Category Archives: Food

Sustainability’s Infrastructure

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

By Hannah Elliott, Martin Skrydstrup and Matthew Archer.

Why SUSTEIN?

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

3 Research lines

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

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

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

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

Research line A

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

Research line B

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

Research line C

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

The grant

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

Reference

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


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

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

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


Closing remarks

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

The BUSINESS Model is Dead: Long Live the Organizational Value Model!

By Oliver Laasch.

An ApPeaRange!

Business models are logics of value proposition (Pr), creation (Cr), exchange (Ex) and capture (Ca). When closely looking at sustainability business models, it becomes clear that these ‘value functions’ are not only shaped by a commercial logic, but also by one of sustainability. Many of sustainability business models include further logics of social welfare (e.g. social enterprises), and government (e.g. private-public partnerships) (Laasch, 2018b). If a homogeneous commercial business model was an orange, these business models are more like a heterogeneous mixture between an apple, a pear and that orange, an ApPeaRange! Their value logics are not homogeneously commercial, but heterogeneous mixtures.

Strange Fruit Everywhere

Heterogeneous value logics like the one of sustainability business models are widespread. Imagine you peel an orange and find an apple inside:

Over half of the FTSE100 corporations have integrated a responsibility logic into their business model descriptions (Laasch & Pinkse, 2018). Many large businesses, such as LEGO, as well as SMEs are family-run, integrating their commercial logic with a family logic (Laasch & Conaway, 2015). We may also think of the Chinese semi-conductor producer Goodark blending commercial logic with a spiritual logic of Confucianism; the German car supplier Allsafe with its humanistic logic of freedom and responsibility; or the Brownie bakery Greyston with its commercial value logic firmly wrapped around a social welfare logic (Laasch et al., 2018). Once opening our eyes to the variety of ‘values’, of normative orientations and purposes businesses are oriented towards (Randles & Laasch, 2016), the perceived number of companies adhering to a purely commercial value logic shrinks considerably. While the purely commercial business model might not be entirely dead, it sure shouldn’t be considered the norm. And then there are entirely non-commercial organizations with value logics.

Comparing APPLE and Oranges: Yes!

Isn’t comparing a commercial organization, for instance, Apple and noncommercial organizations, let’s say a church, like comparing Apple and oranges? Yes, cheap pun intended:

“…a commercial business like Apple. With a customer value proposition (Pr) of high quality and high-end design, it depends on highest-standard production processes (Cr) and on the ability to maintain high margins (Ca).”

Laasch, 2018b: 165.

It appears we have found a purely commercial value logic, one that deserves the name BUSINESS model. Can we analyze a non-business organization, for instance a church, the same way?

“…shaped by an institutional logic of religion. It may pursue a value proposition of spiritual salvation (Pr), by helping believers to live according to religious values through the provision of religious services from marriages and funerals to humanitarian aid (Cr), and exchange value in a global network of churches (Ex).”

Laasch, 2018b: 165.

It appears non-business organizations, while not having a BUSINESS model per se, do have an organizational value model of value proposition, creation, exchange and capture. Freeing the organizational value logic from its commercial business origins enables us to take a fresh look at any kind of organization: Churches, universities, NGOs, governments, your favorite sports club, you name it! Organizational value logics lend themselves to study, design, and improve all kinds of organizations.

How to Farm Strange Fruits?

It has been argued that one of the main challenges of our times is to create companies and other organizations shaped by alternative logics, be it the one of sustainability, or of social welfare. We have seen that many organizations already have heterogeneous value logics. How to change the ones that don’t? Three interrelated manifestations of organizational value logics together form an organizational value model:

  • Cognition: An organizational value logic manifests in organizational members’ cognitive structures, their mental models and related decision making.
  • Activities: Value logics manifest in the logic of action of the activity systems through which an organization’s value model is enacted.
  • Artefacts: Value logics materialize in physical form, as texts, or images, such as a business model description in the annual report, factory layouts, or products.

Changing an organization’s value logic can start in any of its manifestations. For instance, as a corporate responsibility strategy circulated through a multinational retailer, the document’s responsibility logic was translated into peoples’ mental models, new activities and structures (Laasch, 2016, 2018a). In the companies Goodark, Allsafe, and Greyston mentioned above, new practices centered on a humanistic value logic (Laasch et al., 2018; Laasch, Dierksmeier, & Pirson, 2015) changed the networks of practices’ enacting their business models (Boons, Laasch, & Dierksmeier, 2018; Laasch et al., 2015). The emerging field of business model sociology provides further insight into such change processes (Laasch, 2018c).

Oliver Laasch is an Assistant Professor of Strategy at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, founder of the Centre for Responsible Management Education and a visiting professor at the University of Tübingen’s Global Ethic Institute. Currently, he is a part of Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business (GRB) World Class Research Environment Fellowship program.


References and Materials

If you enjoy strange fruits, have a look at the ‘apples and oranges’ audioslides with a more ‘academic’ presentation.

