Ethnographies of the global value chain of certified tea (SUSTEIN)
By Hannah Elliott, Martin Skrydstrup and Matthew Archer.
Currently, the world’s tea industry is on a race with time to source tea sustainably before 2020. But what is “sustainable tea” and how do we know if tea is sustainable or not? This project entitled SUSTEIN (SUStainable TEa INfrastructure) will focus on this question by way of looking at localized translations of transnational sustainability standards in Kenya, United Arab Emirates and corporate headquarters in Europe. We aim to advance our understanding of the global value chain of certified tea.
3 Research lines
The theoretical objective is to venture beyond the notion of global value chain by reinterpreting sustainable supply chain management through the concept of infrastructure, a notion anthropologists and other social scientists have deployed in recent years to emphasize the political and temporal aspects of networks such as transnational supply chains. We hope that this concept will allow us to better comprehend how sustainable certification schemes manifest in global value chains. SUSTEIN consists of three sub projects, which each address a core question posed by the project:
How does certification shape agrarian production in the form of cultivation and factory processing, and vice versa? Who benefits from which sustainability standards? (Line A)
How does certification influence the valuation of tea, assessed in terms of taste, grade and price? How is the value of certification performed and capitalized? (Line B)
How do corporate professionals and independent auditors distinguish between “sustainable/unsustainable”? What lines of evidence are recognized? (Line C)
Each of these questions will be answered by the corresponding research line:
Research line A
explores agrarian questions, enquiring into the ways contemporary drives towards sustainability shape and are shaped by modes of tea production in Kenya. The research focuses on the institution of the tea plantation and its associated factories and outgrower farms, all key components of the infrastructure of sustainable tea. The tea plantation has been described as having a “dual character” (Besky 2008: 1); it has its roots in British colonialism while being contemporarily positioned in international markets for certified sustainable commodities. This research line enquires into what ‘sustainability’ comes to mean and materialise within this apparently contradictory setting. How do contemporary measures seeking to ensure sustainable tea production, such as certified standards, affect the way tea is produced in the context of the plantation? And to what extent do longer-standing modes of plantation production endure through the present, in turn shaping contemporary sustainability ideologies and practices? The research line addresses these questions through ethnographic inquiry. The researcher will spend time with the people working on tea plantations and in factories certified by different certification bodies and on the farms of outgrowers contracted to supply the companies owning plantations with supplementary sustainable tea. Through interviews and participant observation, the ethnographer will enquire into the social, political and ethical worlds surrounding sustainable tea production in contemporary Kenya.
Research line B
will follow through on the plantation and factory sites to the auction sites in Mombasa and Dubai. Ethnographic fieldwork will be conducted in the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai with no tax regulations, no strict labor laws nor import/export duties, making it the perfect infrastructural hub to blend and pack tea according to corporate logic. Likely as an outcome of this, the Dubai Tea Trading Centre has since its establishment in 2005 risen to re-export 60% of the world’s tea production. These volumes are predominantly traded on virtual platforms. In contrast, the Mombasa Tea Auction holds two weekly auctions under the auspices of the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA), which conforms to national regulations (Tea Act of Kenya & Tea Board of Kenya). Recently, this auction site voted “against the mouse and for the hammer,” maintaining the tradition of the Dutch auction style vs. virtual trading. The ethnography for this research line will move between these two sites, following tea blenders who purchase in Mombasa vs. Dubai and investigating tea expertise and technologies as it pertains to the valuation of certified tea.
Research line C
builds on these ethnographies of production and exchange to try and understand the relationship between corporations and standards/certification regimes. There is a tension between these groups of actors whereby standards organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade International need to appear independent in order for their certifications to remain credible while at the same time remaining sensitive to the financial obligations of for-profit corporations in order to promote “buy-in.” This research line will draw on interviews with people working in these organizations and participant observation at sites where they interact, including industry conferences and trade fairs. These are the sites where sustainability is negotiated as both a concept and as a set of practices. With that in mind, interview questions will focus on, among other things, the extent to which specific agricultural and trading practices are integrated into broader definitions of sustainability and their manifestation in different certification regimes, the challenges of maintaining a critical distance between certifiers and corporations, and the way standards govern markets and, crucially, vice versa.
SUSTEIN is made possible by the Sapere Aude Starting Grant (meaning “dare to know”), awarded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF). The Sapere Aude program “is aimed at younger, very talented researchers, who at the time of the application deadline and within the last eight years have obtained their PhD”. The Sapere Aude program targets “top researchers who intend to gather a group of researchers, in order to carry out a research project at a high, international level.”
Besky, S. (2008) ‘Can a plantation be fair? Paradoxes and possibilities in Fair Trade Darjeeling tea certification’. Anthropology of Work, XXIX: 1, pp. 1-9.
Martin Skrydstrup is an associate professor in the Department of Management, Society, and Communication at Copenhagen Business School and is the principal investigator of SUSTEIN. He is also responsible for research line B.
