Should We Boycott the FIFA World Cup in Qatar?

By Andreas Rasche

On 20 November, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is opening its doors. Billions of football fans around the world will tune in and watch this mega sport event. As we are getting closer to the opening match, I am often being asked whether I believe it is responsible to watch the World Cup or whether it is better to boycott the tournament. Here is my personal assessment.  

Human Rights Problems – More Than Labor Rights Violations

While the labor conditions of migrant workers in Qatar have attracted most media attention, the human rights problems go much further. Journalists are thrown into jail while covering stories around working conditions, the LGBTQ+ community is subject to ill-treatment, and women’s rights are still significantly curtailed.

Those arguing that the country made progress in terms of human and labor rights have a point. The kafala system – a system leading to the exploitation of migrant workers that can potentially give rise to forced labor – has undergone some reform in 2020, however, this is ten years after the country was awarded the World Cup and it only happened after significant pressure. It is also true (and noticeable) that Qatar is the first country in the Arab Gulf region to have made such changes.

But should we celebrate this as an achievement of the World Cup taking place in the country? Following this logic, we should award countries that limit human rights mega sport events in the future hoping that these countries may agree to reforms that are long overdue. Also, who tells us that Qatar will keep making progress in terms of human rights after the World Cup has ended and media attention has vanished?  

Just a few days ago, one of the official World Cup ambassadors, Khalid Salman, talked about gay people in an interview with German television. He mentioned that “We will accept that they come here. But they will have to accept our rules.” He then moved on claiming that gay people are “damaged in their mind.” At this stage, a spokesperson of the World Cup organizing committee (who was shadowing the reporter while being in Qatar) stopped the interview.  

Some supporters of the Qatar World Cup argue that we did not “make such a fuzz” when the tournament took place in Russia in 2018, just four years after the illegal annexing of Crimea. In 2018, Russia faced significant human rights challenges, some of them very similar to the ones of Qatar (e.g., lack of freedom of speech and ill-treatment of LGBTQ+ community). While it is difficult to directly compare both cases (e.g., labor conditions were not that debated back then), it would be misleading to justify one problematic mega sport event through lack of attention to another one.

A Corrupt Bid

One of the strongest controversies around the World Cup has been around whether the bidding process was influenced by corrupt behavior, a claim that Qatar has long denied. However, a longstanding investigation of the U.S. Department of Justice claimed that representatives working for Qatar and Russia bribed FIFA officials ahead of the 2010 bid.

In 2020, the New York Times reported that three South American officials received payments to vote in favor of Qatar and Russia according to the indictment. In the end, Qatar defeated the U.S. in the bidding process. At the time of the vote, the FIFA committee was already diminished by two members who were secretly filmed while agreeing to sell their votes.

Of course, Qatar is not the only country to have won a World Cup through a corrupt bidding process. Investigations revealed that Russia’s bid for the 2018 World Cup was also linked to bribes, and the German World Cup in 2006 was also allegedly linked to dubious payments. Yet, we cannot legitimize or downplay corruption in the case of Qatar by reference to prior corrupt practices during World Cup bids. Grand corruption was and is a deeply problematic practice, regardless of where and when it occurs. No-one is suggesting to bar countries that are known for higher levels of corruption from future World Cup bids. What is needed are stricter compliance rules and better oversight.

The Net-Zero Winter World Cup?

The decision to move the World Cup to November/December was made so that players do not have to play in the middle of the unbearable summer heat. FIFA estimates say that the World Cup will produce 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide during the tournament, which is about the carbon footprint of a smaller country. By comparison, the World Cup in Russia produced 2.1 million tonnes. It is uncertain whether we can actually trust these figures. A report by Carbon Market Watch suggested that the emission figures associated with the construction of the new stadiums are vastly underestimated due to the methodology used by Qatar.

Where do the emissions come from? Contrary to popular belief, stadium air conditioning does not contribute the lion’s share of the overall emissions. Emissions mostly come from the need to build totally new infrastructure (incl. housing and ground transport) and to get fans to Qatar (which is for many fans only possible via plane). Given that the U.S. (the main competitor in the bid) already had most of this infrastructure, makes the decision to place the World Cup in Qatar seem even more strange from an environmental perspective.

Qatar has promised the “first carbon-neutral World Cup in history”. However, so far only 1.8 million tonnes of carbon have been offset, and experts have argued that the quality of the carbon credits is low, for instance due to problems associated with additionality.

The problem with net-zero mega sport events is not only the credibility of the claim. It gives the false impression that we can build huge stadiums and fly in people from all over the world, and that all of this is somehow compatible with reaching Paris-aligned climate goals.

To summarize, we have placed the World Cup into a tiny desert state that significantly and systematically harms basic human rights, that has moved the World Cup final near Christmas to avoid the extreme summer heat, and that has allegedly won the bidding process through corrupt behavior.

