, the proposed scorecard allows the quantification of the deforestation risk management of a company. While the distinction between 1, 2 or 3 is not always straightforward, the final score gives a tangible assessment of how well a company is positioned to manage its deforestation risks and associated future regulatory changes. The following scorecard provides an overview of the assessment and indicates how well Nestlé is managing deforestation risks.

Having such a scorecard allows investors to manage and mitigate the deforestation risks they face in their portfolios. In addition, the final scorecard enables investment analysts to directly compare potential investments with other companies and can be used as a parameter in the investment process.

The call for action is getting louder

New regulatory requirements, growing public scrutiny and extended private sector initiatives (such as the investor-led initiative Climate Action 100+), mean that it is becoming increasingly important to properly manage deforestation risks. This is also becoming a key concern for financial investors and it is time to think about systematic approaches on how to include deforestation into the investment process. The proposed framework is intended to serve as a starting point for just that. It allows a quantification of deforestation risk and the identification of critical factors. Building the basis upon which investors can engage with companies. This is a first step to support the mitigating of not only financial but also ecological risks.


About the Authors

Amanda Wildhaber is completing her masters in Economics at the University of St. Gallen. She works as a Junior Consultant in the Strategy team of Implement Consulting. Her interest in ESG and sustainable investments developed when she wrote her bachelor thesis on social enterprises in India.

Dominik Wingeier is studying master’s in Banking and Finance at University of St. Gallen. Dominik has been working for BlackRock where he was responsible for executing and monitoring primary, secondary and direct investments in infrastructure projects.

Jessica Brügger is studying master’s in Business Innovation at the University of St. Gallen. Jessica is currently a board member of the Private Equity & Venture Capital Club of the University of St. Gallen and is particularly interested in making the financial industry more attractive to women.

Nico Meier is studying master’s in Accounting an Finance at the University of St. Gallen. Nico has been working at BLR&Partners where he is responsible for private equity investments. Additionally, he has experience providing M&A, ECM and DCM services.

Kristjan Jespersen is an Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He studies on 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.


Source: photo by Justus Menke 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.  

A Southern-centered perspective on climate change in global value chains?

By Peter Lund-Thomsen

◦ 2 min read ◦

The garment and textile industries account for around 10% of global CO2 emissions, and their fast fashion approach consumes huge amounts of water in production and processing stages. While the fast fashion model incentivizes the overproduction/consumption of clothes, more sustainable solutions lie in the configuration of value chains towards slow fashion (durable products produced on demand) and the introduction of circular business models. Such a transformation will have consequences for the environment, workers’ conditions, and economic development.

This is particularly the case in the light of COVID-19, which led to a temporary disruption in the global garment and textiles value chains as stores closed in Europe and the United States in the spring of 2020. The cancellation and non-payment of garment orders particularly affected suppliers and workers in Bangladesh, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers without jobs and possibly facing destitution. 

This is the focus of a new research and capacity-building project on ‘Climate Change and Global Value Chains’ coordinated by the CBS that has recently been funded by the Danish Development Research Council. In this research project, we will be working with colleagues from the University of Aalborg and Roskilde University in Denmark as well as BRAC University and the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh. Private sector partners include the Danish Ethical Trading Initiative and Danish Fashion and Textile. 

I think that a key challenge in this new project is how we approach ‘climate change’ in the context of global value chains.

In the Danish debate on climate change, it is almost universally accepted that climate change should be at the top of the political and corporate sustainability agendas. However, both employers and workers in the Bangladeshi garment and textile industries may not perceive climate change mitigation as an immediate priority.

First, the purchasing practices of major brands sourcing garments from Bangladesh tend to result in downward price pressures, seasonal fluctuations in demand, and shorter lead times while, at the same time, these brands are also imposing ever greater environmental and labor standard requirements on their suppliers (not only in Bangladesh but elsewhere in the global South). Economic value is very unevenly distributed along the textile/garment value chain, with major brands reaping up to ten times higher economic value than suppliers – and even less reaching workers.

Hence, Bangladeshi suppliers often perceive the environmental and labor requirements of brands as adding to their costs without bringing additional business benefits.

In this context, suppliers may have very few, if any, incentives to address climate concerns in their value chains, while workers in the industry are trying to survive in a context of economic uncertainty.

In my view, a critical aspect of this new project is therefore that we will not only look at climate change from a Northern-centered perspective; that is, we are not only concerned with how brands and factories engage in the process of decarbonization. We will also zoom in on the importance of climate change adaptation, which I would label a more Southern-centered perspective on climate change in global value chains.

In fact, Bangladesh is one of the countries most affected by global climate change whose coastal areas and ports are prone to flooding, resulting in disruptions of the garment/textile value chain and economic losses for local manufacturers and workers.

Moreover, garment factories in greater Dhaka have extremely high lead and CO2 emissions, while many factory workers live in parts of the city that have unhygienic water supplies and must cope with living conditions that affect their health. Hence, integrating climate change and global value chain analysis from a Southern-centered perspective, I would argue, involves looking at the ‘business case’ for climate change adaptation – in other words, we must understand how can climate change adaptation can help in securing the future viability, competitiveness, and jobs in the garment industry and textile industries of Bangladesh. 


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.

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

Counting Trees in the Hopes of Managing Forests – Technological solutions to palm oil deforestation?

By Isaac Caiger-Smith, Izabela Delabre and Kristjan Jespersen

In recent years, companies dealing in global commodities – such as palm oil, soy and timber – have faced increasing criticism for failing to meet zero deforestation targets in their supply chains. In response to these concerns, the use of innovative technological solutions, such as satellite monitoring systems to monitor deforestation in supply chains, are becoming increasingly commonplace.

Companies such as Global Forest Watch, Satelligence and MapHubs provide such platforms, though many large companies also choose to create their own monitoring systems in-house. It is in the palm oil sector that adoption of satellite monitoring has (so far) been most widespread. The palm oil sector is commonly characterised as being ‘hourglass’ in shape, with hundreds of thousands of growers/producers, mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia, being connected to hundreds of thousands of end users all around the world by a handful of powerful traders and refiners. Previously, single companies aiming to monitor their supply chains for deforestation risk would thus be faced with the impossible task of keeping track of (potentially) thousands of suppliers simultaneously.

In principle, satellite technology platforms signify a ground-breaking shift in possibilities for those concerned with monitoring deforestation risk.

By making it possible to map out suppliers’ concessions and monitor in ‘near real-time’ for deforestation events, consumer goods manufacturers and palm oil traders are able to cheaply and accurately ensure suppliers’ compliance with their commitments to zero deforestation, punishing non-compliant suppliers, encouraging and incentivising good environmental practice (Global Forest Watch, 2020). The clear promise such technology brings has led to their rapid uptake by the majority of the world’s largest palm oil traders and refiners, as well as many influential consumer goods manufacturers and non-governmental organisations. The hope of companies and non-governmental organisations is that such technological initiatives will play an important role in supporting zero deforestation efforts. As such, many of these actors are investing significant capital to increase their monitoring capabilities, and are highly vocal about doing so, speaking of the positive environmental impacts they claim will flow from their use. 

Through a series of in-depth interviews, it quickly became clear that despite the far-reaching functions these actors claim satellite monitoring can serve, its impact on the palm oil sector thus far has been far more limited in scope (both in terms of impact on supply chain relations and environmental outcomes) than the PR teams of the world’s palm oil giants seem to suggest.

Despite some positive developments in the realm of certified palm oil, the widespread adoption of satellite monitoring schemes across the palm oil sector has thus far failed to significantly reduce the rates of tropical deforestation associated with the industry.

Lyons-White and Knight, 2018.

Although satellites provide timely data on exactly where and when deforestation is occurring, traders and refiners have thus far been largely unable to use the data to influence the behaviour of offending firms. There are numerous reasons why this is the case. 

Decontextualised data

Knowing where deforestation is occurring does not necessarily tell you who is responsible. In many instances, palm oil traders simply do not know who their third-tier suppliers are – if the alerts provided by remote sensing data cannot be combined with full knowledge of a firm’s supply chain (‘traceability to plantation’), they will often be unable to act on them. Achieving 100% traceability to plantation is a task all of the major traders are currently engaged in, yet it is a long and difficult process – as previously mentioned, the structure of the palm oil sector is complex, with numerous tiers of suppliers separating those engaging in monitoring from those being monitored.

In addition, the difficulty of the task is further exacerbated by inaccurate data on land ownership, competing claims, and unofficial occupation. Until these systemic issues are addressed, the situation regarding monitoring will remain much as it is today – satellite monitoring systems will continue to provide accurate alerts, but in the vast majority of cases (approximately 90%, according to interviewee from palm oil trader) traders will be unable to attribute it with certainty to actors from their supply chain, and thus will not be able to meaningfully respond. 

Leverage issues

In instances where technology users are able attribute a deforestation alert to an actor from within their supply chain, firms often lack the leverage to change suppliers’ behaviour and ensure compliance with their sustainability standards. Buyers have two options: negotiate with producers or blacklist them.

Given that buyers are unwilling to pay a premium for deforestation-free products (Delabre et al, 2020), providing incentives for non-compliant suppliers to stop harmful behaviours is challenging – expecting growers to bear all the costs associated with non-expansion without any reward is not a sustainable system. Furthermore, the threat of being blacklisted from a company’s supply base is also unlikely to have the desired impact; suppliers will likely have no trouble finding other buyers, in markets where sustainability credentials are generally seen as less of a priority (Schleifer & Sun, 2018).

In this context, it is clear that thus far, satellite monitoring has not been capable of producing the far-reaching effects, which may have been desired.

Despite this, satellite monitoring has certainly contributed to several interesting developments in the palm oil sector. For example, interviewees emphasised the positive impacts of environmental non-governmental organisations armed with satellite monitoring technologies, acting as unofficial but powerful ‘watchdogs’, ‘naming and shaming’ consumer brands and traders associated with deforestation events.

It seems the ever-present risk of exposure (and subsequent brand damage) posed by non-governmental organisations’ use of satellite monitoring is a significant driver of new norms and practices within the industry.

These norms emphasise that it is necessary for powerful actors, such as traders and consumer goods manufacturers to be proactive in effectively addressing deforestation, both within and outside their supply chains. Interviewees also emphasised increasing levels of dialogue/cooperation across actor types, through for example, the creation of focus groups made up of producers, traders, local governments and community leaders, for the purpose of discussing the data provided by satellite monitoring, and working together to create solutions. In light of the ever-increasing levels of transparency that satellite monitoring brings, such institutions seem an inevitable and positive consequence of implementation.

However, given the severity of the contextual constraints hindering the industry’s sustainability, it is unlikely that such noble intentions (or even significant capital investments) will be capable of truly addressing the problem. 

Satellite monitoring technology has dramatically expanded the realms of possibility for forest governance, yet its implementation in the palm oil sector remains hindered by the structures, institutions and political and legal realities of palm oil production, and producing countries more broadly, dramatically reducing its ability to create positive change. Whilst they are clearly useful tools for environmentally conscious actors aiming to reduce their deforestation risks, they are only one small piece in a very complex puzzle. The problem of tropical deforestation caused by palm oil expansion is at once an economic, political, social and historical problem. As such, ‘technological fixes’ or the actions of individual firms (or even groups of firms) are themselves unlikely to lead to significant environmental improvements. In order to address such a vast problem, the underlying context must shift. Nothing less than large-scale international public and private sector cooperation is required. 


Bibliography

Delabre, I., Alexander, A. & Rodrigues, C. (2020) Strategies for tropical forest protection and sustainable supply chains: challenges and opportunities for alignment with the UN sustainable development goalsSustain Sci 15, pages 1637–1651

Global Forest Watch (2020) Global Forest Watch Pro: Securely Manage Deforestation Risk in Commodity Supply Chains.

Lyons-White, J., Knight, A. (2018) Palm oil supply chain complexity impedes implementation of corporate no-deforestation commitments, Global Environmental Change 50, pages 303–313 

Schleifer, P., Sun, Y. (2018) Emerging markets and private governance: the political economy of sustainable palm oil in China and India, Review of International Political Economy Volume 25 Issue 2, pages 190-214


About the Authors

Isaac Caiger-Smith is a Junior Research Associate and undergraduate at the University of Sussex, studying philosophy politics and economics. His current research project focuses on the use of satellite monitoring technologies for addressing deforestation risks. 

Izabela Delabre is a Research Fellow at the University of Sussex, examining sustainable forest governance, sustainable production and consumption of food, and sustainability transformations. Izabela worked for the Business and Biodiversity Conservation Programme at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) managing ZSL’s global oil palm work. Her PhD (Human Geography) examined the political ecology of participatory impact assessment practices in the context of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Kristjan Jespersen is an Associate 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.


Photo by Carles Rabada on 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

Insecure work: rethinking precarity through Kenya’s tea plantations

By Hannah Elliott

Over the last decade, the term ‘precarity’ has become ubiquitous in studies of work and labor, as jobs are increasingly characterized by temporary and insecure contracts; lack of basic welfare provisions such as paid leave; and low pay. The informalization of work has gained pace in a post-Fordist world. And we can expect to see more precarity. The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing employers the world over to think of new ways to reduce labor costs as economies flounder.

Anthropologist of work Kathleen Millar has argued that we need to be careful about how we think about ‘precarity’ when we talk about insecure work. The term can inadvertently “smuggle in a conservative politics”, valorizing and romanticizing a Fordist past of full-time wage labor. This employment past is not universal. In the majority of the world, economies have historically been characterized by informality. Here, formal secure work has been more of an idea, a promise tied up in teleological ideals of modernization and development, than a reality. Furthermore, in former settler colonies such as Kenya and South Africa, formal wage employment has roots in colonial capitalism, coercion and exploitation.  

I’ve been thinking about precarity through the case of changing employment conditions on Kenyan tea plantations, where I’ve been researching the production of certified sustainable tea as part of the SUSTEIN project. I carried out my latest fieldwork between January and March this year, right up until the majority of European countries went into lockdown. A few weeks later, Kenya followed suit. In Kericho, the heart of Kenya’s tea production and where I spent most of my stay, there was little sense that the world was on the brink of an impending global pandemic, let alone reflection on what that could mean for the tea industry. And yet, in conversations with diverse actors in the sector, there was a shared narrative that the industry, responsible for one of Kenya’s biggest export commodities and foreign exchange earners, was struggling.

Enduring low prices of tea on the global market and rising costs of production have led multinational companies owning large tea plantations to look for ways to cut labor costs.

Tea is a labor intensive crop, and companies have historically depended on large resident workforces to pluck tea, plant and prune tea bushes and operate factories, among a multitude of other tasks required to maintain vast tea plantations. Biannual collective bargaining agreements led by the workers’ union have seen wages increase at a rate companies say is unsustainable for business. Citing high wages relative to other agricultural sectors in Kenya and the additional costs of employee benefits such as free housing and water, payment of retirement funds, and contributions to health insurance, along with the costs of maintaining infrastructures used by workers and their dependents such as schools and dispensaries, companies argue for the need to reduce labor forces.

The gradual reduction of company-employed low-level or ‘general’ workers has been taking place through parallel processes of mechanizing tea harvesting and outsourcing tasks outside of companies’ core activities of tea harvesting and factory processing. While workers carrying out core tasks continue to be employed directly by the company, thus receiving a union-negotiated wage and the package of employment privileges described above, outsourced workers are hired on insecure terms by external service providers who hold contracts with tea plantation companies. Outsourced workers are typically employed on short contracts, sometimes for as little as a few days. This renders them ineligible for union membership, and most earn less than half the daily salary of a company employee. If they are unable to work due to sickness, they will not be paid. The contractors who employ them are required by the company to make deductions from their salaries to national health insurance and social security schemes, but low wages and short-term employment mean that contributions are meagre.

Kenya has a large work-seeking population, and people are prepared to take outsourced jobs because of few employment opportunities.

In spite of the striking unsustainability of labor outsourcing for these workers, international sustainability standards say surprisingly little about this category and establish few mechanisms to safeguard them.

In the context of decreasing opportunities for employment in permanent company jobs on tea plantations, current and former workers talk with nostalgia about a time when company jobs and their related securities were a plenty. This nostalgia echoes the valorization of stable, full-time wage labor that Millar identifies as lurking in the notion of precarity. But, without dismissing workers’ nostalgia, we should be careful not to romanticize plantation jobs of the past which were, in spite of their securities relative to outsourced work, inherently precarious.

During the early twentieth century, the colonial administration sought to disrupt and undermine subsistence economies so that people would be forced to seek work on infrastructure projects and in settler industry and agriculture, including tea plantations. For decades, the industry struggled with labor shortage which undermined its growth and expansion. During the 1940s and 50s, efforts were made to create permanent resident labor forces through welfare provisions such as housing, kitchen gardens and retirement funds. Yet workers could never own the houses they lived in, nor the land they were given to cultivate, which remained the property of the company.

In seeking to create a stable workforce that could make Kenya’s tea industry sustainable, the colonial administration destabilized rural economies and created a class of people who would be forced, for generations, to seek wage labor.

If, in these uncertain times, we shouldn’t wish for a whole-sale return to permanent, full-time wage labor, what might we hope for instead? Millar argues for a critical politics of precarity that problematizes the centrality of economically productive work and its promise in contemporary capitalism rather than calling for a return to stable full-time work. Campaigns that propose alternatives to work include Universal Basic Income – where governments makes regular unconditional payments to every individual – and Universal Basic Services. A 2017 study by UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity proposing Universal Basic Services in the UK argues that government provision of basic services such as food, shelter and transport has the potential to reduce dramatically the cost of living for those on the lowest incomes, making participation, belonging and cohesion possible in the face of increasingly precarious work. These initiatives are becoming more compelling as the world reels from the pandemic and we try to imagine a recovery that prioritizes social and environmental justice.


References

Kathleen M. Millar (2017) ‘Towards a critical politics of precarity’. Sociology Compass, 11 (6), pp. 1-11.

Henrietta Moore, Andrew Percy, Jonathan Portes and Howard Reed (2017) Social prosperity for the future: A proposal for Universal Basic Services. Social Prosperity Network Report: Institute for Global Prosperity, UCL.


About the Author

Hannah Elliott is a postdoc at MSC focusing broadly on the political and economic anthropology, in particular in eastern Africa where she has been conducting research since 2009. Her current research examines the production of certified sustainable tea in Kenya as part of the SUSTEIN project. 

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

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

Fresh Air: An Impact Story

By Lara Anne Hale

What do fresh air, canaries, and research all have in common? Academics often humbly conduct and publish research, hoping but not knowing if it had any impact on society (we hope very strongly!). This becomes even more bewildering when it comes to the advent of research impact metrics, such as with the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) (UKRI, 2020). It is a rare and wonderful occasion in which one can not only bear witness to impact but actually physically touch it. As an industrial researcher with CBS and the VELUX Group, I am often moving between theory and practice, but the tale of an innovation process stands out. This impact story is the story of how research became related  — albeit several steps removed — to the development of an innovative product, AirBird®, co-created by GXN, the VELUX Group, and Leapcraft. Moreover, it is the story of inspiration in practice, a breath of fresh air in the academic realm.