Matthew Archer is an assistant professor in the Department of Management, Society, and Communication at Copenhagen Business School and is responsible for research line C. He recently completed his PhD in environmental studies at Yale University and is interested in corporate sustainability and sustainable finance.
In a year we hope to update BOS readers about how far we are with answering our research questions. In the meantime, we invite you to swing by our offices at Dalgas Have for a cup of tea. The SUSTEIN project runs from 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2020. For further information about the project, please contact the principal investigator, Martin Skrydstrup, at email@example.com.
Business models are logics of value
proposition (Pr), creation (Cr), exchange (Ex) and capture (Ca). When closely
looking at sustainability business models, it becomes clear that these ‘value
functions’ are not only shaped by a commercial logic, but also by one of
sustainability. Many of sustainability business models include further logics
of social welfare (e.g. social enterprises), and government (e.g. private-public
partnerships) (Laasch, 2018b). If a homogeneous commercial business model was an orange, these
business models are more like a heterogeneous mixture between an apple, a pear
and that orange, an ApPeaRange! Their value logics are not homogeneously
commercial, but heterogeneous mixtures.
Strange Fruit Everywhere
Heterogeneous value logics like the one of
sustainability business models are widespread. Imagine you peel an orange and
find an apple inside:
Over half of the FTSE100 corporations have
integrated a responsibility logic into their business model descriptions (Laasch & Pinkse, 2018). Many large businesses, such as LEGO, as well as SMEs are
family-run, integrating their commercial logic with a family logic (Laasch & Conaway, 2015). We may also think of the Chinese semi-conductor producer Goodark blending commercial logic with a
spiritual logic of Confucianism; the German car supplier Allsafe with its humanistic logic of freedom and responsibility; or
the Brownie bakery Greyston with its
commercial value logic firmly wrapped around a social welfare logic (Laasch et al., 2018).
Once opening our eyes to the variety of
‘values’, of normative orientations and purposes businesses are oriented towards
Laasch, 2016), the perceived number of companies adhering to
a purely commercial value logic shrinks considerably. While the purely
commercial business model might not be entirely dead, it sure shouldn’t be considered
the norm. And then there are entirely non-commercial organizations with value
Comparing APPLE and Oranges: Yes!
Isn’t comparing a commercial organization,
for instance, Apple and noncommercial organizations, let’s say a church, like
comparing Apple and oranges? Yes, cheap pun intended:
“…a commercial business like Apple. With a customer value proposition (Pr) of high quality and high-end design, it depends on highest-standard production processes (Cr) and on the ability to maintain high margins (Ca).”
Laasch, 2018b: 165.
It appears we have found a purely
commercial value logic, one that deserves the name BUSINESS model. Can we
analyze a non-business organization, for instance a church, the same way?
“…shaped by an institutional logic of religion. It may pursue a value proposition of spiritual salvation (Pr), by helping believers to live according to religious values through the provision of religious services from marriages and funerals to humanitarian aid (Cr), and exchange value in a global network of churches (Ex).”
Laasch, 2018b: 165.
It appears non-business organizations, while not having a BUSINESS model per se, do have an organizational value model of value proposition, creation, exchange and capture. Freeing the organizational value logic from its commercial business origins enables us to take a fresh look at any kind of organization: Churches, universities, NGOs, governments, your favorite sports club, you name it! Organizational value logics lend themselves to study, design, and improve all kinds of organizations.
How to Farm Strange Fruits?
It has been argued that one of the main
challenges of our times is to create companies and other organizations shaped
by alternative logics, be it the one of sustainability, or of social welfare. We
have seen that many organizations already have heterogeneous value logics. How
to change the ones that don’t? Three interrelated manifestations of organizational
value logics together form an organizational value model:
Cognition: An organizational value logic
manifests in organizational members’ cognitive structures, their mental models
and related decision making.
Activities: Value logics manifest in the
logic of action of the activity systems through which an organization’s value
model is enacted.
Artefacts: Value logics materialize in
physical form, as texts, or images, such as a business model description in the
annual report, factory layouts, or products.
Changing an organization’s value logic can start
in any of its manifestations. For instance, as a corporate responsibility
strategy circulated through a multinational retailer, the document’s
responsibility logic was translated into peoples’ mental models, new activities
and structures (Laasch, 2016,
2018a). In the companies Goodark, Allsafe, and
Greyston mentioned above, new practices centered on a humanistic value logic (Laasch et al.,
2018; Laasch, Dierksmeier, & Pirson, 2015) changed the networks of practices’ enacting their
business models (Boons, Laasch,
& Dierksmeier, 2018; Laasch et al., 2015). The emerging field of business model sociology
provides further insight into such change processes (Laasch, 2018c).
Boons, F., Laasch, O., & Dierksmeier,
C. 2018. Assembling organizational practices: The
evolving humanistic business model of Allsafe, 6th Asian SME Conference.
