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 Several foreign investors have withdrawn as the military’s attack on the civilians intensified and the international community stepped up their sanctions regime.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.
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 lookinside 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 . 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.
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.
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 hasunderlined 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.
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:
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.
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.
In the midst of the global coronavirus crisis, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government finally decided last month to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics until next year. The general public across the world may have different views on the Olympics – positive and negative, or simply indifference. But with regard to the Tokyo Games, there is a fair reason for not just postponing them but reconsidering their relevance and preferably cancelling them altogether. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the long-standing controversies surrounding the Tokyo Olympics, and it is indeed sustainability that is at stake.
Economic problems in the host country
A tag line that Tokyo, the host city of the 2020 Olympics, has been using is “Recovery Olympics” for a sustainable future. The “recovery” is primarily referring to the recovery from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the ensuing nuclear disaster in Fukushima, a city in northern Japan. When Tokyo was successful in its bid to host the Games, it estimated that the market effect of the Olympics and Paralympics would be more than JPY 32 trillion in total, which would be a huge boost to Japan’s shrinking economy. Clinging on to this rather optimistic figure, the IOC and the host government were reluctant to make any change to the original schedule in spite of the coronavirus pandemic, and their attitude was criticised as “wildly irresponsible” (Boykoff, 2020).
Besides the cost-benefit analysis of the Tokyo Games, it should be noted that, as of March 2020, nine years after the Fukushima disaster, approximately 48,000 people were still living in evacuation zones in Japan. Despite this, a huge amount of money has been spent on constructing new facilities for the Olympics, rather than aiming to reconstruct “sustainable cities and communities” (Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11) in the disaster-hit northern city. Meanwhile, the Tokyo Olympics has been the most over-budgeted Games ever, because of Tokyo’s lax policy.
Postponing the Olympics will entail an extended preparation/maintenance period for another year amid uncertainty, which is likely to impose an additional tax burden on citizens. It is highly questionable whether the host government has appropriately prioritised key issues and allocated resources accordingly.
Environmental issues: Value chains in the global sports industry
The Olympics is big business, involving not only elite athletes, but also a large number of stakeholders such as sponsors, media, providers of various products, and spectators. A mass of people moves across borders and within the host country, consuming a great number of goods in just a few weeks. The huge amount of greenhouse gases and waste that each Olympic Games generates has been the subject of continuing international debate. These are also the problem areas addressed by SDGs 12 and 13.
On the other hand, the United Nations recognises that sport can be an enabler of sustainable development (UN General Assembly, 2018). If the host is committed to the SDGs, and stakeholders and resource-rich companies/countries collaborate to implement environmentally friendly technologies and practices, the Olympics could be a showcase of new ideas to facilitate sustainability. In this regard, the Organising Committee of the Tokyo Games has promoted several sustainability concepts and plans. Nevertheless, a group of non-governmental organisations has raised a question concerning Tokyo’s approach (Heineken, 2019). They reported that a huge new national stadium for the 2020 Games was built by cutting down trees in Indonesia and Malaysia, thereby damaging these countries’ efforts to preserve their rainforests (SDG 15).
When it comes to a mega sporting event such as the Olympics, we tend to, somewhat naively, pay attention to the downstream, in which big brands, celebrities, impressive new technologies and goods to consume are all visible, and we are often ignorant of what is happening in the upstream.
If the upstream of the whole value chain is neglected and sustainability is used (or misused) as just a fancy concept, while economic actors act irresponsibly, the SDGs will never materialise.
Health concerns: Summer heat as usual, and now Covid-19
Since Tokyo was selected as the host city for the 2020 Olympics, persistent health concerns have been raised. One of the almost inevitable problems in Tokyo is, in fact, a hot summer, which Weather Atlas describes as “oppressive humidity and extremely high temperatures”. Indeed, many people actually suffer illness each year due to the summer heat in Japan; in 2019 alone, more than 70,000 people were admitted to hospital due to hyperthermia.
Although Tokyo insists that the Olympic venues will be closely monitored with adequate safety measures, it is unclear how this can be guaranteed, not just for the athletes but also for the volunteers and spectators in the different locations.
Now, a new and bigger concern certainly involves Covid-19. To date (as of mid-April 2020), the number of confirmed cases in Japan has been significantly lower than the other G7 nations as well as neighbouring Asian countries. However, medical experts and other countries are sceptical, questioning whether Japan may be overly restricting coronavirus testing in order to maintain its safe image for the sake of the Olympics. Of course, the slow testing could be due to other factors such as the limited availability of testing kits, which has also been a problem for other countries. Nonetheless, the root cause of the concern is the slow response of the authorities in taking the necessary action, because this would trigger an explosion of infection cases as we have witnessed in other countries.
Although Tokyo eventually declared a state of emergency on 7 April, this was a few weeks later than the lockdowns enforced by many major countries, and two months after a coronavirus outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored offshore in Yokohama, just 30 km from Tokyo. Tokyo’s lenient approach casts doubt on its capability of dealing with communicable diseases when a rapid response is crucial (SDG 3).