The academic story starts with a group of nine researchers. The ‘Smart Buildings and Cities’ research group is composed of nine industrial PhDs and postdocs employed in diverse Danish organizations and universities, housed in the BLOXHUB Science Forum and supported by Realdania and the Danish Innovation Fund. Some of us are social scientists engaging with engineering (that would be me), some are architects engaging with computer science, and yet others are engineers conducting social research. I’ve never seen such a mad mess of transdisciplinarity, and it’s beautiful (and also very much guided by our Science Forum coordinator, Pernille Berg).

The innovation process parallels the fourth research case I have been building to better understand and theorize business model innovation for smart technology in the building industry. This case concerns indoor climate data-driven building renovations as a potential business model and involves collaboration among CBS and the VELUX Group (the research), Kokkedal Skole (the building), and Leapcraft (the technology). Fredensborg Kommune has allotted nearly 1 billion DKK (120 million euro) to the improvement of its schools in a program called ‘Fremtidens Folkeskoler’ (Primary Schools of the Future); and it is kicking off the program with an investment of over 35 million DKK (4 million euro) in renovations at Kokkedal Skole. Prior to renovations, we needed to answer the questions: How is the building being used now? What is the indoor climate like? How do teachers and students interact with space? And then we can compare the data post-renovation. This kind of research, as it turns out, is especially timely, given the Danish government’s commitment of 30 billion DKK for sustainable housing renovations.

Kokkedal Skole
Image by Lara Anne Hale

The Kokkedal Skole project is a fascinating one to discuss with others, given the visionary leadership of their principal Kirsten Birkving and excellent building management of their facilities manager Lars Høgh-Hansen. They have in fact been featured on CNN Business for bringing new technology into the classroom, namely Leapcraft’s AmbiNode sensors and SenseMaking tool, the latter having been developed by VELUX based on the Green Solutions House project. Two of the Science Forum group’s companies, GXN and the VELUX Group, started to take discussions at length about the emerging findings on health in buildings, the invisibility of indoor climate, and the need for a simple alert when the situation is dangerous. They posed the question, is it possible to make an indoor health equivalent of the canary in the coal mine, who would start tweeting to coal miners when in contact with dangerous air?

Early in 2019 these talks came to fruition when Realdania invited applications for seed funding to research group members interested in collaborative innovation. This led to the Smith Innovation-coordinated workshop “The Canary in the Goalmine” with the VELUX Group and GXN working on the goal of defining how the ‘canary’ would look like, and – based on the research at Kokkedal Skole and renovation challenges presented by the Student and Innovation House – how it would function. A year later, I am working with VELUX and Leapcraft to finalize the one-year monitoring report from Kokkedal Skole, and AirBird® is ready to hit the shelves. The concept is simple and beautiful, just like the bird: when the CO2 levels indicate unhealthy air, AirBird sings a bird song to let its users know they should bring in some fresh air; which TV2 Lorry featured at Kokkedal Skole on the 25th of May. The AirBird® has been ideated, designed and developed in co-creation between GXN, VELUX Group and Leapcraft.

Airbird introduction
Image by Lara Anne Hale

Although the development of AirBird® does not tell the story of sustainability dynamics within innovation ecosystems (Oskam et al., 2020), nor the story of smart technology-facilitated business models for health and well being (Laya et al., 2018) – two examples of academic work that resonate with my research – it does challenge the idea that business model innovation precedes product innovation. Nudging tools like AirBird® may stimulate awareness and behavioural changes that anticipate business opportunities for a healthy indoor climate. Further, serendipitous product innovations may serve as artifacts embodying value negotiation, the foundations of business model innovation.

But ultimately, the AirBird® story is attractive because it presents impact that is tangible. And whereas the physical product is the most tangible of all, this innovation has had other impacts as well: collaborative innovation experience among the organizations involved; encouragement within the Science Forum of the value of transdisciplinary research; and the need to face directly the tensions between the academic and practice worlds. For my part, it’s uncomfortably different from the impact implied in academic publications and absolutely refreshing — something fresh air, canaries, and research should all have in common.


References

Laya, A., Markendahl, J., & Lundberg, S. (2018). Network-centric business models for health, social care and wellbeing solutions in the internet of things. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 34(2), 103–116.

Oskam, I., Bossink, B., & de Man, A.-P. (2020). Valuing Value in Innovation Ecosystems: How Cross-Sector Actors Overcome Tensions in Collaborative Sustainable Business Model Development. Business & Society, 000765032090714.

Rafaeli, Anat, & Pratt, Michael G. (2006). Artifacts and Organizations: Beyond Mere Symbolism. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc,US.

UKRI (2020). REF Impact. Accessed 29 May 2020 from: https://re.ukri.org/research/ref-impact/


About the author

Lara Anne Hale – Ph.D., M.Sc., Assistant Professor, Industrial Postdoc Fellow with CBS and VELUX. Lara conducts transdisciplinary research on sustainability in the built environment, including aspects of digital transformations, circularity, user-centered design, and systems thinking. Her current project focuses on business model innovation for smart buildings in the BLOXHUB Science Forum ‘Smart Buildings & Cities’ research group, supported by the Danish Innovation Fund and Realdania.


Photo by Kinga Cichewicz 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

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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).


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The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

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Image by US Army Africa

On the Ground: What CSR and sustainability standards fail to address

By Hannah Elliott

In the fall of 2019, there was a flurry of news stories in the British media about political events in western Kenya which, according to one article, threatened the future of the nation’s beloved cup of tea. In Kericho, the heart of Kenya’s tea-growing country, the local community are reclaiming vast tracts of land obtained under British colonialism for the large-scale cultivation of tea. Faced with a land shortage that hinders possibilities for sustainable development, local activists are challenging the extensive land acquisitions that took place under colonial rule, many of which constitute the premises of multinational agri-business today. CSR initiatives and the sustainability standards that are increasingly ubiquitous in Kenya’s tea industry fail to address or acknowledge a sustainability issue that is of major concern to local communities on the ground: land.

During the early 20th century, while trying to create an export economy in eastern Africa, the British government identified the highlands of Kericho in Kenya’s fertile Rift Valley as a place of high agricultural potential and gave out land to European settlers. The area was identified as an ideal place for growing tea, a commodity that was already thriving elsewhere in the British Empire. With the entry of two major companies engaged in tea production in India and Sri Lanka, further land allocations were made, providing the premises for the expansive tea plantations that dominate Kericho’s landscape today.  

Colonial laws enabled these land allocations: the British government could acquire land and relocate the ‘natives’ who were occupying and cultivating it. The Kipsigis community living in the Kericho area lost large amounts of land, only to be compensated with smaller areas of less agriculturally conducive land in designated ‘native reserves’. Others remained in their home areas but were rendered ‘squatters’ required to work for settlers in return for their continued occupation.

Many today struggle to make a living from diminishing farms in the former native reserve areas as family land is subdivided among children, while others remain landless or forced to purchase land at high prices. Land shortage poses a direct challenge to sustainable livelihoods in Kericho.

These grievances are what the Kericho County Governor seeks to address. Identifying as a victim of historical land injustices himself whose ancestral land lies within the vast tea plantation owned by the multinational giant Unilever, he advocates for reparations that acknowledge the forceful acquisition of his community’s land. This implicates multinational tea companies directly. For the Governor and Kipsigis community activists campaigning for justice, these companies are operating on stolen property that rightfully belongs to the community.

Tea plantations employ large numbers of locals in roles that range from tea plucking to top management and offer opportunities and bursaries for adult and child education. While much of the British media coverage of Kericho’s land politics, including an article in The Economist, has envisaged Zimbabwe-like evictions of British companies in Kenya, the Kericho Governor made clear when I met with him earlier this year that it is not in anybody’s interests for the tea companies to hand over the land and leave.

Rather, following recommendations made by Kenya’s National Land Commission, the Governor asks that tea companies apply to the county government for new land leases, following which the land can be resurveyed.  Undeclared acreage, he argues, should then be reverted back to the county government. In addition, the Governor seeks to increase land rent so that the county government is more adequately remunerated for the land.

This, along with demanding mesne profits from multinationals for the use of the land since 1902, is intended to enable more equitable redistribution of the wealth generated from large-scale tea production.

One Kipsigis community activist whom I met envisaged a new model of business: a continuation of plantations’ management and operations, but with the local community, the ‘rightful landowners’, as the major shareholders. This is not to say that all of these proposals are wholly feasible or realistic for tea companies, but to envisage other ways of doing business whereby local communities and authorities are rendered more equal partners.

This goes beyond CSR initiatives which, while valued in Kericho, can be seen as a continuation of colonial paternalism rather than rethinking the very premises of companies’ local engagement. It also goes beyond the certified sustainability standards provided by organisations such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade that seek to ensure economic, environmental and social sustainability in the tea supply chain yet are generic, driven more by the demands of distant buyers in Europe and North America than those of local communities on the ground.

Undoubtedly, community land claims in Kericho are entangled in local politics. The Kericho Governor’s campaigns are part of a populist political strategy that has seen him win two terms in office. Furthermore, judging by Kenya’s postcolonial history, there is no guarantee that relinquished land or funds would be equitably rolled out to the community should he succeed. Another caveat relates to major challenges facing the tea business in recent years with regard to profitability: at the time of my fieldwork earlier this year, the price of tea hit an all-time low.

The coronavirus pandemic will surely further threaten the industry. In this context, local political challenges of the kind we see in Kericho might push companies to reconsider their operations entirely.  

However, this shouldn’t preclude reimagining the terms of companies’ engagement, not only in Kenya but across Britain’s former settler economies. If large-scale agri-business is to face up to the challenges of sustainability in the places it operates, it must acknowledge the historical grievances attached to the ground beneath it and engage with local communities beyond the confines of CSR and sustainability standards.    


About the Author

Hannah Elliott is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CBS’ Department of Management, Society and Communication. Her research on the SUSTEIN project critically examines the production of certified sustainable Kenyan tea.


Image by ©2010CIAT/NeilPalmer

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

By Lucia A. Reisch

The vision of healthy and sustainable food systems that facilitate appropriate food choices by individuals is gaining momentum in practice and in the marketplace. As the single strongest lever to optimize both human health and environmental sustainability, the food choices we make matter in multiple ways – for our bodies, the environment, and the economic and social fabric of societies. Acknowledging and actively harnessing co-benefits of “win-win diets” is a major focus of current food, farm, environmental, and health policy that aims to positively influence consumer behaviour. A behavioural turn in food policy that puts individuals and their choices at center stage holds promise for manifesting the vision of healthy and sustainable food systems.

As we collectively ponder lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, a key aspect will be to consider how to increase resilience of societies and economies in general and food systems in particular, to better endure a crisis in the future.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) defines resilience as ‘the ability to prevent disasters and crises as well as to anticipate, absorb, accommodate or recover from them in a timely, efficient and sustainable manner. This includes protecting, restoring and improving livelihood systems in the face of threats that impact agriculture, nutrition, food security and food safety.’ [1]

Food chains today are long and globalized, and retail systems are streamlined for efficiency with just-in-time inventories, all adding to the vulnerability of systems. While the basic food provision in Europe continued during the pandemic (not least due to the availability of local food chains), cracks appeared at the retail level with shortages of staples. Admittedly, many shortages were due to stockpiling by frightened people – a behavioural factor rather than a reflection of true supply shortages. One can speculate now that if the crisis were to continue, other dependencies (for instance, on mostly Eastern European farm workers for harvesting) will become obvious.

In a healthy and sustainable food system, the products that are grown, processed, and distributed are health-supporting, safe, environmentally and climate friendly; farmers and laborers work for fair wages under decent conditions; and on the demand side, equal and easy access to affordable, healthy, and sustainable diets as well as nutrition security are provided for today’s and future generations. This sounds like a utopia but it is our future.

The EAT Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets for Sustainable Food Systems recently defined a concrete healthy reference diet that, if applied, can be provided “for an anticipated world population of nearly 10 billion people by 2050 and still stay within a safe operating space on Earth” (Willett et al. 2019).

Balanced and sustainable food systems that stay within the planetary boundaries and provide a minimum level of safety, access, and equity are doubtlessly more resilient – i.e., more robust in times of shocks and crisis – than lean, efficiency-maximizing, far-flung global supply systems. The advantages and necessity of system resilience are likely to constitute one big learning from the pandemic.

Another big learning is that consumer-citizen behaviour is much more malleable and adaptive than many policymakers (and researchers) had thought. People are able and ready to quickly change deeply ingrained habits, adopt new practices (social distancing, home cooking), and adhere to new social norms (wearing masks, hand washing) if – important qualifier – the reasons seem (scientifically) sound, are limited to a bearable time span, and are well explained by a trustworthy government.

Some governments (Sweden, e.g.) rely on voluntary action and “nudging” alone; others (Germany, e.g.) combine harsh bans, intense risk communication, and behaviourally informed policies such as warnings, framing, priming, reminders, defaults, and boosts. We don’t know yet which strategies will work best, but it has already become clear that much can be achieved by using behavioural insights, calling on the responsibility of people, giving positive feedback and reminders, and harnessing the power of (dynamic) social norms and peer pressure.

In the words of the great Danny Kahneman: good policy needs to activate both types of people’s decision-making: the quick, intuitive, emotional “System 1” and the slow, cognitive, deliberate “System 2”.

It is not a new idea that insights into the biases and heuristics, the habits and motivations of consumers can be useful to design effective policies. This is the essence of the new field of Behavioural Public Policy that constitutes these days an International Association of Behavioural Public Policy. The evidence is increasing that a behavioural approach can indeed help design better food policies. What we call Behavioural Food Policy puts people’s needs, biases, and decisions at center stage, offering a specific behavioural lens to existing (hard and soft) policies that can make them more effective. It relies on governance processes that are based on empirical, often experimental testing, learning, and adapting. Public deliberation and participation in these processes help consumer-citizens understand and eventually approve of the policies. This potential of behavioural policies to shift habits and food demand is under-utilized but growing.

This approach is echoed by the global climate change community in the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) upcoming 6th Assessment Report. [2] The report identifies two major behavioural changes that substantially mitigate greenhouse gas emissions: avoiding food waste and dietary shifts to plant-based nutrition. As to the former, simple behaviour such as meal planning and creative use of leftovers can help reduce food waste on the individual level; retail can adjust its marketing, and regulators can improve the handling of expiration labels and best-before dates. Regarding the latter, reducing (mainly ruminant) meat consumption and substituting animal protein with field-grown protein are seen as major steps. A diet light in meat is better for one’s health, leads to greater animal welfare, helps reduce food-borne diseases and food crisis, and produces less greenhouse gas emissions. Because individual choices are the basis of any healthy and sustainable food system, understanding and influencing consumer behaviour is a promising route to achieving sustainability, resilience, and healthfulness of our food systems and society generally.


References

[1] http://www.fao.org/emergencies/how-we-work/resilience/en/.

[2] The author is a contributing author to this IPCC AR6 chapter.


About the author

Lucia A. Reisch is Professor of consumer behaviour and consumer policy at the Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC) within the CBS Sustainability. Her research focuses on behavioural economics, behavioural public policy, sustainable consumption (in particular, energy, food and health, active mobility and fashion), intercultural consumer behaviour, consumers and digitization, as well as consumer policy.


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


Photo by Chad Stembridge on Unsplash

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

Sustainable Consumer Behavior: Go Big or Go Home?

By Laura Krumm

In recent years, news on issues such as climate change, environmental degradation and plastic pollution was almost inescapable. At least in Europe, newspapers reported on environmental topics regularly, political discussions often revolved around greenhouse gas emissions or environmental policy, and sustainability content creators gained large numbers of followers on social media with tips on package-free grocery shopping and vegan recipes. Additionally, with Fridays for Future, environmental issues inspired one of the largest youth movements to date. It is fair to say that almost everyone is talking about the environmental issues we are currently facing.

The role of consumption

With almost everyone talking about environmental issues, most have understood that our consumption behavior in the industrialized world is a major cause of environmental problems. After all, the issue of climate change is an issue of consumption. Almost three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions originate from household consumption (1). A change in consumption behavior, therefore, is deemed necessary to have a chance of mitigating climate change.

Even though environmental beliefs and values are increasing, consumers often do not follow through and translate their attitudes into environmental behavior. Many scholars are concerned with this phenomenon, often termed attitude-behavior gap or value-action gap (2, 3). This gap is frequently calculated by subtracting the market share of sustainable goods, e.g., organic produce, from the percentage of consumers having an intention to buy those products. The estimated size of the gap ranges mostly around the 30% mark (4, 5).

If consumers acted according to their attitudes, the market share of sustainable products would, therefore, increase by 30 %, which would certainly have a substantial environmental impact. Is it, however, enough to focus on closing the attitude-behavior gap? Unfortunately, no.

How sustainable are we really?

Behaviors commonly considered as sustainable, such as bringing our own reusable shopping bag instead of using the plastic bags provided by the store, might not have the big environmental influence we think they have. Bilharz and Schmitt have termed such actions as the “peanuts of sustainable consumption” (6). Often, consumers that identify themselves as “green” have similar ecological footprints to consumers who do not identify themselves as “green” (6, 7).

A green self-image, although associated with higher rates of some environmental behaviors, is therefore often misleading.

This can be problematic. If consumers with high attitudes towards sustainable consumption overestimate their own positive impact and already perceive themselves as sustainable after performing relatively low-impact sustainable behaviors, such as stopping the water while brushing their teeth or using a reusable tote bag for shopping, the motivation for bigger steps might be reduced. While these small behaviors are important actions and first steps in the right direction, they are only that: first steps. To mitigate climate change and solve other environmental issues, more drastic measures will be necessary.

Focus on high-impact behaviors instead of low-hanging fruits

Some researchers, therefore, suggest to reduce the focus on the intent-based view of sustainable behavior (e.g., environmental attitudes or motivations) and rather take a more impact-based perspective (8). In that case, the actual environmental effects of certain behaviors and actions are assessed in the form of, e.g., emitted greenhouse gases or ecological footprint calculations. An impact ranking of sustainable behaviors can then give insightful information, which behaviors to give priority.

A recent study found, e.g., that a change towards a vegan diet has the potential to mitigate up to 14% of European carbon emissions, whereas a change towards exclusively purchasing organic food has the potential to mitigate 2% (9). While this certainly does not mean that organic food products are not important and we should stop buying them, a focus on them will not suffice to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

This change in perspective is not only important for consumers themselves, but also for companies, research and policy. While, e.g., an EU-wide ban of single-use plastic or company initiatives to eliminate plastic bags in some supermarkets have a considerable positive impact on the problem of plastic pollution, it is by far not enough.