Laasch, O. 2016. Business model change through embedding
corporate responsibility-sustainability? Logics, devices, actor networks.
University of Manchester, Manchester.
Laasch, O. 2018a. An actor-network perspective on business models:
How ‘Being Responsible’ led to incremental, but pervasive change. Long
Range Planning, [DOI 10.16/j.lrp.2018.04.002].
Laasch, O. 2018b. Beyond the purely commercial business model:
Organizational value logics and the heterogeneity of sustainability business
models. Long Range Planning, 51(1): 158-183.
Laasch, O. 2018c. Business model sociology: Exploring alternative
lenses (not only) for the study of alternative business models. CRME
Working Papers, 4(4).
Laasch, O., & Conaway, R. 2015. Principles of responsible
management: Glocal sustainability, responsibility, ethics. Mason: Cengage.
Laasch, O., Dierksmeier, C.,
Livne-Tarandach, R., Pirson, M., Fu, P., & Qu, Q. 2018. Humanistic management performativity ‘in the wild’: The role of
performative bundles of practices, 32nd Annual Australian & New Zealand Academy
of Management (ANZAM) Conference. Auckland.
Laasch, O., Dierksmeier, C., & Pirson, M. 2015. Reality
proves possibility: Developing humanistic business models from paradigmatic
practice. Paper presented at the Academy of Management Annual
Laasch, O., & Pinkse, J. 2018. How the leopards got their spots:
A typology of corporate responsibility business models, 3rd Annual Conference on New
Business Models. Sofia.
Randles, S., & Laasch, O. 2016. Theorising the normative
business model (NBM). Organization & Environment,
In recent years, so-called “sustainable business models” are increasingly gaining in importance in both practice and research. There is hope that business models and business model innovation could, for instance, support the diffusion of ecologically and socially-beneficial products and services in the market. Despite the growing interest, there still exists a lack of systematically-generated knowledge about the different shapes (or “patterns”) such business models can take. Hence, our research project aims to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of presently known business model patterns that can contribute to the diffusion of ecologically and socially beneficial innovations. We developed a structured patterns system, a new taxonomy, of 45 patterns organized into 11 groups, including experts’ expectations for their contributions to sustainable value creation.
Key Objectives of the Study
A broad range of business models are being discussed in current scientific and applied literature. These are often identified as “patterns”. Following Christopher Alexander, a pattern theory pioneer from the field of architecture, a pattern basically represents a solution to a reoccurring problem. What makes patterns so special is that their solutions can be applied in different contexts. For instance, a window is a universal solution for the problem of a lack of lighting in a room. A window exists in different variations and can be applied in various contexts (e.g., for residential buildings, skyscrapers, small windows, large windows etc.). Similarly, business model patterns can be understood as replicable and modifiable solutions to reoccurring business challenges. For instance, the “freemium” business model can not only be used for online services such as Spotify, but also to market high-quality medical services that, depending on patient type, are offered either for “free” or for a “premium” (e.g. Aravind, an eye-care service provider in India). The key objectives of this study are (i) to consolidate the current knowledge about business model patterns with the potential to support sustainable innovations, i.e. to develop a new taxonomy, and (ii) to prepare the foundations for a “sustainable business model pattern language”.
We identified a total of 102 potential business model patterns in the relevant literature. These were critically assessed and duplicates or irrelevant items were eliminated, resulting in a sample of 45 patterns. These were reviewed and organized into groups by 10 international experts to condense the large number of patterns in a way that allowed recognizing a systematic order. In the second survey round, the international experts were asked to assess the patterns with respect to their potential contributions to ecological, social, and economic value creation. This enabled us to develop a structured patterns system, a taxonomy, of 45 patterns organized into 11 groups, including experts’ expectations for their contributions to sustainable value creation.
Results and Practical Implications
The patterns system is comprised of 45 patterns that were each allocated to one out of the 11 identified groups according to their problem-solution combination. The following groups of sustainable business model patterns were found:
Pricing & revenue patterns
Supply chain patterns
Access provision patterns
Social mission patterns
Service & performance patterns
Community platform patterns
These groups can be characterized based on (i) their specific problem-solution combinations (e.g., solving the problem of limited access to health care through a specific pricing model), and (ii) their expected ecological, social, or economic effects (i.e. their expected contribution to sustainable value creation). The patterns system is highly practice-oriented, given the input provided by the experts. For instance, it could be used as an instrument in innovation workshops. Furthermore, our patterns system could be used in combination with business model innovation tools such as the Business Model Canvas, the Business Innovation Kit, or the Smart Business Modeler. Our pattern taxonomy is based on an essential principle in business and innovation: “learning by example”. Companies that want to integrate sustainability into their business models can refer to our taxonomy for guidance and inspiration and use it as a catalogue that also includes practical examples. This means that companies do not have to start from scratch and, instead, can learn from the experiences of others and use these to progress towards sustainability. All-in-all, our sustainable business pattern taxonomy is an efficient and effective instrument that enables practitioners and scholars alike to benefit from vast years of experience. The sustainable business model pattern taxonomy is dynamic in nature and can be easily expanded with new patterns and examples. It can already be used for online business modelling by using the Smart Business Modeler.
