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.


Photo by Matthias Heyde on Unsplash

Constructing Social Portfolios: A Quantitative versus Screening Approach

By Alina Hofer, Lea Katharina Kasper & Dr. Kristjan Jespersen 

◦ 5 min read 

When we talk about ESG, one could argue that there is a strong bias focused on climate investing, reaching net zero targets as well as good corporate governance and diversity themes. But there is much more to ESG. The “Social” dimension of ESG is hugely under explored and developed and covers under studied issues such as how companies treat their employees and care for the responsibility of their products. Still further, assessments linked to human rights codes and social impacts is only now receiving the attention it truly deserves. Although the importance of these topics is undisputed, we see that attention to particularly address the social dimension has been lacking, whereas awareness of other ESG risks has been rising immensely during the past years. 

Not only is the general knowledge and focus on the social dimension of ESG limited, its overall  implementation in portfolio management has not been sufficiently experimented with and addressed.

The delay to properly implement the “S” in ESG is often explained because of the challenges to quantify, assess, and integrate social factors generally.

However, this argument should not be a sufficient justification for neglecting the “S” in ESG and for investigating a possible relationship between a good social rating and superior financial performance. To tackle this lack of awareness, we constructed two portfolios which integrate Refinitiv’s Social ratings based on different integration strategies and test their performance towards the market between 2012-2021.

When integrating social – or other ESG – ratings into the investment process, we find there is often disagreement on how to best consider these factors in portfolio construction. Currently, it is most common to apply screening or best-in-class strategies. These approaches aim to remove assets that do not fulfill certain criteria from a defined investment universe. Negative screening would mean to remove those companies that perform worst from the pool of assets. Inversely, an investor could also only continue with those firms who at least have a certain minimum rating. For both approaches, the portfolio weights are then allocated to the assets that remain. This is done using conventional indicators such as value, size or expected risk-adjusted returns. In our study, we, however observe a clear shortcoming of this approach: After screening out the worst 10% “social performers” and allocating weights based on a risk-return trade-off, the portfolio does not necessarily promise a higher overall ESG score than a portfolio would reach which does not consider the ratings at all. Although the portfolio yields a solid financial performance, this raises the question whether any ESG-related impact has been made with this integration approach.

To make sure an investor can improve his exposure to assets that score well in the social dimension, we integrate the rating scores directly into the optimization problem of our second portfolio. This leads to a very different outcome on the social rating:

Looking closer at the mechanics of this approach, we extend the traditional Sharpe Ratio with the ESG factor, meaning to add by how much it a company “outscores” the market average. This results in the following “Social Sharpe Ratio”:

We add a fifty percent weight split, which can be flexibly adjusted towards investor preferences. And we now balance a risk-return-social trade-off. This explains why the second approach over 9 years constantly beats the market average in respect to the integrated Social factor without sacrificing any performance on the financial side. In fact, we find that in 5 out of 9 years, the second strategy would have also led to higher risk-adjusted returns measured by the Sharpe ratio. Moreover, returns were consistently higher compared to the market benchmark. This result is quite remarkable, given that it is often questioned whether investors need to sacrifice returns in order to make their investments more socially responsible. 

Lastly, our study resulted in one more unforeseen twist when it comes to integrating ESG ratings. That is, the question whether we can actually trust the rating scores. To answer this, we must first understand how scores are created. Rating providers look at an immense amount of publicly disclosed information, reports and policies. And based on what company’s report, rating scores are aggregated. However, it is clear that a firm would only report on things they do well. In fact, we observe that with increased reporting, ESG scores also improve. But what about the real-life actions and impacts? Some rating providers offer a combined score, which also considers media reports on the involvement in controversial actions. As these scores are only available at an aggregate level, we calculate them on a single-pillar level using Refinitiv’s methodology, which adjusts for firm size and industry. Looking at specific examples in our portfolios, we found that the impact of such controversy involvement on the overall score could still be larger. Nevertheless, we stress that in order to have a complete picture of a firm’s ESG behavior, the impact of these controversies needs to be reflected in investment decisions. 

To sum up, given the results of our research, there are three things we aim to highlight:

  • It is crucial to increase investors’ awareness of “Social” matters and provide a better landscape for impact investments in this specific dimension.
  • Integrating ESG ratings does not always promise a better ESG performance for the whole portfolio. Therefore, it is necessary to focus on strategies that lead to actual impact.
  • Third, looking beyond the information that is disclosed by companies themselves, more attention should also be addressed to “real life actions” when making investment decisions. 

About the Authors

Lea Kasper has recently graduated with a MSc. in Finance and Investments (cand.merc.) from Copenhagen Business School. Her interest and enthusiasms about sustainability and how to more efficiently integrate non-financial factors in investment decision-making contributed to her choice to further investigate this topic throughout the master thesis. 

Alina Hofer has recently graduated with a MSc. in Finance and Investments (cand.merc.) from Copenhagen Business School. Being passionate about creating impact through ESG-aligned investments, she was excited to further focus on her interest in this field throughout the master thesis.

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.


Image source: SustainIt

Corporate social responsibility and societal governance

By Jeremy Moon

 3 min read ◦

Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine reminds us that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is both a reflection of the times we live in and also dynamic! Numerous corporations, acting in response to social and political pressure, are withdrawing from Russia on the grounds that human rights, and a nation’s rights, are being trampled on. This is not to say that these decisions necessarily come easily: there may be ethical, strategic, stakeholder and political tensions. But the point is that perhaps the most basic societal issue of war and peace – and its governance – enters CSR agendas. Ethical investors are even considering the defense industries as suitable for their assets.

In recent decades several challenges have emerged which appear to move CSR from a relative comfort zone of discretionary activities to more core societal governance challenges, some of these manifestly involve some corporate culpability (e.g. the 2008 financial crisis, international supply chain labor abuses, climate change, ecological degradation), others like international pandemics, war and international health and welfare challenges reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, may reflect wider causes. Nonetheless, corporations claim some responsibility for these issues. Even corporate ‘talk’, as well as ‘walk’, contribute to the redefinition of CSR to take in core societal governance challenges.

This is understood as right and proper from some perspectives. Medieval corporations were established precisely to achieve public ends – often of basic infrastructure. Industrial corporations were pioneers of C19th health, welfare and education systems.  In many developing countries corporations take responsibility for physical security of their employees and communities. 

But in the late C20th a view took hold that this was somehow inappropriate.  Milton Friedman’s famous 1970 critique of CSR was precisely on the grounds that corporations are not accountable for addressing such issues: governments are. Many CSR advocates, whether fearing a corporate takeover of government or vice versa, and have advocated a dichotomy between the responsibilities (social and economic) of corporations and those of governments.

Yet the last twenty years have witnessed two related phenomena which challenge the dichotomous view. First, corporations have chosen to engage in social and environmental agendas which are core for national and international governments (e.g. human rights, corruption, access to resources), whether in response to pressure or by virtue of their own ethical or strategic judgement. Secondly, governments have encouraged corporations to enjoin public efforts, through their policies of endorsement and cajoling, financial incentives, partnerships and even mandates (e.g. for energy markets, non-financial reporting, supply chain due diligence).  

Governments have recognized the distinctive resources that corporations can bring to governance questions (e.g. to innovate, to experiment, to reach beyond national boundaries, to collaborate). Interestingly in cases of mandate, governments often cede to corporations discretion as to how, rather than whether, to comply. Thus, for example, corporations can choose whether to cynically comply with international weapons sanctions on a country to sell arms by the legal use of third parties to effectively maintain the sales OR to embrace the spirit and intention of the sanctions and uniformly cease the sales to the regime in question.

But Friedman’s critique nags and critics of corporations point to unaccountable corporate power through lobbying and informal influence.  Corporations lack a traditional democratic mandate. We elect MPs and governments, but not CEOs. So is engagement with public policy (rather than legal compliance) really the business of corporations?  

My short answer is ‘yes’ on the grounds that businesses are members of society and that corporations are afforded particular privileges by the state, and thus have clear public duties. But the situation is not satisfactory.  In most democratic jurisdictions corporations’ roles ‘to make’ and ‘to take’ regulation are not clearly specified and thus their accountability is unclear.  Moreover, new international multi-stakeholder initiatives which tie corporations in with each other and with civil society often fail to effectively regulate errant organizations.  

So we have a challenge which is about CSR and politics: how to better build corporations into political institutions? I suggest that the challenge is shared – for corporations to review their political participation to ensure that it is citizenly; for civil society to engage in defining how corporations can be more accountable and to engage more directly in corporate accountability (perhaps with support from government?); and for governments to review how accountably corporations influence and respond to regulation.  


About the Author

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

Photo credit: TarikVision on iStock

Do nudges work in organisations?

By Leonie Decrinis

 3 min read ◦

Introduced by Thaler and Sunstein in 2008, nudges have become popular policy tools to change the behaviour of consumers and citizens in desirable ways without compromising their freedom of choice. Their success in public policy domains has sparked the interest of management teams to apply nudges in organisations as means to guide the decisions of employees. However, in comparison to the ever-growing literature on the use of nudges in the public sphere, relatively little is known about their applicability at the workplace. 

More and more organisations are pursuing corporate social responsibility and sustainability strategies, for which changes in workplace behaviour are key. Nudges can help organisations promote the needed behavioural change in relevant domains, such as employee health, energy conservation, green transportation, waste management, ethics and diversity, to name just a few. A number of studies report, for example, success in promoting healthier food choices of employees through alterations in the choice architecture of workplace canteens. Other nudging interventions have led to reductions in electricity use by providing feedback to employees on the desirable behaviour of peers. Regarding workplace diversity, evaluating job candidates jointly rather than separately has proved to promote gender-mixed teams. Further, in the ethical domain, honest employee behaviour appeared to rise by reminding people about their shared moral values at critical decision points. 

The mentioned examples provide an idea of the potential of nudges as cost- and time-efficient alternatives to traditional organisational intervention tools that mostly involve trainings and sanctions with limited success. A key advantage of nudges is their behaviourally informed approach, acknowledging the role of unconscious decision processes that often contradict people’s good intentions.

By altering the choice environment rather than trying to rewire the human brain, nudges can steer employees to desirable behaviours while preserving their freedom of choice.

Just recently, the United Nations Behavioural Science Week has convened experts from international agencies, governments, academia and the private sector to discuss about these possibilities. However, what has also been recognised, as much as workplace nudging involves opportunities, it comes with challenges that need to be addressed. 

The first question that one might ask is how nudging individuals inside organisations for specific concerns leads to impactful organisational change in line with strategic corporate goals. Theory tells us that this is possible indeed by nudging a significant amount of employees. Organisations are made up of people. When enough people are nudged to alter their behaviour in a specific way, the new behaviour has the potential to become a norm, i.e. a rule for expected and accepted behaviour. Once embedded in the culture of an organisation, people are likely to conform to the new norm, so that organisational behaviour changes as a whole. 

This idea comes with a caveat though. Organisations are complex social constructs with formal and informal components of organisational culture conveying a variety of messages to employees. A gentle nudge might thereby not be strong enough to induce the desired behavioural change. Signals elsewhere in the organisation could simply counterbalance the effect of a choice-preserving nudge. Typically, nudges are designed and tested for very specific instances of human behaviour. What works in one context might not work in another one, sometimes even resulting in unintended consequences. Clarifying the effectiveness of nudges is difficult in complex organisational settings, particularly regarding their impact in the longer term. This requires consequent piloting and testing over considerable periods of time, allowing for a flexible and adaptive approach to a particular setting.

Contrary to the idea of nudges being top-down policy tools, successful intervention implementation in complex organisational choice environments requires the active contribution of employees. The latter should be consulted about their needs, involved in the design of nudges and informed about the intervention implementation. A high degree of transparency is also necessary to ensure the acceptance of nudges by employees.

Another aspect to keep in mind is that widespread organisational change, such as switching from a solely profit-oriented corporate performance to a more encompassing economic, social and environmental one, cannot be addressed by nudges alone.

Complex organisational problems need to be broken down into micro pieces, suited to be managed by a variety of measures and instruments. Not all of the resulting aspects will have human behaviour at their core. Some might be fundamentally technological in nature, requiring innovative technical solutions. For those problems that remain to be behavioural, the ones that involve serious risks will always call for stringent enforcement tools. Others, however, might be better addressed through a voluntary, trust-based approach. This is where choice-preserving nudges come into play. Clearly, a single nudging intervention can only address a very specific concern. The wider organisational success depends on the aggregate of multiple nudges as well as their interplay with other policies. Measures ultimately need to send consistent messages about desirable behaviours, aligned with an organisation’s broader strategic goals. By influencing organisational culture in an encompassing way, widespread organisational change will gradually take place. 


Further readings

Beshears, J., & Gino, F. (2015). Leaders as decision architects: Structure your organization’s work to encourage wise choicesHarvard Business Review.

Foster, L. (2017). Applying behavioural insights to organisations: Theoretical underpinnings (EC OECD seminar series on designing better economic development policies for regions and cities). Paris: OECD and European Commission. 

Ilieva, V., & Drakulevski, L. (2018). Applying behavioral economics insights at the workplace. Journal of Human Resource Management

Venema, T., & van Gestel, L. (2021). Nudging in the Workplace. In R. Appel-Meulenbroek, & V. Danivska (Eds). A Handbook of Theories on Designing Alignment between People and the Office Environment.


About the Author

Leonie Decrinis is PhD fellow at Copenhagen Business School with research interests in corporate social responsibility, sustainability governance and behavioral sciences. Her PhD project focuses on applying behavioral insights to corporate sustainability in order to align governance objectives with organizational behavior.


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ESG investing in a changing regulatory environment: investing in active or passive ESG financial products?

By Marco Morazzoni and Dr. Kristjan Jespersen

◦ 8 min read 

The impending climate crisis emphasizes the need to mobilize large-scale investments to finance the transition towards a more sustainable and inclusive economy. The financial sector plays a pivotal role in this context, as it allocates capital from investors who wish to pursue financial and non-financial objectives to corporations and stakeholders who need these resources to empower the sustainability transition.

Over the past decades, individual investors have become aware of the risks inherent in unsustainable business practices, being increasingly interested in financial products that combine a competitive risk-adjusted return with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria. Despite the increase in funds, indices and benchmarks that include ESG dimensions, the universe of ESG financial products remains difficult to navigate for individual investors due to the range of investment strategies that can be used to pursue ESG goals, such as negative and positive screening, best-in-class, ESG integration, impact investing and ESG engagement. In addition to ESG strategic considerations, investors ought to consider the level of active management inherent in their ESG products, since it has considerable implications for financial returns and the ESG objectives pursued.

In fact, while some financial products have an active investment approach, trying to beat a reference benchmark, others merely aim to replicate the ESG impact and financial performance of an index.

‘Active versus passive’ debate

The literature on conventional active and passive investing is almost unanimously in favour of long-term passive investing, due to active managers’ inability to consistently beat the market and to the lower fees charged by passive funds. However, the ‘active versus passive’ debate in the context of ESG investing is more nuanced.  This is because ESG investing entails the pursuit of intangible and hardly quantifiable goals that go beyond the achievement of mere financial returns. Furthermore, due to the different definitions and methodologies used in the assessment of ESG performance and the resulting unrealiablity of ESG data, the trade-off between impact and financial returns can be difficult to reconcile. 

A study conducted on 78 ESG active mutual funds and 15 ESG exchange-traded funds (ETFs) seeks to contribute to the debate by illuminating the financial and non-financial features that characterize these sustainable financial products. The funds were selected from Morningstar Direct according to specific criteria, such as: availability of an ESG rating, European domicile, invested in equity, active investment approach (for mutual funds) and passive investment approach (for ETFs).

By constructing an equally-weighted portfolio for the selected ESG active mutual funds and ESG ETFs, the study used the CAPM, three-factor, four-factor and five-factor model to compare the portfolios’ risk-adjusted perfromance before and after fees. To increase the robustness of the study, the regression analysis was conducted on various market benchmarks, such as MSCI World, STOXX Europe 600, MSCI World ESG Leaders and MSCI Europe ESG Leaders.  

The regression results indicated that the ESG active portfolio outperformed the ESG passive portfolio both before and after accounting for management fees. Controlling for the criteria used in the selection of the funds, the active outperformance could be attributed to the funds’ instrinsic characteristics, such as investment orientation, ESG investment approach and ESG scores. Accordingly, 77% of the ESG active portoflio had a global investment orientation compared to 27% of the ESG ETF portfolio. This entails that the active portolio covered more geographies, exhibiting higher diversification and improved risk-mitigation.

Further, 83% of the active portfolio practiced ESG engagment, a strategy that previous literature associates to superior financial returns and improved ESG impact.

By engaging with companies on ESG issues, ESG active funds may have been able to help ‘lagging’ firms improve their ESG performance, while enabling ‘leading’ firms to address their ESG issues. With respect to ESG scores (Morningstar and MSCI), the active portfolio displayed a lower overall ESG score compared to the ESG ETF portfolio. This finding could suggest that the active portfolio invested in lower rated companies on average, with the objective of helping them transform their ESG strategy and thus pursue higher risk-adjusted returns.

Insights to individual investors in ESG financial products

Recognizing the limitation derived from the small sample size and the fact that the active outperformance might be due to the specific funds selected, the findings were used to provide a set of insights to individual investors who wish to invest in ESG financial products.

Firstly, individual investors were categorised into ESG-unaware, ESG-aware and ESG-motivated, according to the investor labels used by Pedersen et al. (2021) “Responsible investing: The ESG-efficient frontier”. This categorization simplified reality to the extent that it became easier to derive actionable insights. Furthermore, it provided more granularity with respect to investors’ prerogatives regarding the trade-off between the pursuit of an ESG impact versus a risk-adjusted return.

Based on this categorization, investors who disregard ESG information (ESG-unaware) should invest passively in broad conventional ETFs or in a diversified portfolio of more specific conventional ETFs.

Investors who consider ESG information for risk-mitigation purposes (ESG-aware) ought to focus on the level of selectivity displayed by active managers in their stock-picking activity, measured in terms of high/low R-squared. If active managers are highly selective (low R-squared), ESG-aware investors may consider foregoing part of their return, due to the higher active management fees, and thus benefit from managers’ ability to pursue a greater ESG impact and potentially higher risk-adjusted returns.

Conversely, if active managers exhibit low selectivity with respect to a reference benchmark (high R-squared), investors would be better off investing passively in broad ESG ETFs or in a diversified portfolio of more specific ESG ETFs. Lastly, ESG-motivated investors may be better off investing in ESG active funds who practice ESG engagement, as the higher fees charged by these funds would worthwhile, given the superior ESG impact inherent in ESG engagment strategies.

Regulatory considerations

In addition to the empirical findings, the study also included regulatory considerations in the assessment of the suitability of active versus passive ESG financial products for individual investors. This was critical, since the new MiFID for sustainability preferences will come into force on the 2nd of August 2022.

According to this regulation (2021/1253), investment firms will be obliged to ask their clients about their sustainability preferences and find out whether they are interested in sustainable financial products. If the answer is affirmative, financial advisors will only be allowed to offer MiFID-aligned products to their clients. A MiFID-aligned product will have to include a minimum portion of ‘environmentally sustainable Investments’ (SFDR article 9), EU Taxonomy-aligned investments, or enhanced article 8 investments, consisting of article 8 investments (SFDR article 8) which also include Principal Adverse Impact (PAI) indicators.

Linking the new regulatory requirements to the findings of this empirical research, it is reasonable to expect that ESG-unaware investors will no longer exist, as investment firms will be legally required to inform these clients about the ESG implications inherent in their investments. This will give rise to an increase in supply of sustainable financial products (MiFID-aligned), as investment firms strive to keep up with the increased demand for these products. The rise in supply will most likely be larger than the increase in demand, since a portion of the new ESG-aware investors might continue disregarding ESG information, if ESG financial products are priced unreasonably (excessively high management fees). This will ultimately lead to higher competition among investment firms, with a consequent downward pressure on fees in the long-run. Lower investment costs could subvert individual investors’ incentives, as they decide on whether to invest in ESG active or passive funds. Accordingly, it might become desirable for ESG-aware investors to invest in ESG active funds who practice ESG engagement, as opposed to it being a strategy exclusively suitable for ESG-motivated investors.


The information contained in this blog post is not to be taken as constituting the giving of investment advice or recommendation. The reader is acting for its own account, and they will make their own independent decisions as to whether any investment is appropriate based upon their own judgment.


About the Author

Marco Morazzoni is a recent graduate in MSc Applied Economics and Finance from Copenhagen Business School. Having an interest in finance and ESG, he wrote his master’s thesis on “ESG exchange-traded funds versus ESG active funds: how can individual investors pursue ESG objectives while achieving competitive risk-adjusted returns?”