Importantly, only pointing the finger at Qatar may be too easy, some of the problems reflected through the World Cup are part of much bigger problems surrounding football as such, most of all its extreme dependency on money.  

I am a football fan, and I will miss the matches, but I am also a fan of human rights, environmental protection, and anti-corruption. Football is for everyone and not just for those a repressive regime deems worthy. So, I rather stay away from the matches and instead spend time playing football with my son. In the end, the World Cup in Qatar will not have a true winner, because sustainability already lost…  


About the Author

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

Constructing Social Portfolios: A Quantitative versus Screening Approach

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

◦ 5 min read 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Authors

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

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

Kristjan Jespersen is an Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He studies on the growing development and management of Ecosystem Services in developing countries. Within the field, Kristjan focuses his attention on the institutional legitimacy of such initiatives and the overall compensation tools used to ensure compliance.


Image source: SustainIt

Do Tourists Like Nudges?

By Elizabeth Cooper

◦ 4 min read 

Nudges have been successfully implemented in various social settings, as a method of guiding people’s decisions in certain directions whilst maintaining their freedom of choice. A number of studies have found high levels of support for nudges across different cultures. However, the context of tourism brings with it some complexities that might make nudging tourists in particular both more challenging and less acceptable.

The “context of tourism” is, of course, not a distinct or objective place or time. Tourism as a practice is in many cases intertwined with the everyday lives of others, so the same nudges that we are exposed to in our local supermarket may also be encountered by a tourist who is visiting our town for the weekend. What defines the tourism context in terms of nudging, therefore, is that the nudge is specifically targeted at people who are on holiday. 

However, existing research suggests that it may be harder to nudge people when they are on holiday than when they are in their everyday contexts, for two main reasons:

  1. We behave differently on holiday than we do at home. We tend to see holidays as an escape from everyday life, and a context in which we deserve to indulge our bad habits without feeling guilty. Complying with a nudge should, by definition, not reduce the consumer’s pleasure – as a result, it is challenging to design acceptable nudges in a hedonistic context like tourism, in which pleasure takes priority. 
  2. We can be less inclined to do things for people we feel different to. While many nudges in our everyday lives are designed to guide us towards choices that are beneficial to ourselves (such as making healthier food choices, or encouraging us to save more of our paycheck), nudges targeted at tourists are often focused on the welfare of groups of people (often host communities) who can feel distant. Existing research in psychology has argued that we are more likely to connect with and feel empathy for others if we perceive similarities between us and them. This can make tourism settings unfavourable for nudging, since many people actively seek to experience difference when they plan a holiday.

Studies on nudging acceptance in general have consistently found that people tend to prefer ‘System 2’ nudges over ‘System 1’ nudges. System 2 nudges are more transparent and require more cognitive effort (for example, providing a hotel guest with information about the environmental impact of their stay). System 1 nudges tend to play on our intuitions and subconscious cognitive processes (for example, including carbon offsetting as a default in a flight purchase, so that customers have to opt out of it rather than in). There are not yet any studies on approval of nudges among tourists, but we can look at which kinds of nudges have been tested on tourists already, and how successful they are.

Some Examples of System 1 Nudges in Tourism
  • Commitment Signalling: In an experiment by Baca-Motes et al. (2012), hotel guests were asked upon check-in to make a commitment to reusing their towels, and then to wear a publicly visible pin indicating this commitment. This increased towel reuse in the hotel by 40%.
  • Providing Feedback: Pereira-Doel et al. (2019) found that inserting an AI display in hotel showers showing the duration of running water during each shower was effective in reducing guests’ water usage.
  • Changing defaults: Kallbekken and Sælen (2013) reduced food waste at a hotel buffet by 20%, simply by making the plates smaller. 
Some Examples of System 2 Nudges in Tourism
  • Increasing pleasure: Some scholars have argued that a hedonic context such as tourism requires more tangible benefits to achieve behaviour change. As a result, a few studies have experimented with nudges that are designed to increase pleasure for the tourist, while simultaneously promoting a desired behaviour. Dolnicar et al. (2019) found it much more effective to offer hotel guests a free drink if they opted out of room cleaning, than to appeal to their pro-environmental values by disclosing information about the environmental impact of room cleaning. Similarly, Dolnicar et al. (2020) managed to reduce plate waste by 34% at a seaside resort, by allowing families to collect stamps every time they did not generate plate waste at dinner. If they collected a stamp for every day of their stay, they could exchange the stamps for a small prize at check-out.