  • Boons, F., Laasch, O., & Dierksmeier, C. 2018. Assembling organizational practices: The evolving humanistic business model of Allsafe, 6th Asian SME Conference. Tokyo.
  • Laasch, O. 2016. Business model change through embedding corporate responsibility-sustainability? Logics, devices, actor networks. University of Manchester, Manchester.
  • Laasch, O. 2018a. An actor-network perspective on business models: How ‘Being Responsible’ led to incremental, but pervasive change. Long Range Planning, [DOI 10.16/j.lrp.2018.04.002].
  • Laasch, O. 2018b. Beyond the purely commercial business model: Organizational value logics and the heterogeneity of sustainability business models. Long Range Planning, 51(1): 158-183.
  • Laasch, O. 2018c. Business model sociology: Exploring alternative lenses (not only) for the study of alternative business models. CRME Working Papers, 4(4).
  • Laasch, O., & Conaway, R. 2015. Principles of responsible management: Glocal sustainability, responsibility, ethics. Mason: Cengage.
  • Laasch, O., Dierksmeier, C., Livne-Tarandach, R., Pirson, M., Fu, P., & Qu, Q. 2018. Humanistic management performativity ‘in the wild’: The role of performative bundles of practices, 32nd Annual Australian & New Zealand Academy of Management (ANZAM) Conference. Auckland.
  • Laasch, O., Dierksmeier, C., & Pirson, M. 2015. Reality proves possibility: Developing humanistic business models from paradigmatic practice. Paper presented at the Academy of Management Annual Convention, Vancouver.
  • Laasch, O., & Pinkse, J. 2018. How the leopards got their spots: A typology of corporate responsibility business models, 3rd Annual Conference on New Business Models. Sofia.
  • Randles, S., & Laasch, O. 2016. Theorising the normative business model (NBM). Organization & Environment, 29(1): 53-73.

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?”.

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

By Jan Bauer.

  • MSC reviews six months of its sustainable food policy
  • Setting defaults can be highly effective
  • Guiding principles for the “right” defaults are not always easy to determine

During the summer 2017, the Department for Management, Society & Communication (MSC) at CBS hold a competition among its members to come up with ideas to foster sustainable behaviour within the daily work-life of the department. In addition to talking the talk in lectures and research, MSC hosts the CBS center for Corporate Social Responsibility, we also wanted to walk it.

Among many interesting submissions, the newly founded sustainable infrastructure task force (SIT) awarded the best idea, based on the potential impact and the feasibility of application within MSC. An idea to reduce the consumption of meat was declared as the winner. According to many studies, the reduction of meat reduces CO2 emissions and is associated with various health benefits.

Despite this evidence, banning meat in the department would have certainly and rightfully created substantial backlash. Banning meat would have unlikely been supported by a majority of the department members or its leadership as it can be arguably considered as an overly strong infringement of individual freedom.

Behavioural policy and the power of defaults

Based on a behavioral policy approach, the new food policy, publicly discussed in a department meeting and implemented in October 2017, ultimately changed the choice architecture of the way people order meals for meetings and events. For a trial period of six months, all meals became vegetarian by default; meaning that people get a vegetarian meal unless they actively opt-out and order a meat-based dish with a short email reply or by ticking a button (see example from a recent workshop invitation).

This idea is based on the principle of libertarian paternalism, which aims to steer peoples’ behaviour without restricting the freedom of choice and has been famously advocated by our colleague Cass Sunstein.

The power and controversy about purposefully setting defaults is often discussed in the context of organ donation. There is little doubt about the fact that people’s inertia to register as a donor can be linked to preventable deaths under the opt-out rule. The Netherlands recently change the default on the issue, but not all countries are expected to follow their example.

Predominant support for a sustainable default rule

The trial period of our food policy helped to understand the difficulties of implementing such a policy, e.g. what to do when you cannot ask participants. But it also aimed to collect data on how many vegetarian and meat-based meals were ordered. After the end of the trial period, a survey was conducted to elicit peoples’ attitudes towards and experiences with the policy.

More than 90% of the self-reported food orderings were vegetarian and the survey revealed that a majority supports to expand the policy beyond the trial period. However, the policy was not exclusively received with praise. Different concerns were raised about the policy, including the perception not feeling free to publicly speak up against such an initiative aimed and officially framed to “save the planet”.

Guiding principles: scientific evidence or democratic process?

I am confident that this pilot project will resolve its remaining issues, but the process itself has been a valuable learning experience and sparked some reflection. One issue is the rather simple question on what guiding principle should the default be selected in such an example. Two ideas come to mind instantly: assuming there is corporate interest in the health of employees and low CO2 emissions, the scientific evidence suggests that the vegetarian default should be the preferred way. However, decisions based on naturally broad scientific claims might miss important case-specific aspects, neglect the (corporate) culture and individual preferences.

Alternatively, setting the default by a democratic process might suffer from limited debate for such a morally loaded topic and individual biases against the abstract value of one’s own long-term health or reducing global warming. In principle, the aim should be to maximize overall welfare and nudge people to be “better off as judged by the themselves”. For reasons outlined above, it is not always easy or even fully clear, how and when individual judgement of such a policy should be assessed.

Judgement at the right time

When it comes to the food itself, having the light, vegetarian meal could be judged as less appealing before or during lunch when being extremely hungry, but evaluation might already change shortly after the meal. Reflecting on a meal in a satiated state can alter the importance of different aspects. Research suggests that hunger shifts preferences towards more palatable and less healthy foods, but also repeated exposure to a specific food increases preference for it. Hence, only 30 minutes could make all the difference, but potential benefits to health and environment might manifest in 30 years and only by then alter retrospective evaluation of such a policy.

Even though there is no natural default, most people like eating meat despite potential adverse health effects, including myself, which makes justifying any default rule difficult. In our case, all approaches we tried point towards the same result, which makes us hopeful to do the right thing. A decision to prolong the experimental policy by another year was recently made in the Department Forum. However, it is important to keep in mind that at its worst, this specific policy presents a die-hard meat lover with a vegetarian meal that he forgot to opt-out of – a hopefully rare event I am nevertheless sorry for.


Jan Bauer is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School and part of CBS’ Governing Responsible Business Research Environment. His research interests are in the fields of health economics and consumer behaviour. As part of the Nudge-it Project, he focused on fostering healthy food choices of children and adults.