Category Archives: Environment

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.