The point is not to abolish all future Olympic Games as this global sporting event can be an important platform for athletes, and potentially a contributor to peace (SDG 16), or at least a symbol of it. However, the Tokyo Olympics is missing the meaning behind sustainability in many ways. Furthermore, amongst other factors, it is also ill-timed. The world is now facing a serious challenge on a global scale.
One clear message that the coronavirus pandemic has taught us is that we may be vulnerable wherever we are – even in a wealthy country – and that we all have a responsibility to strive for sustainability.
In this context, financial resources should be invested in essential products and vaccine research to tackle Covid-19, and human resources should be allocated to immediate needs to sustain local societies. In short, get the priorities right. Then, strong global partnerships and cooperation (SDG 17) will hopefully facilitate our efforts and achieve a more meaningful positive outcome.
About the author
Faith Hatani is Associate Professor at the Department of International Economics, Government and Business at Copenhagen Business School. Her research interests reside in the role of international business in sustainable economic development, focusing on responsible management of value chains and institutional constraints in different industries and countries.
The coronavirus and responses to the pandemic are right now defining human existence inside and outside of organizations. All societal attention and communication are centred on the virus, its day-to-day consequences and possible future repercussions for the people, the economy – and the planet.
Indeed, we are living through a gargantuan social experiment, and these can turn out to be the defining weeks and months of the new decade. Social distancing. Lockdown of public institutions and private businesses. Closing of national borders. No travelling, no tourism. All live entertainment (sports, music, culture) suspended. Places for social gatherings (restaurants, cafés, bars) closed (except for takeaway). Until further notice. The mind boggles.
The closing down of open societies is blocking the blood flow of large parts of the economy, spelling potential disaster for many businesses and cultural institutions – in spite of large relief packages. Meanwhile, waters are clearing and air pollution is going down due to the drop in industrial production. There is an ominous air about these climatic improvements, though. They seem more like a morbid dress rehearsal for life on earth after human civilization than a silver lining.
Is it the end of the world as we know it? Certainly, we can expect – at least in the privileged global north – that life will soon return to something much more normal than the current ‘show responsibility by staying as far away as you can from other people’. In Denmark, the gradual reopening of society is already underway.
However, the question remains whether we will look at each other and on human interaction (particularly in large social gatherings) in the same way as we did before. Will the awareness of ‘the others’ close to us as potential carriers of disease somehow stay with us.
Certainly, the comparisons with war are fitting. Who would have thought that anything except a worldwide war could affect all people’s social lives and the workings of government and business so rapidly and profoundly?
The pandemic constitutes a crisis of public health and health systems of unforeseen magnitude. The noun ‘crisis’ derives etymologically from the Greek krinein (Latin: krisis), which means ‘turning point of a disease’. This point was made repeatedly in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008-9: a crisis constitutes a turning point and thus an opportunity for new things to happen, for things to be different and perhaps better than they were. As the saying goes: ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’.
After sickness, there is newfound health. A crisis is not supposed to persist. However, recent years have taught us new lessons. Crisis has to understood in the plural, as crises, there are many of them (climate crisis, refugee crisis, trust crisis etc.), they are systemic and interconnected and they do not seem to go away.
Thus, we live in an age of perpetual or recurrent crises. We can imagine another side to where we are now, a new and more social normal, but it is becoming more and more difficult to imagine a future without some profound element of crisis.
Speaking of the interconnectedness of crises, what impact will the pandemic have on sustainable development and the green agenda? Will the public health crisis, its resultant need for emergency relief and its immediate and longer-term negative impacts on the economy take the wind out of the sails of green transition for a while? Making us waste precious time.
Or will this crisis and the efforts needed to get the economic wheels turning again turn out to be the greatest of opportunities to invest in green infrastructure and the solutions needed to create a more sustainable future? At this time, it is anyone’s (more or less qualified) guess. Not least because the answer depends on actions not yet taken by government and business leaders. Both narratives are out there.
The pandemic obviously lends itself to many interpretations. Among them faith-based apocalyptic visions of the end of times. Others see potential in this for putting an end to capitalism, as we have known it. Certainly, market-based solutions are taking a backseat to government intervention in our current predicament. It appears that in times of profound crisis we have to rely on big government (federal, local) and political leadership to take care of the common good and sort things out.
Time will tell whether or how the pandemic and all that comes with it will change people’s view of the market economy and of the need for government intervention in the market economy – not to mention people’s proclivities to consume, travel, engage with (many) others in the experience economy etc.
The more moderate take is that we need a regulated market economy and that the current crisis shows the limitations of cost/benefit analysis and the neoliberal urge to subject all things to marketization and economization. In light of the human suffering and the deaths caused by the coronavirus and facing health systems and heroic health professionals in distress, the cost/benefit mindset has come up short. This calls for immediate action and full commitment – even if the odd economist may question the utility of such a course of action.
We should take this lesson with us into the broader realm of sustainable development. Market thinking will not suffice.
Can ever-higher rates of consumption ever truly be sustainable? Consideration of up-and-coming consumers will be key to making progress in the sustainability of the fashion industry.