Even though the probable consequences of climate change are well known and already start to become apparent, countries and governments still fail to adopt effective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (10).

An enhanced focus on high-impact behaviors and actions can help political institutions, research organizations and consumer education strategies achieve their sustainability goals. While it is certainly necessary to address small and easily implementable changes, they should not distract us from tackling the big consumption challenges (11).


About the author

Laura Krumm is a PhD fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication and part of the Consumer & Behavioural Insights Group at CBS Sustainability. Her research interests lie in the fields of sustainable consumption behaviour and policy.

References

(1) Hertwich, E.G. and Peters, G.P., 2009 – Carbon Footprint of Nations: A Global, Trade-Linked Analysis, in: Environmental Science and Technology, 43(16), 6414-6420.

(2) Kollmuss, A. and Agyeman, J., 2002 – Mind the Gap: Why Do People Act Environmentally and What are the Barriers to Pro-Environmental Behavior?, in: Environmental Education Research, 8(3), 239-260.

(3) Huddart Kennedy, E., Beckley, T.M., McFarlane, B.L. and Nadeau, S., 2009 – Why We Don’t “Walk the Talk”: Understanding the Environmental Values/Behaviour Gap in Canada, in: Human Ecology Review, 16(2), 151-160.

(4) Carrington, M.J., Neville, B.A. and Whitwell, G.J., 2010 – Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Walk Their Talk: Towards a Framework for Understanding the Gap Between the Ethical Purchase Intentions and Actual Buying Behaviour of Ethically Minded Consumers, in: Journal of Business Ethics, 97(1), 139-158.

(5) Young, W., Hwang, K., McDonald, S. and Oates C.J., 2010 – Sustainable Consumption: Green Consumer Behaviour when Purchasing Products, in: Sustainable Development, 18(1), 20-31.

(6) Bilharz, M. and Schmitt, K., 2011 – Going Big with Big Matters, in: GAIA, 20(4), 232-235.

(7) Gatersleben, B., Steg, L. and Vlek C., 2002 – Measurement and Determinants of Environmentally Significant Consumer Behavior, in: Environment and Behavior, 34(3), 335-362.

(8) Moser, S. and Kleinhückelkotten, S., 2018 – Good Intents, but Low Impacts: Diverging Importance of Motivational and Socioeconomic Determinants Explaining Pro-Environmental Behavior, Energy Use, and Carbon Footprint

(9) Vita, G., Lundström, J.R., Hertwich, E.G., Quist, J., Ivanova, D., Stadler, K. and Wood, R.,  2019 – The Environmental Impact of Green Consumption and Sufficiency Lifestyles Scenarios in Europe: Connecting Local Sustainability Visions to Global Consequences, in: Ecological Economics, 164, 106322.

(10) UN Environment Programme, 2019 – Emissions Gap Report

(11) Centre for Behavior & the Environment, 2018 – Climate Change Needs Behavior Change: Making the Case For Behavioral Solutions to Reduce Global Warming


Photo by Markus Spiske 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

AI: A new culprit in missing the sustainability mark?

Lara Anne Hale

Artificial intelligence (AI) is championed as being the future driver of business: everything from human resources to surgery is supposed to become perfectly effective. But what if AI actually becomes a culprit blocking the way forward for sustainability?

Bias in AI

An example, to get us started:

Bob and Joe are colleagues. They are work friends, and they share many of the same worldviews – as well as biases. They are jointly programming the algorithm for machine learning that will train an AI to behave as they expect it should. In a number of ways that are difficult to detangle: Bob and Joe’s Biases → Machine Learning → AI.

In a recent article in The New York Times, AI professionals explored how to push back against social bias, as it “can be reflected and amplified by artificial intelligence in dangerous ways, whether it be in deciding who gets a bank loan or who gets surveilled.” As Ola Russakovsky points out in the article, there are all kinds of bias in AI because it reflects the way our world already is.  I’m here to point to one of those different kinds of bias – more specifically, institutional bias.

AI for Sustainable Building

In my day-to-day research, I’m regularly confronted with one such institutional bias in the building industry: cost savings and energy efficiency are more important than human well being. This long standing bias persists, despite whole cities filled with buildings that are harmful to health, hardly last beyond 25 years, and still do not achieve the desired energy performance. In trying the avoid dealing with lovely but complicated human beings, the building industry gets in the way of sustainable building.

After all, it’s only human. Or is it? There is increasing pressure for AI to be integrated into systems for both building construction and facilities management, though both applications perpetuate the bias for economic and energy efficiencies. Not surprisingly, this is what AI is meant for: to do what we already do, but better. So how can we innovate AI that does something that we don’t already do – for example, to consider more comprehensive sustainability?

Urban Tech and Co-Innovation

Yet, society is not fixed, and there are inspiring efforts to continuously innovate our industrial systems by bringing together established businesses and startups for problem solving. One well known example of this is the BMW Startup Garage in Germany. Last year, we saw the advent of such a program for the built environment here in Copenhagen, called Urban Tech, which will run three cycles from 2019 through 2021.

In the process of working with the 2019 VELUX Group – Foobot team on innovating AI for better indoor air quality, I was surprised to find that same institutional bias reflected from Foobot. The implications were that instead of training the AI to respond to people, their health and their needs – as academic and industrial research have indicated is critical for sustainable building – they focused the AI on energy efficiency. But ultimately, I found this to be an exercise of optimism.

Co-innovation gave us the opportunity to unhatch hidden elements of AI bias and to work together to figure out the next steps forward for bringing digitization and sustainability together in the built environment.

Sustainability Training for AI

Although there are calls to remove AI bias and to set up regulatory mechanisms to control for it, I wonder if either of these are feasible (a pondering shared in this WIRED Magazine article). AI is, after all, what we make of it. Though we cannot do what is not feasible, we can ponder what is desirable. In line with the voluntary integration of sustainability into corporate reporting, as well as building standards, what if we integrated sustainability considerations into frameworks for training AI?

Well, an android can dream…

Join and discuss these and related AI topics at the Reshaping Work’s AI@Work Conference in Amsterdam 5-6 March 2020. Lara will be presenting her work on “Faster horses: Collaborative AI innovation between incumbents and startups.”


About the author

Lara Anne Hale, Ph.D., M.Sc., Assistant Professor, Industrial Postdoc Fellow with CBS and VELUX. Lara conducts transdisciplinary research on sustainability in the built environment, including aspects of digital transformations, circularity, user-centered design, and systems thinking. Her current project focuses on business model innovation for smart buildings in the BLOXHUB Science Forum ‘Smart Buildings & Cities’ research group, supported by the Danish Innovation Fund and Realdania.


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Photo by Franck V. 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.

How SDGs help us see buildings through a different lens

By Ingrid Reumert

Despite a lot of focus on climate change recently, the impact of one ‘hidden climate’ on people’s lives often goes unnoticed – the indoor climate. And the indoor climates in the buildings that we normally feel most comfortable in – our homes – are much worse than we are aware of.

Safe and sound at home?

Our homes are traditionally seen as places where we recharge our batteries. They are where we seek shelter and refuge from the hustle and bustle that we often experience in our everyday lives when away from them. As we wind down at the end of a busy day in the comfort of our homes, we take it for granted that we can relax, knowing that our health is not at risk when inside.

However, there’s increasing evidence that although we might arrive home safe and sound, the time we spend at home might not be safe and sound after all.

As ‘safe as houses’?

The saying ‘it’s safe as houses’, which is used to describe things as being completely safe, cannot be used about many homes in Europe. We know from our Healthy Homes Barometers, an annual research-based report designed to take stock of Europe’s buildings, that one out of six Europeans lives in unhealthy homes. For children in Europe, it’s worse, with one out of three being exposed to health risks in their homes. And the health risks are not just isolated to our homes. The same also goes for the environments inside buildings where we work and learn.

Furthermore, we know that people spend 90 percent of their time indoors, where the air can be up to five times more polluted than outside. The potential risks to people’s health and wider society are not insignificant, with poor indoor climates directly leading to conditions such as asthma or allergies, due to dampness and mould.

Ongoing dialogue and modified solutions

For years we have been using such well-documented research to engage in dialogues with legislators, housing professionals, building owners and industry representatives to push for steps to make buildings healthier. In recent years, we have also modified our solutions, which bring daylight and fresh air through roofs, to be more automated and also compatible with digital technologies and the internet of things, and thereby make creating healthy indoor climates hassle-free.

Using SDGs to push harder for healthier indoor climates

At VELUX Group, it is our strong belief that if indoor climates are not good for our health, then we’ll see problems for individuals and for society. Now, with the help of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we have an extra toolbox to support our efforts to address this.

We believe that by embracing this common global language of SDGs, we can leverage our efforts to make buildings healthier.

More specifically, we use three SDG goals to help people see the world through a different lens and to reveal the possible negative effects on their health from the ‘hidden climate’ – the indoor climate. We do this by showing how good indoor climates and healthy buildings can safeguard good health and well-being (SDG 3) and also how this can contribute to more sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), with the help of partnerships for the goals (SDG 17).

Revealing what’s right under our noses for a more sustainable future

With much of the current climate change and sustainability focus on natural renewable energy sources or companies’ steps to reduce their carbon footprints, the climates inside our homes and other buildings, and their potential negative effects on our health and well-being continue to be ignored. That’s why the VELUX Group will persist with research and activities to boost indoor climate awareness and continually improve our products, to address what’s right under our noses but often overlooked – the indoor or hidden climate. By improving indoor climates to help make buildings healthier, we are confident that we will contribute to a more sustainable future.

About the Author

Ingrid Reumert – VP, Global Stakeholder Communications & Sustainability at VELUX Group

Photo by Timothy Buck on Unsplash

Further reading: Researchers in BLOXHUB seeking to improve indoor climate

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

Towards a Realization of Sustainability Ambitions?

By Lars Thøger Christensen

Governments are increasingly being sued by citizens and NGOs for not living up to their sustainability ambitions.

Recently, for example, three German farmers along with Greenpeace arraigned Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government for failing to achieve its ambition to reduce Germany’s CO2 emission by 40 percent in 2020, as measured from 1990. Already last year, the government acknowledged that it would not be able to meet its goal. It expects to achieve a 32 percent reduction. The consequences for the farmers, the complainants argue, are dire in terms of long periods of drought and other extreme weather conditions that threaten to destroy their livelihood.

In other parts of the world – including USA, Peru, Colombia and Fiji – similar cases and complaints are arising. It is difficult not to sympathize with these complaints and their underlying concern for our shared planet.

>>It was therefore remarkable that the administrative court in Berlin rejected what was the first climate complaint against the German government.<<

The complainants, the court argued, have no basis for demanding a specific set of actions from the government whose climate protection program 2020 was described as a “political aspiration”. According to German media, the judge said that society needs to respect the executive power’s discretion and room for maneuvering. Understandably, this ruling has spawned lots of criticism.

Governments are currently not legally required to live up to their sustainability aspirations.

This case calls on us to discuss what it takes to make sure that sustainability aspirations are actually being fulfilled by governments as well as by corporations. First, however, we need to consider whether a different decision by the German court – a decision that backed the claims by the farmers and Greenpeace – would have ensured a faster and more certain goal fulfillment. In a short-term perspective, that is quite likely. Although such ruling probably would have been appealed, it would at the same time have applied immense pressure on the government to launch more intense climate initiatives here and now. The more wide-ranging effects of such ruling, however, might not have been in the interest of the sustainability agenda. 

What happens if governments and corporations are legally forced to walk their talk?

Without exonerating empty sustainability talk and lack of sufficient climate initiatives, it is important to acknowledge that governmental and corporate aspirations serve multiple functions in changing and improving existing practices. While sustainability aspirations may be used to impress and seduce voters and consumers, something that is often the case, they are simultaneously likely to shape expectations and mobilize stakeholders to apply pressure for action.

Here, the level of optimal pressure is crucial. If governments and corporations know that unfulfilled promises and aspirations will be met with damaging court cases that support their complainants, they will be less likely to announce ambitious goals, and more inclined to articulate ideals that they already, or almost already, live up to. In such cases, changes may happen slower than society may desire.

>>Conversely, lack of stakeholder pressure is likely to result in “aspirational inflation” or overbidding, thereby reducing the performative power of aspirational talk to instigate changes.<<

Under which conditions should we expect governments and corporations to live up to their own aspirations?

Obviously, the aspirations in question need to engage with salient social, political or environmental issues in order to attract external attention and interest. Most sustainability aspirations are likely to fulfill that criterion. 

At the same time, aspirations need to be bold and challenging in order to mobilize conflicting opinions and critical comments.

Without visionary idea(l)s and without critical attention and interest from stakeholders, aspirations are likely to be soon forgotten or perhaps ignored. Lofty organizational aspirations define a collective horizon of excellence that empowers stakeholders – internal as well as external – to expect and demand better practices. To ensure that the aspirations are taken seriously by all parties, they simultaneously need to be announced in public media of high status. Public announcement communicates the formal status of the ambitions to external audiences but simultaneously signals their authority and truth-value to organizational members. Hereby, they have the potential to stimulate both internal and external involvement and activism. Without such conditions, the German climate protection program 2020 might not even have reached 32 percent of CO2 reduction.

Aspirations need to be visionary, bold and public to mobilize pressure for action.

Obviously, the emphasis on consistency between words and action is important in forcing organizations to take their own words seriously. At the same time, such emphasis might breed a growing fear of criticism – a fear that can lead organizations to restrain their announcement of ambitions in the hope of escaping public attention and scrutiny. This risk is important to keep in mind when deciding how to apply pressure on governments and organizations to honor their own words.

Suggestions for further readings:

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

Font, X., Elgammal, I., & Lamond, I. (2017). Greenhushing: the deliberate under communicating of sustainability practices by tourism businesses. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 25(7), 1007-1023.

Girschik, V. (2018). Shared responsibility for societal problems: The role of internal activists in reframing corporate responsibility, Business & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/0007650318789867

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.

Kim, E-H., & Lyon, T. P. (2014). Greenwash vs. brownwash: Exaggeration and undue modesty in corporate sustainability disclosure. Organization Science, 26(3), 705-723.

About the Author

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

Photo by Ahmed Bibi on Unsplash

How sustainable is ecotourism?

Written by Erin Leitheiser, this article is based on her previously written piece for the Centre for Business and Development Studies.

Tourism is a key driver of development, particularly in areas with rich environmental or cultural resources.  The United Nations declared 2017 as the year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, but how sustainable is ecotourism? 

Setting off on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure on safari in East Africa for our summer holidays, my husband and I wanted to be as sustainable as possible.  We carbon offset our flights, worked directly with locally owned and operated “eco-tour” providers, and engaged in both social and environmental eco-friendly activities. Yet, several moments throughout our trip made me question how eco-friendly and sustainable such travel really is or can be. 

To start, what is “ecotourism”?  The terms ecotourism, responsible travel, sustainable tourism, ethical tourism, green travel and more have arisen as of late to describe smaller-scale, lower-impact tourism that is qualitatively different from mass commercial tour operations.  The term “ecotourism” has many definitions, most of which embody the key notions of supporting and experiencing local environments, wildlife and communities and while minimizing negative impacts.  Activities may be environmental, like through small-scale tours of natural environments, or social or community-based – like our visit to a local women’s education and empowerment sewing collective in Rwanda.  Tourism represents a major and increasing share of GDP in many developing countries.  Indeed, such natural and cultural resources are increasingly being commodified and therefore used as justification for sustainability.  According to one popular eco-travel blog,

Elephants are worth 76 times more alive than dead. When you consider the revenue from wildlife photography tours, luxury safari camps, and other ecotourism offerings, a single Elephant is worth $1.3 million over the course of its lifetime!” 

But – how sustainable are such ventures?  While I have numerous examples from my two weeks of travels, anecdotes from each country I visited caused me to question how ecofriendly or sustainable these activities really are:

  • When nature disagrees with what is “eco-friendly”: chimpanzee tracking in Uganda (tourism=8% of GDP).  After purchasing the proper permits (which help fund conservation activities), tourists are paired with a well-trained guide to track habituated chimp groups in the forest and are allowed to spend “at most an hour” with them once they’re found.  Kibale Forest National Park states that “By going for chimpanzee tracking, you directly contribute to the conservation efforts.”  My group got lucky and found one group of chimps within about 15 minutes, including a few on the ground which our guide had us follow through the forest.  While I was happy to hang back and enjoy them at a distance, my guide – a fun but bossy, older sister type whom usually got her way – insisted that I get closer, at one point directing me ever closer a chimp lying on the ground.  So, closer I went, even while in my head I was thinking “I’m too close!”  In an instant, the chimp jumped up, clapped and yelled angrily, and picked up a large branch which he threw at me javelin-style!  I jumped back and he moved away.  I felt so conflicted, as this seemed to me a striking example of how nature (i.e. the chimp) didn’t agree with how “eco-friendly” the activity was. When I pushed back on other insistencies by our guide to get closer to the chimps, she rationalized that “If you don’t get close and get some good pictures, when you get home, you might not think it was worth it.” 

Photo by Erin Leitheiser

Seemingly, our chimp tracking experience had a strong undercurrent of value-for-money, realized via pictures.

  • Wild animals may not be so wild: safari in Tanzania (tourism=12% of GDP).  Departing a visitor’s center in Serengeti National Park in our safari vehicle, we – along with around two dozen other vehicles with tourists on safari – encountered a pride of lions out on a morning hunt.  Large 4×4 vehicles lined the roadside, yet the lions seemed completely unperturbed by our presence, assessing the vehicles as non-threatening and navigating deftly between them.  A couple of lions even used the vehicles (including mine) to hide between while they stalked their prey!   This was striking to me, calling into question how “wild” these wild animals really are if they’re so used to human activity and presence that they have grown to utilize such intrusions for their own ends.  Indeed, the vast numbers of vehicles in the parks and conservations areas seemed overwhelming at times, demonstrating clearly that the notions I had of “wild” animals and preserves as devoid of humans were romanticized at best or nearly inaccurate at worst.

Photo by Erin Leitheiser

  • Prioritizing tourists over locals: fast highways in Rwanda (tourism=15% of GDP).  The country of Rwanda was striking to me for its cleanliness, orderliness, and structure.  For example, the streets were clean (much cleaner than Copenhagen), motorbike taxis are safe and highly-regulated, the economy is booming, and the country has gradually begun to overcome its legacy of genocide to build a business-friendly, women-friendly, corruption-free future.  One of the key developments has been infrastructure, including building fast highways linking major tourist destinations.  While the speed at which we could travel was an undeniable benefit for us, I was constantly worried about the vast numbers of people (and in particular, children) walking, playing, and lounging by the roadside.  The multitude of fast-moving vehicles posed clear safety issues to locals.  Seemingly, the cultural and historical importance of roads in connecting communities and commerce had shaped both the orientation of villages (which stretched along the road, rather than deeper back or behind them) as well as how people interacted with them (as a place for playing, socializing, trading and the like).  While such infrastructure improvements undoubtedly help communities transport and receive goods, foster tourism and the like, the stark replacement seemingly upended community and local norms and practices. 