 Lüdeke-Freund, F. & Dembek, K. (2017): Sustainable Business Model Research and Practice: Emerging Field or Passing Fancy?, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 168, 1668-1678. [ DOI | ResearchGate ]
 Boons, F. & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2013): Business Models for Sustainable Innovation: State of the Art and Steps Towards a Research Agenda, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 45, 9-19. [ DOI | ResearchGate ]
 E.g., Remane, G.; Hanelt, A.; Tesch, J. & Kolbe, L. M. (2017): The Business Model Pattern Database — A Tool for Systematic Business Model Innovation, International Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 21, No. 1, Article No. 1750004. [ DOI ]
 Alexander, C.; Ishikawa, S.; Silverstein, M.; Jacobson, M.; Fiksdahl-King, I. & Angel, S. (1977): A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Cambridge, MA: Oxford University Press. [ Website ]
 Breuer, H. & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2017): Values-Based Innovation Management: Innovating by What We Care About. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan. [ Website ]
 Lüdeke-Freund, F.; Bohnsack, R.; Breuer, H. & Massa, L. (forthcoming): Research on Sustainable Business Model Patterns – Status quo, Methodological Issues, and a Research Agenda, in: Aagaard, A. (ed.): Sustainable Business Models. Houndmills: Palgrave.
Sarah Carroux is a research associate and doctoral candidate at the University of Hamburg. As member of the Chair of Management and Sustainability, lead by Prof. Timo Busch, Sarah researches topics related to sustainable finance with a strong focus on impact investing, as well as the business case for sustainability and sustainable business models
Collective bottom-up actions for sustainability are on the rise in many corners of the global community. Actions are inspired by a realization that local solutions present opportunities to also pursue and reach global commitments, especially those agreed by all nations with the Paris climate agreement and the Agenda 2030, and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (short SDGs).
What counts as collective bottom-up action?
A wide array of actions and forms of engagement by civil society, public and private actors can be counted as forms of collective bottom-up action. Examples range from actions of green activist and volunteers in organized community-led activities, over private entrepreneurs in small and medium enterprises and local businesses, to local authorities seeking to engage citizen participation in the implementation of sustainability solutions. With the sense of urgency attributed to both achieving climate goals and the SDGs, a logical expectation can be that increasing bottom-up engagement and action will easily translate into contributions for sustainability. Moving away from a mere presumption to gaining knowledge in support of this case requires posing questions such as these: “Does bottom-up collective acting work for sustainability?”, “How can we know?”, and “Why does it matter that we know?”
Does it work?
From a systems perspective, a simplified affirmative answer can be offered: bottom-up collective actions can play a big or small part toward systemic change. They can do this by setting in motion key system levers or eventually by helping catalyse a movement that can potentially contribute toward systemic change. However, even if this is the case, how can we know that the change set in motion will be advancing important sustainability goals?
How do we know?
The answer can be approached within a variety of disciplinary fields. These include (but are not limited to) social science, engineering, psychology, economics, political science, technological innovation studies and economy-energy studies. Some approaches target consumption and production, behaviour, lifestyles, and service provision; others target systemic infrastructure impacts and technology choices. Each approach favours a partial disciplinary assessment. Each field converges towards certain expert knowledge which tends to make its use difficult in an open public conversation or public deliberation. Gaining full understanding of the way collective bottom-up actions can work for sustainability requires further efforts to synthesize partial field approaches and for learning in action.
Recent efforts by the international research community are helping advance multidisciplinary frameworks for assessment and systemic thinking in approaching complex sustainability challenges and solutions. Evolving research efforts in multi-disciplinary teams are helping find ways of bridging evidence from natural and social systems with political and ethical considerations. The results offer a more complete evaluation of bottom-up actions’ impacts, synergies and potential conflicts. Similarly, they offer a scope for creative thinking and innovation enlarging the sustainable solutions space.
Experimentation, assessment, learning and knowledge creation approaches are a necessary component of the transition
Why does it matter to know if bottom-up actions work for sustainability?
Here are three reasons why it matters. First, because gaining knowledge of what constitutes effective collective action is essential for informed decision-making at all levels. There is a short time span for countries to deliver on their commitments to limit global warming below dangerous levels and to achieve SDGs as an integrated vision. More knowledge can make clear the opportunities for innovation and help to understand where trade-offs may be unavoidable.
Second, because sustainability gains may be easier to obtain and assess locally but it is also important to learn how they can be scaled up and offer improvements toward global goals.
Finally, because experimentation, assessment, learning and knowledge creation approaches are a necessary component of this transition, in this process universities have a very important role to play.
The task of universities is to form well-equipped sustainability professionals with strong capabilities to work in multi-disciplinary teams. General eagerness to understand the systemic interconnections between sustainability and climate challenges and solutions is just as important.