Although these kinds of nudges are ideal for a tourism context, given they increase the pleasure of the tourism experience and are also more likely to be approved of, they require more effort on the part of the tourism business. The tourism sector in many countries is dominated by SMEs, which often lack the resources required to implement nudges like this, even though they want to run a sustainable business. There is certainly a need for further research which works towards developing nudges which a) encourage behaviour that is beneficial for the planet and for host communities, b) are approved of by tourists, and c) are not burdensome for small tourism businesses to implement.


Further reading

Dolnicar, S., 2020. Designing for more environmentally friendly tourismAnnals of Tourism Research.

Juvan, E. and Dolnicar, S., 2014. The attitude–behaviour gap in sustainable tourismAnnals of tourism research.

Reisch, L. A., & Sunstein, C. R. (2016). Do Europeans like nudges?Judgment and Decision making.

Sunstein, C.R., 2016. Do people like nudgesAdmin. L. Rev.

Sunstein, C. R., Reisch, L. A., & Kaiser, M. (2019). Trusting nudges? Lessons from an international survey. Journal of European Public Policy.

Viglia, G. and Dolnicar, S., 2020. A review of experiments in tourism and hospitalityAnnals of Tourism Research.


About the Author

Elizabeth Cooper is a PhD Fellow at Copenhagen Business School, within the Department of Management, Society and Communication. Her research aims to link the fields of behavioural science and tourism, by experimenting with strategies to ‘nudge’ cruise tourists into behaving in more sustainable ways, specifically in the ports of Greenland.


Photo by Elizeu Dias on Unsplash

Negative Capability: Sustaining our discomfort towards a collectively responsible society

By Tali Padan

◦ 3 min read 

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

Maybe comfort is sustainability’s biggest threat. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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

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

By Verena Girschik & Htwe Htwe Thein

◦ 2 min read 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the Authors

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

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

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

By Johanna Jarvela

◦ 2 min read 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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


Photo by Lan Nguyen on Unsplash

Climate Change and Magical Thinking

By Steen Vallentin

◦ 7 min read 

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

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

Blah blah blah.    

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

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

What is Magical Thinking?

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

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

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

Ends and Means: Strong and Weak Sustainability

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

– source: developed from Sjåfjell (2018)

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

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

The Magic of Win-Win

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

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

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

The European Green Deal as a Win-Win Scenario

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

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

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

The Magic of Danish Government Policy

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Balancing Act: Magic and Reality

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

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

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


Further Reading

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

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


About the Author

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


Heading photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash.

Why transparency may not lead straight to CSR paradise

By Dennis Schoeneborn

 2 min read ◦

Business firms worldwide are increasingly engaging in practices of corporate social responsibility (CSR), a trend strongly driven also by the agenda of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. However, when doing CSR, firms tend to face recurrent suspicions by the media, NGOs, and other civil society actors that they would not put the money where their mouth is; in other words, that they would adopt CSR practices only ceremonially rather than substantially (a.k.a. “greenwashing”).

High transparency demands are commonly seen as the main ‘remedy’ that would ‘cure’ firms from mere ceremonial adoption and would drive them towards substantive adoption of CSR practices. However, in recent years we can find increasing evidence that high transparency demands do not always lead straight to CSR paradise. In a Financial Times article from 2020, Jason Mitchell raised the provocative question: Is greenwashing a necessary evil? The author argues that firms often require some leeway to experiment with CSR and sustainability practices to begin with, and without such leeway CSR efforts tend to get cut off too early by too high transparency demands and greenwashing accusations. After all, some decoupling between talk and action can also be due to a time lag between aspirations and the actual implementation of CSR practices within a firm (see here).

In the same context, Patrick Haack (HEC Lausanne), Dirk Martignoni (University of Lugano), and Dennis Schoeneborn (Copenhagen Business School) have recently published an article in the Academy of Management Review that draws on a computer-based simulation to study the dynamic interplay between transparency demands and CSR practice adoptions in a field or industry. By drawing on a probabilistic Markov chain model, the authors demonstrate that under certain conditions a regime of opacity followed by transparency (i.e. intially low and later high transparency demands) “outperforms” a regime of enduring transparency (i.e. high transparency demands right from the start) with regards to maximizing the share of firms in an industry that would adopt CSR practices in a substantive way. But what are such boundary conditions?

In the article, the authors explain that the optimality of the “opacity followed by transparency” regime tends to apply only for practices that are characterized by low adoption rates (i.e. those costly to implement) as well as by low abandonment rates (i.e. once adopted firms tend to stick with the practice, also since they may face public backlash if they abandon a practice after adoption). Interestingly, these are exactly the kinds of conditions that characterize CSR as a practice area.

What to learn from all this? NGOs and other civil society actors can benefit, in the long run, from cutting business firms some slack (i.e. putting rather low transparency demands onto firms), at least in the initial stages of CSR adoption processes. Instead, societal actors should then try to increase transparency demands at later stages in the adoption process to push firms further towards substantive adoption.