Each year in May, Copenhagen hosts the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, which brings together fashion industry leaders to consider the environmental and social sustainability issues rife within the industry. While this year’s event promises discussions on important supply-side issues like materials and design, circularity, supply chains, wages, and the like, there seems to be precious little time dedicated to demand-side issues, principally the role of consumers. As such, this post offers a review of some key facts and trends that foreshadow the landscape of the future of (sustainable) fashion, and in particular, the role of consumers.
First, some key facts about the scale of the fashion industry and its impacts:
Greenhouse gas emissions from the textile industry account for 8% of all carbon emissions globally, more than those emitted by all international flights and maritime shipping combined (Quantis, 2018).
The top 20 companies in the clothing industry, mostly in the luxury segment, account for 97% of its economic profit (McKinsey, 2019).
Clothing sales have more than doubled in just the last 20 years (Ellen McCarther Foundation, 2017), and apparel consumption is projected to rise an additional 63% by 2020 (Global Fashion Agenda, 2017).
Despite growing efforts to collect and recycle old textiles, less than 1% of materials used in clothing is recycled (Ellen MacCarthur Foundation, 2017).
Companies – particularly luxury companies – often prioritize brand image over sustainability. For example, Burberry found itself embroiled in scandal after it chose to burn US$37 million in excess stock last year, rather than discount or donate it.
While many of these issues skew toward supply-side, consumers’ habits play a key role in the vast excesses of the fashion industry. Consumption rates seem to grow ever-higher.
Nearly half of young female consumers buy clothing at least monthly (Farsang et al, 2015).
An article of clothing in a woman’s closet is worn a mere 7 times on average before being discarded (Barnardo’s, 2015)
In the past year, a quarter of Australians (24%) have thrown away an item of clothing after wearing it only once, and 1 in 6 have binned 3 items or more after a single wear (YouGov, 2017).
A third of UK women consider a garment “old” after wearing it 3 times or less (Barnardo’s, 2015).
38% of Millennials have bought at least half of the clothes they own within the past year (YouGov, 2017).
In China, clothing utilization (that is, the number of time a garment is worn before being discarded) has fallen by over 70% in the last 15 years (Ellen MacCarthur Foundation, 2017). At the same time, Greater China is projected to overtake the U.S. in 2019 as the largest fashion market in the world (McKinsey 2019).
The consumer landscape is changing rapidly when it comes to “sustainable” fashion, so much so that fashion firm executives identified consumer behaviors that force industry to “self-disrupt” as the #1 trend for 2019 (McKinsey, 2019). Key consumer trends underscore the significance, scale and potential of consumers in the quest for (more) sustainable fashion. Younger consumers – Millennials (born 1980-2000) and Gen Zers (born 2000-now) – are largely responsible for pushing companies to become more sustainable.
94% of Gen Zers believe that companies should address social and environmental issues (Cone, 2017).
Gen Z alone will account for 40 percent of global consumers by 2020. (McKinsey, 2019)
90% of Millennials would boycott or otherwise refuse to buy from a company that is doing harm (Cone, 2017)
Consumers want to support brands that are doing good in the world, with 66 percent willing to pay more for sustainable goods (McKinsey, 2019).
As younger generations increase their buying power – and couple it with ethical evaluations – companies will need to become even more responsive to and diligent about addressing sustainability issues. Yet, high consumption rates threaten to curtail gains made from sustainability advances, like textile recycling. In addition to more sustainable production practices – and subsequent ethical purchasing – consumption must decrease if the perils of the industry are to be addressed.
I am often asked what one can do as an individual to be more sustainable when it comes to fashion. My answer is in two main parts. First, buy fewer, better quality items and wear them for longer. Classic, good quality pieces will wear better and last longer. Even if they cost a bit more at purchase their extended life makes them a more affordable option in the long run. Second, re-think how you care for your clothes. Washing them less, at lower temperatures, and hanging them to dry will all result in gains for both your energy bill, as well as the environment, estimated at a 3% carbon reduction (WRAP, 2017). Some proponents even argue that you never need to wash your jeans! (though this might be a bit extreme for some)
There is no silver bullet to solving the unsustainability of the fashion industry. But one thing does seem clear: advances and changes must come from all sides if progress is to be made. As the Copenhagen Fashion Summit kicks off this week , please keep in mind the importance and role of everyone involved in the production, sale, and disuse of fashion, as well as the very premise that the industry is based on: consumption.
About the author
Erin Leitheiseris a postdoctoral researcher in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School. Her research interests revolve around the changing role and expectations of business in society. Prior to pursuing her PhD, she worked as a CSR manager in a U.S. Fortune-50 company, as well as a public policy consultant with a focus on convening and facilitating of multi-stakeholder initiatives. She is supported by the Velux Foundation and is on Twitter as @erinleit.
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Farsang, A., Gwozdz, W., Mueller, T., Reisch, L. A., & Netter, S.
(2015). Survey Results on
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Netherlands, Sweden, the UK and the US in 2014. Borås:
Mistra Future Fashion.
Despite their key role in both national and international affairs, business associations remain strangely absent from academic discourse, teaching and research on corporate responsibility and sustainability. We clearly need to pay more attention to business associations.