So far, this task has been addressed in Denmark by the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), the Danish Technical University (DTU) and Copenhagen Business School (CBS) joint developing electives (e.g. this and this) that can be chosen by students from any discipline and from any of the three universities – provided their study board will accept the course for credit.
Universities have unique resources and facilities to contribute in strengthening the knowledge creation, self-awareness, complex system thinking and multidisciplinary learning process. They can help enrich and transform the scope of bottom-up collective action into plausible solutions that pave a sustainability-transition path.
Maria Josefina Figueroa is assistant professor and academic coordinator of the Copenhagen Sustainability Initiative COSI at Copenhagen Business School. She is also lead author of the IPCC Fifth and coming Sixth Assessment Report.
Two newly published CBS-authored books look at how public-private collaboration can bring sustainability norms into existence and offer recommendations for civil society, business, regulators and academics. Based on research on the discursive evolution of the Business & Human Rights regime and taking an interdisciplinary social science approach, both volumes target broad audiences of sustainability-concerned practitioners and academics across the social sciences.
The urgency What does a Tesla in space have in common with conflict minerals or labour abuse in the garment supply chain? The question may look like a new school children’s riddle. In fact, it is a strong reminder of the urgency to consider how public and private organisations can collaborate to develop norms of responsible conduct, especially in areas marked by governance gaps; how such processes can avoid capture by particular interests; and what communicative strategies actors can deploy to advance the acceptance of new norms across functions and interests.
When Elon Musk earlier in February 2018 successfully launched a space rocket that carried a Tesla headed for Mars (although in missing that target it was less successful), the project was heralded as a break-through in private space exploration. Some have described Musk’s idea of colonizing Mars as a ground-breaking response to the Earth’s depletion of resources and space (!) for an ever-growing human population. Others have lamented the quest for extra-terrestrial resources, and called for humanity to solve problems on this planet before moving on to (as it has been put: wreck) other planets and their eco-systems. Some have been raising warning signs in regard to private exploration of resources in space at the backdrop of an absent or at best immature Earth-ly system for governance of earthlings’ interests and desires in extra-terrestrial resources, whether explored and potentially exploited by private or public actors.
Unfortunately, issues of territory and governance gaps are not limited to outer space. They are very much a fact of life on Earth. They are the cause of many of the social and environmental sustainability concerns that keep media, corporate watchdogs and CSR consultants busy. They are also the causes of tragedies like the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed more than 1000 workers employed in garment factories in the building, and injured more than 2000.
Governance Gaps – not only a matter of state weakness
Governance gaps caused by limited territorial jurisdiction of companies’ home states and limited political will to adopt international rules setting a level playing field for companies without freezing the bar at low levels are also at least partial reasons for abuse of workers in numerous other factories, mines, quarries, infrastructure or agri-industry projects or in the informal industry that form part of global value chains, typically supplying goods made in low-wage countries to buyers or retailers in higher-wage countries. These problems have been argued to be due to states (in capacity of governance phenomena) being absent, weak or ineffective. Academics have been debating so-called political CSR, arguing for private enterprises to fill gaps left by ineffective nation states. However, the reason for governance gaps is not only state weakness. Jurisdictional limitations on states’ powers to regulate and enforce rules outside their territory is also part of the reason, shared by nations across the world and exacerbated by disagreement and lack of political will at the international governance level to adopt international rules pertaining to business.
The issue of nation state jurisdiction and territory can be compared to tedious situations in everyday life that are annoying but hard to change: If your neighbour plays music that you do not like in his or her home, you are not allowed, to access that home and turn down the volume. Unless, of course, the neighbour invites you to do so, or a prior agreement has been put in place. Similarly, you probably would not be pleased if your neighbour trespassed your property to turn off your music. Instead, the solution is to communicate and to do so in a manner that will – hopefully – drive change with your neighbour. Governance of transnational business activity largely depends on similar action, at least until governments agree to adopt and accept strong national rules with extraterritorial application, and/or international rules that apply to business. And as long as Earth’s governments do not agree on such rules for earthlings’ activities beyond our planet, this goes for exploration and exploitation of outer space too.
Beyond CSR guidelines, reporting and codes of conduct
Global sustainability concerns go beyond climate change, often related to economic practices with social and environmental impacts. Excessive natural resource exploitation, land grabbing and sub-standard labour conditions in global supply chains are frequent occurrences that also have high sustainability relevance. Such practices pose risks to the environment and human lives currently as well as in a longer term sustainability perspective of balancing current needs with those of the future. Investments and trade have caused depletion of large stretches of tropical forests, which not only harms the environment and adds to climate change, but also affects the socio-economic conditions of communities. The transnational character of these economic activities often involve or affect numerous private and public actors in several states or regions. This causes challenges for singular or even sector-wide private self-regulatory initiatives, and reduces the effectiveness of self-regulation by individual actors on their own. The enormity and encompassing character of global sustainability challenges have also drawn attention to the limitations of singular initiatives like private or sectoral Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) guidelines, reporting schemes and codes of conduct. Hence, broadly applicable multi-stakeholder-created sustainability governance schemes have emerged to fill gaps left by public as well as private governance.