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: Khanchit Khirisutchalual on iStock

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Asia: Then and now

By Wendy Chapple & Jeremy Moon

◦ 3 min read 

This blog post is a repost and has first been published by Business and Society (BAS) blog on 27th of April 2022.

It is both a bit weird and a great honour to be invited to reflect on our paper, “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Asia: A Seven Country Study of CSR Web Site Reporting”. The process has given us a chance to reflect on what we knew then, what we know now, and how much things have evolved. Our reflections cover memories of the context and origins of the paper; the data available – and unavailable – to us at the time; the approach we took – and what we see as its virtues – and the results; and the relevance of the paper to CSR in Asia today – nearly twenty years on.

As is often the case, the origins of a well-known paper are curious. Our paper grew from the internationalization strategy of the University of Nottingham (UoN) where we then worked in the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ICCSR). UoN had opened a campus in Malaysia and was opening another in China. So, the Vice-Chancellor encouraged us to engage with our colleagues there …which made us think that we should probably know a bit about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Asia … hence the paper. Little did we know what this would lead to!

Thanks to the ICCSR, we had the funds to employ researchers with whom we analyzed web site reporting of 50 companies’ CSR in seven Asian countries: India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand (bringing a range of business systems in terms of size, religion and culture, political system, and economic development). Hang on, you say, what about China? Our answer is simply that at that time there were barely any Chinese MNCs with English language website reporting… which is certainly not the case now! Although our choice of sample skewed the population to the larger companies with a strong international business profile, this did not concern us as it strengthened the testing of the CSR-shaping role of national business systems.

We focused on broad CSR waves, i.e. community involvement, socially responsible production processes, and socially responsible employee relations. Whilst it enabled broad generalizability of the character of CSR nearly twenty years ago, it does raise some questions of compatibility with current CSR agendas in Asia. However, the more inductive identification of component CSR issues (e.g. community development; education & training; health and disability; environment) makes the findings amenable to temporal comparison, providing a more fine-grained analysis of activity within the waves. We also focused inductively on the dominant CSR modes (i.e. how the issues were addressed). This is when things got interesting. We started to see distinctive country patterns emerge in terms of issues within the waves (e.g. community issues were particularly prominent in India, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, but less so in the other three countries), but this was not the case in the modes. The modes deployed within each of the waves were strikingly similar: philanthropy dominated community investment, and codes  and standards dominated production processes. In other words, the “what” rather than the “how” was nationally distinctive.

Some conclusions now seem uncontentious, most obviously that ‘community involvement’ is the CSR priority in Asia. Similarly, there is no “Asian CSR” model, but a set of nationally distinctive patterns of CSR behaviour, resulting from the national business systems, rather than development. Reflective of the impact of globalization on CSR, we found that companies operating internationally were more likely to adopt CSR than those operating only in their home country. One might expect that international exposure might lead to an increase in similarity of approaches across countries; however, we instead found that the CSR of the multinational companies operating in Asian countries tended to reflect their host rather than their home countries, reinforcing the national distinctiveness. However, this finding may be a little simplistic in the light of emerging tensions between international CSR approaches and host country experiences.

It is great to see that CSR in Asia has attracted a volume of research and we are delighted that our paper has been a reference point for some of this research.


Blog Editor’s note: The authors’ paper, “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Asia: A Seven Country Study of CSR Web Site Reporting” , is open access until December 31st 2022 as part of the journal’s 60th anniversary celebrations


About the Authors

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

Wendy Chapple is a full Professor of International Business and CSR at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Vienna). She has played central roles in programme design and development, designing CSR related programmes and has been programme director for MSc and MBA programmes in CSR in the UK.  Wendy gained recognition for the development of faculty, programmes and research, by winning the Aspen Institute faculty pioneer award in 2008.  At WU, she will contribute CSR and Sustainability modules to the CEMs and undergraduate programmes.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Institutions matter: The importance of institutional quality when embedding sustainability within the capitalistic realm

By Lisa Bernt Elboth, Adrian Rudolf Doppler, & Dr. Kristjan Jespersen

◦ 5 min read 

Institutions not only structure any sort of social interaction [1], but are also essential in solving societal problems [2], such as climate change and the associated threat towards a fair and just future. It is not without reason that the United Nations particularly emphasized institutional progress within SDG 16 [3] to advance to a more effective, inclusive, and accountable society. In a recent study, it was found that institutions matter to a great extent when scrutinizing the relationship between corporate financial performance (CFP) and ESG performance. More specifically, the institutional environment a company finds itself in determines whether sustainable business practices get transformed into financial returns.

The claim that more sustainable companies are outperforming their not so sustainable peers is not new [4] and the consequent shift of investors’ preferences towards more sustainable companies has been taking place with increasing speed over the last decade [5]. Associated wake-up calls and the urge to take ESG into consideration are not surprising either. Besides the alleged desire of investors for a just and sustainable future, this shift is more likely based on the theory that sustainable finance delivers abnormal returns [6]. But is the relationship between sustainable behavior and financial performance as straightforward as it is disseminated? Are more sustainable corporations indeed more likely to achieve better financial results regardless of where they are and what they do?

In fact, when utilizing ESG scores, rankings, and performance as a proxy for sustainable behavior, two meta-analyses [7] [8] concluded that in most empirical studies the resulting relationship was not as simplistic, universal or linear as it is often propagated. In a corresponding literature review, the researchers also identified a large number of discrepancies among scholars in how to statistically model the relationship, what control variables to use and how to even quantify the dependent and independent variables of focus. Following these insights, the researchers uncovered a determining factor in establishing and shaping the emphasized relationship – institutional quality.

Key Findings

The final sample consisted of datapoints from 6,976 corporations, situated in 75 different countries over a period of eleven years or, specifically, from 2009 to 2020. Subsequently, these were analyzed applying fixed effects panel regression models. Both an accounting- and a market-based measure were used to quantify corporate financial performance, respectively, Return on Assets (ROA) and Tobin’s Q. Meanwhile, ESG performance was proxied by ESG scores from Refinitiv (former Thomson Reuters). The variables associated with institutional environment were split into 

  1. Institutional Quality, calculated through a factor analysis and based on the World Governance Indicators from the World Bank and 
  2. Industry Sensitivity, a dummy variable equal to 1 if the GICS industry of a firm was deemed sensitive towards ESG.
Institutions are among the determinantal factors for the link 

Interestingly, the general statistical analysis of ESG and CFP did not yield any significant results, however, when moderating effects stemming from the institutional environment were introduced, this changed. Under high institutional quality, the researchers found a positive relationship between ESG scores and financial performance. Contrarily, the relationship was negative under low institutional quality. Exemplified below by the case of Finland 2012, Argentina 2018 and Zimbabwe 2012, institutions can be seen as the determining factor for direction of the focal link. Furthermore, the industrial environment a corporation finds itself in was found to affect the relationship ambiguously. Generally, sensitive firms seem to receive relatively less financial gain for improved ESG performance, and it may even be negative.

Possible explanations for such dynamics
  • Legal institutions, such as environmental regulations, labor laws or health and safety requirements, can serve as the means of reflecting sustainable behavior inside a company’s balance sheet. Finland was for instance the first country to introduce a carbon tax capturing corporate pollution by giving it a price and hence affecting accounting profits.
  • In highly corruptive settings, where the trust of the general public is lacking, the likelihood of sustainable activities being perceived as greenwashing and thus not rewarded by investors, could be another reason for an inverse relationship in low institutionally developed regions. 
  • In line with the previous, when accountability is low, and corporate entities can disclose information without third party verification, it could be relatively easy to stay focused on short-term profits through unsustainable practices but still receive a better ESG rating.  
  • In environments with low institutional quality, banks tend to only give out short-term loans in order to reduce their own risks. This can lead to a vicious cycle of corporate lenders also only focusing on short-term profit maximization which then again decreases their access to capital, constraining their ability to engage in long-term sustainable practices.
Putting the SO WHAT into practice

When setting out for systemic change, it is important to ensure the necessary institutional environment in order to encourage individuals, as well as corporate entities to act in the best interest of the entire society and the planet. Thereby, a bottom-up approach focusing on incentivizing every individual and a top-down approach, fostering legal macro-level change can be synthesized, leading to the best possible outcome. These institutions should seek to maximize accountability, transparency, and mechanisms to internalize negative externalities. Corporations within such environments should fully leverage opportunities associated with sustainable practices, such as cheaper access to capital, in order to incrementally advance the progress towards a just space for humankind. Corporations, which are especially sensitive towards ESG related elements irrespective of their ESG scores, should aspire to enhance their own credibility, as this might award them with a competitive advantage. Lastly, societies with high institutional quality should strive for teaching about their institutions and the associated benefits to everyone else, as a global problem can only be solved on a global level. 


References

Doppler, A.R., & Elboth, L.B. (2022). Institutional Quality, Industry Sensitivity and ESG: An Empirical Study of the Moderating Effects onto the Relationship between ESG Performance and Corporate Financial Performance (Unpublished master’s thesis). 22098. Copenhagen Business School, Denmark.


About the Authors

Lisa Bernt Elboth recently graduated with an M.Sc. in Applied Economics and Finance as well as a CEMS Master’s in International Management from Copenhagen Business School and Bocconi University. Her interest in global matters and sustainability has flourished during her studies impacting the choice of master thesis topic and this subsequent blog contribution.

Adrian Rudolf Doppler works as a research assistant for the Department of International Economics, Government and Business at Copenhagen Business School and had just graduated with a Master’s in Applied Economics & Finance and the CEMS Master’s in International Management after a two-year journey. He had always been passionate about ESG, Sustainability and the existing links with the capital markets, as well as the complex system dynamics arising form it.

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 credit: Galeanu Mihai on iStock

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

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

By Anna Sophie Hauge, Marie Haadem and Meike Janssen

◦ 4 min read 

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

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

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

Alonso-Almeida et al., 2014

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

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

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

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

Characteristics of Success

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

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

In the end

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


About the Authors

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

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

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


PhPhoto by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

Sustainability enabler or complexity blinder?

By Milena Karen Bär & Dr. Kristjan Jespersen

◦ 5 min read 

The first step of the EU Action Plan of Sustainable Finance

New regulations in the ESG sphere are on the upswing especially in the EU. To reach the commitments of the Paris agreement, the European commission has introduced new regulations as the first step of the EU action plan: the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR). The first level was already implemented on March 10th 2021. The implementation of the regulation is an extension of the EU Taxonomy, amending the issue of greenwashing among financial market participants (FMPs). The new reporting requirements are profound and will be fundamental to almost any participant on the European markets, whether you are in the financial, or for that matter, the manufacturing, retail, service, non-governmental and governmental sectors.

The European Union’s experiment in defining what is sustainable and in directing markets to more sustainable investments, is putting pressure on market players to keep up with the quickly paced regulative developments.

Two main issues are subject to the debate of appropriate implementation of the SFDR, which entail firstly, the uncertainty of product classification and secondly, the complexity of data collection and usage. Not only all those affected must revise their whole reporting regime, but the EU must ultimately also ask itself the question whether the regulations have nurtured the intended behavior of the market. 

SFDR and PAI in general

The SFDR is implemented to benefit clarity for investors and asset managers, by improving their ability to compare investment options from a sustainability point of view. Therefore, the SFDR provides a collective framework, which requires FMPs to disclose the way they are taking sustainability risks into consideration in its business practices (entity level) and in its financial products (product level) in a consistent and curated fashion.

Additionally, the FMP must report on the principal adverse impacts (PAIs). These contain a list of mandatory and voluntary adverse impact indicators, covering environmental issues and the field of social and employee matters, respect for human rights, anti-corruption, and anti-bribery matters. Based on the SFDR disclosures, the product offerings can then be classified within the three categories referred to as article 6, 8, or 9 products, which indicate the level of greenness ranging from article 6 which does not consider sustainability at all, and article 9 which must follow a sustainable objective.

Issues arising 

The objective of the EU Action Plan and the SFDR is to reorient financial capital towards sustainable products and solutions. However, certain challenges raise the question whether the regulation can indeed serve this very purpose. To begin with, the mechanics of defining light and dark green products is lacking a foundation and boundaries, allowing for self-interpretation. The differentiation between light and dark green is ambiguous, and thus instead of serving as a guideline, is increasing uncertainty about what the articles constitute. 

Issue 1: The color palette of light and dark green assets

One might say, just as colors are perceived differently by each human, light and dark green assets can be various shades of green and thus, on completely different sustainability levels. The regulatory product declaration is not yet methodologically sound, the lack of distinction of the two leaves room for interpretation of the classifying entity. So far, no specific classification mechanism or framework exists that FMPs can apply and are thus able to approach the classification in more prudent or more generous ways. One may put a product under article 8, while at the same time another FMP might classify the same product under article 9. 

It seems the darkness of green is up for preference of the asset manager. Although there may be consensus that exclusion strategies are minimum requirements for both classifications, the scope of exclusion criteria varies greatly. This allows for instance some article 9 products to still be involved in controversial actions, such as fossil fuels, tobacco, and controversial weapons. 

Secondly, collecting relevant data poses a challenge, and even if data is available, its variety used to report on the SFDR and the PAI, makes the curation inconsistent and biased. An investor might have a full PAI statement to assess its investment, but can one trust the accuracy and relevancy of the data? 

Issue 2: Quality of data fades into the background

The PAI statements can be considered as a curation tool for asset managers (AM) to filter for the most sustainable products and steer capital towards green transition products. Even though the framework of the PAI indicators might be well structured, what is important is the quality of inputs. But the complexity of PAI indicators poses challenges for almost any market participant. PAI data is often not readily available, and this is aggravated by the fact that this data needs to be tracked on a continuous basis. Data collection and maintenance can thus become costly for the underlying portfolio companies. Large cap companies can overcome this issue, but small cap players are confronted with an expensive data collection for a wide range of PAIs or with the need to opt out due to lack of data availability.

Hence, large cap companies may gain competitive advantage without indicating greater performance. AMs incorporate the PAI data in a screening process to extract the most responsible products of the investment universe. However, some asset managers are simply selecting those assets with the highest coverage of PAI indicators. Again, leaving large cap companies in favor, although the high coverage of indicators not necessarily correlates with sustainable performance. The quality of the data fades into the background and investments with higher sustainable and financial potential can be missed out on. Ultimately, businesses leading the market today, may stay right where they are, without enabling opportunities for more innovative and greener solutions.

While the intention of the SFDR is to further restrict greenwashing, current practice may raise the question whether there are still loopholes for FMPs to label their products as greener as they actually are. Although we have seen regulations to be great drivers of sustainable corporate and market action, guidelines must be established to provide more specific and narrow pathways. The weak structure of product classification and the complexity of data may prevent the SFDR to provide a framework for more coherent and uniform information of sustainability risks. The European commission must clarify actual implementation practices, to enable the entire effect of capital reorientation. No market participant is exempted from the need to be aligned with the SFDR today, as new waves of regulations will follow, and it is to start paddling.


About the Author

Milena Karen Bär is a student researcher in ESG and Sustainable Investments, absolving a Master’s degree in applied Economics and Finance 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.

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 Freddie Collins on Unsplash

How do we think about sustainable investing? Suggestions from an exploratory study

By Margherita Massazza & Dr. Kristjan Jespersen

◦ 4 min read 

From the outset, this blog post takes the perspective that behavioral finance is required to assess the perceived tension in sustainable investing (SI). Our work investigates the extent to which sustainability considerations are included in investment decisions, and the drivers behind SI approaches.

Sustainability is increasingly integrated in financial markets, with the acronym “ESG” (Environment, Social, Governance) becoming an all-encompassing term widely used in all phases of the investment process. According to a recent global review, sustainable assets [1] reached USD 35.3 trillion at the end of 2019, representing 35% of total professionally managed assets, and they are set to grow further in the coming years. Yet, despite its growth and the positive sentiment associated with it, there is an inherent tension in sustainable investing.

This tension stems from the apparent disconnect between the theoretical assumptions of classical financial models, focused on risk and financial returns as the predominant determinants of investment decisions (e.g., Capital Asset Pricing Model, Modern Portfolio Theory, etc.), and the empirical evidence of SI, where portfolio allocations are affected by non-financial aspects like personal values and social pressures. How can we make sense of this tension? 

Usually, the contradiction is formulated in terms of a tradeoff between financial returns and ESG impact: in order to achieve one, investors must forego the other. However, this view is still rooted in a traditional finance perspective, according to which including ESG considerations or seeking a non-monetary impact comes at the expenses of returns.

There needs to be more nuance in how sustainable investing decisions are investigated and assessed. Given the pervasive and engaging nature of ESG issues, sustainable investing is likely shaped by internal and external forces that go beyond the financial-vs-impact debate. By acknowledging the role that cognitive limitations, biases, and the external context play for investments, behavioral finance allows to capture the financial impact of factors that tend to be overlooked in mainstream financial theories. 

Under this perspective, the authors carried out a study based on primary data from European retail and professional investors. It focused on two main questions:

To what extent are sustainability considerations included in investment decisions?

Firstly our analysis broke down the relative importance of four attributes for the investment choice, i.e. the relative weight (expressed in percentage) that each characteristic exert on the investment decision. Sustainability attributes carry a relative importance of about 38%, with ESG score displaying a 26% relevance, and the investment’s end objective a 12% relevance. Taken together, these parameters display a larger role than standard financial attributes of risk level (relative importance of 33%) and expected returns (relative importance of 29%) (Figure 1). The results confirm the significance of ESG aspects for a well-rounded assessment of an investment, arguing against the traditional perspective of risk and returns as the sole determinants of investment choices.

Figure 1 – Relative importance of investment attributes for investment choice, by investor type
What drives investors to invest sustainably?

Secondly, we identified the main tendencies leading investors to engage in SI. Starting from a set of 16 heterogeneous motives, 4 main drivers emerged: a desire for self-expression, a financial-strategic rationale, the influence of the external context, and an opportunistic motive (Table 1). These drivers depict SI as a multifaceted phenomenon that unfolds along various dimensions, and not only on the financial and impact layers. They propose a novel perspective to think about SI, which takes into consideration how endogenous (e.g., alignment with values) and exogenous (e.g., role of regulation) forces may affect investments. 

Table 1 – Drivers of Sustainable Investing
How can the findings help us better assess sustainable investing?

This analysis shows the extent to which ESG aspects are integrated in investments, confirming their importance for investment choices. It also shows the multidimensionality of SI drivers, which eschews the rigid perspective of traditional finance and accounts for the impact of relevant internal and external factors. 

With this understanding, it is possible to formulate practical insights for industry participants to address the current challenges of SI. In fact, there are concerns related to the over-inclusion of sustainability in investment decisions at the expenses of fundamental financial analysis, which may lead to mispricing, inflated asset evaluation, and potentially an “ESG bubble”.

  • Standardize definitions and improve sustainability communication. Social context emerged as one of the drivers of SI, and regulators have a strong role to play in harmonizing the meaning of sustainability in finance. Legislative and non-governmental bodies are working to overcome the lack of standard definition and frameworks in SI – e.g., via the European Union’s Sustainable Finance strategy. Their effort to create a common vocabulary and shared understanding of what SI entails will help to align incentives, concepts, and strategies. In parallel, the financial-asset supply side (e.g., fund providers, financial advisors, etc.) should communicate clearly and extensively on the sustainability aspects of financial products. Given the importance of ESG characteristics for investment choices, this will ensure investors have reliable and trustworthy information to guide their investments. Together, the agreement in terminology and the availability of sustainability information will reduce the possibility for misinformation and opportunistic tendencies to sway investment decisions.
  • Recognize the existence of complex drivers behind sustainable investment decisions. Investors, both professional and retail, should evaluate how different motives affect their investment choices. Knowing that multiple drivers exist will ensure that investment are aligned with goals, limiting the influence of irrationality and misinformation. This will not only benefit investment strategies, but also curb counter-productive results such as the emergence of an ESG price bubble. To explore what drives investor’s decisions, an ad-hoc survey could be submitted ahead of opening investment accounts, mirroring the logic of the MiFID directive. This may have positive effects, such as involving more retail investors in sustainable investing [2].
  • Finally, consider adopting a behavioral approach when studying sustainable investing. The flexibility of behavioral finance may allow to grasp further insights and help to think about this timely topic in a novel way.

References

[1] The Global Sustainable Investing Alliance (GSIA) considers defines “Sustainable” all assets that integrate ESG factors in the analysis and selection of securities. More detail in their latest global report.

[2] Retail investors still face barriers to fully engage in SI: the topic is investigated in the paper “Investment Barriers and Labeling Schemes for Socially Responsible Investments” by Gutsche and Zwergel (2020).