Sustainable tourism represents an important and apt opportunity to help contribute to sustainable and responsible development, particularly as opposed to antithetical activities popular throughout Africa such as trophy hunting (particularly “canned hunting”) and (irresponsible) mass tourism.  Yet, throughout my travels I was struck by how many compromises (in my view) were being made for sustainability, be it the through taming of wildlife, prioritization of economic development at the expense of local customs, or many other examples.  Others have expressed concerns too.  Harvard hosts an International Sustainable Tourism Initiative, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council has set criteria and performance indicators around sustainable tourism, and an organization called the Travel Foundation has arisen to help bridge tourism with “greater benefits for people and the environment”.

Eco-tourism is undoubtedly a more responsible and sustainable option that many other tourism choices.  But, let us not overly romanticize positive impacts of such travel, nor grow complacent over the trade-offs, compromises, and potentially negative impacts that it may have.

Is it a right policy to focus on SDGs during Economic Slowdown?

By Anirudh Agrawal and Ashish Tyagi

Economic problems of India were not addressed either in the 2019 electoral debates or in the recent annual budget. Markets are showing a deep imbalance between demand and supply, leading to a significant rise in loan defaults, banking crises and job losses.

MSME has not shown a tendency to grow or create jobs along expected lines despite a nationwide program of targeted lending. Indiscriminate lending in the past has increased Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in the banking sector. The industry is still adjusting to the new GST regulations while the real estate sector has still not recovered from the demonetization shock. On top of all this, pollution is at an all-time high and climate change is manifesting itself in the form of droughts and floods in different parts of the country.

In such a slowdown, a knee-jerk policy reaction is to spur investment and growth through any means possible, including reversals on climate and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Quite recently, the government allowed 100 percent FDI in the coal mining sector to spur a revival.

But in this article, we argue that a renewed focus on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presents an opportunity to revive the economy, create a new wave of jobs and potentially increase the competitiveness of Indian economy vis-à-vis the SDG laggards. The discussion that follows is in the context of India but is equally relevant for the rest of the developing world.

NPA crisis and an opportunity towards SDG oriented portfolio

The main reason for a steep rise in credit default rate is that while industries expanded capacity over time, domestic and global demand has slowed down considerably, stranding the new assets. The lack of market demand causes firms to default on loans. This increases the stress on the banks, which consequently, stall the liberal credit lines to firms, further weakening the economy.

One of the significant factors causing the NPA crisis in India is the MSME loan portfolio. MSME is the backbone of any economy. In developing countries, MSME account for 90 percent of job creation and economic activities. Over time, through hard work, market and government support, these MSME entrepreneurs are able to grow, engage in employment creation, disruptive innovation and ultimately become unicorns, which are nascent businesses with high market valuation and growth potential.

>>>However, despite the important role in job creation and liberal credit lines, MSME entrepreneurs in developing countries generally remain poorly skilled, lack proper business support, access to markets and are many times bullied by bigger firms. In the end, a great deal of capital channelled to MSME is not converted into higher value. <<<

To transform the MSME sector, government and other business-sector actors must treat MSME as students who need to learn and adopt skills related to competitive management, sustainability, marketing and financial reporting so that competitiveness and sustainability become inherent within the firm. MSME entrepreneurs can aspire globally through exposure from government-sponsored programs to attend MSME events in Denmark (for their dairy and animal industry), Germany (manufacturing), Italy (leather and fashion). They can learn more about international market trends and technologies where the bottom lines are firmly grounded on SDG compliance.

Unlike bigger players which are slow, suffer from legacy issues; MSME is flexible enough to embed elements of sustainability and SDGs in their supply chains and value creation processes.

To survive and grow in a world with increasing climate change regulations, better cooperation is required between public institutions, banks and MSME entrepreneurs to work hard in sync, learn new practices and standards. Long-term growth requires MSME to make sustainability and SDG compliance inherent in the business plan, business model, management structure and type of service and product offered.

>>> Indian banks must actively focus on new industries creating products with lower environmental footprints. <<<

For example, instead of providing loans to typical plastic manufacturing SMEs, they must provide loans to entrepreneurs setting up green-materials factories, alternative plastic (biodegradable) factories, bio-diesel, or EV vehicle factories, which are environmentally efficient, follow international standards and are helping the nation achieve its Paris Agreement targets. The growth of competitive, innovative and greater SDG compliant MSME would make Indian economy stronger and mitigate job crises.

SDG focused Real-Estate Sector Regulation

Another cause of NPA crises in India is the rising real-estate inventory. Real estate sector was one of the largest employers during the 2004-2016 boom years of India (which is also true for most of the developing world). The assumption among investors during that period was that the real-estate will continue to grow and their investments will remain secure and ensure above-market returns. However, in the boom period, real-estate prices far exceeded their value, causing market failure in the current economic downturn.

But during economic downturns, it is relatively easier for politicians to make difficult decisions (as the public mandate is easier) and enforce innovative policies.

To address the issue of real estate inventory, the government must introduce regulations in the real estate market with quality controls, sustainability measures, green building codes, controls on the number of floors constructed, the green area within the apartment, restrictions on distance from the essential public services like a train station, police station, college, hospital, schools.

The regulations must forcefully move the industry towards significant sustainability goals (like those in Western Europe) with higher compliance on long-term sustainability, energy efficiency, and reliability. In addition to explicit sustainability actions like certification, greenified surroundings; firms and the government must focus on developing the real-estate sector, which is firmly embedded in a social, cultural and artistic milieu. Research has shown that housing where the communities have active social and cultural interaction tends to have higher value and lower crime.

Specific SDG driven controls would decrease the supply, increase the quality offered, and would significantly increase the value of the real-estate sector. If the buyers feel that their real-estate investments have greater value for a more extended period, the buyers and sellers will invest in the sale and purchase of the real estate, which would relieve the banks from possible NPA risks. The increased transactions in the real estate market would generate liquidity in the market that would further spurn growth. This suggestion on regulating the market stands in contrast to current appeals for liberalizing the real-estate sector. The liberalization of the real-sector has led to a rise in indiscriminate investment, increased half-built and abandoned sites which are causing a rise in water pollution, dust pollution and even dengue.

Pollution and Climate Change

Extreme climatic events and increased pollution are related to externalities that are threatening the sustainability of the Indian economy. The winter smog around the national capital Delhi significantly reduces the productivity of the city while putting residents under severe health risks. Lengthening of summer and unpredictability of monsoon is increasing water stress, as well as floods, which is putting households under stress and decreasing the overall national productivity.

To address these challenges, research-based and region-specific adaptation and mitigation investments will enable different regions to transform towards climate-resilient economic societies.

The government must invest in energy-efficient, global standard-compliant power plants to reduce smog around North India.

In addition, the government and private sector must invest significant capital in solar panel production, the infrastructure of EV automobiles, greener-sustainable materials, circular economy and responsible consumption. The green climate fund (GCF) has a specific mandate for adaptation finance for climate resilient agriculture and flood resilient infrastructure. The GCF is an interesting and evolving repository of knowledge which should help governments in designing and implementing climate mitigation and adaptation policies and investments.

Businesses around these emerging technologies are most likely to generate the next wave of job growth in the manufacturing sector.

In conclusion

Economic downturns are stressful times, but it is also said that “never let a crisis go to waste”. The downturns offer opportunities to re-write innovative policies as the public mandate is stronger for a change. India must use its current economic downturn as an opportunity to re-write public policies by incorporating elements of SDGs at each level of conception and decision and transform towards a greener, climate-sensitive and sustainable space. Sustainability at each level is the new competitive advantage and the emerging nations must capitalize it.

About the authors

Anirudh Agrawal is a doctoral fellow at CBS. His research interests are MSME finance, impact investing, social entrepreneurship and organizational 4.0. He is a chief strategy officer at Tvarit AI GmbH focusing on sustainable AI driven IT solutions and a visiting professor at Flame University India and formerly Assistant Professor at Jindal Global University.

Ashish Tyagi is currently a post-doctoral fellow and lecturer at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. He completed his PhD from Penn State University. His research interests are environmental economics, climate change policies and sustainable transformation.

Photo by Sudha G Tilak

Social Enterprises = Sharing Economy Organizations?

By Johanna Mair, Nikolas Rathert and Georg Reischauer.

Sharing Economy Organizations

Uber, Airbnb, and Lyft are frequently cited and popular examples of new organizational forms operating in the sharing economy, which is growing at a stunning pace. One way to make sense of the sharing economy is to conceive it as a web of markets in which individuals use diverse forms of compensation to transact the redistribution of and access to resources (Mair & Reischauer, 2017).

These transactions are mediated by a digital platform run by an organization that focuses on the governance of these transactions (Reischauer & Mair, 2018a, b). Besides the focus on platform-enabled business models, the sharing economy has also spurred discussions about the implications of the sharing economy for society. Many commentators have argued that the sharing economy can become key in making modern societies more environmentally sustainable (Frenken & Schor, 2017) and inclusive (Etter, Fieseler, & Whelan, forthcoming). This debate parallels the debates on another important organizational form, social enterprises (Mair & Rathert, 2019).

Social Enterprises

Social enterprises encompass a diverse set of legal and organizational forms that use market means to effect social change (Mair & Marti, 2006). They address a range of social problems on different scales, including local communities and countries, and target societal groups that usually remain outside the reach of both commercial markets and state-run welfare schemes (Mair, Wolf, & Seelos, 2016). Social enterprises use a variety of commercial activities, including the selling of products and services, and include beneficiaries in various stages of the value creation chain (Mair & Martí, 2006; Mair, Battilana, & Cardenas, 2012). As this discussion suggests, social enterprises might have much in common with sharing economy organizations.

Social Enterprises = Sharing Economy Organizations?

Social enterprises and sharing economy organizations are both alternative forms of organizing that have developed to overcome the deficiencies of contemporary capitalism (Mair & Rathert, 2019). But what are the similarities and differences of these forms, especially with respect to dimensions that have been identified as relevant for both forms, community (Fitzmaurice et al., forthcoming; Venkataraman, Vermeulen, Raaijmakers, & Mair, 2016) and growth (Mair & Reischauer, 2017; Seelos & Mair, 2017)?
We shed light on this question with a comparative analysis of a sample of German social enterprises and sharing economy organizations, which we surveyed in 2015/2016 (social enterprises) and 2018 (sharing economy organizations). This sample encompasses 108 social enterprises and 233 sharing economy organizations that can be meaningfully compared along several indicators, including age and profit orientation. These organizations span a variety of activity fields (e.g., health care and education in the case of social enterprises, or mobility and accommodation in the case of the sharing economy).

Social Enterprises ≠ Sharing Economy!

Our analysis provides first insights that social enterprises and sharing economy organizations are, in fact, quite different animals when it comes to community and growth.
Asking both about the role of community for improving existing products, the community seems more relevant for social enterprises (Figure 1). In fact, on a 7-point scale, social enterprises’ score is over 6 on average, compared to 3.9 for sharing economy organizations. This difference remains significant after controlling for age, profit orientation, and activity field.

Figure 1: Role of Community for Product Improvement

There are also differences when asking about the role of community for entering new markets. As shown in Figure 2, sharing economy organizations use the community for this purpose to a slightly greater extent (using a yes/no variable whether or not they use the community for this purpose, with the difference being statistically significant). At the same time, the salience of the community for this purpose appears as overall lower than for product improvement.

Figure 2: Role of Community for New Market Entry

There are notable differences when it comes to growth orientation. While 79% of the surveyed social enterprises have a strong growth orientation, this is only true for 36% of sharing economy organizations. When we regress growth orientation on profit orientation and fields of activity, we find that the lack of growth orientation appears to be driven by membership in the field of room sharing, while the fields of mobility, development and housing, and health appear to be associated with a greater growth orientation.


Besides, not all growth challenges are the same (figure 3). Our analysis suggests some that some growth challenges are specific to sharing economy organizations and social enterprises, respectively. Social enterprises are more worried about three aspects: preserving program quality, securing capital, and managing growth internally. Sharing economy organizations, in contrast, care more about fidelity to the mission and managing growth internally. When accounting for profit orientation, we find that those who are profit-oriented worry about securing capital, while those that are not worried about fidelity to the mission as they grow.

Figure 3: Growth Challenges

Our analysis further identifies the variation concerning geographical growth (Figure 4). Sharing economy organizations are not looking to change their geographical scope. At most, some are considering changing from a local orientation to a regional orientation. Social enterprises are more ambitious here, often looking to scale their model to a national scale or even beyond.

Figure 4: Aspirations for Geographical Growth

Embracing Alternative Organizational Forms

Our comparison of sharing economy organizations and social enterprises for the role of community and growth indicates that alternative forms of economic organizing differ in various ways. We take this as a positive sign that also reflects a societal ability to nurture and institutionalize alternative forms of organizing that can potentially overcome well-known deficiencies of capitalism. Future research will tell how these two forms will develop, create impact, and contribute to a more sustainable society.

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Grant Number 01UT1408C) and the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (Grant Agreement 613500).


About the authors

Johanna Mair is Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School of Governance, Germany. She is also the Co-director of the Global Innovation for Impact at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and the Academic Editor of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Nikolas Rathert is Assistant Professor for Organization Studies at Tilburg University.

Georg Reischauer is a postdoctoral research associate at Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) and at Johannes Kepler University Linz (JKU).

References

Etter, M., Fieseler, C., Whelan, G. forthcoming. Sharing Economy, Sharing Responsibility Corporate Social Responsibility in the Digital Age. Journal of Business Ethics, doi: 10.1007/s10551-019-04212-w.
Fitzmaurice, C. J., Ladegaard, I., Attwood-Charles, W., Cansoy, M., Carfagna, L. B., Schor, J. B., & Wengronowitz, R. forthcoming. Domesticating the market: moral exchange and the sharing economy. Socio-Economic Review, doi: 10.1093/ser/mwy003.
Frenken, K., & Schor, J. 2017. Putting the sharing economy into perspective. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 23: 3-10.
Mair, J., Battilana, J., & Cardenas, J. 2012. Organizing for Society: A Typology of Social Entrepreneuring Models. Journal of Business Ethics, 111(3): 353-373.
Mair, J., & Martí, I. 2006. Social entrepreneurship research: A source of explanation, prediction, and delight. Journal of World Business, 41(1): 36-44.
Mair, J., & Rathert, N. 2019. Alternative organizing with social purpose: Revisiting institutional analysis of market-based activity. Socio-Economic Review, doi: 10.1093/ser/mwz031.
Mair, J., & Reischauer, G. 2017. Capturing the dynamics of the sharing economy: Institutional research on the plural forms and practices of sharing economy organizations. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 125: 11-20.
Mair, J., Wolf, M., & Seelos, C. 2016. Scaffolding: A process of transforming patterns of inequality in small-scale societies. Academy of Management Journal, 59(6): 2021-2044.
Reischauer, G., & Mair, J. 2018a. How organizations strategically govern online communities: Lessons from the sharing economy. Academy of Management Discoveries, 4(3): 220-247.
Reischauer, G., & Mair, J. 2018b. Platform organizing in the new digital economy: Revisiting online communities and strategic responses. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 57: 113-135.
Seelos, C., & Mair, J. 2017. Innovation and scaling for impact: How effective social enterprises do it. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Venkataraman, H., Vermeulen, P., Raaijmakers, A., & Mair, J. 2016. Market meets community: Institutional logics as strategic resources for development work. Organization Studies, 37(5): 709-733.

Photo

Photo by Markus Winkler 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.

The year of corporate acting—does business need a new approach to palm oil?

By Amanda Williams, Steve Kennedy and Gail Whiteman.

2018 went down as the ‘year of corporate caring’ about the palm oil controversy. A banned TV advertisement promoting a Palm Oil free Christmas by the UK supermarket Iceland went viral on social media with over 5 million views in merely a couple of weeks. Shortly after, on the south bank in London, Iceland responded to the ban with a displaced Orangutan hanging from a Christmas tree surprising tourists and drawing attention to the loss of biodiversity due to the clearing of virgin rainforests. Debates about palm oil in Malaysia and Indonesia are far from new. But recent events are surely stirring up the conversation and attention to the issue is at an all time high.

Proponents are reacting to the complete ban of palm oil with statistics on the efficiency yields from the fruit of oil palm trees and claim boycotting palm oil would simply shift demand to other types of vegetable oil to meet demand. Palm oil has climbed the charts in popularity because it is cheap, versatile and efficient. While others argue that despite the efficiency benefits of the crop, new approaches are needed to tackle this pressing humanitarian and environmental issue.

Business and Palm Oil

CEOs of multi-national corporations that depend on palm oil and tropical timber in their supply chains are well aware of their impacts and the consequences of deforestation. Outgoing Unilever CEO Paul Polman already stated back in 2015:

“We are seeing the effect of climate change in our own business. Shipping routes cancelled because of hurricanes in the Philippines. Factories closing because of extreme cold weather in the United States. Distribution networks in disarray because of floods in the UK. Reduced productivity on our tea plantations in Kenya because of weather changes linked to deforestation of the Mau forest. We estimate that geo-political and climate related factors cost Unilever currently up to €300 million a year.”

Many companies are working hard to address the issue. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, established in 2004, brings together palm oil producers, traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers and NGOs to improve environmental and social criteria for the certification of sustainable palm oil. The roundtable boasts that 13.20 million tons of palm oil is RSPO certified, amounting to 19% of the global volume. Palm oil certification is expensive for farmers to obtain and has yet to solve issues of deforestation or poverty.

Yet, ambitious corporate targets are not translating into concrete results on the ground.

Beyond certification, companies are setting ambitious targets. Unilever’s touchstone Sustainable Living Plan aims to become carbon positive by 2030 and halt deforestation by 2020. And Nestle is ‘striving for zero’ environmental impact including emissions and deforestation. Yet, ambitious corporate targets are not translating into concrete results on the ground. Recent reports demonstrate that emissions and deforestation rates are still rising. In advance of 2020, at the Consumer Good Forum, brands admitted that reaching zero deforestation targets by the end of the decade is unlikely. The head of sustainability and procurement at Mars, Barry Parkin, is calling for strategies that go beyond certification that consider “new theories of change.”