Breakthroughs in global sustainability governance
The UN Global Compact with its ten principles in the four issue areas of human rights, working standards, environment and anti-corruption, is a prominent example. Yet like the Paris Climate Change Accord offers a general normative framework but leaves much to further detailing of implementation. The UN ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework and Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) offer more detailed guidance that has inspired several other transnational business governance instruments even beyond human rights, thus influencing the evolution of CSR norms and governance in a broader sense (Buhmann 2016, 2015). All these instruments were firsts within their fields, and broke previous stalemates. What causes such breakthrough? How can organisations concerned with sustainability engage with a regulatory process to advance substantive outputs? Understanding this can have far-reaching impacts for future public, private and hybrid governance of sustainability, locally, globally and beyond, and whether private, public or hybrid.
Norms of conduct: the road to the product is as important as the product When we think of normative directives for private or public organisations for actions that conform with global sustainability needs, the focus is often on the substantive content of the rule as such: in other words, what are organisations encouraged or required to do? However, the road that leads to that substantive content of a rule is a condition for what ends up in the rule, whether soft (guiding) or hard (binding). It is therefore crucial to understand what makes some processes progress and deliver results, whereas others stall.
Across the globe, organisations of many types encounter difficulty in adequately meeting environmental and social sustainability challenges. The diversity of processes and outcomes calls for insights on what drives and impedes processes of clarifying what constitutes acceptable conduct. There is a particular need for knowledge on what makes for effective processes for defining norms for such conduct, and for the norms to become accepted with a view to integrate into organisational practice.
The field of business responsibilities for their societal impacts is marked by a diversity of interests that are often not aligned, even within a sector: those of different business organisations and sectors, different civil society organisations with diverse focus issues, and various national or local governments with diverging interests. As result, developing norms of conduct becomes a process of negotiation in which participants often have regard to what is in their own interests. The bumpy road to the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord is a case in point, but not unique. The evolution of international normative guidance for businesses in regard to human rights leading to agreement on the 2008 UN Framework and 2011 Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights have received less attention and acclaim outside human rights circles, but the processes to those results represent important innovation too and potential lessons for future collaborative regulation.
Studies suggest that while some initiatives to develop norms of conduct for responsible business conduct get weakened in the process, typically as a result of lobbying by certain organisations (Kinderman 2013; Fairbrass 2011; Buhmann 2011), in other cases the key to a strong or weak result is in the capacity of actors at making the effective argument, and linking up with the right partners for that purpose (Hajer 1995; Kolk 2001, Arts 2001).
How are norms on sustainability issues negotiated? At this backdrop, it is highly necessary to understand how norms on sustainability issues are negotiated and how stalemates that mark many such efforts can be broken. Two new books by CBS professor Karin Buhmann deal with this issue, both drawing on the evolution of the emergent regime on business responsibilities for human rights. Of the two monographs, Changing sustainability norms through communicative processes: the emergence of the Business & Human Rights regime as transnational law (Edward Elgar 2017) undertakes an analysis of the discourse that marked the construction of detailed normative guidance for businesses and states in regard to business responsibilities on human rights. It analyses communicative and argumentative dynamics that allowed the multi-stakeholder process launched by the UN to break previous stalemates in several settings, as well as dynamics that caused previous initiatives to fail. It finds that the ability to address other actors in terms that directly speak to their rationality and interests holds big potential for obtaining significant influence on the details of the normative outcome, and its acceptance. The book offers a theoretical explanation of this, and expands the analysis through findings and explanations on how actors in multi-stakeholder regulatory processes may strategically play on the interest of other actors in change and in preserving their interests. It offers insights on argumentative strategies that can be applied by civil society, CSR- and sustainability-committed companies, regulators or others to advance the acceptance of new norms on sustainability with other actor
Collaborative regulation for balancing of power disparities
In recognition that where negotiations take place on issues marked by highly divergent interests and issues of power, legitimacy of the process and output are significant for a normative outcome to be meaningful, the other monograph, Power, Procedure, Participation and Legitimacy in Global Sustainability Regulation: a theory of Collaborative Regulation (Routledge 2017) offers a theory-based proposal for collaborative regulation that takes account of power disparities and continuously manages these. The analysis combines empirical experience on public-private regulation of global sustainability concerns and theoretical perspectives on transnational regulation to offer a new theoretical approach to guide multi-stakeholder negotiations. It sets out detailed suggestions for the organization of multi-stakeholder processes to regulate sustainability issues to avoid capture and ensure the legitimacy of the regulatory process as well as the outcome of that process. In a global legal and political order, in which the private sector is increasingly replacing the public in terms of power and privilege but lacks the democratic legitimacy of the state and international organisations, such issues are of global as well as regional or local pertinence.