About the Authors

Margherita Massazza is a CBS and Bocconi graduate in Economics of Innovation, with a focus on Sustainability. Her research investigates the links between traditional investments and behavioral finance to understand how sustainability decisions unfold. She is currently working in the Foresight team of AXA, an insurance company, where she studies the role that corporations will play in the future and how the concept of sustainability will evolve. 

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 PiggyBank on Unsplash

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.


Photo by Franz Schäfer on Unsplash

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.


Photo by Guillaume Périgois on Unsplash

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.


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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.


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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

Are sustainable and healthy diets always compatible? Needs for an emic-oriented cultural research on sustainable consumption

By Fumiko Kano Glückstad

◦ 6 min read 

It is widely acknowledged that a plant-based diet is healthier than an animal-based diet (Willett, et al. 2019). However, a group of Japanese researchers recently published a thought-provoking article demonstrating that a lower diet-related Greenhouse gas emission (GHGE) has generally resulted in an inadequate nutrient intake among Japanese adults (Sugimoto et al. 2020).

Their results seem to support the fact that the Japanese Government has excluded any dietary-related initiatives from its long-term national strategies concerning the targeted 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In other words, Japanese opinion leaders seem to challenge the generally accepted viewpoint of a direct positive correlation between a sustainable diet and a healthy diet, contradicting widely accepted European studies and initiatives (e.g. Sjörs et al. 2017). This apparent controversial observation motivated me to look into the historical development of meat consumption on a global scale. Most importantly, the recently published guiding principles by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019 state that “Sustainable Healthy Diets” are a trade-off between the two dimensions: sustainability and healthiness of diets. Thus, countries should decide on such trade-offs in consideration with their situation and goals (FAO & WHO, 2019). 

The following figure indicates such a trade-off situation for various geographical regions and it clearly shows that the meat consumption in Western countries is obviously higher than the rest of the world such as compared to e.g., Africa or Asia, although a substantial increase of meat consumption is observed in both China and Japan.

In particular, the main increases observed in China and Japan seem to be well-synchronized with the periods of their respective economic developments that simultaneously triggered their modernization (Westernization) process in their markets. However, the curves of Japanese and Chinese meat consumption also show a noticeable difference. Whereas the meat consumption in China has steeply increased since the 1980es, Japan seems to moderate its increase from the early 1990es and ahead, which is most likely explained by their respective economic developments. However, in this blog, I want to supplement these observations with some personal insights on what has happened in Japan during this period through my work experiences in the related industry.

Meat consumption in this blog refers to the average supply of meat across the population shown in this figure. Food supply is defined as food accessible for human consumption meaning the food remaining for human use after deduction of all non-food utilizations. Source: Our World in Data https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/meat-supply-per-person

During the Japanese bubble economy in the 1980es to the early 1990es, the Japanese middle class had increasingly wider opportunities to be exposed to the Western food culture due to their Westernization. This somewhat alarmed key Japanese health professionals, nutritionists, food experts and industries who considered a ”Western lifestyle and food culture” as a source of lifestyle-related chronic diseases e.g., diabetes 2 and cardiovascular issues, which would gradually impact Japanese consumers.

This subsequently triggered a countless number of initiatives aimed to nudge a wide range of the population towards a healthier diet. The initiatives were eventually formalized as a Health Promotion Act in 2002 and the Basic Law on “Shokuiku (food and nutrition education)” in 2005 by the Japanese government (MAFF, 2019).

Source: Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries. 2019. “A Guide to Shokuiku.” https://www.maff.go.jp/j/syokuiku/guide/pdf/00_en_guide.pdf

The Shokuiku act has since become a comprehensive program targeting everyone from school children to the elderly, and its initiatives have involved a broad range of Japanese stakeholders, not only the central and local governments, health professionals and nutritionists but also food and restaurant businesses and their consumers.

The Shokuiku program has promoted the nutritional education from a holistic viewpoint and emphasized the importance of enjoying healthy meals from societal and cultural perspectives through various sensory food experiences. As a consumer researcher in the 1990es in one of Japan’s largest high-tech companies producing various kitchen appliances, I also personally participated in a variety of initiatives involving consumer organizations, health professionals, nutritionists and food and restaurant businesses to nudge consumers towards a healthy diet at that time. 

In a European context, nudging consumers towards a sustainable and healthy diet usually implies the replacement of an animal-based diet with a plant-based diet with emphasis on ingredients. One major difference to the Japanese nudging initiatives is that the Shokuiku promotion has encouraged consumers to learn how to select “nutritionally balanced meals” in their daily life while enjoying variations in sensory food experiences. Consumers have many ways to achieve this by following the “Japanese food guide spinning top” that can be easily followed by a wide range of population groups, i.e. from school children to the elderly (see the below picture). The maintenance of a moderate meat consumption level observed from the Japanese curve in the above figure might be partially attributed to such ‘enjoyable’ Shokuiku initiatives (see Yoneda, 2019).

Japan has been able to moderate its overall meat consumption without specific promotions of plant-based diets also thanks to the traditional Japanese food culture that is originally rooted in a plant-rich diet. Thus, in a Japanese context, it is perceived possible to achieve a well-balanced diet while simultaneously enjoying variations in sensory food experiences, in other words, nudging a healthy diet can be perceived as an enjoyable experience. Interestingly, Kanemoto et al. (2019) recently reported that meat consumption only weakly explains the difference between high- and low food carbon footprints (FCF) among 60,000 Japanese households. This study ponders that Japanese should (also) consider restricting their consumption in other areas than meat consumption with a higher estimated FCF such as restaurant foods, confectionary and alcohol. 

Source: Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries. 2019. “A Guide to Shokuiku.” https://www.maff.go.jp/j/syokuiku/guide/pdf/00_en_guide.pdf

These observed trends indicate the importance of fully understanding social, cultural and dietary contexts in various countries and regions when researching on sustainable food consumption because food is inherently deeply rooted in the specific cultures. In other words, sustainable consumption studies should ideally shed more light on an emic approach addressing a specific sample of that region and discuss adaptability of such studies to countries outside of the specific region with due respect of the embedded cultural contexts. 


About the Author:

Fumiko Kano Glückstad is Associate Professor of Cross-Cultural Cognition at the Copenhagen Business School. She works in the area of cross-cultural psychology and her recent project “iBeauty” funded by the third largest Japanese cosmetic company investigates associations between personal values, beauty and well-being in cross-cultural contexts. She previously worked as a consumer researcher and product concept designer of kitchen appliances at Panasonic Corporation, one of the largest Japanese electronics industry enterprises.

Negative Capability: Sustaining our discomfort towards a collectively responsible society

By Tali Padan

◦ 3 min read 

In my PhD studies, I work with a different type of sustainability. Not the sustainability of carbon footprints or systemic transformations but a sustainability of reflection. How we do keep ourselves in continuous reflexive dialogue (with ourselves and others) so that we don’t prematurely reach conceptual closure, stagnating in our own comfort?  

Maybe comfort is sustainability’s biggest threat. 

I say this considering the many years I’ve lived in the US, after a few formative years in Israel. Comfort is the reason my mom uses paper towels in lieu of regular towels in the kitchen, and the reason my dad cannot stand critics of Israel. Comfort is identity. It is plastic. It is the reason I throw away the whole moldy cream cheese instead of washing and separating. It is why it is easier not to participate in big group meetings. This blog post itself is a distraction from the discomfort that Chapter 5 of my PhD dissertation brings. 

When this comfort is shaken up, there are many ways of trying to get there again – avoiding, rejecting, resisting – and in the case of global shakeups like the Covid pandemic, the talk about ‘getting back to normal’. But what if we were able to maintain a state of uncertainty, of not knowing what the solution is or how to get there. And rather than spending energy trying, we settle into the unsettlement, letting it stir up the hurricane of trapped emotions and meeting visitors we thought we buried years ago? This is what the poet John Keats called ‘negative capability’, the ability to be in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts ‘without any irritable reaching after fact & reason’.

 What if that ‘irritable reaching’ was in reality counterproductive towards our individual and therefore collective growth? 

Here comes the ‘don’t get me wrong’ section. I am not suggesting we linger in the dissonance until the glaciers drown us. Nor that we use this approach as an excuse not to try, or ironically – get so comfortable with the discomfort that we disengage from any responsibility. But that we let each shake-up sufficiently run its course so that our demons can be faced, both individually and collectively.  

In the elective course that I teach for third year Bachelor’s students, this is what we practice. First, and maybe most importantly, we sit in a circle. The circle grounds us in our fundamental equality and triggers us to explore our many inequalities. The class engages in a series of activities dealing with democracy, using an Israeli democracy education method called ‘Betzavta’ (Hebrew for ‘togetherness’). Betzavta, developed in the Adam Institute in Israel, integrates and emphasizes dilemmas and conflicts in order to experientially learn how to live with others in a democratic society. Each activity in the method includes reflecting on the result of the activity but also on the process. By shifting the reflection towards process, students are provoked to examine their own dynamics. Subconscious assumptions and habits can then be revealed and questioned.  

It is by no means an easy process. As one student succinctly put it in the final evaluation: 

“I thought that the whole thing was very good, good questions, good topics, good dialogue. But man, did it suck. It was horrible actually. But very cool.” 

The ‘horrible’ part that this student is referring to could range from the discomfort of conflicting opinions to the tension of judgement, and the palpable, heavy silence that can be felt when students hold back from sharing these tensions. The good part, as I perceive it from the facilitator’s chair, is that these tensions are exposed, felt and explored, and subsequently used towards a reflexive type of learning. Lingering in these tensions cultivates our negative capability and is the doorway towards this learning. 

The class represents a miniature society. When going through such an experience, students start to naturally move away from an exaggerated individuality and become more considerate towards the collective. By exposing and sharing the more difficult emotions we usually avoid – anger, irritation, overwhelm, anxiety, boredom – students get the opportunity to practice living together more genuinely, modeling the society most of us wish to see in the world. Lingering in these emotions requires being negatively capable because the habit is to seek comfort, stability, a pleasant state of mind. In this way, the ‘negative’ in negative capability does not refer to what is undesirable but rather an absence, the absence of habit, identity, or ideology. It means having the ability to stay in uncertainty without resorting to previous knowledge structures or beliefs. It’s in the letting go, entering the vulnerable home of the unknown, where thought is not there to fragment and give birth to anxiety, that we may connect with each other more genuinely. This, in my view, is a sustainable practice that could benefit us individually and therefore collectively. 


About the Author

Tali Padan is currently in the final year of her PhD at CBS, writing about experiential learning techniques in the business classroom. As a facilitator and researcher, Tali is interested in how purposeful experiences of dissonance can contribute to learning. She is from Israel/USA and has lived in Denmark for ten years. 

To stay or to go: Corporate complicity in human rights abuses after the coup d’état in Myanmar

By Verena Girschik & Htwe Htwe Thein

◦ 2 min read 

Foreign investors in Myanmar have come under increasingly intense pressure to cut ties with the Myanmar military since the military coup on 1st February 2021. Immediately after the coup, Japan’s Kirin Beer announced its decision to cut ties with its joint venture partner MEHL, i.e. the commercial arm of the military. However, fellow investors did not immediately follow Kirin’s withdrawal. Instead, they appeared to be treading water to rid out the storm. 

Myanmar had been undergoing democratic transition since 2011, promising developments and luring investors’ interests as the last frontier of the Southeast Asian market. Indeed, the democratic transition had pathed the way for economic and developmental achievements, attracted investments in several sectors such as garment manufacturing. Yet then the military took back power, among others to secure its economic interests.

Governments and civil society in their home countries have been calling on companies to act responsible and not to do business with the military. 

The pressure on companies who had been sourcing from Myanmar, including popular fashion brands like H&M and Bestseller, has been mounting. H&M and Bestseller did respond to the call and did suspend their orders from Myanmar before deciding to resume orders in May. Several foreign investors have withdrawn as the military’s attack on the civilians intensified and the international community stepped up their sanctions regime. The latest step was the refusal of the ASEAN not to invite the military leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to the summit in October 2021. 

But is leaving the country really “the right thing to do”?

Companies who stay support the military in one way or another, for example by paying taxes directly to the military or paying rent or other fees to one of the military conglomerates (MEHL). Such payments from corporate investors provide a financial lifeline to the continuation of the military rule, hence, funding is a very important aspect of this dilemma for foreign investors and policy makers alike. The governments of the U.S., UK, Canada, the European Union have imposed sanctions targeting military interests. However, those sanctions so far have fallen short of targeting it where it would really hurt the military, in particular in the oil and gas sector that provides a lot of revenue. To weaken the military’s financial lifeline, the shadow government and activists have been calling for companies to stop all kinds of payments to the military. Inside the country, boycotts of military intestates have intensified. For instance, householders have been participating in an electricity bill boycott, thus using the withdrawal of this kind of support as a form of resistance. Not surprisingly, many companies have by now decided to pull out. 

Yet while leaving the country ceases support to the military, it also entails that companies no longer provide goods and services (including essential services) and support to the workers and civil society (e.g. Telenor;  Germany’s food retailer Metro. Companies have been supporting workers by sustaining safe workplaces, thereby securing workers’ incomes and stability.  What is more, their support has enabled and sustained social movements. For example, women union leaders in the garment industry have been a driving force in anti-military protests. 

Given the severity of human rights violations by the military, companies ought not to continue business as usual. Only by leaving can they cut all ties with the military and avert their complicity in atrocious human rights abuses. But by leaving, they also cease support to their most vulnerable stakeholders. The impact on the social contributions (via CSR) and Myanmar civil society, especially their workers, might be devastating. 


About the Authors

Verena Girschik is Assistant Professor of CSR, Communication, and Organization at Copenhagen Business School (Denmark). She adopts a communicative institutionalist perspective to understand how companies negotiate their roles and responsibilities, how they perform them, and with what consequences. Empirically, she is interested in activism in and around multinational companies and in business–humanitarian collaboration. Her research has been published in the Journal of Management Studies, Human Relations, Business & Society, and Critical Perspectives on International Business. She’s on Twitter: @verenacph

Htwe Htwe Thein is an Associate Professor in International Business at Curtin University, Australia. She is internationally known for her work on business and foreign investment in Myanmar and has published in leading journals including Journal of World Business, Journal of Industrial Relations, Journal of Contemporary Asia, International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management and Feminist Economics (and international publishers such as Cambridge University Press, Routledge and Sage). She is also well-known as a commentator in media and press on the Myanmar economy and developments since the military takeover on 1 February 2021.

Moving towards mandatory CSR – EU’s mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence proposal

By Johanna Jarvela

◦ 2 min read 

Last March European parliament gave a proposal to create mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence directive. The aim is to prevent human rights and environmental harm in a more efficient way, through regulation. The commission proposal is based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and has three core elements: firstly, companies should themselves assess the risks of human rights violations in their supply chains, secondly, take action together with the stakeholders to address identified threats, and lastly – and most importantly – offer a system for access to remedy for those whose rights have been violated.  The commission is expected to give their resolution on the matter before Christmas, though the decision has been delayed already few times.

The EU proposal can be seen as a part of a continuum towards more mandated forms of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Traditionally CSR has been defined as something voluntary that companies do in addition to the letter of law in response to stakeholder pressures and societal expectations. At the level of individual organisations this has meant providing societal good through philanthropy and partnerships with NGOs or avoiding harm by improving the sustainability of business operations. Also, a great number industry level voluntary standards have been invented to solve the environmental and labour issues in transnational supply chains (Fair trade and Forest Stewardship Council being good examples). 

However, the past 20 years of voluntary measures have not been able to eliminate human rights violations in business operations. Indeed, it seems that voluntariness works for inspiring collaboration and innovating for better world.

In situations of wrongdoing, exploitation, and harm, stronger frameworks are needed to hold organizations accountable and offer remedy to victims. 

The recent development towards more mandated forms of corporate responsibility, like the French Due Diligence reporting Act or the UK Modern Slavery act, can be seen as efforts to respond to the accountability deficit. In June this year Germany passed a HRDD law stipulating that companies must identify risks of human rights violations in their supply chains and also take countermeasures. Also, Norway passed a similar law that requires companies to conduct human rights and decent work due diligence. Similar issues have been discussed in most of European governments.

There are caveats in creating this type of regulation. It might lead to tick-the-box type of exercises without true consideration for the human rights risk, burden companies if not given enough time and guidance to adjust, and transparency reporting does not seem to be enough to change business behaviour. One of the most difficult, yet most important, area in developing the new binding standards is the pillar three of UNGP: Access to Remedy. This pillar tries to ensure that in cases of violations, the victims will have a channel to make claims and receive remedy. Whether it should be civil or administrative liability or whether there should be an ombudsman in each country receiving complaints or via whistleblowing is all still in the air. What is clear is that whatever the final design of well-functioning HRDD system requires inputs and cooperation from businesses, civil society, and governments alike. Companies know best their supply chains, but sometimes NGOs may be a useful counterpart for identifying the risks and setting up stakeholder consultations. Finally, governments should be final proofers of the system ensuring accountability and enforcement. 

While some industry associations have raised concerns about the new regulations and the ability of European companies to oversee operations elsewhere, companies also evaluate that the new EU directive might level the playing field and give them a new tool in managing supply chains. Indeed, it seems that we are moving towards regulated CSR not only within EU but globally. UN has launched an intergovernmental working group to prepare a binding treaty on Business and Human Rights, there is an initiative for  minimum global corporate tax and efforts to close tax havens. More and more reporting is expected by companies, not only as increasing ESG reports to shareholders but more and more also as part of the mandatory legal requirements. 

Societal expectations are one of the key drivers for CSR. According to the latest polls it seems that European citizens and consumers expect the companies to upkeep good human rights and environmental standards within their global supply chains. 


About the Author

Johanna Järvelä,  is a postdoc researcher at Copenhagen Business School and member of the advisory committee for Human Rights Due Diligence Law in Finland. Her research focuses on the interplay of public and private governance in natural resource extraction and she’s especially interested in exploring how steer private sector towards providing societal good. 


Photo by Lan Nguyen on Unsplash

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

By Nina Böntgen, Sara Derse and Meike Janssen

◦ 4 min read 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this imply for marketers of sustainable brands?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the Authors

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

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

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


Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Climate Change and Magical Thinking

By Steen Vallentin

◦ 7 min read 

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

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

Blah blah blah.    

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

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

What is Magical Thinking?

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

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

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

Ends and Means: Strong and Weak Sustainability

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

– source: developed from Sjåfjell (2018)

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

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

The Magic of Win-Win

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

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

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

The European Green Deal as a Win-Win Scenario

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

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

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

The Magic of Danish Government Policy

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Balancing Act: Magic and Reality

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

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

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


Further Reading

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

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


About the Author

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


Heading photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash.

How the EU Taxonomy Impacts Businesses Beyond Europe

By Andreas Rasche

 4 min read ◦

In 2020, the EU launched its classification system for environmentally sustainable economic activities, the so-called “EU Taxonomy Regulation” (hereafter: the Taxonomy). The Taxonomy is part of an integrated system of new EU-wide sustainability regulations, including new disclosure requirements for investors. While the Taxonomy is based on EU regulation, it can be expected that it will also have effects on businesses beyond Europe. 

Basically, there are two ways in which the Taxonomy can affect non-EU companies. First, there are direct regulatory effects on non-EU companies. Because of the global nature of financial markets and the existence of global trade flows, non-EU companies will be directly exposed to the Taxonomy in different ways. Secondly, there will also be more indirect consequences, which I call “ripple effects”. Such effects exist because the Taxonomy raises the bar globally for how sustainability information should be disclosed, by whom it should be disclosed, and it which ways it can be disclosed. I briefly discuss both effects. 

Direct Effects 

In the short run, some non-EU companies will be exposed to the Taxonomy because of direct regulatory effects. Consider the following two examples: 

  • A non-EU investor or financial advisor that wants to offer products on the European markets will be exposed to the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) which requires an alignment with the EU Taxonomy. To offer financial products on European markets non-EU investors will therefore have to align with SFDR and hence the Taxonomy.  
  • A non-EU company with EU-based investors is very likely to receive questions from these investors about the company’s alignment with the Taxonomy. Investors need this information to meet disclosure requirements under SFDR, for instance to classify their financial products in terms of their sustainability exposure. In other words, at least some non-EU companies will start disclosing more on Taxonomy-related indicators. 

I could list more examples here (e.g., non-EU asset managers wanting to raise money in the EU), but the message is clear: the effects of the Taxonomy are not limited to businesses located in Europe. Particularly, the Taxonomy’s interaction effects with SFDR will affected non-European companies as well as investors.  