The prominence of business associations
Business associations play an important role in promoting corporate responsibility and sustainability. One need to look no further than the events of recent weeks for evidence of their prominence and influence. At the UN summit in Katowice, Poland, national institutional investor associations – representing some of the planet’s largest asset managers, pension funds, and insurers – sent a clear message to the world’s governments: we need to end fossil fuel subsidies and introduce substantial carbon taxes if we want to avoid both environmental and financial calamity [i].
Recent headlines also point to how business associations may work to inhibit progress. Just before the UN summit began welcoming delegates, a number of fossil fuel trade associations, led by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, were busy lobbying the U.S. government. Their objective? Ensure that the U.S. Senate and Congress kill any hopes of reviving the federal tax credit for electric vehicles (EVs). That’s the same EV credit that helped Tesla grow its market share in the U.S. and is similar to programs that boosted EV usage in numerous other countries [ii]. While the credit program is a tiny fraction of what the fossil fuel industry receives in subsidies, it represents an obvious threat [iii].
Ensure that the U.S. Senate and Congress kill any hopes of reviving the federal tax credit for electric vehicles.
These are just some of the more visible examples of the considerable influence exercised by business associations. Countless other business associations lobby governments, develop self-regulatory programs and engage in a variety of activities that both advance and impede progress on a variety of key social and environmental issues including human rights, labor rights, climate change and inequality. Some have become highly prominent and visible in international circles – take the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD).
What is a business association?
Business associations are membership organizations composed of, funded, and governed, by firms with shared interests. They represent and defend the interests of their organizational members to outside parties and frequently offer services to their membership base (Schmitter & Streeck, 1999; Lanzalaco, 2008; Barnett, 2013). Associative action is distinct from other forms of business collective action such as alliances, business groups, networks and multi-stakeholder initiatives. It is also one of the most common forms of inter-organizational business activity. There are thousands in the U.S. alone. Every industry and sub-industry has one or several associations and most companies are members of one or several associations – a trade or industry association, a chamber of commerce, an employers’ association, a sustainability coalition, a lobby group, an economic club, etc.
The peril and promise of business associations
As the examples in the introduction illustrate, collective action via business associations can serve multiple ends. In some cases, they operate as special interest groups and rent-seekers whose narrow, self-serving objectives benefit only the industries or coalitions they represent… or even a small subset of member firms within the association. As such, business associations may stall or undermine sustainability efforts and capture regulators and legislators. In these cases, they are detrimental to society and must be countered and contained by markets, governments and social movements (“peril”).
In other cases, their interests are aligned with broader social goals, and as such, they serve as powerful, well-resourced advocates for mobilization and pro-social change. Under certain conditions, business associations may also exert normative pressure upon its membership, mediate member interests, and operate as effective self-regulatory institutions, resulting in beneficial social outcomes (“promise”).
The need for more research
The idea that companies who compete in the economic sphere can also collaborate to address social and environmental concerns has taken hold in both academic and practitioner circles. However, scholarship from various disciplines suggests that achieving the institutional conditions conducive to beneficial social outcomes is difficult and that more research on business associations, and the broader topic of collaboration amongst competitors, is required. Depending on the theoretical grounding and audience, the phenomenon is being addressed under a variety of labels: trade associations, green clubs, meta-organizations, pre-collaborative collaboration, coopetition and self-regulation. Clearly, there is a strong need and there are growing opportunities to address the prominence, peril and promise of business associations.
José Carlos Marques is Assistant Professor, Strategy, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, at the Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa, and Visiting Research Fellow (Governing Responsible Business) at the Copenhagen Business School. His research program, at the intersection of strategic management, sustainability and transnational governance, examines the drivers and organizational strategies of inter-organizational coalitions that address social and environmental challenges – these include business associations, multi-stakeholder initiatives and business-state interactions. His work has been published in MIT Sloan Management Review, Organization Studies, Journal of Business Ethics and Journal of World Business. contact: email@example.com twitter: @jcmarqz
Aldrich, H. E. (2017). Trade Associations Matter as Units of Selection, as Actors Within Comparative and Historical Institutional Frameworks, and as Potential Impediments to Societal Wide Collective Action. Journal of Management Inquiry, 27(1), pp.21-25.
Barnett, M. L. (2013). One Voice, But Whose Voice? Exploring What Drives Trade Association Activity. Business & Society, 52(2), 213-244.
Buchanan, S. and Marques, J.C. 2017. How Home Country Industry Associations Influence MNE International CSR Practices: Evidence from the Canadian Mining Industry. Journal of World Business, 53(1): 63-74.
DiVito, L., & Sharma, G. (2016). Collaborating with Competitors to Advance Sustainability: A Guide for Managers. Network for Business Sustainability (NBS). London, ON. Retrieved from https://nbs.net/p/guide-collaborating-with-competitors-to-advance-sustai-a95dc170-b857-49f4-82ba-42033c09b6cc
Grayson, D., & Nelson, J. (2013). Corporate responsibility coalitions: The past, present, and future of alliances for sustainable capitalism. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.