By addressing the same overall topic of developing sustainability norm and empirical cases to inform the analysis, the books develop synergy through two separate analyses that are mutually complementary. Both volumes apply theoretical perspectives from organisational and communication studies, political science and sociology to enrich the socio-legal analysis of regulatory strategies and innovative transnational law-making. This makes the volumes speak to the broad audiences that are engaged in the development of sustainability norms in practice and theory.
Focusing on the processes for developing norms of conduct, the analyses leave assessments of the uptake and effectiveness of such norms in organisations to future studies.
Karin Buhmann is Professor with special responsibilities for Business and Human Rights. She is employed at the Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC) at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). She currently serves as the interim Academic Director of the cbsCSR (CBS Center for Corporate Social Responsibility) and CBS Sustainability.
 Kolk, A. (2001) Multinational enterprises and international climate policy. In Arts, Bas, Math Noortmann and Bob Reinalda (eds) Non-state actors in international relations, Hants: Ashgate: 211-225.
 Arts, B. (2001) The impact of environmental NGOs in international conventions. In B. Arts, M. Noortmann and B. Reinalda (eds). Non-state actors in international relations, Hants: Ashgate: 195-210.
Mainstreaming the environment is a key component to achieving sustainability objectives – how organizations account for their existing impact, and assess the impact of innovative solutions is a focal area for a new CBS effort bringing academic expertise to real-world challenges.
Why nature matters When we hear words like “biodiversity” and “conservation”, it often conjures images of tigers or coral reefs, of rare and endangered species in faraway places. The benefits that are provided to us from ecosystems however, are not just something that happen somewhere else. Forests not only provide paper goods and construction materials, they regulate rainfall, are the source for new medical discoveries, and remove toxins from the air and soil. Coastal wetlands provide flood regulation, improve water quality, and sequester vast stores of carbon. With the advent of climate change it has become increasingly clear that protecting wild places and sustainably managing natural resources is critical to sustainable communities and economies.
Despite increased awareness of the large-scale impacts of human activity on natural resources, at best we have collectively slowed bad trends, rather than reversed course toward positive ones. Part of this may be explained by Malthusian logic – even if we produce goods more efficiently and with less net input per unit, as populations increase geometrically, and middle class populations balloon in countries like Brazil, China, and India, demand for more goods far exceeds any efficiencies of new design or technology. Reconciling how to navigate on this road to sustainability is a central question of our time.
What is the role of business? Since natural resource consumption — agriculture, mining, fisheries — are major drivers of habitat conversion, corporate actors receive particular attention with respect to their role in ecosystem degradation. This also means that changes toward more sustainable practices can have substantial impact. The former president of WWF Canada explained the corporate relationship with Coca Cola in the following way
Coca Cola is in the top three consumers of sugar cane, glass, and coffee in the world. We can campaign twenty-five different governments for fifteen years to change the way sugar cane is produced in countries that likely can’t enforce such regulation, or Coke can mandate change and it happens overnight” (Dauvergne and Lister, 2013).
There is inherent skepticism that consumption and corporate action can help address environmental concerns, but we have seen organizations increasingly recognize how sustainability matters are critical to their operations. The environment is not seen as being in opposition to economic growth, but instead seen as essential for it. International reports such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, and organizations like UNEP’s Green Growth Initiative and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development all either implicitly or explicitly endorse the idea that we (as individuals, governments, businesses) will benefit in the long term from healthy ecosystems. Therefore, even for those not motivated by a conservation ethic, they emphasize that we all benefit directly from their sustainable management.
What is happening at CBS? As one effort to support transformative change in the realm of sustainability, CBS is developing an “Impact for Innovation Lab”. We have chosen impact as the core theme because it is so crucial to understanding whether solutions are truly making a difference – within organizations or on the ground.
The Impact Lab will be a hub for engagement across academic disciplines, civil society, and private sector actors to collaborate on real-world challenges. We will combine ecological, economic, and institutional expertise to develop and test new tools and methodologies. With agricultural commodities, the built environment, and technology as overarching themes, we aim to address environmental and social issues across supply chains, consider the most impactful (as in damaging) practices, to implement the most impactful (as in positive) outcomes. If these sound like challenges your organization is wrestling with, or you want to apply your research efforts to tackling complex problems, do not hesitate to contact Paige Olmsted (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Kristjan Jespersen (email@example.com). With respect to the road to sustainability, there is likely more than one route or vehicle needed, and we are looking for test drivers.
Earlier this week Patagonia launched what may be corporate America’s most forceful action yet against the government’s assaults on the environment and vulnerable communities: announcing that it would sue the Trump administration. Such action signals a new era for business leadership on social and sustainability issues.