Ripple Effects

Ripple effects are more indirect effects. They occur if an intervention, such as the introduction of a new regulation, creates further effects that reach beyond the system that was supposed to be influenced by the intervention. Such regulatory ripple effects can occur in different ways.

In the context of the Taxonomy, one important ripple effect is related to the practices of European businesses. Many of these businesses are global players, and they will apply the Taxonomy to their global operations regardless of whether these operations occur in a country that is legally covered by the Taxonomy. Sustainability reporting is usually done at the corporate level and therefore also includes firms’ non-European operations. The EU’s new disclosure regulation the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) will require that such reporting at the corporate level is taxonomy-aligned. In this way, European global players will “export” the Taxonomy to other parts of the world.

There are also ripple effects at the political level. The system of new EU legislation – including, the Taxonomy, SFDR, CSRD and other regulatory elements – is unique in the world. So far, no other region or country has a comparable system. However, the major economic regions in the world have also realized that future business will be difficult without sustainability-related regulations that enhance transparency and prevent greenwashing.

Consider two recent examples: In June 2021, the UK announced the creation of a Green Technical Advisory Group. This Group is supposed to develop and implement a UK green taxonomy, which is expected to be based in part on the EU Taxonomy system (e.g., in terms of metrics). In the US, President Biden signed Executive Order (EO) 14008 during his first days in The White House. While this EO does not aim at creating a US-based taxonomy, it has created a National Climate Task Force across different federal departments, which at least some see as an important step into the direction of more rigorous ESG-related regulation. 

Other countries and regions are likely to look to Europe when thinking about how to design a workable taxonomy regulation, as the challenges that have driven the creation of the EU Taxonomy are the same throughout the world: we need more transparency around sustainable economic activities, we need to better benchmark firms’ sustainable activities, and we we need to prevent greenwashing.

It is too early to say whether there will be convergence among the taxonomies developed by different countries and regions, but one thing is for sure: they are here to stay… 


About the Author

Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society and Associate Dean for the Full-Time MBA Program at Copenhagen Business School. More at: www.arasche.com


Photo by Krzysztof Hepner on Unsplash

White People and the Animals they Love

Book Review of Saving Endangered Species: Lessons in Wildlife Conservation from Indianapolis Prize Winners

By Lisa Ann Richey

 6 min read ◦

This book review has first been published by Conservation and Society and can be also found at CBDS blog.

According to the press website, Saving Endangered Species has wide and diverse aims:  ‘to win new recruits, inspire biologists and conservationists already in the field, and illustrate the profession’s fundamental scientific tenets through wildlife champions’ own exciting narratives.’ Overall the purpose of the book is to present a moral imperative for a conservationist approach to saving nature and to do this through a collection of personal experiences from great conservationists about their love of nature and experiences from the day-to-day workings of conservation. Seven of the book’s contributors are winners of the Indianapolis Prize ‘the world’s leading award for animal conservation’ (p. 12) and one that prioritizes the inclusion of people as a ‘primary factor in the equation’ of conservation, and high levels of exposure in celebration of these ‘heroes and role models’ (p. 13).  

The book is stunning. It is an aesthetically beautiful edited volume from its entrancing animal photographs, skilled illustrations and colloquial snapshots of its famous contributors. And yet, for all its beauty, this book could have been titled, ‘White People and the Animals they Love.’

I start with my fundamental critique because for some readers, this will be all they need to hear to check this book off their ‘must read’ list. These readers, however, will be hard pressed to find other works of conservation biography that aren’t also easily critiqued for their class, racial, gender, and geographical elitism.

Also, a disclaimer, I am a social scientist who works in some of the policy spaces, ‘partnership’ imaginaries of business and helping, and geographical areas covered in this book. Thus, I am among the ‘to be inspired’ of the intended audience for this book. Additionally, the introduction, written by Dr. Robert W. Shumaker (evolutionary biologist, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo) calls for ‘a more integrative approach in which the centrality of humans is recognized in the conservation agenda’ (p. 6). Thus, a review by a scholar of humans might be reasonably appropriate. 

In spite of the fact that the index does not include the term ‘celebrity,’ the book epitomizes what has come to be called ‘celebrity environmentalism’ (see Abidin, et. al 2020). The practice of scientists, film stars and social media influencers among others, who ‘enjoy public recognition, publicly support environmental causes, and benefits from their sustained public appearances’ as celebrity environmentalism may be a way of bringing new resources to conservation. 

The celebritized approach to conservation is clear from the Introduction’s start. While the reader might expect the star of this chapter to be the American Bison, named the official mammal of the United States in 2016, and depicted as a steadfast and grandiose being in the illustration that precedes the text, it is not. The star is the celebrity conservationist William T. Hornaday who initiated the first-ever zoo-based conservation effort as a result of his initial desire to provide a live bison model for better taxidermy (p.2). Thus, the scientific model for which the book collects a series of testimonies, is linked to the efforts of Hornaday. He was the director of the Bronx Zoo in 1906 when Ota Benga, a Mbuti man from Congo, was displayed in a cage in the monkey house. Hornaday wrote to the New York city mayor that ’When the history of the Zoological Park is written, this incident will form its most amusing passage.’  

Many people at that time, such as the Black clergyman Rev. James H. Gordon, were not amused. Many readers today will question the unambiguous celebration of these violent and dehumanizing roots of a movement intended to provide a moral approach to saving nature. 

Distinctions are signaled between the scientific authors and the celebrity environmentalists through engraving the masthead of every other page with a  ‘Dr.’ before the scientists, with other names presented title-less. Yet, these contributors are all performing the limited scripts of celebrity environmentalism: notably contributions enact specific tropes outlined by Abidin and her colleagues. We see contributions from the ‘Ambassador’ trope of high-profile performers who are patrons of NGOs and foundations, but whose personal commitment varies between superficial co-branding and long-term engagement. Quite prevalent is the ‘White Savior’ trope in which ‘wild places’ need to be saved from ‘locals’ through the actions of white people.  The book also highlights the ‘Activist Intellectual’ trope promoting cerebral and scientific reasons to support conservation, that then become celebritized through a focus on funding, media and elite networking. Finally, the book’s promotional writing enacts the trope of the environmental ‘Entrepreneur’ where conservation is meant to provide a good investment for business-minded people. 

The book opens with a long vignette from Harrison Ford at the 2018 Gala celebration referring to his co-contributors and others like them:  ‘You can call them researchers or scientists or conservationists. But let’s call them what they really are: These are heroes. Real heroes.’ (p. 17). However, as this book shows, the heroic narrative structure makes forging alliances and political solidarity across lines of class, race, cultures and politics quite challenging. Heroes stand above others, they are exceptional. And, as such, conservation through heroism is unsatisfactory, if not oxymoronic.

Conservation and the environmental politics that can sustain life on our planet call for less singularity, fewer stories of individuals excelling over other people and nature, and more connectedness, cooperation and coexistence. 

The introduction tells us that  ‘these are the voices of the greatest conservationists of our time’ (p. 17). I have no reason to doubt that these are their voices and that they are great conservationists, whatever criteria make up ‘greatness’. The stories are full of passion and genuine concern for conservation, so there is no doubt that these heroes are acting from noble intentions. However, the heroic hubris prevents the reflection over either why chickens when pushed off a roof don’t ‘progress well in flight’ (p. 21) or why ‘with no prior thought’ wildlife conservation should be best achieved through ‘a big cash award’ and an ‘exciting and glamourous event’ (p. 305).

With some notable exceptions, this book presents the same old stories of great men who just happen to have no reproductive obligations (with the predictable exception of the female scientist), so they can go singularly or with the support of a doting wife into long-term relationships with animals.

These men also have friends with lots of money and political clout, and the documentation of elite networking practices that comes through in the chapters actually works counter to a singular hero at the helm of conservation. Finally, these conservation heroes rely heavily on a competent staff of Black and Brown people who can put lofty ideals into practice, while not usurping the limelight from celebrity environmentalists. 

Some of the more ‘Activist Intellectual’ celebrity environmentalists present compelling arguments in lively texts around global warming and the contentious politics of saving the polar bears. Many of them take the reader through a combination of wildlife daily habits, international fundraising, and management of research and training projects. These are narrated as a partial life-history of a single ‘hero,’ and while there are nods to ‘local supporters,’ ‘scouts’ and collaborations between ‘enthusiastic’ local staff and international volunteers, this book tells a dangerous single story.

It’s time to remind ourselves and our peers that the heroic narrative of celebrity conservation may be useful for raising funds from businesses and for garnering the attention of bored bureaucrats, but it has dangerous political consequences.

A close reading of the text finds examples such as four ‘community game scouts,’ the ‘local African supporters’ in Kabara, and the ‘young Samburu warrior’ who was ‘walking in the bush’ with David Quammen, a writer from National Geographic (p.80). Samburu people have proper names, no less notable than people from Cincinnati, and the young man was not working as a warrior when assisting on a conservation project. These people are being rendered mundane through the repetitive text of the white savior narrative. They are being de-humanized as they remain in the background of the African or Asian ‘habitat’ for animals. The heroic narrative is based on an ongoing history of inequality between races, classes, genders and cultures.  

The afterword, written by the CEO of the Indianapolis Zoological Society (2002-2019) reads like advertising copy for ‘Western Civilization’ complete with God, Guns and Gold. It is a colonial vision of men like Paul Erlich in which the ‘dangers of unchecked human population’ are called out as problems while fossil fuel addiction, or all those flights to the Galas celebrating conservation heroes, are left unmentioned. The ‘Danger of a Single Story’ by Chimamanda Adichie taught an important lesson in 2009: ’The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.’ This is a beautiful book in its intentions and its aesthetics; the stories are often compelling and transport us into the lives of cranes and elephants and into some of the world’s most notable conservation initiatives. Yet, despite its intentions, the people are missing from this heroic script of celebrity environmentalism.    

Perhaps these people are left-out by design. Dr. George B. Schaller writes clearly:  ’My account here demonstrates that conservation is not part of development’ (p. 78). But, conservation is part of development. It is impossible to define conservation otherwise (Adams 2004). Both conservation and development are part of the holistic process of living sustainably on our planet. This book is intended to celebrate ’people as a primary factor in conservation.’ We do learn a lot about a particular sub-group of privileged people, their psychology and insecurities, their dreams and aspirations, about networks of elites across the globe who happen to have farms, foundations or PhD scholarships to spare. But we learn far less about the non-celebrity people in the lives of animals. Surely a global conservation movement that manifests the holistic visions and ’the connectedness of all living things’ (p. 119) that many of these contributions also embrace, needs less heroism and single stories and more solidarity, comradery and complexity. 


Further Reading

Abidin, C., Brockington, D., Goodman, M. K., Mostafanezhad, M. and Richey, L. A. (2020) “The tropes of celebrity environmentalism.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources.

Adichie, C. (2009) “The Danger of a Single Story” TED Talk.

Adams, W.M. (2004) Against Extinction. The Story of Conservation. Earthscan, London.


About the Author

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


Photo by Katie Treadway on Unsplash

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

By Rikke Rønholt Albertsen

 3 min read ◦

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Researchers do not have the necessary information.

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

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

Is this a problem?

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

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


Further reading

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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

LinkedIn Profile.


Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

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.


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Nudging for a Better Workplace: How to Gently Guide Employees Towards Ethical Behaviour

By Leonie Decrinis

 2 min read ◦

Corporate scandals caused by unethical behaviour can have dramatic consequences for a company’s bottom line. The Volkswagen emission scandal created a financial damage of over 45 billion US dollars thus far. The Enron accounting scandal ended in the company’s bankruptcy back in 2001. Most recently, the #MeToo movement has brought to light sexual harassment at the Weinstein Company, Fox News and Uber, to name just a few, all subject to payments of significant fines. How can we explain such scandals and what can companies do about it? 

Why good people do bad things 

In general, when we think of bad behaviour we think of it as a matter of bad character: bad people do bad things. But research tells us that this is view is misguided. Normally, employees involved in unethical behaviour have high moral values and good intentions, in line with their companies’ sets of ethical standards. Yet, their behaviour can deviate significantly from personal and organisational principles.

In fact, the moment they engage in unethical behaviour, they might not even realise that they are doing the wrong thing. 

Context matters in explaining such ‘ethical blindness’. Environmental cues in the workplace, like monetary signals, trigger the adoption of a business decision frame, whereby people favour self-interested choices over ethical behaviour without necessarily being aware of it. By applying mechanisms of moral disengagement, they think that they are doing the right thing, while in fact acting unethically. For example, they may justify their detrimental conduct by portraying it as serving a socially worthy purpose, which makes them temporarily blind to the harm they are causing.

Building a culture of control does not solve the problem

In response to issues of moral misconduct, companies usually tighten their internal control systems. They strengthen the requirements for ethics trainings by making them mandatory and introduce monitoring and surveillance systems. They also try to incentivise ethical conduct through rewards and punishments. However, these instruments do not always lead to the intended behavioural outcomes and instead might even aggravate wrongdoing. This is because such instruments send signals that reinforce the adoption of a business decision frame, which is prone to moral disengagement. For example, in the case of Volkswagen, a CEO who led through fear and bound high expectations for engineer development to tempting bonus payments encouraged employees to circumvent the rules by engaging in emissions cheating. 

Nudging – beyond carrots and sticks

To promote ethics in the workplace, building a culture of fairness and trust is pivotal. Nudges are instruments that align with these principles. They do not mandate or forbid choices nor do they meaningfully alter the financial incentives related to various behaviours. Instead, by considering the psychology of decision-making, they try to gently guide people towards certain outcomes while preserving their freedom of choice. Nudges do so by subtly altering the context (choice architecture) in which humans make their decisions. Examples include default settings or social norm feedback as well as the simplification of information or the framing and priming of messages.

While initially mostly applied by governments to steer the behaviour of private citizens or consumers, more and more companies are relying on nudges to improve the choices of their employees.

JP Morgan, for example, uses proprietary algorithms to predict unethical trading behaviour before it occurs. Traders then receive pop-up messages prompting them to reconsider transactions when they are at risk of breaking the rules. Scientific studies further support the power of nudges in form of photos of close others or moral symbols at the workplace that encourage employees to adopt an ethical decision frame, which helps them to act in line with moral values. Overall, while much remains to be explored when it comes to ethical workplace nudging, the gentle steering tool seems to provide a promising route for improving behavioural ethics outcomes in organisations. 


Further Readings

Desai, S. D., & Kouchaki, M. (2017). Moral symbols: A necklace of garlic against unethical requestsAcademy of Management Journal.

Hardin, A. E., Bauman, C. W., & Mayer, D. M. (2020). Show me the … family: How photos of meaningful relationships reduce unethical behavior at workOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Palazzo, G., Krings, F., & Hoffrage, U. (2012). Ethical blindnessJournal of Business Ethics.


About the Author

Leonie Decrinis is PhD fellow at Copenhagen Business School with research interests in corporate social responsibility, sustainability governance and behavioral sciences. Her PhD project focuses on applying behavioral insights to corporate sustainability in order to align governance objectives with organizational behavior.


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Are social media platforms good places to discuss global challenges?

By Daniel Lundgaard

3 min read ◦

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

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

The potentials

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

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

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

The challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A word of caution

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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


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Connecting, Cohering, and Amplifying: The Work of Transformation Catalysts

By Sandra Waddock and Steve Waddell

◦ 4 min read 

The shocking 2021 IPCC report on the climate emergency makes clearer than ever that many human systems are in dire need of significant change. Today’s harsh growth-oriented economic systems are particularly implicated in the growing chorus of demands for purposeful system transformation towards a flourishing world for all. Significant systemic transformation is needed to bring human activities in line with both social and planetary boundaries now being breached. That means that the way we think about economics, how our businesses operate, and even how communities and whole societies operate likely need to change – and radically.  

But transforming such whole systems – economies, societies, communities, even organizations – is incredibly hard. Transformation inherently involves fundamental changes to core aspects of a given system. Things like purposes, values, goals, important assessment metrics, and even the mindsets or paradigms of people in the system must change, whether the system to be transformed is an organization, economy, or society. Our research suggests that a new type of entity – transformation catalysts – may be able to help.

What is a Transformation Catalyst?

A chemical catalyst brings about a chemical reaction without necessarily changing itself. Used in a social sense, a catalyst is a person or thing that makes something new happen or precipitates change. In the spirit of any catalyst, a transformation catalyst works with the mix of different efforts and activities that already exist and that are geared towards significantly changing a system – transformation. When this mix of change efforts, which is usually fragmented with different activities operating in separate silos, is organized, it can become a transformation system. Organized as a transformation system, these activities can be much more effective at producing desired change.

The transformation catalyst’s role is to bring together an array of efforts so that together they can emerge or develop new ways to do their work more effectively – that is, operationalize the transformation system.

We like to say that transformation catalysts connect, cohere, and amplify transformation efforts that are already underway. Four catalytic actions make this coherence and amplification of efforts possible: seeing, sensemaking, connecting, and radical action and learning.

The Four Catalytic Actions

Seeing means helping change agents figure out what their emerging transformation system is all about and who is doing what, where, and how. Seeing involves various forms of stakeholder analysis – figuring out who is in the system, which can use a variety of approaches, including interviews and mapping tools to identify key participants, resources, and system dynamics. Doing so helps participants identify where gaps and possibilities exist to create more effective action.

Sensemaking means creating a shared and coherent vision among various participants to, quite literally, make new sense of their actions and system, and tell new stories about it. These new, more powerful framings can have broad appeal to draw in other participants, raise funds, and create energy moving forward. Sensemaking also means helping participants understand how to pull together into a coherent transformation system so they can act in new ways to take more effective action.

Connecting is the process by which actors learn about each other and begin to devise new ways of acting more coherently together. Connecting involves aggregating, cohering, and, ultimately, amplifying efforts that may already be underway, but have not been as effective as desired to date. Connecting can mean creating a shared set of aspirations and identity and awareness of their own efforts as part of a broader transformation system. Then they can learn from those actions – the radical action and learning process.

Radical action and learning needs a safe space, so that participants in a transformation system can question, explore, analyze assumptions, and experiment with new ways of doing things that are transformative. Experimentation is crucial, since transformation is unpredictable by its very nature. Mistakes will be made, and things will not always work out as planned. Sometimes creating prototypes can be helpful, too, as a kind of testing ground for further action.

Catalyzing Change through 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People

One example that we describe in our paper is that of 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People. 1000 Landscapes is an initiative creating sustainable solutions by recognizing that long-term sustainability means emerging a shared foundation of land and water resources for all.

In its early stages, 1000 Landscapes consulted with more than two dozen landscape partnerships globally to figure out who was doing what (seeing). They identified what the barriers were to managing landscapes in new ways were (sensemaking).

1000 Landscapes is now building collaborative capacity for holistic landscape management in many different places, starting with an initial group of 20 and growing the number over time (connecting). Holistic land management means, as the initiative states on its website, “integrating action for food, water and health security, sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity conservation, climate action, and the transition to inclusive green economies” (sensemaking).

1000 Landscapes plans to expand to 50 areas in its second phase (amplifying). Its goal is reaching at least 1000 landscapes “meeting locally defined development and environmental goals, with benefits for over one billion people” by 2030 (amplifying and radical action). 1000 Landscapes even uses the language of catalysis to describe its work: “working in radical collaborations with dozens of organizations to catalyze system change”. It thereby “unlock[s] the transformative potential of inclusive landscape partnerships and to scale their impact”.

The Mantra for Transformation Catalysts

The key to understanding transformation catalysts is knowing that they themselves are not doing the actual transformation work. Instead, they are helping to organize other change agents who are already doing that work in new ways so that they can become more effective. Indeed, they are helping them to become effective transformation systems with the potential to overcome the many inertial forces that hold systems in place.

Small, fragmented, individual efforts cannot achieve that type of scale impact. But the potential that transformation catalysts bring is the ability to bring those actors together in new ways. They can help change agents see and understand new, radical possibilities for transformative change if they can act coherently together. Then they can amplify their own efforts by figuring out where the gaps in their transformation efforts are, filling those, sharing resources when appropriate, and acting more effectively.

Connect, cohere, and amplify. That is the mantra for transformation catalysts.


Further Reading

Waddock, S., and S. Waddell (2021). Transformation Catalysts: Weaving Transformational Change for a Flourishing World for AllCadmus, 4(4), 165-182.

Lee, J.Y. and S. Waddock (2021). How Transformation Catalysts Take Catalytic ActionSustainability, 13(17), 9813. 


About the Authors

Sandra Waddock is Galligan Chair of Strategy, Carroll School Scholar of Corporate Responsibility, and Professor of Management at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.