Lanzalaco, L. (2008). Business Interest Associations. In G. G. Jones & J. Zeitlin (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Business History (pp. 293-318). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Marques, J. C. (2017). Industry Business Associations: Self-Interested or Socially Conscious? Journal of Business Ethics, 143(4), 733-751.
Nidumolu, R., Ellison, J., Whalen, J., & Billman, E. (2014, April). The Collaboration Imperative. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/04/the-collaboration-imperative-2
Potoski, M., & Prakash, A. (Eds.). (2009). Voluntary Programs: A Club Theory Perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Rajwani, T., Lawton, T., & Phillips, N. (2015). The “Voice of Industry”: Why Management Researchers Should Pay More Attention to Trade Associations. Strategic Organization, 13(3), pp.224-232.
Schmitter, P. C., & Streeck, W. (1999). The Organization of Business Interests: Studying the Associative Action of Business in Advanced Industrial Societies – MPIfG Discussion Paper 99/1. Cologne, Germany: Max-Planck-Institut.
This is blog post one of two throwbacks providing key insights from the speakers.
By Oliver Laier.
On Monday, December 3rd, a new centre was officially launched at Copenhagen Business School’s Management, Society & Communications department (MSC), located in Dalgas Have.
New? Not quite. From 2002-2018, there was cbsCSR, a centre for Corporate Social Responsibility; and for five years starting 2011, the Business in Society (BiS) Sustainability Platform. Insofar the launch was more the rebirth of the phoenix than something completely new. The “masses of success” from the two mentioned formats are now continued and expanded in a new suit that acknowledges the plethora of themes and issues under Sustainability, which have long gone beyond merely corporate aspects.
Research and teaching will of course remain the core features of the centre. But CBS Sustainability is also a platform. In this function, it is going to focus on outreach and inreach also, as Steen Vallentin (lecturer and director of the centre, see photo) explained in his opening talk to the event.
CBS Sustainabilitiy’s focus areas:
Corporate social responsibility
Government and governance of responsible business
Behavioural public policy
Social innovation/ entrepreneurship
Business and human rights
The new centre is precisely about research beyond corporate social responsibility, and rather about working with a broader sustainability agenda. It is about defining both solutions and problems, and to find critical and constructive approaches. CBS Sustainability will be focal point for resources at CBS and outside, but at the same time platform for dialogue, connection and coordination in the diversified field which now ranges from governance across behavioural science to human rights.
Being sustainable, or becoming less unsustainable?
Henrik Schramm Rasmussen from Danish Industy (aka. Dansk Industri or simply: DI) joined as a speaker from the business world. Representing DI, he had an unmistakable notion of the sustainability theme and the global goals in particular: the UN SDGs as business driver. They bare the capacity to offer a growth strategy including market opportunities, drive innovation and are therefore linked to economic growth.
The global development goals are per definition common, since we share the planet; and although they are not exactly written in business lingo, they are clearly formulated, underpinned by specific targets and come with a network offering advice and inspiration.
Companies should engage for several reasons Henrik claims: firms can harvest new market opportunities, attract workforce, brand and license themselves to operate in sustainable business. Needless to say, this is no walk in the park, neither for small, nor for large or established companies. DI has therefore launched a page (in Danish), introducing the goals to firms and explaining how they can strengthen a company by providing guidance and exemplary cases. With member companies covering the most diverse fields, from architecture, over production, to consumer goods to event management (yes, I refer to Roskilde Festival!), there is already a rich collection of inspiring cases.
There is a shift going on among the businesses: from rather passive, preventive and risk reducing compliance, to active and courageous creation of business opportunities and development. The new way involves customers and partners, R&D, sales and communication, but of course also risk. However, ambitious goals can also foster innovation and competitive power – and this is what to aim for.
Henrik’s key take-aways:
SDGs are about innovation and new business models.
Sustainability must be owned by top leadership, not compliance managers!
It’s about innovation, sale and a rethinking of companies’ purpose.
Sustainability starts with a bold mission statement about the company’s contribution to a sustainable world.
How often do we as event coordinators ask ourselves: how can I minimize the plastic use, the waste, the paper? I could also reverse the question and ask: Could we imagine a smarter, more efficient and even more inspiring new way to host events?
We all know exactly what to expect when attending a conference. You receive a name tag when you register, which you usually throw in the waste bin when you leave. You get a plastic bottle of water, and when you are done with that, or even before you are done, you get another one. You get the conference programme and the participant list which you look at a couple of times before that goes into the waste bin. Often printed in colour.
Now, imagine attending a conference with no plastic bottles, no paper, no meat, and no food waste. Imagine, how this conference would increase the level of awareness, communication and engagement between the participants and the hosts. And ignite fruitful discussions because we would realize, how much we can actually achieve with little changes in our everyday lives.
In order to make sure that the sustainability initiatives implemented at the conference were the most sustainable solutions and had a high impact factor, the conference organizers allied themselves with a group of students from the Danish Technical University (DTU) who were doing a course on Life Cycle Assessments.
The students received 2 cases
How should the conference supply water?
How should the conference be catered?
Over the course of 4 months, the DTU student teams collected data from CBS and carried out life cycle assessments taking into account various impact factors such as production, transportation, use and disposal etc. Based on the results, all conference meals were vegetarian, and all conference participants received one glass bottle that could be filled from water dispensers throughout the entire conference.