Current efforts aren’t cutting it

Despite these ambitious efforts, the situation in Malaysia and Indonesia remains bleak and deforestation continues at alarming rates. In Borneo, only 43 percent of its original lowland rainforests remained by 2015. Lowland rainforests are optimal for palm oil production plants but are also home to many rare species. The consequences of deforestation extend beyond biodiversity loss to land degradation, droughts and forest fires, which interact to further increase emissions.

Even if companies successfully meet ambitious zero deforestation targets, halting deforestation may prevent further increases in emissions, but is unlikely to restore societal and environmental resilience to future shocks. If certification and deforestation targets are not the solution, then what is?

Lessons for business

How can business leaders approach palm oil production differently? Based on our latest article, we offer several suggestions:

  1. Focus on a different scale. Firm-centric approaches, such as mitigation and adaptation to the effects of climate change, may keep companies afloat in the meantime, but are unlikely to offer a long-term solution. Mitigation and adaptation aim to enhance firm performance and respond to the effects of the problem, but do little to consider the eco-systems on which the companies depend. Complex interactions in local societies and ecosystems go unnoticed and leave companies vulnerable to future disturbances. New approaches should consider how to develop healthy ecosystems that can continue to provide services for the local community and companies for decades to come.
  2. Look closer. When considering the intricacies of ecosystems, managers can monitor slow variables and feedbacks. Slow variables such as the amount of soil organic matter, insect populations or the level of rainfall can control how an ecosystem functions. Managers can identify the slow variables that govern how ecosystems behave and what levels of these variables puts the ecosystem at danger. Feedbacks offer managers warning signals that changes are occurring and allow to detect when ecosystems may be at risk. Managers can seek to tighten their recognition and action to feedback loops in order to minimize time delays and improve chances of avoiding ecosystem collapse.
  3. Manage ecosystem diversity and redundancy. Moderate levels of diversity and redundancy allow ecosystems to thrive. When a disturbance strikes, response diversity allows ecosystems to react in numerous ways. Redundancy provides substitute functions when elements that preform similar functions fail. When diversity and redundancy are compromised, ecosystems become brittle and vulnerable to even small disturbances. Firms can move beyond halting deforestation by actively building viable business models for land restoration. For example, effective cropping system diversification can lead to landscape restoration, increased economic viability and enhanced ecosystem resilience.

As companies such as Mars are calling for an overhaul in corporate efforts to tackle deforestation, we hope these lessons offer some inspiration.


Authors

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. With Steve Kennedy (Rotterdam School of Management) and Gail Whiteman (Lancaster University) she wrote this blog post and an article on cross-scale perspective for studies of organizational resilience (see below).

Citation:

Williams, A., Whiteman, G., & Kennedy, S. (2019). Cross-Scale Systemic Resilience: Implications for Organization Studies. Business & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/0007650319825870

By the same author

In November 2018, Amanda Williams has written an article about Corporate contributions to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Find it right here.


Photo by Marufish on flickr.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

How two CBS Alumni are Selling Ugly Fruits and Veggies for a Change

By Carolin Schiemer.

Never seen a 3-legged carrot in real life? You might not be alone, because you can’t find crooked fruit and veggies in Danish supermarkets, where all produce has exactly the same size, shape and colour. Give this a thought or two more and you might ask yourself: what happens to all those cucumbers, potatoes and apples that are aren’t big, small, red, green, square, round or straight enough to “pass” the strict retail beauty test?

The Issue with Standardisation
Right now, what you get in supermarkets is according to UNECE standards categorized as “first class produce”, which has to be uniform in colour, shape and size. What is being withheld from you is the perfectly edible produce of the second class or even below, which might be visually defective but retains its “essential characteristics as regards the quality, the keeping quality and presentation” – yummy stuff just with marks of life experience, so to speak!

If not sold cheaply to the food processing industry, all too often “ugly” produce never reaches end consumers. Farmers, who are well aware of their demanding buyers, have different options when it comes to dealing with the unwanted produce. It can be left on the fields as natural fertiliser, used to feed animals or to produce biogas, and often it is simply thrown away in a landfill.

In Need for New Understandings of Quality
Food waste is a huge problem globally, as about 1/6 of all veggies and fruits grown are lost on farms, where in some cases every second piece is tossed due to cosmetic flaws. EVERY SECOND. In Denmark alone, that amounts to about 100.000 tons of food waste a year during primary production only. Food waste happens in every step of our food supply chain, so globally we use about 21% of the world’s fresh water and 28% of arable land to grow food we never eat.

At the same time we are worried that we don’t have enough food for a growing world population – a narrative I have found particularly prevalent in marketing food items as the “solution” to global health and climate challenges caused by unsustainable food systems, such as quinoa and edible insects. But what this narrative often fails to address is the difficult configuration of ‘how’ to achieve a positive impact in practice. How can we say we are worried about food security while throwing away or misusing food that has been grown with the purpose of feeding people? The narrative about doomsday being just around the corner is not telling the whole story. Something’s rotten here… and it’s not an apple!

It’s Time to Feed “Ugly” Produce back into our Food Systems
The whole story describes a reality where each actor in our food systems continues to market and accept flawlessness as an indicator for quality, with the consequence that produce earns its edibility through its looks and not through its nutritional qualities. And while there are several solutions in Denmark tackling food waste at the end of the food supply chain, such as WeFood, YourLocal or TooGooToGo, there are almost none at the beginning of it. Danish farmers are lacking time, resources and channels to connect with consumers while being constantly under price pressure from cheaper producers located down south and the short contractual agreements with buyers.

As a response to this craze, my partner and good friend Petra Kaukua and I founded GRIM, a new Copenhagen food waste business. Our mission is to fight food waste and traditional food industry beauty standards by delivering boxes of ugly, organic & seasonal fruits and veggies of all shapes, colours and sizes right to Your door, which we source directly from awesome farmers located in Denmark.

Petra and I met in the first week of our Master studies in Organizational Innovation & Entrepreneurship at CBS. We are both internationals in Copenhagen and share a love for food and music, so there was no party and no school project we didn’t do together. In that sense, GRIM was really a brainchild of our teamwork in a course in Social Entrepreneurship, where we investigated with a problem-centered approach how food waste is rooted within the Danish society.

Are you the next GRIM Ambassador?
Fast forward: Since February 2018, GRIM has been part of the one year start-up incubator InnoFounder run by Innovation Fund Denmark, where we receive funding, mentoring and a desk in one of Scandinavia’s best co-working spaces, Founders House (A little side note: the application round for the next InnoFounder batch just opened, so if you are a recent graduate or about to graduate soon, go apply now!) Last month, we completed our first test run. Soon, we are hoping to come back with a second round of ugly delivery, where we for the first time want to test out pick up locations. But we need YOUR help!

We are looking for GRIM ambassadors who help us make the world an uglier place. So if you are excited about what you’ve just read and you want to be with us in our mission to put a hold on food waste, you can get involved or help us find the next GRIM pick up point location – maybe at your school, your workplace or kollegium? Drop us an email to hejsa@eatgrim.dk to learn more about what we are looking for and get yourself and your friends some great GRIM rewards.

We believe it’s time for an ugly food revolution – one where we are questioning the current concept of quality and edibility. The future of eating is ugly!


Carolin is the co-founder of the start-up GRIM and former student assistant at the CBS Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (cbsCSR). She graduated from her Master in Organizational Innovation and Entrepreneurship at CBS in June 2017 and is the co-author of the book chapter “Marketing insects: Superfood or Solution-Food?” in: Edible insects in Sustainable Food Systems (out soon on Springer International Publishing).

Check out GRIM’s website & follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Pic by Supermercat Studio.

Considering Impact on the Road to Sustainability

By Paige Olmsted.

Mainstreaming the environment is a key component to achieving sustainability objectives – how organizations account for their existing impact, and assess the impact of innovative solutions is a focal area for a new CBS effort bringing academic expertise to real-world challenges.

Why nature matters
When we hear words like “biodiversity” and “conservation”, it often conjures images of tigers or coral reefs, of rare and endangered species in faraway places. The benefits that are provided to us from ecosystems however, are not just something that happen somewhere else. Forests not only provide paper goods and construction materials, they regulate rainfall, are the source for new medical discoveries, and remove toxins from the air and soil. Coastal wetlands provide flood regulation, improve water quality, and sequester vast stores of carbon.  With the advent of climate change it has become increasingly clear that protecting wild places and sustainably managing natural resources is critical to sustainable communities and economies.

Despite increased awareness of the large-scale impacts of human activity on natural resources, at best we have collectively slowed bad trends, rather than reversed course toward positive ones. Part of this may be explained by Malthusian logic – even if we produce goods more efficiently and with less net input per unit, as populations increase geometrically, and middle class populations balloon in countries like Brazil, China, and India, demand for more goods far exceeds any efficiencies of new design or technology.  Reconciling how to navigate on this road to sustainability is a central question of our time.

What is the role of business?
Since natural resource consumption — agriculture, mining, fisheries — are major drivers of habitat conversion, corporate actors receive particular attention with respect to their role in ecosystem degradation. This also means that changes toward more sustainable practices can have substantial impact. The former president of WWF Canada explained the corporate relationship with Coca Cola in the following way

Coca Cola is in the top three consumers of sugar cane, glass, and coffee in the world.  We can campaign twenty-five different governments for fifteen years to change the way sugar cane is produced in countries that likely can’t enforce such regulation, or Coke can mandate change and it happens overnight” (Dauvergne and Lister, 2013).

There is inherent skepticism that consumption and corporate action can help address environmental concerns, but we have seen organizations increasingly recognize how sustainability matters are critical to their operations. The environment is not seen as being in opposition to economic growth, but instead seen as essential for it. International reports such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, and organizations like UNEP’s Green Growth Initiative and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development all either implicitly or explicitly endorse the idea that we (as individuals, governments, businesses) will benefit in the long term from healthy ecosystems.  Therefore, even for those not motivated by a conservation ethic, they emphasize that we all benefit directly from their sustainable management.

Of course, to deeply integrate sustainability to the core of doing business, and to achieve ambitious global targets such as those included in the UN’s sustainable development goals, truly transformative action is needed. It will have to involve innovation at all levels of society, across supply chains, and through creative partnerships that leverage the reach of large corporations without discounting the livelihoods and well-being of communities all over the world.

What is happening at CBS?
As one effort to support transformative change in the realm of sustainability, CBS is developing an “Impact for Innovation Lab”. We have chosen impact as the core theme because it is so crucial to understanding whether solutions are truly making a difference – within organizations or on the ground.

The Impact Lab will be a hub for engagement across academic disciplines, civil society, and private sector actors to collaborate on real-world challenges. We will combine ecological, economic, and institutional expertise to develop and test new tools and methodologies. With agricultural commodities, the built environment, and technology as overarching themes, we aim to address environmental and social issues across supply chains, consider the most impactful (as in damaging) practices, to implement the most impactful (as in positive) outcomes. If these sound like challenges your organization is wrestling with, or you want to apply your research efforts to tackling complex problems, do not hesitate to contact Paige Olmsted (po.msc@cbs.dk) or Kristjan Jespersen (kj.msc@cbs.dk). With respect to the road to sustainability, there is likely more than one route or vehicle needed, and we are looking for test drivers.


Paige Olmsted is a postdoctoral scholar at the Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, and a guest researcher at CBS in the Department of Management, Society and Communication for 2017-2018.

Pic by Pranam Gurung, Unsplash.

A Story of Poison, Pork and Consumer Protection

By Jan Bauer.

  • Renewal of controversial weed killer supported by Germany despite internal dissent
  • Corporate support seems the only consistency in many decisions
  • What evidence should determine the public opinion of a minister?

Glyphosate and a German Minister under Fire
The German Minister of Food and Agriculture, Christian Schmidt (CSU), came under fire in the end of November. He voted in favor of renewing the license for the controversial weed killer Glyphosate in Europe – against the will of the Minister of the Environment, Barbara Hendricks (SPD), and without consulting chancellor Merkel. Mr. Schmidt said he “made the decision on [his] own and within the responsibility [his] department”. While the potential health and environmental risks of Glyphosate, better known under Monsanto’s commercial name Roundup, are still subject to debate, the unilateral approach by the minister has at least poisoned the political climate between the two parties before the upcoming exploratory negotiations to renew their “grand coalition”.

Many Question Marks behind a Political Free Solo
One can only speculate why Mr. Schmidt considered it necessary to purposefully violate the joint rules of procedure between the federal ministries that would have required him to abstain from voting as long as there is a disagreement between the federal ministries. Mr. Schmidt defended his actions by claiming that his vote will lead to a more restrictive use of the herbicide in some areas. Glyphosate producer Monsanto, currently in the process of being taken over by the German chemical company Bayer, seems not satisfied with the renewal either and would have expected an extension of the license by more than five years.

Eat more Meat, but don’t sell a “Vegan” Schnitzel
This decision is by no means the first controversy surrounding the German Minister of Food and Agriculture and his duty to balance cooperate and consumer interests. Mr. Schmidt openly promoted the consumption of pork in public institutions, which has been abandoned by some canteens to avoid complications with religious customers. Additionally, he encouraged to ban the use of common marketing practices to sell meat replacements as “vegetarian sausages” or a “vegan schnitzel”. This effort was advocated to prevent the confusion of consumers, as they might be overburdened by linking the words “vegan” or “vegetarian” with the meatlessness of the product in questions – what should happen to German meat dishes that falsely claim to be vegetarian, such as “Leberkäse” (literally translated to “liver cheese”) remains unclear. Despite the minister’s concern, there is little evidence for an actual confusion among consumers and the fact that the growing popularity of vegetarian and vegan products negatively affects the meat industry created some skepticism about the motives for such a proposal.

The ambivalent Role of Scientific Evidence in the Process of Policy Making
This issue relates to larger questions about the importance of scientific evidence to guide regulatory action. Despite increasing efforts to foster evidence-based policy, the scientific evidence rarely provides perfect guidance on what will be the outcome of a certain policy (the discussion about the impact of the planned U.S. tax reform is another famous example). So in the absence of clear evidence; what determines a minister to go one way or the other: personal beliefs, the opinion of his constituency, the influence of lobbyists?

The Traffic Light System for Food Labels – as Case in Point
For the specific case, we might shed some light on this by looking at remarks from Mr. Schmidt on issues with clearer evidence. In the area of nutritional food labels, research shows that the mere provision of nutritional facts on the back of products does insufficiently guide consumer choices and recent studies highlight that salient and simplified front-of-package labels, such as the traffic light system, can help consumer making healthier choices. Additionally, there is a broad public support for better food labelling that guide consumers and make healthy choices easier. Despite this evidence, the minister considers such labels as an “impermissible simplification” and rejects further regulation in this direction as too paternalistic.

A view shared by several other EU countries that tried to go against the voluntary traffic light food label in the UK, as it “aimed at classifying food as more or less “healthy””, which would violate trade legislation. Traditional product manufactures have little leeway to reformulate their products and claim to be disadvantaged. For instance, the majority of meat products would receive a red label which might negatively affect sales – in other words, the fear is that such labelling actually works from a consumer’s point of view. Hence, there seems to be an inherent tension between consumers’ needs for guidance and industry claims of discrimination. The European Commission apparently announced “a thorough review” by the end of 2017.

People before Profits
It is hard to understand on what basis Mr. Schmidt himself determines the needs for regulatory action and why he made each of these individual decisions. While the Glyphosate incident appears to be a procedural failure in the absence of clear evidence, his stances on food labelling fails to acknowledge a general consumer science and public consensus. All decisions, however, seem to be in line with the interests of the industry. Mr. Schmidt himself stated that “we should not restrict the choice for the majority of society for reasons of ease or cost” when it comes to leaving pork off the menu. Hence, I propose to consistently follow this logic and not restrict consumer protection supported by the majority of scientists and the public for reasons of ease or costs for some special interest groups.


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.

Pic by GLOBAL 2000 / Christoph Liebentritt, flickr.

Role Reversal: When Business Safeguards the Public Good

By Erin Leitheiser.

Earlier this week Patagonia launched what may be corporate America’s most forceful action yet against the government’s assaults on the environment and vulnerable communities: announcing that it would sue the Trump administration.  Such action signals a new era for business leadership on social and sustainability issues.

No Government-as-usual and no Business-as-usual
More than a year ago – and before the 2017 U.S. election – I wrote about Trump, anti-intellectualism and the new role for business.  While the takeaway then was that business was increasingly expected to step up contributions to solving social and sustainability issues, the new reality of a Trump administration necessitates yet another re-evaluation of business’s role in society.  No longer is it simply enough for companies to contribute to the broader public good via philanthropy or (more) sustainable business practices; such approaches assume a stable and accepted regulatory environment facilitated by the government.  We now live in a time when Americans are facing a hostile government that is pushing through major changes to the tax code which would benefit the wealthiest at the expense of the poorest, rolling back protections for women to access reproductive healthcare, and reneging on the country’s commitments and obligations to do its fair share to stymy carbon emissions, among countless others.  This is not government-as-usual, so it can no longer be business-as-usual either.

A new Role of Business in Trump Times
We have seen encouraging moves by state and local governments to do what they can to work around Trump (for example, on the Paris agreement), and business is also playing a new role.  While corporate lobbying and political involvement is nothing new, what is different is that business is now engaging on a range of social and environmental issues that have little to do with their core business activities.  A few notable examples include:

Earlier this week, Patagonia’s homepage shifted from its usual backdrop of surfers and climbers to solely a black backdrop with writing in white stating:

The President Stole Your Land
In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bears Ears
and Grand Staircase-Esclante National Monuments.  This is the largest
elimination of protected land in American history.

 

Patagonia – A Frontrunner in Opposing Harmful Governmental Policy Changes
Patagonia has a long and established history of progressive action both internally and externally.  But, its new efforts signal a move from lodging disagreements to using its corporate resources to actively oppose harmful and discriminatory governmental policy changes.  While in yesteryear government was the space where protections were afforded and business need only comply with relevant regulations, we are now in an era where business must step up to defend the greater good.

Hats off to you, Patagonia.  Corporate America, please take note and know that people everywhere are looking to you to use your power and resources to defend and advance the public good.  Now is your time.


Erin Leitheiser is a PhD Fellow 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 @erinleit

Pic by Erin Leitheiser, taken from Patagonia’s homepage Tuesday 5th 2017.

Need an SDG Solution? Hack it.

By Lara Anne Hale.

November 16 – 18, 2017 marked the beginning of a student-driven innovation era at Copenhagen Business School. The Student Innovation House – in collaboration with Oikos and PRME – hosted their first major event, the Sustainable Campus Hackathon 2017.

A Hackathon for more campus sustainability
Having received an impressive 120 applications to participate in the event, 66 students from universities across Denmark were invited to join an intensive 2.5-day spree of hacking sustainability ideas in four UN Sustainable Development Goal areas: Green Infrastructure, Healthy and Sustainable Food, Diversity and Inclusion, and Human Well Being and Mental Health. The goal? To come up with an idea that is feasible, implementable, scalable, and imparting a big impact; and the winning proposal will be further developed and implemented on the CBS campus next year.