Steve Waddell is founder and co-lead steward of Bounce Beyond, a transformation catalyst oriented to changing towards transforming towards next economies.


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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.   


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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). 


Photo by Irina Babina on Unsplash

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

By Dieter Zinnbauer

◦ 4 min read 

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

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

Inaction is untenable, political neutrality unlikely.

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

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

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

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

Enter corporate democratic responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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


Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

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.


Photo by Andrés Medina on Unsplash

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

Responsible to whom and for what?

Contestations of CSR across time, space, and experience … and a Call for Papers 

By Jeremy Moon

◦ 3 min read 

It is well known that globalization of business has thrown up a host of new governance challenges and new governance solutions. Conspicuous in this regard are the various ‘responsibility remedies’ for challenges posed in the supply chains of multinational corporations.

The growth and transformation of supply chains, particularly in agricultural products and garments has reflected a pattern of business expansion and penetration of host country markets. These have been followed by revelations of short-comings in the treatment of workers and communities, and in environmental responsibility. And in turn, these have been followed by responsibility remedies, often in the form of partnerships, international standards and multi-stakeholder initiatives.  

Formerly, if corporations were asked to whom they were socially responsible they might well have answered ‘to their communities’ or ‘to their stakeholders’. The concept of responsibility to communities makes sense in an industrial model of production in which the company, its management and workers are united not only by association with the company but also by the place in which the company had its most obvious impacts. The concept of responsibility to stakeholders is premised on its offer of an alternative to exclusive responsibility to shareholders, combining an ethical and a functional logic. But with global supply chains, the concepts of community and stakeholder responsibility are stretched.  In the former case this is to relationships with no face-to-face interaction or even common identity with place and culture. In the latter case it is to corporate relationships with workers who have no contractual relationship with the respective corporation, and may even be unaware that they are working in that corporation’s supply chain.

So we have witnessed numerous alternative models of supply chain responsibility often in the form of partnerships of businesses and civil society organizations, sometimes also involving local, national and international governments. The legitimacy of these partnerships, standards organizations and Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) is usually premised on some reference to, what are taken to be, universal principles, and on the plurality of participants, particularly those reflecting societal voice – ostensibly the surrogates of community and stakeholders.

But notwithstanding the legitimacy that these responsibility remedies initially attracted, research increasingly sheds doubts on their ability to resolve the responsibility question because they tend to obscure conceptions to whom and for what business is responsible for, and specifically by marginalizing representation from the global South – or the production-based economies of the supply chains.  

In my own work, I have seen tensions between host governments and international remedies for oppressive labour standards, with the former regarding such ostensibly well-intentioned initiatives as subversive to their own authority. There are tensions between host country suppliers and international brands and retailers with some of the former going out of business for not readily complying with new standards or complaining that they bear disproportionate costs of factory upgrading. And there are tensions experienced by workers whether with their own governments for regulatory failure, with their immediate employers for low wages and poor conditions, or with international supply chains which structure their livelihoods. But these tensions are often not articulated by virtue of the weak labour organization (often compounded by political environments hostile to organized labour). 

As a result from global South perspectives the new variants of the social responsibility model look ill-suited to the ‘on the ground’ economic, social and environmental challenges, at best. At worse, they look like a legitimization of a continuing model of exploitation.


A forthcoming special issue of the journal Human Relations, ‘Contesting Social Responsibilities of Business: Experiences in Context‘ is devoted to addressing such issues.  Core questions that the SI is designed to address include:

  • How do individuals, groups and communities from various geographic and geo-political contexts experience the imposition of social responsibilities and practices from businesses of all forms? 
  • How are social responsibilities and their related institutions and practices transformed, subverted and/or resisted within, across and outside of organizations and workplaces?

Moreover, the SI editors will also welcome papers on wider issues arising from the social responsibility of business, specifically to highlight perspectives borne of contextual experiences.  

A Special Issue workshop will be held on Thursday 16th September 2021 (applications by Monday 21st June 2021. To be considered for this special issue, full-length papers should be submitted through the journal’s online submission system between February 1st and 28th 2022.

For full details on the call, the workshop and the submission processes please follow this link.


About the Authors

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

On behalf of the Guest Editors: Premilla D’Cruz, Nolywé Delannon, Lauren McCarthy, Arno Kourula, Jeremy Moon and Laura J. Spence; and the Human Relations Associate Editor: Jean-Pascal Gond.


March for Gender #4: Leaving no one behind

By Maria Figueroa

◦ 3 min read 

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

In our final piece of the month Maria Figueroa looks beyond gender, and explains how business education and research can create a fully inclusive society that leaves no one behind.

The ethos of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is that society should be inclusive, environmentally just and enabling economic prosperity leaving no one behind. Business knowledge, education and research in these areas keep however advancing in separated disciplines, often directing the focus of attention to partial responses that may contribute to perpetuate conditions that leave people behind. Cohesion in achieving the SDGs goal of leaving no one behind cannot rely in adapting sameness of solutions. It requires attending to societal differences and facilitating the multiplication of ideas, creativity and forms of collective action and knowledge production and dissemination.

There is a critical role for research and education to help deepen the inquiry of what it takes to leave no one behind particularly a key role in business education.  

The ethos of business education and research for sustainability is to prepare private actors, investors, new business models, organizations and institutional actors in finding ways of addressing SDGs. In the selection and adoption of seventeen development goals of 2015 involvement of a great array of societal actors, from national governments to business representatives, big corporations and civil society organizations was ensured. The resulting agenda for action made emphasis to acknowledge the central role in achieving SDGs to be played by private actors, private finance, and businesses in forms of public private partnerships.

However, more than five years later, only marginal changes are tangible within business school education and research and a weak articulation of the bold SDG agenda for change.

Besides individual courses and occasional initiatives, no major overhaul or programmatic educational shift effort within or across departments has challenge the operation and scope of business education. 

A common approach in universities and business schools has been identification of how many SDGs goals are being targeted in their scope of education and current action, and reporting on these as evidence of engagement with SDGs. A similar approach serves to help businesses and public actors learn and report on what they are already doing to engage with SDGs. This together with helping business explore effective reactive stances to avoid societal or environmental crisis or challenges emerging.  These two common approaches to business research and education make no clear inroad for how business and private actors can contribute to leaving no one behind. 

The ethos of civil society is to generate voices and manifestations that reveal the extent of economic, social and environmental discontent, lack of improvement and unjust conditions and of articulating demands for action and changes at all levels. Recent events have elevated voices in movements such as Black Lives Matter, Me Too, Fridays-for-the-Future, Extinction Rebellion, Indigenous communities and other organized voices in society ranging from extreme right movements to nature representatives organizing other than human voices (forest, soil, pollinators, biodiversity).

The complexity of the current climate and environmental challenges and increasing volume and presence of these voices cannot be dismissed in business education and research, or handled in separated efforts as matter of concern only to businesses operating in international or developing regions and localities.

Leaving no one behind requires engaging in knowledge production that gives attention to all forms of engagement in business and societal interactions. This attention should facilitate changes in education that to produce exceptional novelty and innovation and to nurture a potential to advance knowledge of practical and academic high quality, education that is capable of setting new frontier research bringing in systemic interactions within a variety of academic disciplines and ensuring practical and transformative business knowledge with a holistic and environmentally just take toward sustainability transition. 

Business schools are posed to advance breakthrough knowledge to meet the “leave no one behind” goal, tackling several areas from the production and service processes transparency specifically in value creation, to emphasising sustainability and environmental justice through the company’s technological advancements and presenting sustainable values, mission and vision.

Furthermore, business education need incorporating appraisal of systemic change associated with challenging processes and their ecological and social impact and behavior change. With the capability to increase the value for the environment, participation of nature in business innovations, the understanding of what enhances people’s agency, what provision safe wards participation, and improves cooperation and what helps to unleash individuals vitality and imagination and can contribute to co-create new market niches and business opportunities. 


Maria Figueroa is an Associate Professor in Sustainability Management at the Department of Management Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School.  Her research intersects scholarship from urban sustainability science, comparative international politics of climate mitigation, innovation, and partnerships for sustainable development. She focuses on the assessments of drivers, trends and challenges of low carbon transitions and sustainable development. 

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.

Under the radar: How companies can redefine what we consider socially responsible

By Verena Girschik

◦ 2 min read ◦

Notwithstanding promises of win-wins and synergies, we have good reasons to question whether companies address social problems in society’s best interests. As many critics have pointed out, companies tend to promote solutions that foster their commercial interests – often without considering their broader social impact.

Do our suspicions stop them? Of course not. Companies are usually well aware of any concerns and continuously evaluate the risk of prompting a controversy around their social activities. When they don’t have the social license to operate, they simply cultivate relations with organizations that do and get them to act on their behalf. Using such relational strategies, companies’ efforts remain hidden from public scrutiny insofar as they operate under the radar. Smart!

It’s not quite that simple, however. Legitimate organizations such as NGOs are just as aware of those widespread suspicions, and they are therefore often reluctant to work with companies. Indeed, if an organization’s relations with companies are perceived to be inappropriate, the organization risks exacerbating concerns around corporate influence and may thereby jeopardize its legitimacy too. The widespread suspicions of companies’ intentions thus make it more difficult for companies to participate in social change. Let’s call this a legitimacy barrier. 

Overcoming the legitimacy barrier through relational work

How do companies overcome the legitimacy barrier and become legitimate actors in social change? In a recent publication (Girschik, 2020), I theorize how companies may engage in relational work to cultivate and shape their relations with legitimate organizations in such ways that redefine their involvement as socially responsible and thus legitimate. The paper details that companies can take four interdependent steps:

  1. Cultivating communal relations: As a first step, companies can form or strengthen personal relations with people who work for legitimate organizations and who are likely to be interested in addressing the social problem in question. On a personal rather than organizational level, it is easier to align and create a shared understanding of potential courses of action.
    
  2. Extending organizational support: Once a shared understanding is evolving, the company can start diligently targeting resources that enable the other organization to boost its activities and address the social problem. Such support has to happen on the organizational level to make sure that it is not considered for individual gain.
    
  3. Articulating a partnership: Because the second step produces salient practical outcomes and illustrates the benefits of corporate involvement, it opens a window of opportunity to formalize collaboration through a partnership agreement. As part of this agreement, the company can participate in defining not only further courses of action but also the company’s role.
    
  4. Differentiating as a socially responsible company: At this point, the company’s competitors have likely become interested and may try to imitate the company’s involvement by forming partnerships with the same or similar legitimate organizations. That’s a good thing for the first-moving company because it promotes the legitimacy of such partnerships. And benefiting from its strong relational embedding, the company is likely to outperform competitors through superior compliance with expectations. Being perceived as less sincere, competitors’ efforts are thus less strategically valuable and the first-moving company stands out as most socially responsible.

This process is time- and resource-consuming, but my study shows that it may pay off: it may enable companies to legitimate their involvement in social change while securing a competitive edge.

For better or worse?

These four steps explicate subtle yet consequential efforts through which companies may shape social change. The good news is that it is not easy and takes genuine long-term commitment. The bad news is that companies’ commercial interests may inform and mold trajectories of social change while their actual influence is hidden under a CSR veil. We need to keep deconstructing the relational constellations through which companies establish and exert their influence. 


Reference

Girschik, V. (2020). Managing Legitimacy in Business‐Driven Social Change: The Role of Relational WorkJournal of Management Studies57(4), 775-804.


About the authors

Verena Girschik is Assistant Professor of CSR, Communication, and Organization at Copenhagen Business School (Denmark). She adopts a communicative institutionalist perspective to understand how companies negotiate their roles and responsibilities, how they perform them, and with what consequences. Empirically, she is interested in activism in and around multinational companies and in business–humanitarian collaboration. Her research has been published in the Journal of Management Studies, Human Relations, Business & Society, and Critical Perspectives on International Business. She’s on Twitter: @verenacph


Source: photo by Kelly Sikkema 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.  

How organizations avoid to hire highly-skilled migrants

By Annette Risberg and Laurence Romani

◦ 2 min read ◦

Labor integration of migrants is a topic frequently on the public and political agendas, as it is increasingly seen as the first step to successful societal integration. Often the light is turned on the migrants and what they need to change and improve to get a job. They are expected to make themselves employable by learning the local language, by adapting to local ways of applying for jobs, and by adding local skills to their existing competencies. So, it seems, the moment migrants show some form of adaptation, they should do fine on the job market. But do they?

Why do organizations under-employ highly-skilled migrants? 

Well, maybe there is more to it. Highly-skilled migrants are often underemployed. This means they get jobs below their qualification level. We have all heard of the medical doctor driving a taxi. But who asks ‘why does a taxi company hire a medical doctor as a driver’? In a recent study, we decided to turn the light on the employers, the hiring organizations, instead of the migrants. We searched for an answer to the question of why organizations under-employ highly-skilled migrants.

We followed a mentor program aiming to integrate highly-skilled migrants in the labor market through mentorship and internship. In this program, support was given to migrants to learn the rules of the Swedish employment game, how to write a strong CV, cover letters, the importance of networks, for example. In our interviews, we talked to both mentors and mentees (migrants). They told us about arguments used in organizations to explain (or shall we say justify?) the under-employment of highly-skilled migrants. 

Alleged risk, but for whom?

They said that migrants are often described as lacking local job-seeking skills, how to write a CV, how to present oneself in the application letter, how to get in contact with a potential employer. At times, they may lack local language skills too. Yet, these skills were precisely what they acquired in the program (and in internships) and many of the migrants we interviewed possessed those skills, yet, remained unemployed. More interestingly, we got to hear that the highly-skilled migrants were also talked about in terms of bringing with them the unknown and the unfamiliar: unknown diplomas, unfamiliar job references, unfamiliar working cultures, and habits, for example. And, interestingly, in the interviews, this unknown was associated with a risk… but a risk of what? And, a risk for whom?

Keeping migrants in a lower symbolic position to maintain the power of ‘normality’.

Using the relational theory of risk, a theory where risk is seen as socially constructed, we realized two things. First, if people talked about risk, it was because they felt that something that they value was being threatened.  We found that they valued their usual (habitual) ways of doing things, the organizational normality, more than the new skills and experiences the skilled migrants could bring to the organization.

Hence, highly-skilled migrants were perceived to be a risk to the valued organizational normality and kept away from employment, to avoid disruption of this normality.

Second, if employed, they were hired at a level that did not allow them to fully contribute to the organization, at a level that indicated: your skills are not valued here, they are not to be considered, they are not to transform our usual way of doing things. 

These findings point to an organizational ground for the underemployment of migrants, independent from migrants’ skills and adaptation efforts. In simple terms, organizations may have an interest in under-employing migrants: they assure that their ‘normal’ way of working is not changed, that they are not challenged in their comfortable, everyday routines. The organization’s interest in under-employing migrants goes beyond having a (cheap) skilled workforce without recognizing its value, it is also to clearly indicate that ‘the way we do things around here is valued and we don’t want to question it’.

Who should be seen as a risk? The migrants or the organizations?

In a nutshell, we got to hear that migrants are presented by some as being a risk. But, frankly, a risk for whom? For those comfortably installed in their routines? How about we turn things around and consider that those organizations, not the migrants, should be seen as a risk.

Indeed, by stopping the integration of highly-skilled migrants, are those organizations not a risk to a sustainable society and the (labor) integration of the migrants we welcomed?

The good news is that often, this comfort of the ‘normality’ is not so difficult to change. Organizations’ routines are constantly in the making and it is actually beneficial to challenge and change them from time to time to continuously adapt to the organization’s changing environment.  So, the next time you hear that it is ‘normal’ to expect a local degree for this position, ask yourself: who really benefit from this ‘normal’? And, who should be seen as a threat here?


Further reading

Risberg & Romani (forthcoming) “Underemploying highly skilled migrants: An organizational logic protecting corporate ‘normality”. Human Relations. 


About the Authors

Annette Risberg is a Professor of Diversity Management at Copenhagen Business School and Professor of Organization and Management at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences. Her research focus is on practices of diversity management in general and the inclusion of immigrants in organizations. Her latest co-edited book is The Routledge Companion to Organizational Diversity Research Methods and Diversity in Organizations.

Laurence Romani is an Associate Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. Her work focuses on representation and interaction with the cultural Other in respectful and enriching ways. She currently investigates the conditions of integration of the perceived cultural Others (e.g. ethnic minorities, migrants) in the Swedish labor market. She critically studies race, gender and class hierarchies in organizations’ work with cultural diversity.

Is Pollution the Only Road to Business Prosperity?

Sustainable Visioning as a driver of Corporate Transformation

By Heather Louise Madsen

◦ 4 min read ◦

CO2 reduction is a hot topic for almost every company today. Here the focus is not just on the CO2 generated by the company itself, but also on the carbon emitted along its value chain. The problem is that changing processes, or even products and services, to make them more environmentally friendly can be a daunting and costly task. This can leave CEOs and other top managers wondering what the real cost and impact of CO2 reduction is, where to start, and whether it is even possible to create a prosperous business without generating pollution.

In answer to many of these tough questions, an increasing number of companies are succeeding in reducing carbon and completely transforming their businesses into sustainable and profitable powerhouses, using a combination of strategic vision and sustainability orientation.

A new CEO for a Company Topping the Sustainability Ranking Charts

January 1st, 2021 was Mads Nipper’s first day as CEO of the Sustainable Energy Giant Ørsted. And before the end of his first month in this new position, Ørsted ranked the most sustainable energy company for the third year in a row, and the second most sustainable company in the world after Schneider Electric. This raises the question, what is Nipper’s position on sustainability,  and are these views important for his role as CEO of Ørsted?  

In 2016, as the then CEO of Grundfos, Mads Nipper gave a presentation for the Global Compact Leaders Summit in New York where he stated: “I represent an SDG 6 and 13 company, who also happens to be the biggest water pump company in the world.” The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), representing a global platform and common language for addressing 17 core sustainability issues and their impact, also figure prominently in Ørsted’s corporate language. From Annual Reports to investor letters, Ørsted identifies SDG 7 (energy) and SDG 13 (climate action) as their primary impact areas. This indicates that there may be some very fundamental alignment between Nipper’s visionary statement and the mindset of his predecessors at Ørsted.

What led Ørsted to up-end their core business and undertake a sustainable transformation?

In 2001, Ørsted (then DONG Energy) hired CEO Anders Eldrup, just as Denmark was going through a liberalization of the electricity and gas sectors, which was putting extreme financial pressure on the company. Eldrup was the former Danish Secretary of State, and as such had extensive experience with both financial and political mechanisms. Seeing an opportunity to take advantage of an emerging political demand for climate action and policies to accelerate the development of offshore wind, Eldrup began increasingly to focus innovation resources on offshore wind and renewable energy, while the primary business of the company remained oil and gas. As renewable energy subsidy schemes increased in Denmark and the EU in the years that followed, Eldrup formulated a new company strategy that was released in 2009 called 85/15: “to transform our company from a situation of 15% renewable energy and 85% of fossil-fuel based energy to the opposite”. Jakob Askou Bøss, Head of Strategy and Communication at Ørsted, identified the strategic analysis of CEO Anders Eldrup as “The driving force behind formulating the new vision of the company,“ referring to the 85/15 objectives.

Despite the sacrifices that would need to be made as the core competencies of the company would have to be completely re-designed and transformed to focus on not-yet price competitive technology, the decision had been made. And this strategy was then further anchored to sustainability with Ørsted’s vision: “creating a world that runs entirely on green energy”. This vision made explicit the desire to reach outside of the organization with their “green” aspirations, connecting not only to ideals of wealth and prosperity, but also to planetary concerns.

These ‘green aspirations’ were then followed up by Eldrup’s successor Henrik Poulsen, who became Ørsted’s CEO in 2012. As stated by Poulsen:

“In the world of energy, the fundamental challenge we face is to transform our energy systems so that more and more of the energy we generate comes from renewable sources such as wind power, biomass and solar energy.”

Ørsted, Our sustainability reports, 2012, DONG Energy’s GRI Reporting 2012  

Poulsen then backed these aspirations by setting very specific targets for the company including “quadrupling our offshore wind capacity, from 1.7 GW in 2012 to 6.5 GW in 2020“. By 2017 Ørsted had completely divested all upstream oil and gas. This was also the year that newly built offshore wind became cheaper than black energy for the first time in history. By the time Ørsted reached 2020, the company was ranked number 1 of more than 7500 international, billion-dollar companies in the Corporate Knights’ 2020 index of the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World, making Ørsted the most sustainable energy company in the Global 100 index. As demonstrated by Ørsted, strategic vision and sustainability orientation were used as drivers for innovation, transformation  and growing the company’s sustainable business and investment portfolio. But how can Ørsted’s story help other businesses? The answer lies in sustainable visioning. 