The conference participants also received information about the sustainability initiatives that they could expect prior to the conference. The findings from the life cycle assessment were communicated on posters and on the back of the staff t-shirts. All conference staff engaged with the participants and assisted with water bottles and waste sorting. Furthermore, the conference participants were continuously encouraged to share feedback and discuss the attempts made with each other and the staff.
Implemented sustainability initiatives at the Sustainable Consumption Conference
Each conference participant received one reusable glass bottle, which replaced single-use plastic bottles for the distribution of water throughout the conference.
Every meal served at the conference was vegetarian, reducing the environmental impact of the conference’s catering by 44% compared to meat-based meals.
Participants were asked to sort their waste throughout the conference, using designated bins for paper, plastic, food, and general waste.
The conference was largely paperless. Programs and other general information were made available in ways that reduced the need for paper, such as printed posters and an app with, among other information, the timetable.
The lanyards for name tags were made from recycled polyester, and both name tags and lanyards were collected for reuse after the conference.
Food waste was minimized by asking participants to give notice in advance about which meals they were going to participate in, and any leftover food was brought to a nearby centre for homeless people.
All conference staff wore a sustainable and organic cotton t-shirt with key sustainability messages on the back.
Invitation to a learning journey
When hosting an event at CBS, you are in touch with many different stakeholders who have procedures on how to efficiently meet requests on catering, waste handling, or cleaning. This means that it must be a collaborative effort if you want to change the existing structures. Engagement and communication are key.
We should not get carried away by the belief that the easiest solutions to implement will necessarily be the most impactful or more environmentally significant than our starting point. There is a big difference between solutions that carry a high degree of reducing CO2-emissions (real impact), and solutions that have the purpose of creating awareness. Both aspects are highly important. However, we should be aware of when we spend resources on one or the other and communicate this clearly.
I want to invite you to think about how we can improve our ecological footprint when we host events at CBS and elsewhere. As you will soon learn, there is no such thing as a “sustainable event”. However, there are well-founded decisions and much to learn if we dare to ask the question:
How can we raise the bar for sustainable events?
Louise Thomsen is Project Manager for CBS PRME and the VELUX Chair in Corporate Sustainability at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, CBS. Louise is focused on implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals in an university context through student engagement. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Save the date: 29 August, 15 h, Dalgas Have, Copenhagen Business School.
Creating a whole conference to have a significantly reduced amount of waste, use of paper and plastics is a big challenge. But many people also wonder, what they can do as individuals to limit climate change, if there is anything at all. This issue is treated in another edition of the Sustainability Seminar Series at the department of Management, Society and Communication at CBS.
In the second week of May 2018, the architectural and design worlds were abuzz with reviews of the new green glass giant looming over the Copenhagen harbour – BLOX. There have been critiques of design, urban planning, participation processes, and more, but perhaps less likely to emerge in your social media and news feeds is the nature of organizational development and experimentation designed into the very heart of BLOX.
Physical, organizational and cultural diversity under one roof
BLOX as a physical building is composed of various building elements but is also socially composed of diverse elements. The property is home to the old military storage buildings at Fæstningens Materialgård, still stunning with their yellow-washed walls and currently under renovation for becoming part of the BLOX family of offices and meeting spaces. The new building houses top-floor apartments, a large fitness centre, the Danish Architecture Center (DAC), the Danish Design Center (DDC), and last but not least, BLOXHUB, the new building industry innovation hub.
These last elements are where the organizational potential lies. Firstly, there are the yet-to-be woven together threads that draw across DAC, DDC, and BLOXHUB, opening up for potential co-conferences and exhibitions that not only blend spaces, but blend disciplines. Secondly, BLOXHUB is a non-profit organization of around 150 members (and anticipated to grow) aiming to stimulate innovation for sustainable building and urbanization by facilitating co-working, co-creation, and experimentation. Beyond the potential stemming from sharing working spaces, the hub supports the organization of seminars and conferences and offers access to labs that can serve as platforms for new products or services, including, for example, epiito’s virtual reality (VR) lab and UnderBroen’s maker-space equipment. And thirdly, nested in BLOXHUB is the Science Forum, hosting a suite of built environment researchers.
Smart Building research among industrial researchers
Now the Science Forum is one of my offices-away-from-the-office. Since the start of this year, we are a cluster of nine industrial researchers – seven PhDs and two postdocs – with projects concerning “Smart Buildings and Cities” (read here about the formation of the cluster). Launching from my postdoc project with VELUX and CBS on smart building business model innovation, we have already identified several crossovers and synthesis possibilities within the first months. This begs the question: what happens when you combine companies, universities, and industrial researchers into an innovation hub? How does this change how research, investment, and innovation are done? And how does this change how industry can relate to academia?