Not all SDGs are created equally
Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the first challenges was that not all SDGs are created equally, at least not in terms of student interest. Fully half of the students formed groups competing in the Healthy and Sustainable Food area, leaving Human Well Being and Green Infrastructure perfectly fitted with teams, but Diversity and Inclusion completely empty. I can’t help but wonder what this says about what is being integrated into students’ curriculum, especially in regards to sustainable development. Many students, during our “speed dating” for forming teams, remarked to me that they had recently had some courses relating to food systems and circular economy, and that this inspired them to innovate in this arena. Are we not giving gender equality the sustainability context – or even the examples of success and impact – that attract students to think critically and generate solutions for the future? Perhaps this in part is a reflection of Denmark’s rapid slide down the rankings.

Hacking the SDGs – with dedication, creativity & open minds
But by and by, teams drew from a hat, and we were sorted out. The next 36 hours involved input from experts, brainstorming, drafting, brainstorming again, and ultimately “hacking” the SDGs. My group’s subject area was Human Well Being and Mental Health, and my teammates hailed from Danish Technical University and Roskilde University. Their approach to the task was impressive: on the one hand they were hard-working and dedicated; and on the other hand they were playful with ideas and throwing around true creativity. It didn’t seem to bother them that the winning proposal would not directly, or at least immediately affect their universities. Rather, they were there to work on inspiration, on their own knowledge, and on collaboration. Beyond opening minds within teams, individuals across teams chatted over breaks, and mentors circled around, getting to know the breadth of people and ideas represented.

A playful approach to raise awareness around gender (in)equality
The hackathon was set up so that teams first presented for four minutes in a “heat”, and then were judged if they would be one of four teams proceeding to the finals. Notably, one of my favourite presentations was within the Diversity and Inclusion category. The team proposed circulating a quiz concerning “How much will you earn after your degree?” Respondents would enter their degree programs, age, experience, and so forth, and then be presented with their expected monthly wages. But then a pop-up would ask the user’s gender. If the response was male, the quiz would say “Sorry! We were mistaken. You will actually earn more than those who are not male!” and if the response was female, “Sorry! You will actually earn less than that, and less than your male counterparts.” This quiz idea is indeed a clever way to promote critical awareness, and hopefully more discussions concerning gender equality on campus (especially at CBS, where more than 80% of full professors are male).

And the winner is… Everyone!
Ultimately, the winners of the hackathon were Team Supo, who propose a student card-linked electronic point system for registering and incentivising sustainability actions, such as choosing to cycle to campus. Team Supo will be sent on a trip to New York, where they will expand upon their idea to the head office of PRME. Indeed I look forward to the implementation of their idea, but truth be told, the brilliance of a hackathon is the way it cracks open so many ideas, and brings together so many people. Supo will not be the only reason I’ll be back at Student Innovation House, as there are many more hacks – formal or informal – yet to come.


Lara Anne Hale is a former PhD student at Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business World Class Research Environment. Her PhD focused on Experimental Standards in Sustainable Building as part of the EU Innovation for Sustainability project with VELUX. Follow her on Twitter.

Pic by Aafke Diepeveen, edited by BOS.

Adventures in Materiality. Notes from the first CBS Sustainability Seminar

By Steen Vallentin.

  • On October 31, 2017 the new CSB Sustainability seminar series was launched
  • With a room full of practitioners and academics, the topic “Materiality and Quantification” in CSR and sustainability reporting was discussed
  • Diverse input for discussions were given by presentations by CBS, DTU and a practitioner in corporate sustainability reporting

Approximate reading time: 4-5 minutes

All we need is Materiality?
Materiality is arguably gaining significance in corporate approaches to CSR and sustainability. While strong narratives remain important, they do not suffice in a world filled with increasing amounts of data calling for transparency and factual assessment of corporate accomplishments, progress or decline. There can, however, be a price to pay for an increasing reliance on metrics and measurements. What happens to ethical and moral concerns, to fundamental values and the sense of overall purpose if CSR/sustainability is reduced to a technical matter of taking numbers and ticking boxes? This was the topic of the first in a new series of CBS Sustainability Seminars. Here is some background on the topic and the seminar series, plus some notes on the presentations of the day.

The rise of materiality in CSR and sustainability
Sustainability reporting and efforts to assess the materiality of corporate responsibilities toward the people and the planet are undergoing interesting transformations these years. Not only is sustainability reporting becoming a more and more widespread practice internationally, due to mandatory disclosure requirements and the institutionalization of standardized reporting formats such as GRI and integrated reporting. We are also, among other developments, witnessing corporate efforts to integrate adherence to the UN Sustainable Development Goals into non-financial reporting formats, including materiality assessment, and companies committed to set and communicate science based emission reduction targets (see Science Based Targets).

The new cbsCSR sustainability seminar series: research-based & multidisciplinary
Hence, “Materiality and Quantification” was an obvious choice as topic for the first event in the new series of CBS Sustainability seminars that will be taking place from the Fall of 2017 and onwards. The inaugural seminar took place on October 31 and featured three speakers: Professor Andreas Rasche from CBS, Frances Iris Lu (CBS and Maersk) and associate professor Niki Bey from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

The purpose of the seminar series is to forge closer ties between researchers at CBS and professionals from companies and organizations – to enable collaboration and easier access to each other’s knowledge and resources on an ongoing basis. And to build stronger relations among researchers at CBS. The USP of the network is that it is research-based and multi-disciplinary. One aim is to help bridge divides between knowledge silos and facilitate dialogue between different knowledge disciplines. Another aim is to broaden the scope of how we think and speak about sustainability, and to explore how far we can take this concept – in different  indicated by its three pillars: environmental, economic, social. To this end, the seminar series will present many speakers from CBS and other research environments that would not ordinarily see their research as part of a sustainability agenda.

Materiality assessments are no moral assessments
In the first seminar, however, we were on familiar ground with regard to sustainability. Based on a forthcoming research paper (using data from the Netherlands and co-authored with Koen van Bommel and André Spicer), Andreas Rasche showed how sustainability reporting has gradually developed into being a more and more standardized and technical practice. A key concept in this research is commensuration, which refers to the process of transforming different qualities into a common metric. It reduces and simplifies ‘thick’ information into metrics that are comparable to other metrics. Over time, commensuration stimulates a standardization of the meaning of sustainability. When something is turned into a metric and standardized, it often leads to a crowding out of moral questions and concerns. Subsequently, sustainability reporting can be a driver of ‘amoralization’ processes by which questions of morality, values and purpose are replaced by technical performance measures. On the one hand, this technical and instrumental turn can be part of the explanation for why sustainability reporting has become so popular (because it sidelines ambivalence and difficult moral quandaries). This need not be an entirely negative outcome, as pointed out by a participant, because it can be an indicator of increasing business integration of sustainability. We do, however, on the other hand, need to be aware of the possible downsides of this proposed ‘technicalization of sustainability’.

Moving beyond ethical idealism – the price to pay for conquering the mainstream?
While this finding is based on a longitudinal empirical study, I have made a similar point in a conceptual paper reflecting on the effects of instrumentalization in the realm of CSR more broadly. To quote myself (at length):

“As a result [of instrumentalization], it is now all too easy to speak of CSR without making any mention of ‘ethics’ or bringing up moral issues or dilemmas; a development that can lead to a strangely depersonalized understanding of responsibility and which raises questions about the relevance of ethics for CSR altogether. Whether this is a problem or not is of course debatable. On the one hand, it can be considered as a sign of progress in the sense that the CSR debate (and CSR as corporate practice) has decidedly moved beyond ethical idealism and the subjectivity/arbitrariness that may be associated with individual values and choices. CSR has developed into a socially embedded, highly institutionalized and material phenomenon. On the other, it is worth pondering what, if anything, has been lost on the path to (apparent) victory in the public realm of ideas. Is the displacement of ‘ethics’ a sign that the responsibility discourse has lost its normative bearings and that this has been the price to pay for conquering the mainstream?”

A practitioner’s perspective on values & materiality: We can have it all – (can we?)
Frances Iris Lu gave a presentation of the evolution of materiality and materiality assessments in recent years, drawing on her experience from KPMG and Mærsk. She showed how materiality assessments can often, in practice, be rather loose exercises bereft of analytical rigor, but also how it is possible to add more rigor to the process. One key feature (and possible limitation) of a conventional materiality assessment is that it tends to focus strongly on the risk as opposed to the opportunity side of responsibility, making it difficult to reconcile with policies aiming to create (shared) value.

To bridge this gap, and to make room for the company values in the account of materiality, Mærsk has created a new ‘materiality beyond the matrix’ model. Frances presented this new and more comprehensive and multi-faceted model which accounts for materiality under the three headings: Risk, Shared Value, and Responsibility. Challenging the amoralization narrative presented by Andreas, Frances argued that we are seeing a sort of pendulum swing taking place in sustainability right now where values and purpose are getting more attention – alongside the continued focus on metrics.

Materiality and Quantification in practice: The Life Cycle Assessment Lens
Finally, Niki Bey brought the quantification of sustainability through Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) into the discussion. LCA is used as a general framework to avoid the problem of cost shifting across impact categories (e.g. using less plastic might ultimately increase food waste). Although the LCA is never completely objective, we need to try to approach matters of sustainability systematically and to focus on available facts – how far can we get in terms of what we know and what we can measure, instead of focusing on subjective criteria.

A participant mentioned enthusiastically that the LCA is the most important decision-tool she has ever worked with because it makes people able to move up and down in perspective and allow them to see the bigger picture in regard to sustainability and corporate responsibilities. While LCA is usually applied as a relative measure that can be used to compare and choose between different courses of action, it can also be applied in an absolute fashion, as with the Planetary Boundaries.

Overall, the seminar brought out as many questions as it did answers. We look forward to continuing this and other adventurous discussions in future CBS Sustainability seminars.


Steen Vallentin is Director of the CBS Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (cbsCSR) and Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School.

Pic by Miguel A. Amutio, edited by BOS.

Another Inconvenient Truth: “Win-Win” Only Won’t Transform Our World

By Katherine Richardson.

  • A green growth project can contribute to sustainable development, but this is by no means a given
  • Characterized by a singular focus on synergies, the concept of green growth neglects unavoidable trade-offs
  • Truly contributing to the sustainable development agenda means that businesses need to abandon an exclusive focus on win-wins by acknowledging and addressing trade-offs

Approximate reading time: 3-4 minutes.

Development based on “Green/blue growth” must not be confused with sustainable development
“Green growth” and now also “blue growth”, when attention turns to things maritime, have become the new black when discussions turn to consideration of what we will live on in the future. “Green” (by design when used in this context) conjures up an image of nature and this has meant that many incorrectly assume that green growth = sustainable growth, i.e., that green growth, by definition, contributes to redirecting the societal trajectory towards sustainable development. This is simply not the case. I do not deny that there can be instances where a green growth project contributes to sustainable development, but this is by no means a given. Too often, the “green growth” label is applied to projects where the underlying philosophy is “business as usual but now we will make money on the environment”.

Sustainable development is anything but business as usual
Since the 1960s, we have had access to pictures of the Earth taken from space. These show clearly that the Earth has no connection to any other celestial body. In other words, these pictures provide proof that – once we have used the nature resources upon which we are dependent- they will not be replenished. They also show that we can never really get rid of our waste. Plastic in the ocean? Where else would it be when we since the 1950s have known that it is essentially non-degradable and our culture has embraced its one-time use? Climate change? Our society has, since the Industrial Revolution, relied on the combustion of nearly inert solid carbon products which has resulted in an excessive production of carbon containing greenhouse gas waste, including CO2. As in the case of plastic, we cannot see this waste but it is still with us.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Despite the emergence of these pictures in the middle of the 20th Century, it was not until 2015 with the adoption in the UN of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs that a global convention was agreed that acknowledges that the resources upon which we depend are limited. After acknowledging something is limited, one has to address how it is to be shared. In effect, the SDGs can be seen as a vision for how we want to share the Earth’s resources among what will soon be 9-10 billion people – all with a right to development. Thus, the SDGs are relevant for every person, country and company on Earth. Many assume that the SDGs’ primary focus is developing countries but, when it comes to resource (over)use, it is the developed countries that are the greatest sinners.

“Win-Win” AND Lose: Moving from green to sustainable growth
Many companies are implementing the SDGs in their activities – not least of which in their marketing! Their strategies for doing so, however, differ greatly. There are 17 goals in all. That’s a lot to handle so most companies “cherry-pick” a handful of goals against which they see a particular advantage in marketing their products. The 17 SDGs are, however, all inter-connected and must always be seen in relation to one another. When any activity is measured up against the SDGs, there will be positive interactions, i.e., synergies (“win-win”) but also negative interactions, i.e., “trade-offs”. Green growth  is characterized by a singular focus on synergies. Cherry-picking SDGs to position a company or its products in the most favourable light is nothing more than green growth by another name. Of course, sustainable development requires that we exploit the synergies that emerge from interactions between the SDGs to their fullest but it also demands that we minimize the trade-offs that emerge. It is easy to appreciate that companies don’t feel they can benchmark against all 17 SDGs but, when they focus only on SDGs that profile synergies and fail to tell the world what they are doing to minimize trade-offs, it is hard to take their commitment to sustainability seriously.


Katherine Richardson is professor and leader of the Sustainability Science Centre at the University of Copenhagen and Member of UN Panel of experts writing the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report.

Follow Katherine and the Sustainability Science Centre on Twitter!

Pic by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Flickr.

 

The Risks of Intuitive Thinking in Environmentally Friendly Clothing Consumption

By Kristian Steensen Nielsen & Wencke Gwozdz.

  • Clothing behaviors might be well-intended, but they do not necessarily reduce environmental impact
  • Environmentally friendly clothing in one geographical location may not be environmentally friendly in another
  • Our judgments are likely influenced by prevailing options of environmentally friendly clothing consumption, which may overshadow less known but more effective behaviors

Approximate reading time: 4-5 minutes

The production, purchase, maintenance, and disposal of clothing carry a heavy environmental burden. To reduce this burden, we need to change our clothing consumption behavior. An increasing number of consumers accept this notion, but what does it actually imply to make our clothing consumption more environmentally friendly? Should we purchase products made from organic cotton, reduce our clothing consumption, rent and share clothing, or all of the above?

In the preparation of a recently published research article (Gwozdz, Nielsen & Müller, 2017), we were confronted and puzzled by exactly these questions. What we came to realize was that all we really had was a bunch of intuitive judgments and assumptions about what actually constituted environmentally friendly clothing consumption. Relying on intuition is, however, a potentially risky route to take to reduce the environmental impact of clothing consumption.

Environmental Risks
While our intuitions sometimes serve us well, they can also lead us astray (Kahneman & Tversky, 1973). If behavioral scientists (or policy-makers or industry or NGOs) depend on intuitively-generated solutions to environmentally friendly clothing consumption, three immediate risks emerge.

The first, and most potent, risk is to identify environmentally friendly clothing behavior that are in fact not so environmentally friendly. This implies that, although the identified clothing behaviors might be well-intended, they do not reduce the environmental impact. For example, favoring wool-based clothing products over products made from other materials (e.g., cotton or polyester) may appear more natural and environmentally friendly, but may actually be worse for the environment due to its emission of the highly potent greenhouse gas methane.

Sheep Wool, Pic by Brett Neilson

The second risk is to universalize environmentally friendly clothing behaviors. What might be an environmentally friendly behavior in one geographical location may not be environmentally friendly in another. The reason is that the environmental impact of a clothing products and its maintenance can vary significantly in production method, energy supply systems, transportation distance and channel, or whether personal transportation is involved during the acquisition phase. For instance, clothing libraries can be a good alternative to acquire clothing items, but its environmental benefits depend on the mode of transportation during the acquisition phase (Roos et al., 2017). In cases where walking, biking or public transportation is used to come to a fashion library, its impact will be lower than conventional consumption alternatives. The environmental benefits of fashion libraries will, however, evaporate if the acquisition entails private car driving (unless supplied with renewable energy).

Transportation matters, Pic by University of Exeter

The third environmental risk of relying on intuitive judgments is that these judgments are likely influenced by prevailing options of environmentally friendly clothing consumption, which may overshadow, less known, more effective behaviors. In other words, the low hanging fruits may not be the most effective means. For example, many people perceive organic cotton as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional cotton, whereas fewer people perceive secondhand clothing or reducing clothing consumption as being environmentally friendly alternatives. Organic cotton is, subsequently, more likely to be identified as a viable solution despite the fact that increasing the longevity of existing clothing (i.e. reducing consumption) is a much more effective way to lower the environmental impact of clothing (Roos et al., 2017). One reason is that organic cotton production requires more land use compared to conventional cotton. But, of course, known behaviors are easier replaced with similar behaviors (e.g., replace a t-shirt made of conventional cotton with one made of organic cotton) than with completely new behaviors (e.g., buying less).

Organic Cotton Yarn, Pic by Natalia Wilson

Ways Forward
The consequence of promoting mistaken “environmentally friendly” behaviors is that well-intended efforts achieve limited benefits for the environment. In some instances, they can even undermine the prospects of environmental progress. One approach to counteract the potentially detrimental consequences of misguided behaviors of environmentally friendly clothing consumption created through intuitive judgments is to shed light on the true environmental impact of clothing behaviors. Another is to send clear messages (see e.g. bioRE; respect-code) to consumers of which behaviors are environmentally superior to others. Informational systems  have a strong influence on consumers’ ways to consume more environmentally friendly. If recommendations for misguided behaviors originate in the scientific community or amongst policy-makers and NGOs, we can actually take on the responsibility and change that through promoting more interdisciplinary collaborations between natural and behavioral scientists where we as behavioral scientists learn about the actual environmental impacts instead of making intuitive judgments. The identification of research-based target behaviors is of critical importance before undertaking behavioral campaigns or policy interventions.


Kristian Steensen Nielsen is a PhD fellow in environmentally friendly behavior at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, CBS. His main research interest is how self-control influences environmental behavior change.

Wencke Gwozdz is Associate Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, CBS. Her  main research focus is on transformative consumer research and sustainable consumption including public policy research, social marketing and quality of life research.

Pic by Studio Grand Ouest, Fotolia.

Seeing Like a Standard: Sustainable Palm Oil and the Coasian Challenge

By Kristjan Jespersen & Caleb Gallemore.

Approximate reading time: 3-4 minutes.

Go to any supermarket and you’ll see labels, so many labels. Some of them seem reputable: the Marine Stewardship Council, the Forest Stewardship Council. Some of them seem less so, such as Bob’s House of Sustainability standard, which we just created five minutes ago.