How can sustainable visioning help businesses onto a path of prosperity AND sustainability? 

Sustainable Visioning is a new term defining the management process of combining a strong strategic vision with the acknowledgement of the necessity of committing more profoundly to people, planet and prosperity concerns.

Madsen & Ulhøi, 2021

The following are guiding principals of sustainable visioning that Ørsted can be seen as applying, and which may be able to help other companies onto a similar path. First, in order for businesses to achieve sustainable visioning, they need to practice proactive, extroverted and visionary, rather than introverted approaches to sustainability. When working on sustainable innovations, it can also be wise to engage the Tripple Helix model including industry, universities and government working together. Innovation can also be usefully extended beyond products and services, to include business model innovation. This can help to navigate to a desirable sustainable future through direct planning, decisions, actions and behavior in all aspects of the business. And finally, taking a clear long-term orientation is also seen as important for sustainable visioning to be successful. 

In practice, following these key guiding principals of sustainable visioning may make it more likely to effectively link strategic visioning to long-term sustainability objectives, providing the necessary support for corporate growth and innovation needed to ensure a successful transformation.


Further Reading

Madsen, H.L., Ulhøi, J.P. 2021. Sustainable visioning: Re-framing strategic vision to enable a sustainable corporate transformation. J. Clean. Prod. 228.


About the Author

Heather Louise Madsen, Ph.D. is the PRME Strategy Manager at Copenhagen Business School, and has over ten years of professional experience working with sustainability. As a sustainability expert, she has worked with the organizational implementation of the UN SDGs in the private sector, and has extensive experience working with CSR, the UN Global Compact, carbon footprint reporting and social, environmental and economic sustainability. Heather is dedicated to topics of innovation, strategy, business transformation, organizational learning, business model innovation, renewable energy and sustainability.

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

Innovating Under Pressure – Grassroots’ social and distributed manufacturing during the pandemic

By Isabel Fróes

As Bowie almost made a prediction when he sang in his lyrics from 1981: ‘It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about/Watching some good friends screaming “Let me out!”/’, 2020 proved to be a year of challenges, which however took us to higher grounds of learning and collaboration in many unexpected ways.  

The sudden changes and lockdowns across the world led by Covid-19 sparked many initiatives and innovation in various fields. As presented in a previous blog post, it created opportunities for urban spaces to be rethought, experimenting with expanding and further developing various mobility formats.

Beyond urban spaces, the pandemic also became a fuel to push initiatives in other fronts, such as social and local manufacturing. 

Makerspaces and local production initiatives were well described in a recent blog post by my colleague Efthymios Altsitsiadis. During the pandemic, makerspaces became more than a niche, through shared content and distributed leadership, these spaces became relevant production resources. Makers collaborated and engaged in locally producing personal protective equipment (PPE), helping cities and countries better cope with the shortages and international supply chain issues during the first lockdown.  

CBS has followed this process closely as it is currently a partner in the EU-funded iPRODUCE project. The project started in January 2020 focusing on developing a novel social manufacturing platform that embraces manufacturing companies in the consumer goods sector. In short, the project is committed to bringing closer manufacturers, makers and consumer communities (MMCs) at the local level; to engage them into joint co-creation challenges for the manufacturing of new consumer products and the introduction of novel engineering and production (eco)systems; to fuse practices, methods and tools that both makers and manufacturing companies (SMEs specifically) are employing.

The project, as an innovation action (IA), has formed clusters in six locations, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain composed of Fablabs, makerspaces and research institutions. These clusters are defined as Collaborative Manufacturing Demonstration Facilities (cMDFs). In Denmark, CBS is the research institution working closely together with betaFACTORY forming the DK-cMDF.

In the context of this project, social manufacturing can be described as a primary ground to democratise innovation.

The ‘Do it yourself’ (DIY) movement, assisted by makerspaces and fablabs, offers opportunities for real exchange towards solutions to inform the development of many products through an open platform, to not only support, but also to expand these processes and broaden their reach across society. 

During the onset of the pandemic, when the project was only in its third month, while project activities required adjustments and re-planning, the fablabs and makerspaces in the distinct locations became important resources for local manufacturing facilities, closing a gap of problems related to international supply chain production and distribution regarding protective medical gear.

The open source community’s umbrella became a key local asset in bridging various groups and bringing makers together towards one goal – manufacturing products that would help save lives.

Spain, which was hit hard by the pandemic early on, spearheaded this movement in Europe. Already in March 2020, DIY groups organised themselves online (primarily WhatsApp and Telegram), sharing questions and designs through these social media platforms. Doctors and other types of stakeholders also joined some of these groups, providing expert information. They shared requests, talked together and developed designs and models, which were then 3D printed widely across in various makerspaces, sparking a local production and distribution supply chain. The distribution, which was initially done by volunteers, was carried out by taxi drivers and local police in an extraordinary mode of collaboration during the most extreme lockdown phases. By June 2020, over one million face shields had been produced and distributed across Spain [1].  

The Spanish face shield design, under the creative commons licence, was picked up by makers everywhere, including in Denmark, where the Facebook group ‘DK Makers mod Corona’ (DK Makers against Corona) was quick to adapt the design to specific Danish regulations and started locally producing the face shields during the first Danish lockdown. Over 63000 face shields were produced and distributed across the country by July 2020 and the Facebook group grew from 50 to over 2500 members during the same period.

In both cases, what stands out is the fact that the expertise, manufacturing capability and human resources are without doubt available everywhere and when a common and purposeful goal is set, fast and impactful results can be achieved.

These civic responses also bring forward questions on how society could make better use of these valuable resources for other distinct local challenges, and how we can positively disrupt mass global manufacturing towards distributed local manufacturing. As the pandemic initiatives have shown, by reorganising and setting common goals, makers and industry can bridge gaps, creating wider societal benefit that challenge the status quo and push new manufacturing opportunities that can define ‘new normals’ also for local production – taking all of it to higher and more sustainable levels in the 21st century.


iPRODUCE – “A Social Manufacturing Framework for Streamlined Multi- stakeholder Open Innovation Missions in Consumer Goods Sectors” (2020-2022) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement no. 870037. This publication reflects only the author’s view and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.


References

[1] MAKERY, 2020. Spanish makers’ ongoing fight against COVID-19. Published by Cesar Garcia Saez.


About the Author

Isabel Fróes is a postdoc at MSC Department at Copenhagen Business School working in three EU projects (Cities-4-People, iPRODUCE 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.


Photo source: NC State University

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

How do the arts impact our societies in times of digitalisation?

By Kirsti Reitan Andersen and members of the Artsformation consortium 

Two decades into the new millennium it is almost impossible to imagine a future in which digital technologies do not play a key role. Today, digitalisation changes the way things are done across business and society alike. 

This includes for example the impact of new technologies on processes of democratisation, like the role of Facebook in the UK referendum in 2016. Or the increasing collection and analysis of personal data in the use of any social media. Another area in which technology is having an enormous impact is in our ways of communication and being together, for example through technologies like Zoom or Facetime.

Throughout history, the arts have always reflected major transitions as they unfold.

Therefore, it is perhaps no surprise that the social, environmental and economic consequences of the digital transformation are now also increasingly addressed by artists. For example, with the project SOMEONE (2019), Lauren McCarthy tries to address the advances in human-machine relationships represented in ‘smart houses’ and try to give back a human identity to artificial intelligent devices through active human participation.

As part of the H2020 research project Artsformation, we explore the current and potential role of the arts in the digital transformation. Exploring the role of the arts across both business and society, one part of the project has a particular focus on marginalized groups of people who today do not reap the acclaimed benefits of the digital transformation (e.g. Gangadharan and Niklas, 2019; Gebru, 2018; Neves, Franz, Munteanu and Baecker, 2018; Park and Humphry, 2019). In this context, the “socially engaged arts” (Bishop, 2012) is of particular interest.

In contrast to more traditional forms of art, socially engaged artists often work closely with their audiences in one way or other.

For example, by gaining in-depth knowledge of particular challenges in specific communities and creating awareness about such issues through the artwork or by directly engaging people in the production of art. One such example could be the engagement of people in the production of artwork using the so-called maker spaces as a place of work and thereby also introducing “audiences” to new digital technologies and skill sets. Catch, a center for art design and technology located in Elsinore, for example, has much experience facilitating such processes of learning.  

In recent years we have seen artistic examinations of the digital transformation become increasingly complex, evolving from what we might understand as a fascination or embracement of digital tools to reflections on the transformation itself. In general, we find that socially engaged artists are addressing societal issues (of the digital transformation) in three ways (Andersen et al., 2020):  

  • The artist as a commentator:  The artist as a commentator is not directly concerned with audience engagement as part of the artistic process. The work of Dr. Ahmed Elgammal and an artificial intelligence named AICAN exemplifies “the artist as a commentator”. In this case Dr. Elgammal and AICON created an exhibition of prints called Faceless Portraits Transcending Time. While there is no direct audience engagement, the work of Dr. Elgammal and AICON brings attention to current debates about technology and creative work.
  • The artist as one who gives voice to a community:  More than ever, artists have become ever more important as voices of reason and clarity, pressing for social justice and engaging the public conversation about the controversial issues shaping the world in which we live. Forensic Architecture’s attempt to raise awareness of oil and gas pollution in Vaca Muerta, Argentina, is a good illustration of this approach. Vaca Muerta has become one of the world’s largest shale oil and gas fields. It is also the home of indigenous communities, including some of the Mapuche people who live between Chile and Argentina. In collaboration with The Guardian newspaper, Forensic Architecture investigated a local Mapuche community’s claim that “the oil and gas industry has irreversibly damaged their ancestral homeland and eroded their traditional ways of life.”
  • The artist as a social entrepreneur: consults and facilitates a community problem in a much more ‘organised’ and ‘long-term’ manner than is typical of the two previous roles. This, for example, is what happened when artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen at London’s Tate Modern launched the social enterprise Little Sun in 2012, setting out to change the world with ‘solar art’. Little Sun aims to bring clean, reliable and affordable energy to the 1.1 billion people who live without electricity while raising awareness of energy access and climate action worldwide. Eliasson demonstrates his conviction that art can change the world by continuing to promote Little Sun as an extension of his art practice, arguing that many of Little Sun’s “current and future projects stem from art, involve artistic thinking or use our products themselves to create art”.

While all three roles co-exist, intersect and share the ability to imagine new ways and generate change, each role does so in slightly different ways. We suggest that each of the three roles requires artists to organise in different ways, which may also impact the kinds of change they can facilitate. Moving forward, we are extremely eager to explore the ways in which artists as social entrepreneurs may inspire and offer new and more sustainable ways of organizing


Further Reading


About the Author

Kirsti Reitan Andersen is a Post Doc at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School. In her current work, she explores the role of the arts in the transformation towards more sustainable ways of organizing.


Photo by Stan Narten and Otto Saxinger, SOMEONE.

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

By Efthymios Altsitsiadis

Anyone can and should have access to the tools and knowledge necessary to build anything they might need or want. This statement struck me when I first read about the makers movement – a cultural trend that is associated with democratized manufacturing, 3D printing and maker spaces.

At the heart of the movement lies a simple premise – ordinary people manufacturing themselves what they need. Makers, alone or in communities, from any career or skill level are pulled into making something, from calligraphy to furniture to technology and lately to personal protective equipment.

Large institutions like the European Commission, the White house and the Chinese government herald the maker movement as a major driver for the new “industrial revolution”, a thriving multibillion market and a potential asset in the fight against climate change.

But as with every nascent field, there are many hurdles on our way there – this piece will touch upon what many (including me) consider the most important: understanding how and why people embrace the movement.

We already know that the increase of availability and affordability of digital fabrication tools such as 3D printers and laser cutters and the advance in certain collaborative technologies have favored the creation of a rapidly increasing number of Do-It-Yourself communities. What we know much less about is why people choose to become makers. This matters gravely, not only because makers are the lifeline of the movement – but because we need to be sure that everyone can enjoy the same access to fabrication. In a large study supported by the EU, we asked thousands of citizens around Europe their opinions regarding the maker movement [1].

We wanted to understand better what people know about the maker movement, how aware they are about fabrication and how they perceive the different facilities (e.g. makerspaces). We also investigated various attitudes and potential reasons that could be driving or hampering people’s support to the movement. More importantly, however, we asked participants about their intentions to become makers and what motivates them. 

Findings of our study

What we found confirmed many of our initial thoughts.

Most of the participants were not well aware about the maker movement (40% had no familiarity with the term), but about 1 in 5 respondents had some previous experience with making. These people come from all walks of life, and despite some small differences in demographics, every cohort is represented.

A very positive finding was that most people were very open to visiting, supporting or participating in making activities in their local area. For the majority of respondents, their participation in maker spaces would provide them with benefits and help them improve their skills. The majority also believes that makerspaces will have a positive impact on their region and will open-up new professional opportunities. We dug a bit deeper so we can get a better understanding of people’s motivations.

We found that respondents who have positive perceptions about sustainability and circular economy, who were familiar with the maker movement and who defined themselves as persons who like to repair or make things were significantly more likely to join the movement.

The results also indicate that demographics like gender and age could be playing a role in driving respondent’s perceptions and participation.

This study is useful in providing some additional evidence and answers regarding the engagement of Europeans with the Maker Movement to the existing body of knowledge. But it is obviously not enough. There are literally dozens of overlooked dimensions and potential levers for getting people involved or at least for actively supporting the movement. Essential issues like awareness, knowledge and skills, safety and accessibility, tools and incentives are all open for inquiry and experimentation. The movement itself is still shaping and many of the key characteristics should not be taken for granted; least of all its openness to everyone and its sustainability/circularity character.

The good news is that there are already major initiatives being deployed at various levels that are working on many of these angles (for interested readers I would like to refer you to projects like Pop-Machina, iProduce, Reflow, all sponsored by the EC and open to interested members of the public). In all these initiatives, cross-collaboration is key. Academics should work hand in hand with practitioners, industry and policy makers to embrace and support this amazing revolution and help nudge it towards its greatest ambitions – democratized access to circular production.   


References

[1] Panori, A., Piccoli, A., Ozdek, E., Spyridopoulos, K. and Altsitsiadis, A. (2020). Market research report. (Deliverable 2.2). Leuven: Pop-Machina project 821479 – H2020


About the Author

Assistant Prof. Efthymios Altsitsiadis, PhD 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. 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.

Sustainable livelihoods? The informal sector beyond Covid-19

By Søren Jeppesen

As a number of the CBS Sustainability blogs have mentioned since March 2020, the official reactions to Covid-19 have (so far) not been doing much for sustainable development (apart from lower CO2 emissions from air travel). Despite concerned voices criticizing the limited attention to combating climate change (‘environmental sustainability’) in the longer run, little impact on policy makers has been registered.

If we focus on ‘social sustainability’ the picture is similar. Discussing the social side of sustainability is part and parcel of assessing the situation in the informal sector and among the estimated two billion people reliant on their livelihoods through the informal activities across the Globe. Sadly, the situation has shown that this group of people and their families have suffered from the imposed restrictions due to Covid-19 (see here).

While the negative impact on income and livelihoods probably is the most severe consequence of inability, lack of willingness (and in some cases maybe even sheer ignorance) among authorities, the events since March can also be viewed ‘an opportunity missed’ regarding (more) sustainable practices.

The classical example is waste handling where informal workers (or scavengers) are involved in waste collection, sorting and identifying material for recycling and reuse. The Indian system where almost all component of waste are sorted and reused is well-known. But additional examples are found in areas like minimizing food waste and establishing social safety nets (Tucker and Anantharaman, 2020). Had governments appreciated the role of the informal sector and the activities undertaken, the period since March could have been used to change towards a ‘sustainability footprint’.

So, instead of using the (unfortunate) challenge to aim for positive change why have governments then been so keen to do the opposite and merely lockdown the informal sector (including denying poor people of their meagre livelihoods)? As Tucker and Anantharaman (2020) argue, it might be due to informal work being perceived as a ‘deficit’ (lack of contracts, lack of permits, lack of tax payment, lack of this and lack of that). International organisations like ILO have long been arguing in favor of ‘formalization of the informal’ (ILO, 2019). And not to romantize the informal sector, nevertheless it is intriguing that this is and has not been a sector perceived as ‘creative, agile, flexible’ and all the buzz that the present glorification of the private sector and individual initiative otherwise has been marked by.

Now, we can’t change what have been the typical type of reactions to the Covid-19 situation across the globe, but we do note that we have increasing social challenges ahead due to rising poverty levels, the naïve, optimistic wish for the New Year is that attention will be placed on how to engage the informal sector and all its resources in the strive for a more sustainable development path. It will not only open up the Pandora’s box regarding new and valuable ways on dealing with the Global trajectories, but could provide avenues for the informal sector to be reckoned as ‘a contributor’ (instead of ‘a deficit’).


References:

CGAP, 2020. Covid-19 Briefing. Insights for Inclusive Finance. Relief for Informal Workers: Falling through the Cracks in the COVID-19 Crisis. August.

ILO . International Labour Organization; 2019. Work for a Brighter Future. Geneva.

Tucker, J.L. and Anantharaman, M. 2020, Informal Work and Sustainable Cities: From Formalization to Reparation, One Earth. 2020 Sep 18; 3(3): 290–299. (doi: 10.1016/j.oneear.2020.08.012)


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).


Photo by The Ian 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. 

Delivering and Financing Better Societies

How can cities self-finance environmental and social solutions?

By Luise Noring

Every week, more than three million people move into cities looking for places to work and live. This puts an enormous strain on cities’ finances and capacity to provide for their residents. We can no longer – if we ever could – assume that taxes will pay for growing urban populations with growing demands for public infrastructure, goods and services. We need to find new ways of delivering and financing good societies for the billions of people living and working in cities.

Therefore, the challenge is not only to find the best environmental and social solutions for cities, but also to address how these solutions can be delivered and financed. All too often, for example, brilliant climate solutions are presented, but nobody wants to take responsibility for delivering and financing them. All too often, we hear of good solutions for social preventive action and public health that are never put into action. The solutions are there. The challenge is that the business case and investment proposition are either weak or non-existent. As a result, the only one with the incentive to implement the solutions is the cash-strapped government itself.

Hopeful scholars demonstrate how investing taxpayers’ money today could prevent massive expenditure tomorrow. Yet today’s tax revenues are already accounted for to pay for schools, roads, housing, hospitals, etc. This leads me to my principal research question and mission in life:

How do we deliver and finance better societies?

All too often, the only financial solution on the table is to increase and spend tax revenue. But there is no financial innovation in increasing and spending taxes. This ‘solution’ just means that bonds are repaid with future taxes even though we know full well that, in the future, taxes will still be needed to finance schools, roads, housing, hospitals, etc. Spending future taxes today only jeopardizes future generations’ ability to finance their schools, roads, housing, hospitals, etc. The same applies to tax increment financing (TIF), which is a common practice in urban development and economic revitalisation used in the US and subsequently adapted across much of the world.

The idea behind TIF is that local governments issue bonds based on future tax revenue increases. TIF assumes that urban regeneration can be financed by bonds that are serviced and repaid by future tax revenue increases. The proceeds of the TIF bonds are thus used to stimulate economic development through investments in urban regeneration, infrastructure and other public goods. The bonds are repaid mainly through property taxes resulting from investments and development activities. What happens though when the public investments fail to increase tax revenue paid by private owners? In such cases, local governments remain obliged to repay the government- guaranteed bonds.

Conventionally, in the US, local property taxes fund elementary and secondly education, supplemented by federal and state contributions. However, when future property taxes are used to finance infrastructure, public investment capital is in effect flowing from elementary and secondly education to infrastructure and other development activities in order to secure projected tax increases.

Thus, while TIF creates new economic development opportunities in one area, such as derelict neighbourhoods, it hollows out potential future investments in other areas, such as education.

Finally, it is common in many US cities for governments to woo private investment by offering tax reductions or exemptions. This amounts to making investments today with the tax revenues of tomorrow. This is how cities acquire unfunded liabilities.

The above paints a bleak picture of future financing of good solutions for better societies. However, during my research, I have come across many sound finance mechanisms. For instance, land value capture (LVC), which is commonly used in Northern Europe. LVC bundles publicly owned land, such as former port and military areas, or areas over which the public can take ownership, such as derelict areas. Once the local government has secured land ownership, it rezones and repurposes the land.

For example, former industrial land can be repurposed for commercial and residential use. This increases land values, which enables the government to take out loans based on the increased value of the land. With renewed borrowed capital, local government can make infrastructure and other investments in the land. This again increases land values. Once the land has been properly matured, it is sold to private investors and developers, including institutional investors, such as pension funds. Revenues from land sales are used to service and repay the debts. You can read more about this model in my Copenhagen City & Port Development report.