With user-friendly tech to better indoor climate
With VELUX, the starting point is smart device automation, but based on the people who live and work in buildings (read: all of us). But even if the indoor climate is ubiquitous and something we all experience, we also take it for granted and may not even notice how we are feeling unless something disturbs us. Even more importantly, the more serious health consequences of a poor indoor environment stem from factors that cannot necessarily be noticed just by paying attention, including for example, high CO2 levels from poor ventilation or off-gassing chemicals from unsustainable building materials. My research investigates both how smart devices can be designed based on an organization’s inquiry into the user experience, but also how the nature of these user-driven digital devices can change the way traditional manufacturing companies do business.
Much more to expect in the future of BLOX
The project has only been running a few months, and BLOXHUB has only been open not even a month – so there will be many more exciting developments and synergies to report in the future. In the meantime, swing by the great glass giant and experience the shifting landscape around Langebro. You can visit the most recent DAC Exhibition “Welcome Home” looking at how the meaning of home has shifted historically and continues to adapt in Denmark, and your kids can have a go at the new playground on the city-side of the building. A new bicycle and pedestrian bridge is planned for 2019, as well, and then the connections will go even further; from connecting industry and researchers to connecting the city on a level we all can meet.
Lara Anne Hale is an industrial postdoc fellow with VELUX and Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business World Class Research Environment. The 3-year project is part of Realdania’s Smart Buildings & Cities cluster within BLOXHUB’s Science Forum. It builds upon her PhD work on experimental standards for sustainable building to look at the business model innovation process in organizations’ adaptation to the smart building business. Follow her on Twitter.
In an earlier BOS article, Louise Thomsen from CBS PRME asked the question whether universities are falling behind on the green transition. We, as students, might not feel resourceful enough to bring up the debate about sustainable development and large-scale transitions. But in fact, we have tremendous possibilities to help our own institutions walk the walk towards reaching a more sustainable environment, for example with a campus currency.
One foot first and then another
We are students. We don’t have to wait for people in a boardroom to decide whether or not to add sustainability to the agenda. We can start taking the first steps now. Today. You can actively engage with socially responsible or green student organizations, participate in events concerning everything from circular economy to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and you can try and influence such things as how the canteen handles food waste. Why not just take an extra step and start transforming the campus ourselves? That is what the SuPo community currency project is all about: Creating bottom-up sustainability at CBS campus. Since the beginning of the project, we have already taken many steps, some of which took us down the busy streets of Manhattan towards the office of the UN Global Compact.
1 Hackathon, 4 SDGs and 3 strangers
Let’s rewind for a second to explain how we ended up in the Big Apple on a chilly day in March. This recap is for those of you, who have been so focused on this semester’s curriculum that words such as SuPo, Sustainable Campus Hackathon and PRME have escaped your vocabulary.
The number 3 has always been magical. We were three girls, from three different countries and three different universities who met for the first time during the Sustainable Campus Hackathon in November 2017 at the Student & Innovation House. The hackathon involved four SDGs and the aim was to encourage sustainability-driven changes of the CBS campus. Coincidentally, we decided to team up to develop an idea related to green infrastructure during the day-and-a-half long case competition. After walking around in circles for 6 hours trying to come up with the right idea, we somehow had a ‘light bulb moment’ after some much-needed pizza: the idea of SuPo was born.
SuPo; a CBS community currency to promote sustainable behaviour where virtual points can be earned and spent around the campus. Suddenly we were rushing through a 4-minute pitch, first at a preliminary heat, then the finale. It felt unbelievable, but we won. Now to the exciting stuff: Besides implementing SuPo at CBS, the prize included flying to New York City to present our idea to the joint UN Global Compact and PRME office!
The project takes off
Thanks to our jetlag, there was no need to set an alarm as we were wide awake by 3 am anyway. Over the last few weeks we have been excitedly talking about this day so many times, each day with increasing anticipation. Today was finally the day: The bags were packed, the presentation was tuned, the shirt ironed. We were ready to present at the UN Global Compact office and share with them how we thought this project could transform our campus for the better. It felt like a massive step. And it was still just 5 am.
SuPo took a bite of the Big Apple
To start off on the right leg that morning, we had a good old American bagel with coffee before rushing through the busy underground metro network to the first meeting of the day. After an introduction by the UN Global Compact and PRME, we took the floor and presented the Sustainable Campus Hackathon as well as the ideas, collaborations and visions behind the SuPo project. The 2-hour long meeting was an incredible experience for us and everyone present participated in the discussion after the presentation. The idea about a community currency based on sustainable behaviour definitely gained support, as one of the UN interns was asked to research the possibilities of inferring a similar system within the UN office. Mission accomplished!
Our next stop was the Social Innovation Lab of Fordham University which is located right at South Central Park. Our morning bagels were long gone by now, so our empty stomachs were rumbling when a range of American pizzas were brought in. You know, the thick, cheesy, mainly meat style pizzas you see Joey eat in Friends. We started the meeting by giving a less detailed presentation of SuPo. Afterwards, the Social Innovation Lab students shared their own projects and interests which ranged from projects on self-sufficient housing to project collaborations with large environmental-advocacy networks. Impressive. Later that day, we received emails from the professors present at the university meeting highlighting their interest in testing SuPo at Fordham as soon as a pilot project has been developed at CBS. They were also eager to organize their own Sustainable Campus Hackathon with help from the organizers in Copenhagen. What a day!