A new Role of Business in Trump Times
We have seen encouraging moves by state and local governments to do what they can to work around Trump (for example, on the Paris agreement), and business is also playing a new role. While corporate lobbying and political involvement is nothing new, what is different is that business is now engaging on a range of social and environmental issues that have little to do with their core business activities. A few notable examples include:
Earlier this week, Patagonia’s homepage shifted from its usual backdrop of surfers and climbers to solely a black backdrop with writing in white stating:
The President Stole Your Land In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Esclante National Monuments. This is the largest
elimination of protected land in American history.
Patagonia – A Frontrunner in Opposing Harmful Governmental Policy Changes
Patagonia has a long and established history of progressive action both internally and externally. But, its new efforts signal a move from lodging disagreements to using its corporate resources to actively oppose harmful and discriminatory governmental policy changes. While in yesteryear government was the space where protections were afforded and business need only comply with relevant regulations, we are now in an era where business must step up to defend the greater good.
Hats off to you, Patagonia. Corporate America, please take note and know that people everywhere are looking to you to use your power and resources to defend and advance the public good. Now is your time.
Erin Leitheiser is a PhD Fellow in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School. Her research interests revolve around the changing role and expectations of business in society. Prior to pursuing her PhD she worked as a CSR manager in a U.S. Fortune-50 company, as well as a public policy consultant with a focus on convening and facilitating of multi-stakeholder initiatives. She is supported by the Velux Foundation and is on Twitter @erinleit.
Pic by Erin Leitheiser, taken from Patagonia’s homepage Tuesday 5th 2017.
November 16 – 18, 2017 marked the beginning of a student-driven innovation era at Copenhagen Business School. The Student Innovation House – in collaboration with Oikos and PRME – hosted their first major event, the Sustainable Campus Hackathon 2017.
A Hackathon for more campus sustainability Having received an impressive 120 applications to participate in the event, 66 students from universities across Denmark were invited to join an intensive 2.5-day spree of hacking sustainability ideas in four UN Sustainable Development Goal areas: Green Infrastructure, Healthy and Sustainable Food, Diversity and Inclusion, and Human Well Being and Mental Health. The goal? To come up with an idea that is feasible, implementable, scalable, and imparting a big impact; and the winning proposal will be further developed and implemented on the CBS campus next year.
Not all SDGs are created equally… Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the first challenges was that not all SDGs are created equally, at least not in terms of student interest. Fully half of the students formed groups competing in the Healthy and Sustainable Food area, leaving Human Well Being and Green Infrastructure perfectly fitted with teams, but Diversity and Inclusion completely empty. I can’t help but wonder what this says about what is being integrated into students’ curriculum, especially in regards to sustainable development. Many students, during our “speed dating” for forming teams, remarked to me that they had recently had some courses relating to food systems and circular economy, and that this inspired them to innovate in this arena. Are we not giving gender equality the sustainability context – or even the examples of success and impact – that attract students to think critically and generate solutions for the future? Perhaps this in part is a reflection of Denmark’s rapid slide down the rankings.
Hacking the SDGs – with dedication, creativity & open minds But by and by, teams drew from a hat, and we were sorted out. The next 36 hours involved input from experts, brainstorming, drafting, brainstorming again, and ultimately “hacking” the SDGs. My group’s subject area was Human Well Being and Mental Health, and my teammates hailed from Danish Technical University and Roskilde University. Their approach to the task was impressive: on the one hand they were hard-working and dedicated; and on the other hand they were playful with ideas and throwing around true creativity. It didn’t seem to bother them that the winning proposal would not directly, or at least immediately affect their universities. Rather, they were there to work on inspiration, on their own knowledge, and on collaboration. Beyond opening minds within teams, individuals across teams chatted over breaks, and mentors circled around, getting to know the breadth of people and ideas represented.
A playful approach to raise awareness around gender (in)equality The hackathon was set up so that teams first presented for four minutes in a “heat”, and then were judged if they would be one of four teams proceeding to the finals. Notably, one of my favourite presentations was within the Diversity and Inclusion category. The team proposed circulating a quiz concerning “How much will you earn after your degree?” Respondents would enter their degree programs, age, experience, and so forth, and then be presented with their expected monthly wages. But then a pop-up would ask the user’s gender. If the response was male, the quiz would say “Sorry! We were mistaken. You will actually earn more than those who are not male!” and if the response was female, “Sorry! You will actually earn less than that, and less than your male counterparts.” This quiz idea is indeed a clever way to promote critical awareness, and hopefully more discussions concerning gender equality on campus (especially at CBS, where more than 80% of full professors are male).
And the winner is… Everyone! Ultimately, the winners of the hackathon were Team Supo, who propose a student card-linked electronic point system for registering and incentivising sustainability actions, such as choosing to cycle to campus. Team Supo will be sent on a trip to New York, where they will expand upon their idea to the head office of PRME. Indeed I look forward to the implementation of their idea, but truth be told, the brilliance of a hackathon is the way it cracks open so many ideas, and brings together so many people. Supo will not be the only reason I’ll be back at Student Innovation House, as there are many more hacks – formal or informal – yet to come.