Another solution is for local government to raise seed capital, for instance from philanthropies, pension funds and other large institutional investors that invest with long time horizons. This seed capital is used in projects as low-yield and high-risk investment capital that is capable of attracting other investments that are more high yield and low risk. Once projects have been realised, they are refinanced, and the seed capital is withdrawn and put into another project. This is a kind of project-by-project financing. You can read more about this model in my Cincinnati Development Corporation report.

This blog post has offered a snapshot of several research projects I have conducted over the years. All my works contain key enabling features for replication, which allow me to scale solutions to other cities. If you want to learn more, please visit this page or get in touch with me: lno.msc@cbs.dk.


Further Reading

Luise Noring (2019) Public asset corporation: A new vehicle for urban regeneration and infrastructure finance. Cities.

Bruns-Berentelg, J., Noring, L., & Grydehøj, A. (2020). Developing urban growth and urban quality: Entrepreneurial governance and urban redevelopment projects in Copenhagen and HamburgUrban Studies.


About the Author

Dr. Luise Noring is an Assistant Professor at CBS, where she also attained her Ph.D. in supply chain partnerships. Noring challenges taken-for-granted and commonsense solutions – which are only ever taken-for-granted and commonsense within their specific contexts. Part of what makes her work innovative and has assured its impact in research and practice is precisely her insistence on reaching across national and sectoral contexts, drawing experiences from a great diversity of urban systems. This has allowed Noring to identify what kinds of city solutions work best in particular contexts and how certain kinds of institutional vehicles and finance mechanisms can be adapted to diverse cities and countries.


Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Cultural sensitivity and diversities in the measuring of sustainable development

Lessons learned from the responsible behaviors of individuals during the Covid-19 crisis

By Fumiko Kano Glückstad

The Covid 19-crisis has had – and still has – a very serious impact on a global scale. The New Normal guideline published by WHO [1] suggests that the responsible behaviors of individuals during the Covid-19 crisis have a critical impact on how a country is able to control the spread of  infection. However, the reactions of individuals to aspects of the New Normal such as “social distancing” and “wearing a mask” have been considerably diverse depending on who they are and which society they belong to [2].

Who they are?

To overcome a challenge like the Covid-19 crisis, but also e.g. the long-term crisis on climate change, socially responsible behaviors from individuals are required. Roughly speaking, such behavioral changes may be motivated by four types of personal value priorities [3]: i) anxiety-free values, ii) anxiety-based values; iii) personal-focused values; and iv) social-focused values (See the Figure).

Adapted from Schwartz (2012) [3]

Schwartz [3] states that: 

Socializers and social control agents discourage values that clash with the smooth functioning of significant groups or the larger society. Values that clash with human nature are unlikely to be important. The basic social function of values is to motivate and control the behavior of group members (Parsons, 1951). Two mechanisms are critical. First, values serve as internalized guides for individuals; they relieve the group of the necessity for constant social control. Second, people invoke values to define particular behaviors as socially appropriate, to justify their demands on others, and to elicit desired behaviors. Socializers seek, consciously or not, to instill values that promote group survival and prosperity.

Schwartz, 2012, page 12

This statement is highly relevant to the two aforementioned challenges: Covid-19 and climate change. 

Let us for instance think about the economic situation that the Covid 19 crisis has brought upon the tourism and experience economy (EE) sector. In order to thrive and secure the jobs of the employees involved in the sector, the EE sector needs to maintain a certain number of tourists visiting its destinations. On the other hand, society needs to prevent further spreading of Covid-19. Hence, the responsible behaviors of individuals expressed in association with their travel activities play a crucial role in maintaining the EE businesses.

However, individuals’ attitudes to traveling and to the Covid-19 crisis substantially differ, and manifest in different behaviors. For example, some individuals may prefer to enjoy traveling because they prioritize “personal-focused” values, seeking to fulfill their hedonistic needs, their needs of self-expression and to obtain a sense of achievement. Such internalized personal values may trigger a negative reaction to the constant social control enforced by Covid-19. On the other hand, a person inclined to “social-focused” values may instead tend to choose socially appropriate behaviors required to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Which society they belong to?

While the value priorities of individuals within and across societies may differ, cultures also influence the formation of selves. Markus & Kitayama’s [4] [5] phenomenal theory, ‘Culture and Self’, defines the independent and the interdependent self-schemas that demonstrate “how sociocultural contexts can shape self-functioning and psychological functioning (Markus & Kitayama, 2010, page 425)”.

Adapted from Markus & Kitayama (2010)

Markus and Kitayama (2001; 2010) explain that:

When an independent schema of self organizes behavior, the primary referent is the individual’s own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Alternatively, when an interdependent schema of self organizes behavior, the immediate referent is the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others with whom the person is in a relationship.

Markus and Kitayama, 2010, page 423

Accordingly, feelings of happiness also differ depending on whether a person is rooted in a culture emphasizing the independent or interdependent self-schemas [6].

Specifically, in North America happiness may most typically be construed as a state contingent on both personal achievement and positivity of the personal self. Negative features of the self and negative feelings are thus perceived to be a hindrance against positivity and happiness. In contrast, in East Asia happiness is likely to be construed as a state that is contingent on social harmony and, thus, on a balance among different selves in a relationship.

Uchida, Norasakkunkit, & Kitayama 2004, page 227

Following the arguments of the aforementioned East Asian cross-cultural psychologists, the formation of value priorities might have been influenced by such culture-rooted self-schemas. Thus, the value priorities and culture-dependent self-schemas of individuals become important factors when scholars do research on sustainable and responsible consumer behaviors. In other words, if the mechanism of feeling happiness is fundamentally different between the independent and the interdependent cultures or between the social- or the personal-focused individuals, the motivations for behaving in a socially responsible way may substantially differ.

Socially responsible reaction to the New Normal

These existing individual and cultural differences may cause us to think about the definition of “socially responsible behaviors” in the context of the Covid-19 crisis.

On Wikipedia, “social responsibility” is defined in the following way:

Social responsibility is an ethical framework and suggests that an individual has an obligation to work and cooperate with other individuals and organizations for the benefit of society at large. Social responsibility is a duty every individual has to perform so as to maintain a balance between the economy and the ecosystems. A trade-off may exist between economic development, in the material sense, and the welfare of the society and environment…

From this viewpoint, the Covid-19 crisis could be an excellent opportunity for individuals to exercise “socially responsible behaviors” for the benefit of society, i.e. in order to return to a Covid-19 free society. However, it generally seems that the young generation of Scandinavians who have been world-leading in sustainable behavior changes have been less engaged in the socially responsible behaviors encouraged during the Covid-19 crisis. What we have learned from the Covid-19 crisis is that the cultures emphasizing the interdependent self-schema have had a smoother path to the New Normal behaviors.

An Australian writer, Paul De Vries posted his interesting observation of the Japanese people’s reactions to Covid-19 in Japan Times [7]:

A stumbling block of the “assumption of carrier” countermeasure is that it requires people to endure discomfort for the sake of the collective good, despite the likelihood of being COVID-19 free. Persuading a critical mass of the population to accept such an imposition is a challenging task, especially when new case numbers are in decline.

Three of the motivating factors that induce Japanese nationals to adhere are courtesy, obligation and shame. Courtesy is the willingness to act out of genuine concern for others. Obligation involves placing the needs of the group before those of oneself. Shame is fear of what others might think if one does not comply to group or societal norms.

There is no shortage of courtesy among the silent majority of the West, as unlikely as that can sometimes seem. A sense of obligation also exists, but typically toward groups less large than society as a whole. Shame, on the other hand, is not a dominant Western trait.

Cultural sensitivity and diversities in the measuring of sustainable development

The diverse reactions to the Covid-19 crisis observed in the past months are good examples demonstrating a need “to prepare a new cultural map of developmental goals, and to create and adapt development indexes that are more culturally sensitive [2]”.  

However, the mapping of cultural differences is not enough to capture heterogeneities of the respective societies. Here, the individuals’ value priorities play in. The theory of basic human values by Schwartz [3] implies that individuals prioritizing the “self-transcendence” value, for example, might be more prone to engage in the socially appropriate behaviors specifically required to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In order to effectively implement a policy for the various sustainable development goals, a new cultural map integrating the heterogeneities of societies will become necessary. In this way, a policy maker could distinguish messages suitable for the respective target segments and optimize their effects on the citizens’ responsible behaviors.

The recent development of machine learning technologies has made it possible to classify populations into such personal value typologies, to describe who they are, and to predict how they will respond to various situations [8]. In our project, UMAMI (Understanding Mindsets Across Markets, Internationally) [9], we developed a workflow and methodologies to investigate such heterogeneities of societies based on personal value priorities. It would be interesting to explore how these can be exploited in various application domains addressing the sustainable development goals in the coming years.


References

[1] https://www.who.int/westernpacific/emergencies/covid-19/information/covid-19-new-normal

[2] Krys K, Capaldi CA, Lun VM-C, et al. Psychologizing indexes of societal progress: Accounting for cultural diversity in preferred developmental pathways. Culture & Psychology. 2020;26(3):303-319. doi:10.1177/1354067X19868146  

[3] Schwartz, S. H. (2012). An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1116

[4] Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implication for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98 SRC-(2), 224–253.

[5] Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (2010). Cultures and selves: A cycle of mutual constitution. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(4), 420–430. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691610375557

[6] Uchida, Y., Norasakkunkit, V., & Kitayama, S. (2004). Cultural Constructions of Happiness: Theory and Empirical Evidence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 5, 223–239. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-004-8785-9

[7] https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2020/05/22/commentary/japan-commentary/covid-19-versus-japans-culture-collectivism/

[8] Albers, K. J., Mørup, M., Schmidt, M. N., & Glückstad, F. K. (2020). Predictive evaluation of human value segmentations. The Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 1–28. https://doi.org/10.1080/0022250X.2020.1811277

[9] http://sf.cbs.dk/umami


About the Author

Fumiko Kano Glückstad is Associate Professor of Cross-Cultural Cognition at Copenhagen Business School. She works in the area of cross-cultural psychology. She has developed a workflow and methodologies enabling data-driven segmentation and typological analysis of consumers based on their personal value priorities in close collaboration with the Section of Cognitive Systems, DTU Compute at the Technical University of Denmark during the UMAMI project (2017-2020) funded by Innovation Fund Denmark. She previously worked as a consumer researcher and product concept designer of kitchen appliances at Panasonic Corporation, Japan and as a Japanese market specialist at Phase One A/S, Denmark.


Photo by Kate Trifo on Unsplash

Friedman’s critique of CSR at 50: birthday surprises

By Jeremy Moon

Sorry I am late in sending a 50th birthday card for Milton Friedman’s essay “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits [1]. Many would say that it is a birthday not worth celebrating. I agree with my colleagues Steen Vallentin (see blog) and Sandra Waddock (see blog) that we should move beyond Friedman’s assumptions and prescriptions. So why do I use a seemingly outdated newspaper article in my introductions to courses on corporate social responsibility (CSR)? In Steen’s terms, should I continue to flog the ‘somewhat dead horse’? As I think this horse still has legs I wouldn’t flog it, but I would continue to take some of the CSR journey with it. And here’s why. 

By reading and thinking about “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits” students have gained insights into how business and its context changes, and into some key abiding issues (e.g. the relationship of business responsibility to government, the purpose of business). Friedman packs an awful lot into the essay. Despite my belief that it is anachronistic and misguided in parts, Friedman – sometimes unwittingly – brings a few interesting surprises to the class.

Surprise No. 1 is that it was even worth penning a critique of business social responsibility in 1970. It is sometimes assumed – especially in business schools – that business concerns with responsibility and sustainability are relatively new fads (the sad truth is that many schools have been slow to address these concerns). But, yes, there was a lot of talk about CSR in the late 1960s USA, and Friedman castigates GM Motors for its social initiatives. So CSR is not new but it has its ups and downs. Its focal issues, modes and rationales differ over time and vary among contexts.  

The biggest change to CSR since 1970 is probably globalization bringing with it global supply chains and new corporate agendas of responsibility for labour & human rights and for the natural environment. Friedman envisaged that the only governments relevant for social issues were democratically accountable (i.e. American) and thus did not envisage the difficult responsibility issues for corporations in sourcing from, and selling to, countries which are undemocratically and corruptly governed. 

Surprise No. 2 is for those who know that Milton Friedman had already achieved fame or infamy for his libertarian position. In his book Capitalism and Freedom (1962), he presented government as inefficient and ineffective on key public policy issues. As Sandra Waddock points out, neo-liberalism, of which Friedman is a standard-bearer, generally contends that ‘less government is invariably good’. Yet in “The Social Responsibility of Business” Friedman is positive about government as an accountable and competent actor for resolving societal problems.

Friedman suggests a dichotomous view of the responsibilities of government and business because he assumed that business could best pursue its responsibilities – to increase profits – unencumbered by public policy obligations, and that government could legitimately raise taxes to address social issues. But this dichotomy rather belies the realities, then and now, of business organizations seeking favorable governmental intervention in markets and society… and of governments seeking business contributions to addressing societal challenges.

Surprise No. 3Friedman acknowledges the virtue of social investments by business … ‘excuse me?’. Yes. In a rather over-looked passage, he comments that: 

It may well be in the long-run interest of a corporation that is a major employer in a small community to devote resources to providing amenities to that community or to improving its government. That may make it easier to attract desirable employees …or have other worthwhile effects.

M. Friedman (1970). “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits”, p. 124 col. 3.

This looks like an early version of the business case for CSR – re-labeled Creating Shared Value by Porter & Kramer [2]? But Friedman just doesn’t want you to call social investments CSR. Like today’s critics of CSR, Friedman sees this cloaking of a business strategy as a form of “window-dressing” and as “approaching fraud”. This introduces the fascinating point of class discussion about whether something can be described as socially responsible if it also benefits the benefactor, and specifically the corporate benefactor?

Surprise No. 4 is for students of business and management.  It lies in Friedman’s misrepresentation of corporate governance. His main argument about CSR constituting misuse or even theft of shareholders’ property is predicated on his contention that shareholders are the legal owners of publicly traded corporations. But in fact the corporation itself owns its assets: indeed the whole point about limited liability is that shareholders are exempted from liabilities that would otherwise rest on owners [3]. Of course, there are duties to shareholders – legal and ethical – but these are tempered in corporate governance regulation and judicial rulings (details vary among jurisdictions).

This is also a surprise for some corporate critics who see the problem of corporate irresponsibility as simply a function of a shareholder model [4].  In other words, they believe Friedman’s myth of the managers simply being the agents of shareholders. That this myth has achieved such standing is, perhaps partly testimony to the appeal that Friedman’s argument has had… and another reason why I like to introduce him to students.  

Surprise No. 5 is one that, in retrospect, Friedman himself may have had to face. It is clear that investors do not conform to his fairly unidimensional assumptions of shareholders’ motivation: not all are interested in short-term profit. Some are motivated by long-term security of their investment and others by values (e.g. avoidance of risky products, preference for products not tested on animals). Today we see evidence of greater mainstreaming of investor concerns with sustainability issues that Friedman would have contended are beyond corporate responsibility and which are properly in the sphere of government (see Rasche blog).  

Of course, much else has changed which students like to ponder, including:

  1. the extent to which corporations adopt the business case for responsible and sustainable goods and services, be it for their own sake, or reflecting changing consumer, employee or investor preferences or, more broadly, reflecting their understanding of the expectations of societies and regulators.
  2. the institutionalization of CSR through private authority (principles, standards, audits, reports) and its intersection with civil society and democratic government.
  3. skepticism about corporate motivation for “promoting desirable social ends” is no longer the sole prerogative of libertarians like Friedman (and Hayek).  I now also comes from the very socialist perspectives that Friedman feared the most.

So yes, we certainly need to move on, but we may move on more assuredly if part of our journey (on horseback or otherwise) is engaged in the conversation he spurred (sorry for flogging these equine metaphors…). 


References

[1] M. Friedman “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits”, New York Times Magazine, 13 September 1970.

[2] M. Porter & M. Kramer “Creating Shared Value”  Harvard Business Review, Jan  – Feb 2011.

[3] E.g. Lynn A. Stout. The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms InvestorsCorporations, and the Public, 2012.

[4] E.g. Not Fit-for-Purpose: The Grand Experiment of Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Corporate Accountability, Human Rights and Global Governance (Summary Report), MSI Integrity, 2020.


About the Author

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


Photo Source: Milton Friedman blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, while his wife Rose and other party attendees look on. 15 July 1987. ©Hoover Institution Archives.

Top Leadership Compensation: From Hockey-Stick to Shared Pay-checks

“Sharing is Caring” is a way to manage post-COVID19 Economic Crises and Layoffs

By Anirudh Agrawal & Bharat Dhamani

10 of the 25 Linkedin review of best companies to work in India published in 2019 are firing their employees in 2020.  They paid huge performance based salary to top management, who drove performance by reducing pay of the lower rung employees [1].

There is a moral dilemma when we compare top management compensation with those employed at the lower levels or those employed on temporary contracts in India Inc. The median top management salary in India is as much as 243 times than those at the lowest strata of the organisation [2]. During the recent Covid-19 crises, this wage asymmetry between the lowest rung employees and top management the resulting crises of legitimacy were further highlighted. This opinion piece discusses three strategies to control hockey stick pay-outs to the corporate leadership. Contrary to current narrative on free market  and invisible hand, the corporate must self-reflect and implement policies for greater employee rights and dignity, collective bargaining and equality of pay to create  sustainable competitive advantage. 

India Inc. must learn from Scandinavian enterprises about their top leadership compensation model where the compensation is decided collectively ( along with the employee union), ensuring fairer pay and shared accountability towards organizational performance. Scandinavian strategy of collective bargaining has ensured multiple benefits [3].

  1. It has ensured that the rights of the lowest-ranked individual is protected.
  2. It has ensured that organizations follow sustainable policies both internally and externally, keep sharing the impact from shareholders to stakeholders, and
  3. The employees at each level and the communities work in sync towards ensuring organisational mission and competitiveness politics, cliques and influence of personal interest groups are limited.
  4. The collective agreements ensure that the employee flights to competitors are limited.

The effect of Scandinavian model has ensured an overall positive impact on organisational longevity, brand recall and competitiveness [4].

The India Inc should engage with their Indian public sector counterparts and learn their functioning and how they treat their employees through fairer pay and work conditions. India Inc should reflect and study the pay structure adopted by the Indian Public sector [5].

The public sector salaries have ensured respect for each, preservation of rights, longevity in the job and service to all irrespective of caste, colour or religion.

For example, the public sector banks like SBI ensure delivery of financial services to the poorest of the poor while ensuring that its banking officials are paid well. Our common sense would suggest that the Indian private sector to emulate some of the public sector compensation methodology, ensuring that the employee at the lowest strata get decent wages. The private sector can learn from the public sector on how to manage organisational compensation and increase organisational loyalty and in doing so, it must also increase benefits to the lowest ranking employee in the organisation. Similarly, the public sector should develop agility to reflect on market forces and learn to innovate to ensure that it is aligned and competitive as the competition demands. 

Narayan Murthy of Infosys rightly questioned his senior management about the lack of accountability despite hockey stick payouts. He pointed out that shareholders might approve the actions of the top management but the corporate leadership must be accountable to the stakeholders that includes the public and the employees [6]

Therefore, top management compensation should be duly decided by following a strong corporate governance principles, transparency and by installing elements of corporate ombudsman

Firms with strong accountability and stakeholder interests would perform better in the long run, than those firms which are driven by offering high incentives to top management for performance.

Some Indian private sector organisations belonging to distressed industries and markets had taken large public owned capital to run their businesses, paid hefty compensation to higher management but when things went wrong, both the promoters and top management had no public accountability. Besides, when the business failed to perform, the top management were just let go while the lower-ranked employees struggled to pay their bills. The audit reports were hardly made public and the accountability measures and corporate governance rules of such organisations were never questioned.  

The organisations while deciding top management compensation must also bring proportionality in accountability and stakeholder engagement.

Collective bargaining, equality in pay similar to public sector and corporate social and moral accountability are three strategies that the Indian corporations must reflect and incorporate in their managerial processes. Some of the NIFTY fifty Indian corporations like the Tata Group, Infosys, Mahindra and Mahindra, Hero Motors, ICICI Bank have implemented in their processes and one can see these effects on the employee satisfaction on Glassdoor employer ratings, brand recall by the consumers and overall stakeholder satisfaction is reflected positively.

Therefore, if the Indian private sector implements the policies that lead to greater accountability, equality in pay, collective decision making while ensuring its flexibility to market forces, we will see a disruptive and positive change in the image, governance mechanism, competitiveness and longevity of Indian corporations.