Get involved and create change
It took one hackathon and one good idea before we sat at the long meeting room table in the UN Global Compact office. It took a few more meetings at home before we were able to sit around that table and talk about collaborations on sustainability across the Atlantic. If we can do that in the space of four months, so can you. Get involved around campus, make up your own projects or join the SuPo community. We would love to get involved and take our next steps with you.
Since the hackathon, SuPo has grown to become a CBS-owned project with funding and staff support. The short-term aim of the project is to develop a simulation of the community currency and a pilot project at CBS. Never before has a community currency been introduced to a Business School – SuPo could be the first one. So rather than closing the SuPo chapter after NYC, we embrace the positive response we got on our trip and will use it to push harder for the development of SuPo. The difficult but exciting journey of creating a reward system for sustainable behaviour on CBS campus is just taking off.
If you want to be part of the future SuPo story and join a thrilling sustainable movement to make an impact, get in contact or like & follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
Stine Eiersholt is a MSc in Climate Change student at the University of Copenhagen and works as a student assistant at Climate-KIC – a European climate innovation initiative. In her free time, she hosts a podcast called Influenced by Nature with the aim to highlight people and projects striving to solve climate change, environmental and sustainability related issues. Follow her on Twitter: @inflbynature
Lena Tünkers is a master student at CBS studying Organizational Innovation and Entrepreneurship with a strong interest in innovative business models that lead to more sustainable behavior.
Invitation: Join a workshop on values-based business model innovation, led by DR. Florian Lüdeke-Freund
Hosted by Governing Responsible Business (GRB) Research Environment, this workshop introduces the essentials of the Values-Based Innovation Framework. It will provide a framework, guidelines and tools to renew businesses by focusing on essential values and help innovators solve societal problems. Values-based innovation can motivate the development of new networks and business models that address complex societal problems, such as the unsustainability of current forms of energy supply.
We aim to bring together a group of practitioners and students in order to create a mutual learning environment and to test a card-based facilitation method to develop values-based and sustainability-oriented business models. This method builds on theBusiness Innovation Kit and the Sustainability Innovation Pack. The Business Innovation Kit has been applied in more than 100 workshops around the globe. The Sustainability Innovation Pack is a new extension set developed to support entrepreneurial teams in creating ecologically and socially responsible and sustainable business models.
There is a maximum number of 20 participants, i.e. 10 practitioners & 10 students.
Registration no later than09.01.2017 (max. 20 participants): Please register by sending a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Date and time: January 18, 2017, 14.00-17.00
Location: Copenhagen Business School, Porcelænshaven 18A, PHS.023, 2000 Frederiksberg
Invitation: Join the Sustainability Lecture at Copenhagen University with Dr. Bob Massie on the topic “Divestment from fossil fuels and the implications for the Paris Agreement”
The Sustainability Science Centre of Copenhagen University is hosting a Sustainability Lecture series and invites you to attend the next sustainability lecture on 21 November 2016 by Dr. Bob Massie from the Sustainable Solutions lab, University of Massachusetts, Boston. He will talk on divestment from fossil fuels and the implications for the Paris Agreement. Katherine Richardson, Leader of the Sustainability Science Centre, will moderate the talk.
Admission is free of charge, but please make sure to sign up for the event.
See you there!
Information on the event:
Bob Massie has been working on business, finance, governance, and sustainability for more than thirty years. Dr. Massie received his A.B. magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1978, a master’s degree in social and theological ethics from Yale Divinity School in 1982, and a doctorate in business policy and corporate strategy from Harvard Business School in 1989.
In 1993, as a senior Fulbright Scholar, he was visiting member of the faculty of the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. His definitive history of the U.S. anti-apartheid movement “Loosing the Bonds: The United States and South Africa in the Apartheid Years” was published in 1998 by Doubleday. It received the Lionel Gelber Prize, the largest non-fiction prize in the world, given for the best book in English on foreign relations.
From 1996 to 2003, Massie served as the executive director of Ceres, a powerful coalition of institutional investors and environmental and public interest groups in the United States. From 1998 to 2005 he was the co-founder and first chair of the Global Reporting Initiative, a sustainability disclosure standard now in use by nearly 10,000 global multinationals.
In 2002 he conceived of the first Institutional Investor Summit on Climate Risk at United Nations headquarters, which led in 2003 to the formation to the Investor Network on Climate Risk (www.incr.com). INCR is an active alliance of 100 U.S. pension funds worth more than $11 trillion who have moved dozens of major utilities, insurance companies, investment banks, and other key industries to assess the financial costs of climate change.
From 2012 to 2014 Dr. Massie was the president of the New Economy Coalition, an organization of more than 120 US, English, and Canadian organizations interested in new models of business and economics to achieve a just and sustainable world.
In November 2015 he became the executive director of the Sustainable Solutions Lab (SSL) at UMass Boston, a new entity created jointly by the School for the Environment, the College of Management, the College of Liberal Arts, and the McCormack Graduate School for Policy and Global Studies. SSL focuses on intersection of climate change and social justice in Boston and other coastal cities in the United States.