One challenge – countless standards
Credible or not, these standards, developed mostly by the private sector and civil society, are growing in number. In Jessica Green’s 2014 book, Rethinking Private Authority, she counts 119 such environmental standards as of 2009, 90% of them created after 1990 – and this without considering Bob’s House of Sustainability. In a way, all these standards attempt something economist Ronald Coase imagined virtually impossible: to convey information about the true social costs and benefits of actions via pricing mechanisms. In this way, complex social and ecological interactions could be made intelligible to stakeholders like customers at the corner store.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – A Case Study
So how are such illustrious standards as Bob’s House of Sustainability put together in the first place? Like James Scott in his 1995 book Seeing like a State, we are interested in how social systems require the production of certain kinds of information. But we suspect that because the pressures on private standards for sustainability are different from the pressures on state governments, the types of phenomena standards make intelligible will be different. In other words, we are interested in what it means to see not like a state, but like a standard, using a detailed case study of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Working with support from Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business Research Environment, we are in the process of collecting data on the internal processes of the RSPO from a range of sources that include webscraping, document analysis, and interviews.

Various Adverse Effects of Palm Oil Production
There are certainly plenty harrowing problems posed by palm oil production that ideally should be readily legible to consumers: palm oil production causes deforestation and attendant greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss, particularly affecting orangutan populations. Because land clearance to plant oil palm often is undertaken with the use of fire, it contributes to local air pollution and the notorious Southeast Asian haze problem. What is more, oil palm plantations often engage in exploitative labor practices, promote tenurial conflict, and can benefit local elites at the expense of others.

Lead by conservation and social justice NGOs, there have been numerous brand attacks against unsustainable and exploitative palm oil production. These have lead to such notable episodes as the successful campaign by two American girl scouts to get the manufacturer of Girl Scout Cookies to purchase certified sustainable palm oil, and the recent awareness campaign launched in Denmark by Freja Bruun, also a successful teenage environmental activist.

Reputation is Key
The founders of the RSPO intended to respond to these challenges by managing a private standard certifying sustainable palm oil production. Because initiatives like the RSPO are private rather than public, decisions about what information needs to be made intelligible are driven primarily by branding concerns. The RSPO’s reputation is critical, as it is the validity of the standard that allows it to differentiate itself from the likes of Bob’s House of Sustainability. While there have been vociferous debates about the RSPO’s on-the-ground requirements, another key concern is the traceability of certified palm oil across the supply chain. Within the standard, certified sustainable palm oil prices tend to be differentiated by the level of traceability, ranging from the Book & Claim mechanism, which acts like an offset, to the RSPO-Next system, which envisions traceability to the source plantation.

Shift in Power Balance within the RSPO
Working with several Master’s students at CBS, we have found that the RSPO has, over time, undergone a noticeable shift in the balance of power between upstream members (consumer-goods manufacturers, investors, and retailers), and downstream members (oil palm growers and palm oil refiners), as the number of downstream voting members has grown considerably (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Composition of RSPO membership, by year (RSPO Website Data). Credit: Mikkel Kruuse and Kaspar Tangbaek.

As downstream members have become a stronger bloc, the RSPO’s intelligibility efforts have shifted from on-the-ground impacts to the traceability of the supply chain. While separate, traceable supply chains have been a stated goal since the RSPO’s founding, a noted shift is apparent. The share of total certified sustainable palm oil sold on the offset-like Book & Claim (B&C) system, for example, is declining rapidly (see Figure 2), and even B&C’s name has been rebranded to PalmTrace.

Figure 2: Percentage of total RSPO CSPO sold via the B&C system, by year (RSPO, various years).

Benefits of RSPO Membership only so good as the Label
Faced with concerted brand attacks, downstream members of the RSPO, in particular, have to overcome a public goods problem. The benefits of RSPO membership are only so good as the label, and downstream firms are understandably nervous about buying from suppliers who are cheating, exposing them to brand attacks. Faced with that risk, raising traceability requirements is one straightforward way to maintain the brand’s integrity. While enhanced traceability encourages downstream firms to police their supply chains, and geographic information systems and remote sensing are making traceability more robust, there is a monetary and policy cost to cutting through the supply-chain haze. The more traceable tiers of certification – which, with the exception of the newly minted RSPO-Next, do not involve more stringent on-the-ground requirements – are prohibitively expensive for smallholders and small businesses that must push those costs onto consumers. The desire for intelligibility, in other words, can strengthen standards, but has its own costs: first, it may focus intelligibility efforts in unproductive directions, and, second, when being intelligible involves transaction costs, only bigger players have the wherewithal to stand up and be counted.


Kristjan Jespersen primary research focus is 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. He has a background in International Relations and Economics.

Follow Kristjan on Twitter.

Caleb Gallemore is an Assistant Professor in the International Affairs Program at Lafayette College. A geographer by training, Caleb’s research focuses on land-use teleconnections and international environmental policy and politics.

Pic by JAM Project, edited by BOS.

Dirty Oil or Green Energy in the Faroe Islands?

By Árni Johan Petersen.

These are the stories from the two divided camps in the Faroe Islands – please give your take on this dilemma. Should the Faroese explore and produce oil in the Faroe Islands that will contribute to global energy safety and stability to an ever growing global energy demand? Or should the Faroese stop this process now, and rethink the current state of the world where the Faroe Islands could become the front-runner for green solutions to statuette an example, and stop the greenhouse gasses deriving from fossil fuel energy by saying no to oil?

Background
The 4th license round for rights to oil exploration in the Faroe Islands was May 17th 2017, and the search for oil in the offshore subsoil in the Faroe Islands might continue if there is an interest from international oil companies to invest in the exploration. Since the first license round in 2000 there have been conducted nine drillings in the Faroese offshore subsoil without any commercial fund but results have concluded the subsoil to have a hydro-carbon active system in place.

Today, the Faroese economy is strong, unemployment rate is close to 2 per cent, young Faroese are moving back home, population has surpassed 50.000 inhabitants for the first time, salmon industry is booming (has done so for seven years), tourism is booming (four years), and the fishery is booming. A society in prosperity where the incentives to create new jobs might be vanishing because there are no Faroese to fill in the positions and foreign workforce might become a necessary solution to keep the (capitalistic) wheels going.

Pro-oil exploration Camp
The Faroese Ben Arabo, CEO at Atlantic Petroleum, argues that the Faroe Islands should explore for oil in the Faroese subsoil. The world, he argues, demands oil and gas in large quantities because the world consumes 100 million barrels of oil every day, and the demand is increasing. Oil, as a percentage of the total world energy consumption, is decreasing but the growth of energy demand is so great that the demand for oil in quantity increases every year. Currently, he continues, approximately one third of the global energy demand derives from oil, one third from coal, and one fourth from gas. The rest derives from nuclear energy, water and other renewable energy currently supplying one-digit percentage of the global energy production.

We, who live in the privileged part of the world, Ben argues, take energy stability and security for granted while other parts of the world, e.g. India, China, Indonesia etc., do not have this luxury. Ben recommends people who think they could survive without oil should examine how long time passes before they use the first object that demands oil in its production process (e.g. tooth brush). Hydrocarbon is present in a large numbers of product ranging from mountain helmet, solar panels, aspirin, and tooth paste. The wishful thinking of “no-oil-tomorrow” is based on ideology rather than technology, Ben concludes.

Resistance Camp
For the first time since the Faroese started to dream about finding oil we are observing resistance in the Faroese community. These are mainly environmentalists who have joined forces in an attempt to stop the oil exploration in the Faroe Islands. One local NGO, Ringrás, is represented by Ingmar Valdemarsson á Løgmansbø who argues:

“The context of the opening of the fourth Faroese hydrocarbon licensing round is marked by increasing ecological turmoil and biosphere degradation stemming from anthropogenic climate change and widespread habitat destruction. Fundamentally, our global society is built upon a measure of success (unrelenting growth) which, when achieved, clashes with the integrity of the interconnected ecosystems that make life on earth viable, and thus, enable civilisation as we know it.

The challenges we face, as a country and a global community, are much greater and more fundamental than the question of energy supply alone. But nevertheless, it is evident that the energy systems of the future must, by necessity, be renewable, if they – and we – are to last. Reality is catching up with our complacency and the thwarted efforts to ditch fossil fuels and racing ahead of our expectations, but luckily on two fronts:

  1. The forecast dangers of rapid climate change are showing themselves at an accelerated, unexpected and ominous pace.
  2. Key renewable technologies have matured to take on and render fossil fuels largely obsolete.

Focusing on the latter in relation to the former, it is entirely untimely, unnecessary and unethical for the Faroe Islands to venture into a dirty industry that would threaten the mainstays of the Faroese economy, namely the fishing industry and tourism, whilst contributing to an uncertain future in favor of very dubious short-term financial gain, prone to suffer from stranded assets as disruptive technologies coupled with global weirding and climate policy expedite the transition to a low-carbon society. This is underlined by the recent developments in India, where 14 Gt of planned coal power stations have been cancelled in May alone on account of Solar PV directly outcompeting coal.

In this environment of change, we must embrace the shift away from fossil fuels and take on the potential leading role that our national goal of 100% renewable electricity generation by 2030 promises to imbue us with. This path is what we as a country need and what the world needs and, best of all, it won’t cost the world.”

According to Ingmar the Faroe Islands, the Faroese Government, has signed the Paris Agreement (COP21) which includes lowering the carbon emission to decrease the global warming.  The Faroese Minister of Industry and Foreign Affairs, Poul Michelsen, has also publically stated his support to the agreement and the Faroe Islands should be the frontrunner in the battle against fossil fuel emission adding to the fire of global warming. The long term perspective, according to Ingmar, is that this will be the sustainable solution regarding environment, society, and economics because the Faroe Islands are heavily dependent on their fisheries, salmon farming, and tourism. Oil industry will add to the carbon quantity in the natural environment and changes in the ecology will alter the livelihood of the resources in the sea. This, in turn, will negatively affect the natural resources in the Faroe Islands harming the economy and society in the long run. Exploring for oil has to stop now!

The Broader Picture
The International Energy Agency (IEA) recommends exploring for more oil in the Scandinavian area because this will provide global energy stability and security. This argument is based on the fact that the political system is transparent, and the regulation for oil activities is progressive in terms of natural environment, work processes, and overall safety. The Middle East is, according to IEA, not the most reliable nor stable area, while Scandinavian countries are triple-A-democracies, market economies and predictable partners.

Producing more oil will lower the price of oil and this automatically decreases the incentives to invest in research and development of renewable energy solutions because the energy consumer demand will, in general, follow the least expensive solution. In contrast, if the oil production is stopped the oil price will go up and the demand for alternative solutions becomes pressing and the investors will predict return on investment. This will speed up the process to develop renewable energy solutions but we will probably experience political power changes on the global arena, e.g. a stronger Middle East. The question is, for how long? The sooner the world moves to alternative energy solution the global arena will change, again, and this might be the only sustainable solution because the emission and global warming is already at a critical stage.

So, should the Faroese provide for energy stability and security, or should they be the front-runners to say “no” to oil? Could the Faroe Islands become a role model for other societies in the Arctic and beyond? And if the Faroe Islands can do this, could other countries learn from this small country? Is the Faroese political (Governmental) agenda hypocritical because of its duplicity? Or is this hypocrisy a necessary aspiration to prosper as a small society in the Arctic that might spread to other small societies in the Arctic?


Árni Petersen is PhD-Fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His PhD project pursues the research question: “How does future expectation of wealth deriving from the oil affect the Faroese society and the potential outcomes in the future in the Faroe Islands?” His research features an in-depth case study of the Faroese Oil Industry, including interviews, observations, and local newspaper articles about the oil industry.

You can find Árni on LinkedIn.

Pics by BSEE & Christian Reimer, edited by BOS.

Universities – Front Runners or Falling Behind The Green Transition?

By Louise Kofod Thomsen.

Universities are knowledge generators, facilitators of innovation and play a key role in shaping the mindsets and developing the skills of our future leaders.
Universities bear a tremendous responsibility for not just talking the talk, but also for walking the walk on social responsibility. However, when visiting a university campus, it is not always commonplace that we find universities in the forefront when it comes to acting sustainably and responsibly.

Universities proudly take on the role of advisors in setting universal guidelines for how others should act, but how good are they when it comes to implementing sustainability initiatives on their own campuses? The CBS campus is a wonderful place to take a stroll around, especially on a hot summer day, where you will be greeted by the sight of the students sitting on the grass and enjoying the green areas. You will quickly discover that CBS is a real Copenhagen campus with bikes as far as the eye can see. However, as with many universities, the CBS campus has a long journey ahead when it comes to implementing sustainability initiatives and decreasing CO2 emissions.

The pressure is on
Every third year, the Minister for Education and Science negotiates the new university development contracts, setting the goals for all Danish universities’ future development. The contracts contain self-defined targets by the individual institutions, reflecting their own strategic priorities as well as obligatory targets based on societal needs as defined by the Minister for Education and Science. However, until now, these contracts have mentioned no legal obligation for universities to implement sustainability initiatives on campus. Universities’ lack of focus on sustainability initiatives on campus is somewhat surprising. You would think that there should be considerable pressure on universities to show a higher degree of engagement on campus regarding sustainable development considering the growing concern and initiatives globally.

The dominating theme at Rio+20 was how to achieve environmental and social sustainable development globally. The green transition is also a leading theme for the Danish government with its ambition of having Denmark ranked as the top country worldwide for green initiatives. The green transition is reinforced not least by the recent adoption of the EU Action Plan for Circular Economy. In 2015, the world adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals aiming to engage governments, the public sector, civil society and universities to bring about global sustainable development and in November 2016, the Paris Agreement entered into force with 158 ratifying parties working towards the goal of staying below 2 degrees.

There is no doubt that there is a growing demand for better standards for sustainability and resource efficiency. Yet, if we are to achieve the highly ambitious global targets, we need drastic changes and stronger commitments by key actors. Considering universities’ crucial societal role in educating the generations, you might wonder what keeps universities from taking up this challenge?

CBS Goes Green – or did it?
In 2012, an initiative known as the “CBS Goes Green” was launched to, among other things, allow for waste sorting for the students at Solbjerg Plads. Today, 5 years on, waste sorting has still not been implemented at Solbjerg Plads or any other of CBS’ main buildings. This is generally explained to be due to “a lack of interest by the students”. Another explanation has been prior lack of waste sorting systems in the municipality of Frederiksberg. However, today Frederiksberg has a well-functioning system including clear guidelines as well as consultation services for correct waste sorting. With no clear strategy for handling waste (such as plastic, bio and metal) within the various CBS departments, it appears that sorting waste is difficult not only for students, but for staff and faculty as well. Despite often good intentions, the systems for sorting waste are generally lacking.

You might wonder why sorting your apple core from your paper trash is such a challenge when most do it at home. It seems as if the challenge lies within some rather old, out-of-date structures and a “this is how we have always done it” approach. Despite the fact that sustainability is a growing priority for universities all over the world placing a strong focus on teaching and research in this area, not many universities commit to integrate operational sustainability on campus.

Universities as test centers for sustainable initiatives
Universities are in many ways a powerful platform and a crucial component for achieving sustainable development across the globe, but also very importantly, locally, on campus. Universities have a responsibility as role models to lead the way and show students how to act responsibly. There are also long-term economic incentives for taking on the challenge.

In 2008, Copenhagen University adopted its first Green Campus targets and has since saved DKK 35 million on energy. The University of British Colombia is treating their campus as a living lab for students to work with behavior and innovation to develop sustainable solutions for the campus. They have launched The SEEDS Sustainability Program with the aim of advancing campus sustainability by creating partnerships between students, operational staff, and faculty on innovative and impactful research projects to be implemented on campus.

CBS has just launched a similar initiative, The Sustainable Living Lab, a project that opens up campus data for students, researchers etc. to use the campus to implement, test, research and teach sustainability with the CBS campus as the focal point (campus as a living lab). The Sustainable Living Lab project engages student organizations to create a better and greener campus, but we need CBS staff, faculty and management to contribute directly to projects like this if we want to transform CBS into a more sustainable university. However, we do see small steps towards a sustainable movement internally at CBS, with the recent establishment of the Sustainable Infrastructure Taskforce at the Department of Management, Society and Communication. Among others, the taskforce has set out to implement waste sorting using the department as a pilot project and in time use this knowledge for similar initiatives around campus.

Reflecting on CBS’ role as a business university with significant social science expertise, the unique focus of the CBS approach is its emphasis on business and societal dimensions that we can make use of for a sustainable campus redevelopment. There is a tremendous opportunity for universities to play a key role in this sustainable transition in terms of research, economical benefits and branding of universities as green contributors just to mention a few.

I believe, it is time we started redefining the role of universities in the sustainable transition and engaging students and staff alike in the journey towards creating a green campus.


Louise Thomsen is Project Manager for CBS PRME and the VELUX Chair in Corporate Sustainability at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, CBS. Her areas of interest are sustainable consumption, innovation, student engagement, education and partnerships for sustainable development. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter

Pic by Bjarke MacCarthy.

How Businesses Can Profit with Purpose

By Robert Strand.

Money helps us meet our basic needs, but what about our need for meaning? Businesses will profit — not just financially — by finding their souls.

How do you motivate someone to work? For many the response is quite simple: money. Want more work? Pay more money. Economists have long instructed us that human beings are rational self-interest maximizers motivated solely by the dollar.

The discipline of economics has historically dominated business schools and management research and, it follows, that the fundamental assumption of self-interest maximization is applied to companies. As the economist Milton Friedman famously wrote “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”

A more powerful motivator
However, the view that money is the way to motivate someone to work is only half correct. And it is half terribly, terribly wrong. The research is in and it is clear: For knowledge workers, one must pay enough money to take the issue of money off the table. But beyond that, money is a terrible motivator.

In fact, money can be a demotivator as incentive plans often end up encouraging employees to think more about money than the work. Instead, purpose is increasingly recognized as the greatest motivator for employees and organizing force.

Purpose grows in importance with new generations of employees who are increasingly demanding that the organizations at which they spend their precious time connect to something much bigger. Great thinkers like Daniel Pink and my Berkeley-Haas colleague Barry Schwartz have much to say in support of this.

Can a business self-actualize?
Themes like social inclusion and climate change represent opportunities for companies to connect their employees with purpose. We recently held an event to explore how companies like Adobe and Microsoft are innovating their hiring practices to make it more possible for individuals from underrepresented populations to fulfill their potentials at their firms and, ultimately, encourage greater social inclusion.

For many large, established companies, connecting employees with a sense of purpose is remarkably challenging. This is where a corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability group can serve an important role. CSR and sustainability groups can identify material issues for that company, such as encouraging social inclusion or battling climate change, and bring these issues into the company. Profits are a bit to the company like oxygen is to the body: Necessary for survival but a pretty lousy thing to live for. Companies that connect their employees to a greater sense of purpose are those that will foster healthier organizations and ultimately realize greater profits.