While the hockey stick model of compensation shifts the responsibility entirely on the top management, the collective bargaining and equitable compensation distributes the responsibility to each and every employee, bringing greater sense of employee engagement and employee accountability. Such a strategy has a potential to create long term competitiveness and shareholder value.


References

[1] https://www.businessinsider.in/here-are-the-25-most-popular-workplaces-in-india-according-to-linkedin/articleshow/68704338.cms
[2] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/company/corporate-trends/india-incs-top-executives-earn-243-times-more-than-average-staff/articleshow/63359591.cms
[3] https://www.socialeurope.eu/why-trade-unions-at-work-do-work
[4] http://norden.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:816030/FULLTEXT02.pdf
[5] https://www.spjimr.org/blog/learning-public-sector
[6] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/narayan-murthy-recounts-his-spat-with-vishal-sikka-to-drive-home-point/story-YNG126VbaGMO5nDgFx0XCM.html


About the Authors

Anirudh Agrawal is Impact Investing and Social Entrepreneurship Fellow at Copenhagen Business School and Lecturer of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Department of Entrepreneurship at FLAME University India. He is researching on the institutional theory framework to reflect on debates in social entrepreneurship and social innovation. 

Bharat Dhamani is a Lecturer of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at the Department of Entrepreneurship at FLAME University India. He practices engagement oriented learning through simulation and practical work. His subjects include financial management, business plan preparation, new venture business strategy and social entrepreneurship.


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Making Corporate Sustainability More Sustainable

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

By Andreas Rasche

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

The Challenge of Integration

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

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

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

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

The Challenge of Corporate Size

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

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

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

Sustainable Corporate Sustainability

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


About the Author

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


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Is Tourism an Essential Industry?

Can it really be true that we don’t need to travel?

By Elizabeth Cooper

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically highlighted those workers and industries which we rely on in a time of crisis such as this – and those which we don’t. In a world in which doctors and nurses work extended hours to ensure our vulnerable citizens get the best possible care, workers in the food service industry expose themselves daily to give us access to food, and epidemiologists compete to break new medical ground with a reliable vaccine, the tourism industry has, understandably, taken a back seat. But as we desperately envision a post-pandemic utopia in which we will have supposedly learned from the lessons of the pandemic – can it really be true that we don’t need to travel? 

How do we define an essential industry?

So what actually is an “essential” industry? According to the Cambridge English dictionary, an essential industry is “an industry that is considered necessary for a nation’s economy”. Knoema.com has a neat map showing the percentage of national GDP made up by tourism for (almost) all countries of the world, and the figures vary greatly, as might be expected. On a global scale, tourism in 2019 was reported to account for 10.3% of global GDP, and 1 in 10 jobs around the world. Although there are no official numbers on exactly what percentage of GDP qualifies an industry as essential, 10% is surely significant. 

Source: lectrr.be

In a rather provocative blog post in July this year, tourism academic Jim Butcher argued against the ‘degrowth’ of the tourism industry – a movement that many propagators of the ‘new normal’ rhetoric have been calling for. He emphasised the impact of tourism standstill specifically on low-income citizens, who are more likely to work in the industry. Butcher writes:

The lesson of COVID-19 is surely that “undertourism” is a far, far bigger problem [than overtourism]. From Margate to Marrakech, Miami to Massawa, the poor are hit hardest. The UN has predicted that COVID-19, or the response to it, could lead to hundreds of millions of people becoming impoverished.

As wealthy, Western tourists, we travel in our leisure time, with our ample disposable income and our agreeably emblazoned passports. To be a tourist is certainly a privilege that is not available to everyone. From this perspective, tourism is a luxury and is non-essential. But from the perspective of those who rely on tourism’s low-paying service jobs to feed their families, it is absolutely essential.

Is tourism just an industry?

Part of the reason for this misalignment in perspectives is the framing of tourism as an industry and only that. If tourism is nothing more than an industry, then a tourist is a simple consumer, who consumes a destination. The negative connotations of this (not to mention the mental image!) are almost too much to bear.

All industries are essentially about people, but tourism perhaps more so than most, since many of its products themselves are encounters between people of different cultures.

Tourism, therefore, is much more than an industry – it is a social process with a plethora of complex implications. And contrary to the beliefs of many, a lot of these implications are positive. A good example is the wildlife tourism sector, where there are numerous cases in which the conservation of a destination relies heavily on philanthropic donations by tourists (Powell & Ham, 2008Ardoin et al., 2016).

On a more general level, tourism fosters understanding and awareness, and a world (permanently) without travel is arguably an even scarier prospect than the instability we are living in today. Few articulate this argument more powerfully than Taleb Rifai, former Secretary-General of the UNWTO.

He argues that the reason we care so much today about the negative impacts of tourism is because we are more aware than ever before – and that we should be grateful for this heightened consciousness. It is largely international travel itself that has enabled this increased awareness – nowadays, it is easier than ever before to have real connections with other cultures. And real connections create genuine concern. Rifai argues that this should be seen as progress, and that ceasing to travel would be counterproductive. Here, he’s talking in the wake of recent terror attacks in 2016, but the sentiment is valid today:

It’s very important for us never, ever to allow these forces of darkness to win the battle. That’s exactly what they want us to do. They want us to stop traveling. They want us to build walls, they want us to close borders, want to isolate us from each other and they want us to hate each other. That’s why they’re targeting tourism.

The notion of degrowth supported by ‘new-normalists’ can be realised in ways which still create value for economies that rely on tourism. Tourists can travel less frequently and less far and still provide increased value for destinations. Fewer tourists who create more value for destinations is the kind of regrowth we should aim for.

The argument for tourism being not just an essential industry, but also essential to society, is perhaps best expressed by a quote that is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (and which also happens to be a strong candidate for my next tattoo): 

“Travel is the language of peace.”


References

Ardoin, N.M., Wheaton, M., Hunt, C.A., Schuh, J.S. and Durham, W.H., 2016. Post-trip philanthropic intentions of nature-based tourists in Galapagos. Journal of Ecotourism, 15(1), pp.21-35.

Powell, R.B. and Ham, S.H., 2008. Can ecotourism interpretation really lead to pro-conservation knowledge, attitudes and behaviour? Evidence from the Galapagos Islands. Journal of sustainable tourism, 16(4), pp.467-489.


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.


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Private Standard-setting Organizations and the Theory of Change

Theory of Change – Evaluating Supply Chain Outcomes

By Kamilla Hvid Andersen, Eileen Ryll, Dr. Caleb Gallemore and Dr. Kristjan Jespersen

Due to globalization, supply chains are becoming increasingly complex, challenging national governments’ regulatory capacity, or, perhaps, political will. Amid these “governance gaps” some private-sector organizations have begun setting voluntary standards promoting sustainable production practices. As they are not backed with legal force, private standards must demonstrate both positive impacts, credibility and inclusive decision-making to be perceived as legitimate in the eyes of external observers and member firms. Due to the complex and interrelated nature of sustainability issues, it can, however, be difficult to relate outcomes back to activities of the standard setting system.

To monitor their programs and evaluate their impact, many standard-setting organizations have adopted a Theory of Change (ToC).

Based on Carol Weiss’s theory-based evaluation approach, a ToC is a cause-and-effect illustration that makes explicit often implicit beliefs and assumptions about how different actions should generate impacts.

Evaluating impacts then requires collecting data that show how the proposed causal sequence plays out and, if discontinued, where it broke down. On this account, the ToC is necessary because practitioners often rely on tacit knowledge or even guesswork, rarely articulating the conceptual foundations of their actions explicitly.

ISEAL – The Standard for Standards

The ISEAL Alliance has been a key ToC promoter for many major sustainability standards. The organization is in essence a benchmarker for certification systems, working to disseminate better practices across sustainability standards. While the organization has a relatively small membership, its members include prominent standards like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Its Impact Code strongly encourages, though does not require, a ToC as the foundation for robust Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E).

While couched in an M&E framework, ISEALs’ framing of a ToC as a way to articulate building blocks for long-term goals also links it to strategic planning.  For the organization, a ToC is both product and process. As a product it maps out what to measure to assess a standard’s impact. As a process, it can help define a shared vision of how the standard should be making change, helping get member and observer buy-in on its strategic trajectory.

Case in Point – RSPO

The RSPO is a good example of how ToC procedures can influence organizational operations. Following ISEAL recommendations, the RSPO constructed an elaborate ToC in 2017. While its stated primary goal of making sustainable palm oil the global norm has remained since the standard’s early days, the ToC outlines the strategies deemed necessary to achieve this vision. By explicating the assumptions behind its actions, the RSPO’s ToC is simultaneously an M&E tool and a strategy. Though, like ISEAL, the RSPO introduced the ToC as an impact evaluation tool, the process generated critical discussions on the organization’s shared vision and explicated previously implicit beliefs regarding what making sustainable palm oil the norm actually means and how it could be achieved.

Because ToCs have both M&E and strategic planning components, responsibility for their development and implementation should not reside solely in M&E departments. Rather, effective ToC processes should include the whole organization and external stakeholders, requiring strategic decision-making support. Continuous feedback from all actors implementing elements of the ToC into their daily work can be valuable to highlight shortcomings of the ToC in place and guide future strategy reviews.

The Mechanics of TOC

A ToC process includes two broad phases. In the first, relevant actors develop or refine a shared vision and outline causal sequences necessary to achieve it. In the second, actors must incorporate the ToC into day-to-day routines.

The ToC as it emerges from the first phase is an intermediate outcome, part of a continuous learning loop that can be influenced by other processes surrounding the organization. It also may trigger other processes, as was the case within the RSPO when the ToC heavily informed another strategy document outlining member responsibilities across the value chain. The division between these phases, of course, is blurry, and it is always possible to re-evaluate and re-model the intermediate ToC, making the process iterative. All this work goes far beyond simple M&E, a lesson the RSPO learned the hard way, at first significantly underestimating the effort necessary to develop its ToC, regarding is simply as mapping out what was already there.

The Role of Interactive Adaptivity in Supply Chains Evaluation

Based on the example of their use by ISEAL and the RSPO, ToCs can serve several purposes:

  • First, they can support strategic planning while structuring strategic reconsiderations over time. Their iterativity might make it particularly important for organizations to revisit their ToCs before strategic re-alignments or in times of upheaval.
  • Second, in a complex field that spans multiple stakeholder groups, which as is case with the RSPO, most likely have divergent underlying assumptions, the ToC process can help illuminate blind spots. To be effective, the ToC needs to be inclusive of as many of the actors affected by the organization’s activities as possible.
  • Third and more prosaically, a ToC, while more than impact evaluation, can support evaluative work, serving as the backbone for M&E activities.

About the Authors

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.

Eileen Ryll graduated from CBS with a degree in MSc. Business, Language and Culture with a focus on Diversity and Change Management. She has previously studied Business and Cultural Studies in Germany and Sweden. Her main interests are organizational strategy and intercultural encounters. 

Kamilla Hvid Andersen studied her bachelor’s and master’s degree at Copenhagen Business School. In June 2020, she graduated from the MSc. in Business, Language and Culture with a specialization in Diversity and Change Management. Her personal interests include sustainability, intercultural communication, and organizational change. 

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.


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Normative foundations for stakeholder involvement in environmental and societal impact assessments

A complex issue of global relevance

By Karin Buhmann

This article is based on previously written piece for the Centre for Business and Development Studies. It focuses on the normative foundations, such as guidelines and legislation as well as some common features or practices for good stakeholder involvement in environmental and societal impact assessments. As a part of the blog-post series on Consultations, Public Participation and Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement, it considers various aspects of stakeholder involvement as an element in the planning and decision-making relating to renewable energy, mining, infrastructure etc.

These blog-posts disseminate preliminary results from project examining best practice in stakeholder engagement as part of impact assessment. The project partly builds on investigations and interviews in Greenland in August 2018 and Sápmi in June 2018. [Ref: NOS-HS project, ref. 2017-00061/NOS-HS, on Best practice for Impact Assessment of infrastructure projects in the Nordic Arctic: Popular participation and local needs, concerns and benefits, Principal Investigator: Karin Buhmann)].

Public requirements on consultations and corporate management of risk to society

Consultation of the public in the context of assessments of societal or environmental impacts is not only common but mandated by law in several countries. In many places mandatory environmental impact assessment goes back to the 1970s. Mandatory impact assessments of other issues, such as societal sustainability or human rights, is a more recent phenomenon that to an extent builds on experiences gained around environmental impact assessment.

Even when impact assessment is not mandatory, it may be wise for a company to reach out to the local community and other potentially or actually affected stakeholders in order to map societal risks. This may contribute to counteracting a loss of the corporate ‘social licence to operate’.

Recommendations on ’meaningful stakeholder engagement’ in societal impact assessments

It is a general expectation that companies conduct so-called ‘meaningful stakeholder engagement’ in order to identify potential or actual adverse impacts on, for example, the environment, labour conditions and human rights. This is a result of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises – a detailed set of recommendations from OECD member states as well as several countries in Africa and Latin-America.

The recommendations target companies operating in or out of the relevant countries. Likewise, all companies (regardless of form and countries of registration or operation) engage meaningfully with affected stakeholders whose human rights are or may be harmed by a business activity, in order to understand and map the impact from the perspective of these affected.

The United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, which were a source for the 2011 update of the OECD Guidelines, refer to meaningful stakeholder engagement in this context. The objective is that the impact assessment will be conducted in a manner that takes account of the affected stakeholders’ perception of risks or actual harm caused, that is, adopting a bottom-up perspective.

The company is expected to prevent risks and actual harm that it causes or contributes to. It can only do so if it understands the problems from the perspective of those who experience or fear the problems.

OECD has developed a detailed Guidance on Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement for the Extractive Industries. The guidance includes an annex particularly on engagement of indigenous people. A translation into the Sami language was introduced at a seminar taking place back-to-back with the assembly of the Sami Parliament in Northern Norway in June 2019.

Even so, at a meeting on mining and sustainability, which took place in Northern Sweden later in June 2019, we observed very limited awareness of the guidance and relevant global guidelines among local NGOs and other civil society organisations. In fact, awareness is higher with some companies. Lack of knowledge of the normative standards that apply to companies make it difficult for civil society to require that companies observe the norms.

The OECD Guidelines and the UN Guiding Principles are not binding but mark a tendency towards recognition of individual access to influence through making one’s views and concerns known, even if this may not take place through a formalized process.

Overall, the past 40 years have witnessed a development in international environmental and human rights law towards direct access for the individual to partake in decision-making on business activities affecting one’s life [Pring and Noé, 2002]. Rights of indigenous and tribal peoples to be involved in decision-making on mining and other forms of natural resource extraction are often highlighted in this context [Triggs, 2002]. Consultations can form one element among others in ensuring such participation.

Mandatory requirements

The Nordic countries, which include Arctic areas, have long mandated planning of specific types of activities to include assessments of the environment so that the information can form part of the authorities informed decision-making. In some Nordic countries environmental impact assessments include broader societal aspects, such as impacts on health, employment, traditions and business operations [Nenasheva et al. 2015].

Specific requirements of separate assessments of societal impacts are less common in a Nordic context. However, Greenland’s self-government has introduced explicit requirements in the Act on Raw Materials mandating social sustainability assessments of activities that are may have significant societal impacts. Greenland has also introduced rules enabling authorities to make permits conditional on the company contribution to society, for example through vocational capacity building, employment of local labor, or locally based processing of explored raw materials.

Our project has shown that there are diverse opinions of such ’Impact Benefit Agreements’ (IBAs) that are tailored to each specific project and local context. While IBAs offers opportunities to agree on specific local measures, limited transparency on the contents reduce opportunities to develop solutions across projects.

Authorities can introduce specific requirements on the consultation process through general or special legislation. While such demands vary between countries, involvement of local communities and other affected stakeholders is a general element [Vanclay and Esteves, 2012].

Common demands on a good consultation process

As regulations and levels of detail vary between countries and types of impact assessments, specific demands on the process will not be described here. However, general indications are given by the so-called Aarhus Convention [UN 1998], which fleshes out the implications of the political decisions from the 1992 Rio Summit concerning public participation in decision-making concerning projects with environmental impacts.

The convention also covers human health and safety, locations of cultural significance etc., provided the impacts have a connection to the environment.

The Aarhus Convention establishes that:

  • the public must be informed about an activity in the early stages of a decision-making process;
  • the information must, among other things, include the character of the activity; what permit is applied for; the responsible authorities, timeline, place and procedure for public consultations on the activity; and available information on the activity’s impacts on environment, health etc.;
  • the information must be free and provided as soon as it is available;
  • reasonable time should be set aside between different phases of the process, and therefore both to inform citizens and for citizens to prepare and actively participate in the decision-making process;
  • the applicant for a permit is encouraged to actively engage in dialogue and to contribute information on the project;
  • authorities are responsible for making relevant information accessible, for example on the location for the activity, impacts on the environment in a the above sense (inclusive of health and safety), what measures will be taken to prevent adverse impacts, and alternatives to the proposed plan;
  • a summary of the information must be provided in a non-technical form that can be understood without technical prerequisites;
  • the consultation process must provide citizens with opportunities to express comments, information, knowledge and views that they find relevant. Citizens or NGOs who perceived their rights to be infringed upon are to have access to remedy provided by a court of law or another independent institution.

The Aarhus Convention has been signed by most European countries, including the Nordic states, and a few Central-Asian states.

Obviously, participation in a consultation process should not require participants to be familiar with the law, nor should the quality in principle depend on participant’s awareness of the informing normative foundations. It is possible, especially in countries with well-functioning public institutions, to ask the relevant authority to explain the rules and requirements and their implications. Elsewhere, civil society organisations are often able to provide advice and guidance.

Consultations aim to create dialogue, not conflict

Even if participation in a consultation is not a claim to having one’s view win out, a consultation is ideally a dialogue between citizens and the authorities or companies that conduct the consultation.

Consultations build on an aim of exchanging knowledge, views, concerns and needs and thereby to provide the best possible informed foundation for decisions and for projects to be adapted and regulated in response to the concerns and needs that have been voiced or identified through the consultation.

Both process and outcome depend on the involved understanding and respecting that the process builds on a conversation which is not about identifying a winner and a loser, but rather a dialogue towards an adapted result which may be a compromise between the original project idea and the thoughts, concerns and views expressed during the consultation process.


References

Esteves AM, Franks D, Vanclay F (2012) Social Impact Assessment: the state of the art, Impact Assessment And Project Appraisal 30(1) 43-42.

Nenasheva M, Bickford SH, Lesser P, Koivurola T & Kankaanpää P (2015). Legal tools of public participation in the Environmental Impact Assessment process and their application in the countries of the Barents Euro-Arctic Region, Barents Studies: Peoples, Economies and Politics 1(3) 13-35.

Pring, George (Rock) and Susan Y. Noé (2002). The Emerging International Law of Public Participation Affecting Global Mining, Energy, and Resources Development, in Zillman, Donald M., Alastair Lucas and George (Rock) Pring (eds) Human Rights in Natural Resource Development: Public participation in the Sustainable Development of Mining and Energy Resources, Oxford Scholarship Online, DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199253784.003.0002.

Triggs, Gillian (2002). The Rights of Indigenous Peoples to Participate in Resource Development: An International Legal Perspective, in Zillman, Donald M., Alastair Lucas and George (Rock) Pring (eds) Human Rights in Natural Resource Development: Public participation in the Sustainable Development of Mining and Energy Resources, Oxford Scholarship Online, DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199253784.003.0004.

UN (1998). Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention).


About the Author

Karin Buhmann is Professor at Copenhagen Business School, where she is charged with the emergent field of Business and Human Rights. Her research interests include what makes stakeholder engagement meaningful from the perspective of so-called affected stakeholders, such as communities, and the implications for companies and public organisations carrying out impact assessments.


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Aspirational talk for a challenging walk

Professor Mette Morsing takes over the UN PRME  

By Jeremy Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


References

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


About the author

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

Tax havens, COVID-19 and sustainability

By Sara Jespersen

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

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

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

“Tax haven free” recovery packages

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

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

Two immediate takeaways can be drawn from this:

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

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

Opportunities in the long term

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A timely workshop on corporate tax and inequality

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

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

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


About the author

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


Image by pickpik

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

By Kristian Roed Nielsen

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

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

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

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

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

The study in a nutshell

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh insights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the author

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


References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Supplier perspectives on social responsibility in global value chains

By Peter Lund-Thomsen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the author

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


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

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

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

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

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark

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

Lobbying and the virus – three trends to take note of


Image by International Labour Organization ILO

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


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