This article was first published in the San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition, 28 June 2017.


Robert Strand is Sustainability Professor and Executive Director at Berkeley-Haas Center for Responsible Business. Follow him on Twitter @robertgstrand

Pic by Hamza Butt.

Malcolm McIntosh – Tribute to an Academic Entrepreneur

By Andreas Rasche.

Malcolm McIntosh passed away on 7 June 2017. We lost, as Sandra Waddock recently remarked, an intellectual shaman – someone who cared deeply about the state of the world and who was thinking so wonderfully enthusiastic, “wild” and unconventional about corporate responsibility and sustainability.

I first met Malcolm at the 2nd PRME Global Forum in New York in 2010. Ever since we had many thought-provoking exchanges about academic and non-academic matters, most often around the importance of health and happiness. What always struck me was Malcolm’s desire to make a difference; he not only was an intellectual shaman but also an academic entrepreneur.

He belonged to the few of us who knew how to navigate the worlds of “practice” and “academia” (whatever these labels may mean). Malcolm recognized that good research is about creating an impact; it is about changing peoples’ behavior and making them think about whatever problem we address through our scholarly work. While the academic community has recently started to discuss impact (mostly instrumentally driven by the UK REF system), Malcolm more pragmatically engaged with impact in his own way. He founded the Journal of Corporate Citizenship which until today puts practical relevance and impact high on its agenda; he created one of the first research centers on what back then was coined “corporate citizenship” at the University of Warwick; and he collaborated early on with the UN Global Compact and thereby helped to enact a global action network dedicated to corporate sustainability.

Malcolm did all this because and despite of the omnipresent pressures that surround the academic system, such as publishing in “A” journals (which usually have a quite narrow definition of impact). He published many influential books and articles on different topics related to corporate responsibility and sustainability. He co-edited the first book on the UN Global Compact titled “Learning to Talk” (Greenleaf, 2004). The book captured very well the zeitgeist of the CSR/sustainability movement – back then, it was very much about different societal actors learning to engage in meaningful discussions. Later, Malcolm looked at macro-level change when publishing “SEE Change – Making the Transition to a Sustainable Enterprise Economy” (together with Sandra Waddock, Greenleaf, 2011). The book skillfully outlined how systems-level transformations can happen and what it takes to move from organizational-level efforts (like CSR) to a reform of the whole economic system.

Malcolm’s work lives on in the work of the many people he inspired throughout his life (including my own academic work). He worked relentlessly to open doors for new ideas to take shape. He will be missed but he won’t be forgotten, because every entrepreneur leaves a trace. Malcolm left many of them…


Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society at Copenhagen Business School and Visiting Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. He can be reached at: ar.msc@cbs.dk and @RascheAndreas

Pic by Colin Poellot.

Reward-based Crowdfunding for Sustainable Entrepreneurs: A Practitioner’s Guide

By Kristian Roed Nielsen.

 In my last blog post, I offered some initial insights and ideas into how crowdfunding could be employed to support sustainable innovation. This time, having just finished my Ph.D. dissertation, I provide some hands-on advice for (sustainable) entrepreneurs wishing to succeed with reward-based crowdfunding based on mine and others’ latest research.

 Reward-based crowdfunding represents a rapidly growing source of innovation funding for a diversity of entrepreneurs, start-ups and even established firms. Crowdfunding success depends on the ability to mobilize strangers to support other strangers for causes, products or services that have not yet been realized and of which they have little direct oversight or control. This trust between and in strangers is fascinating for a host of reasons – how do individuals project trust so that others believe it, why do people trust and not least how is trust maintained? Also, what happens when innovation financiers are no longer professional investors, but rather ‘normal’ citizens like you and me? This is what my dissertation tried to uncover and below are a series of Q&As with regard to the question of how entrepreneurs can successfully achieve funding.

Q&As for Sustainable Entrepreneurs Planning to Pursue Reward-based Crowdfunding

1. What is your target?
The amounts typically raised by successful crowdfunding campaigns vary greatly. However, the average funding level of fully funded campaigns is approximately $8,000. Campaigns seeking significantly greater sums should also consider alternatives

2. Have you budgeted for failure (and success)?
A large majority of campaigns fail to meet their funding goals, but the costs relating to preparation are rarely accounted for (Gerber & Hui 2013; Mollick 2014). Even when successful, campaign founders often fail to account accurately for costs associated with implementing their project plan. These include higher than expected development costs or even mailing and return costs (Blaseg & Skiera 2016). Blaseg & Skiera (2016) note that one-in-ten fully funded campaigns fail to deliver on the promised product or service.

3. Have you succeeded or failed in the past?
Past success and failure are strongly associated with the likelihood of funding success. A prior successful campaign is associated with a 173% increase in expected funding receipts, while past failure is associated with a 17,7% reduction in expected funding receipts. Therefore, at the very least consider asking successful campaigns’ founders for advice.

4. Have you prepared a dissemination strategy?
The scale, connectedness, and “quality” of your team are significant predictors of crowdfunding success (Zheng et al. 2014; Nielsen et al. 2017). A large majority of campaigns receive only small amounts of support, while a small minority of campaigns receives the bulk of funds raised. For example, in the case of IndieGoGo “the top 10% of campaigns receive nearly 80 % of funds pledged to campaigns in our sample” (Nielsen et al. 2017: 16). Most campaigns fail early and significantly below their target. In addition, the ability to mobilize female support appears to lead to higher pledging levels (Nielsen 2017).

5. Where are you located?
A campaign located in an urban setting with high median income and social capital is significantly more likely to receive funding as compared to ones located in poorer rural areas.

6. What type of product are you pursuing?
Consumer goods that are out of sight or not directly related to personal style appear to attract significant higher levels of pledges, based on altruistic and/or environmental values. Conversely, visible consumer-goods related to personal style (e.g. new headphones or fashion items) appear to attract investments based on egocentric (or hedonistic) characteristics. The product you are pursuing affects what message works and which doesn’t.

7. Finally, how easy is your product to copy?
Be aware that there are copy-cats that use platforms like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter to trawl for easy to copy ideas and products (Smith 2013). Hence before announcing your campaign try to have your supply chain as ready as possible.

Reward-based Crowdfunding: Multifaceted Challenges and Untapped Potentials for Sustainable Entrepreneurs
Aside from these areas that sustainable entrepreneurs (and others) should be aware of when pursuing reward-based crowdfunding: is reward-based crowdfunding is a good match for sustainable entrepreneurs at all? As academic as it sounds, it depends. It depends on the purpose of the endeavor that sustainable entrepreneurs pursue, the sum of money they seek, where they are located, their social capital and network, their prior experience, and to a not insignificant extend on the product they are pursuing.

Furthermore, for all these attributes outlined, numerous of others are unaccounted for. As with any other human activity, there is a complexity that cannot simply be unspun in the span of a single dissertation. Nor can we detangle consumption in crowdfunding from the larger driving forces of consumer behavior. The fact that innovation finance can now be driven by consumers rather than professional investors does not in itself change consumer demands – demands which more often than not fail to correlate well with sustainable consumption behavior (Jackson & Michaelis 2003).

However, this does not imply a lack of significant potential within reward-based crowdfunding; especially because of the increasing recognition that individual behavior is strongly affected by, for example, the choice architecture inhabited by the individual (Thaler & Sunstein 2008; Sunstein & Reisch 2014). There is thus an evident potential for utilizing these insights in online crowdfunding platforms as well. Individual behavior is neither linear nor is it written in stone. It is rather shaped by a multitude of factors as illustrated in the dissertation; hence it is a matter of constructing a context that encourages the better angels of our nature.

The message, which the dissertation then seeks to instill in the reader, is that reward-based crowdfunding is not a silver-bullet to solving the funding concerns of sustainable entrepreneurship. Yet,  at the heart of what we call “the crowd” there lies a potential that remains – at least at the moment – largely untapped.


Kristian is a PhD-Fellow studying the potential of crowdfunding in driving sustainable innovation. He is home to the Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC) at Copenhagen Business School. Follow him on Twitter.

Pic by Torsten Maue, edited by BOS.

If at first you don’t succeed, build, build again

By Lara Hale.

It is already challenging to make small changes to buildings – painting the window panels, upgrading the kitchen, or even (as many Copenhageners are familiar with) installing a shower. But there is a pressing need for more extensive change – we need to learn how to build again and build more sustainably. As part of the EU Marie Curie project “Innovation for Sustainability (I4S)”, my PhD dissertation investigates how the Active House Alliance and their co-founder, VELUX, experiment with demonstration houses in order to develop a sustainable building standard for a trifecta: environment, energy, and comfort. In other words, it examines how they use experiments (building, then building again) to best synergize the three and holistically improve building practice.

The third dimension “comfort” has been particularly challenging to develop in that there has not historically been a formal definition or measurement of comfort in buildings. The PhD’s first article delves into how Active House goes about legitimating technical specifications (i.e. measurable parameters) for comfort in buildings. Not least of all, this has involved revisiting basic elements like light exposure, air exchange, and indoor human health (see for example the Circadian House Report). The research finds a reciprocal relationship between commensuration (conversion of qualities into comparable quantities, see Espeland & Stevens, 1998 and 2008) processes and legitimacy building – both among other professionals internationally and locally in the context of the projects.

The second article addresses structurally influencing the building users towards sustainable consumption – so that by design, people may behave more sustainably in buildings. Buildings are made with default rules: the rules for which infrastructural set-ups come ready-made. We know that default rules can affect sustainability-related behaviors (Mont et al., 2014; Sunstein & Reisch, 2013; Dolan et al., 2011; Brown et al., 2013). For example, the space orientation determines how much light a living room receives, and thus when and how for how long one uses lights. The literature holds that default rules work, in part, because they do not engage people’s awareness. However, this research finds that, in relation to sustainable consumption, that there are further nuances. Where at first people are unaware of how the defaults are affecting their behavior, after they leave the experimental buildings and live in their former, non-sustainably designed structures, the contrast makes them aware. It is this change that gears them towards making more sustainability-oriented consumption choices in the future.

Lastly, the third paper delves into the development of sensor-based building technology systems, such as WindowMaster, NetAtmo, Nest, and so forth. In an era of pressure for technologies that can decide for or replace the actions of people (McIntyre-Mills, 2013), building systems can manage entire households – from running grocery lists and scheduling exercise to adjusting electricity usage and changing temperature. At the same time, the building industry grapples with the performance gap, wherein the planned energy performance of buildings does not match reality, largely explained by failures to grasp how people will behave (Frankel et al., 2015). Rather design needs both technical and social considerations (Maguire, 2014). This article uses the Active House building demonstrations to show how these experiments have helped standards makers to learn from too much focus on technological automation – as it leads to an overshoot, wherein people feel too controlled by technology and either submit or tamper with it, akin to technological interaction highlights in the works of Rip and Kemp (1998) and Shove (2003). The paper argues that the pendulum can swing too far towards technological reliance, and that co-design, a balance between human and technological development is needed – especially under seeking sustainable solutions to societal challenges.

Altogether, the idea is: that which is built can be rebuilt, our norms and practices are fluid and constantly under development. In the case of sustainable building, governance projects and experiments must tackle challenges of measurement, consumer base, and rapidly evolving technologies. It is an era of uncertainty, wherein there are no clear trajectories for sustainability transitions; but when experimenting within the frame of learning and adapting for the next steps, we can lay the first building blocks.


Lara Anne Hale, MSc, is Marie Curie PhD Fellow at Copenhagen Business School at the Department of Management, Society, and Communication. Her research areas explore experimental governance, standards, innovation, green building, sustainability transitions, sustainable production and consumption. You can follow her on Twitter.

Pic by Open Buildings, showing LichtAktiv Haus.

Who’s responsibility is it, anyway?

By Erin Leitheiser.

Workers and companies from across the globe each play a part in creating our clothes.  Yet, it’s unclear who is responsible for addressing the myriad of social and environmental sustainability issues in these global supply chains. 

Who is responsible for the social and environmental sustainability of the denims that you’re wearing? 

Chances are that when you check the tag you’ll see the name of a country like Bangladesh, China or Turkey.  While global sourcing from these and other textile hubs has been common practice for decades, we still face major issues related to child labor, poor and unsafe working conditions, modern slavery, gender inequality, pollution, and many more.  Partnerships and collaborations have sprung up across the board to address supply chain issues, with just a few examples including an initiative to remedy the safety of ready-made garment (RMG) factories in Bangladesh, attempts to raise the standards and traceability of extractive industries, and Ethical Trading Initiative’s recent launch of a platform for ethical trade in Turkey

While partnership and collaboration form the foundation of many of these efforts, there remains great confusion about who is and should be responsible for what in supply chains.  Looking specifically at ready-made apparel (RMG) supply chains, here’s a glimpse into some of the murky roles and responsibilities. 

  • Consumers.  Consumers are held up as king in the world of retail, and may indeed have great (collective) power through purchasing behavior.  Yet, it is difficult if not impossible for consumers to make informed choices about how and where a product was made.  (Side note: a relatively new NGO has been established to create a consumer-facing scoring system to help combat this issue.)  And, even ethically-minded consumers are rarely willing to sacrifice style or price for sustainability.  Therefore, consumers often point to the brands and retailers who put product on the shelves as responsible for ensuring the social and environmental sustainability of all of their offerings. 
  • Brands and Retailers.  The giants of the RMG world, brands and retailers demand high volumes, quick turn-around times, and low prices in their industry of fast fashion.  Even large brands and retailers don’t own many – if any – of their own factories, so instead, opt to purchase goods from a vast network of third-party suppliers.  While virtually all buying companies have codes of conduct governing things like child labor and basic safety practices, any one company’s orders may only constitute a small fraction of a factory’s production, making leverage with the supplier to make changes and upgrades difficult at best.  This may be even more problematic for small brands and retailers whom may depend upon agents (the industry’s equivalent of your friend who “knows a guy”) to find and contract with suppliers. 
  • Suppliers (Factories).  Suppliers simultaneously face downward price pressure and increasing compliance requirements.  First, suppliers must be able to produce a quality product within a short period of time for the right (low) price.  Then, they must comply with each and every buyer’s code of conduct, some of which include additional third party certification (e.g. Oeko-Tex certification on harmful chemicals and substances, a virtual requirement for any producer of maternity or children’s wear).  At the same time they often need to rely upon sub-suppliers to complete orders on time since particularly small factories (under 300 workers) employ enough people to be able to quickly deliver orders for 5,000, 10,000 or more pieces, which adds an additional layer of complexity and transparency. Suppliers often resist worker unionization or other process improvements beyond what is demanded by buyers, in part fearing soaring costs that will make them uncompetitive in the marketplace. 
  • Local Governments.  Governments in supplying countries are responsible for setting and enforcing the laws governing the industry.  While most countries with significant production levels have reasonable laws in place regarding human rights, child labor, and environmental impact, those countries also often suffer from a great lack of enforcement of said laws for a myriad of reasons: lack of financial resources, insufficient staffing levels, inadequate processes and capabilities, and bribery and corruption, to name a few. 
  • UN and ILO.  The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and ILO’s Decent Work agenda provide standards and a framework from which businesses can formulate and evaluate their human rights and labor policies.  While crucially important tools, neither have the purview or power to compel uptake or compliance. 

This brief overview of just the major players in global textile supply chains shows how blurred the responsibilities are for social and environmental sustainability.  No one person or party is responsible for or can solve the challenges we face.  But, if we can all be open to change and accept that we each bear some responsibility for solving the issues, we have a fighting chance to make systemic and meaningful change in the industry.  Indeed, in the words of Andrew Carnegie, “do your duty and a little more and the future will take care of itself.”


Erin Leitheiser is a PhD Fellow 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 @erinleit.

Pic by Unicef, found on Flickr

Towards More Humanly Sustainable Workplaces

By Dr. Blagoy Blagoev.

There are more and more prominent voices calling for management research and practice to focus on the ‘grand challenges’ faced by society. Undoubtedly, one of those grand challenges most talked about is sustainability. Usually, sustainability is thought about in ecological terms. Indeed, a plethora of well-known issues exist at the interface between business and the natural environment, such as CO2 emissions or water pollution to name but a few. Increasingly, corporations are faced with pressing social demands to manage and organize in sustainable ways in order to prevent such problems from happening in the first place. Yet, another, much less talked about dimension is the human side of sustainability.

Breaking the extra-long hours regime in management consulting

The human side of business sustainability refers us to the problems at the interface between organizations and people, in particular, to the potentially harmful impact certain management practices can have on employees and their families. One, especially harmful development in many workplaces concerns the proliferation of extra-long hours regimes among highly qualified professional and knowledge workers. Many such workers seemingly voluntarily accept to work between 60 and 120 hours a week, remain connected to work through smartphones and laptops, and continue to do so even after experiencing severe work-induced bodily breakdowns. Such ‘extreme’ working time regimes have been shown to be detrimental to both individuals and their organizations: they harm employees’ health, productivity and creativity; reproduce gender inequality; and generate higher employee turnover rates and increasing cost for attracting and retaining highly qualified personnel. In short, in the long term, they create an unsustainable workplace environment. Yet, despite such well-known drawbacks, little progress has been made with dismantling extra-long hours regimes and building more humanly sustainable workplaces. Most work-life balance and family friendliness initiatives do not work.

Extra-long hours regimes persist. Why so?

In my doctoral dissertation, I studied the genesis and historical evolution of an extra-long working hours regime at an elite management consulting firm in Germany in order to answer this question. My empirical investigation demonstrated the historical contingency of the extra-long hours regime: Rather than being pre-given, it only emerged out of a strategic shift at the firm that occurred in the late 1980s. I discovered that the main reason underlying the persistence of long working hours at this firm could be found within the distinct self-reinforcing dynamics triggered by this shift. Over time, these dynamics had constituted and continued to maintain an ecology of complementary and mutually reinforcing management practices, business strategies and cultural norms that were all adjusted to and reinforced the extra-long hours regime. The dynamic spread throughout the entire organization and even beyond: It entangled the consulting firm’s clients too.

The way forward: re-thinking the „work-life balance“ approach

The results of my research imply that the dominant ‘work-life balance’ approach of dealing with such problems of human sustainability needs to be fundamentally reconsidered in at least two ways.

First, building humanly sustainable workplaces is a matter of radical and strategic rather than incremental and operative change. At least in the case of consulting firms, the extra-long working hours pattern cannot be isolated from the plethora of organizational practices, cultural norms and the overarching strategy that have historically co-evolved with it. Simply providing work-life initiatives, such as part-time work of flexible working hours, without attempting to change the entire organizational ecology intertwined with reproducing the extra-long hours regime is not likely to achieve much success. Understanding and breaking the logic of the dynamics that maintain this ecology is crucial for change initiatives to succeed.

Se