Haack et al. (2021) explain this process to work due to what they call a “bait-and-switch” mechanism of CSR practice adoption. Initially lower transparency demands allow for larger numbers of firms to adopt practices, even if they do so for ceremonial reasons to begin with. Importantly, when transparency demands are then increased over time, a number of firms tend to switch from ceremonial towards substantial adoption, thus leading eventually to the desirable outcome (from a societal viewpoint) of rather high rates of substantive CSR adopters in an industry. 


Further reading

Haack, P., Martignoni, D., & Schoeneborn, D. (2021). A bait-and-switch model of corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review46(3), 440-464. 

You can also access a (non-layouted) version of the same article at ResearchGate. The article has been picked up in a recent story by Forbes magazine. And if you want to learn more about the ‘backstory’ behind the AMR article, you can watch a video interview with two of the authors, Patrick Haack and Dennis Schoeneborn, on YouTube


About the author

Dennis Schoeneborn is a Professor of Communication, Organization and CSR at Copenhagen Business School and a Visiting Professor of Organization Studies at Leuphana University of Lüneburg. In his research, he focuses on organization theory, organizational communication, digital media and communication, corporate social responsibility and sustainability, as well as new forms of organizing.


Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

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

By Leonie Decrinis

 2 min read ◦

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

Why good people do bad things 

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

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

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

Building a culture of control does not solve the problem

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

Nudging – beyond carrots and sticks

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

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

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


Further Readings

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

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

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


About the Author

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


Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash

Are social media platforms good places to discuss global challenges?

By Daniel Lundgaard

3 min read ◦

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

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

The potentials

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

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

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

The challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A word of caution

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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


Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

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

By Sandra Waddock and Steve Waddell

◦ 4 min read 

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

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

What is a Transformation Catalyst?

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

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

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

The Four Catalytic Actions

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

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

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

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

Catalyzing Change through 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People

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

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

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

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

The Mantra for Transformation Catalysts

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

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

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


Further Reading

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

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


About the Authors

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

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


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Social impact bonds in the Nordics: insights from ‘Copenhagen Impact Investing Days 2021’

By Mikkel M. Andersen and Ferran Torres

◦ 5 min read 

A social impact bond (SIB) is an innovative model for public service delivery characterized by flexible service interventions and an outcomes-based payment structure. SIBs use private investments to drive new types of welfare activities, shifting the risk from the public to the private sector. Today, several SIBs are emerging in Nordic countries, but do rich welfare states even need these financing mechanisms? And in case they do, for what? These questions were discussed by three leading SIB-experts during the ‘Copenhagen Impact Investing Days’ 2021.

During the last few years, the use of social impact bonds (SIBs) and other social finance-instruments has increased dramatically in Nordic countries. SIBs were originally used as financing tools supporting public organizations in the UK experiencing budgetary restraints. Thus, as the model spread into other contexts, the question begged whether this tool would be appropriate for Nordic countries as well. The following piece summarizes some key reflections from the panel discussion regarding this question at Copenhagen Impact Investing Days 2021 (CIID). 

SIBs in the Nordic countries: an emergent but fast-growing field 

While more than 200 SIBs have officially been developed worldwide, they are still an emergent phenomenon in most Nordic countries. Currently, 17 SIBs have been initiated in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway – primarily within employment, preventive health, and social welfare. Also, at least 7 additional SIB-projects have been announced. The first SIB-evaluations are also starting to come up; for example, the assessment of the first Swedish SIB in Norrköping shows promising social effects, despite not creating a financial return for investors. Finnish intermediary-organizations are also planning to develop SIB-projects within environmental areas, including recycling and energy efficiency in housing.

Overall, Finland seems to be on the forefront in the Nordic regions, followed by Sweden, while Denmark and Norway are a few years behind. On the investment side, significant progression is also being made. A Finnish fund-of-funds is currently being developed with an expected capital of 100 million Euro. In Sweden, work is also being done to set up a national outcomes financing structure to ensure the scaling of future outcome-based initiatives. Last, legislative action to ensure social finance practices has been taken – most recently in Denmark with Børnene Først promising more focus on social investment-practices to ensure preventive social welfare.  

Emerging practices for Nordic SIBs 

Some early experiences regarding the relevance and usage of SIBs in the Nordic countries were discussed during the CIID-conference. First and foremost, SIBs seem to be a part of a much larger trend in public welfare, oriented towards measuring, incentivizing, and resourcing towards long-term social outcomes. While SIBs might constitute effective solutions in themselves, they are also catalysts for evolving social investment practices because they can 1) showcase the benefits of new types of welfare services by linking social and economic outcomes, 2) provide practical solutions for realizing preventive and proactive welfare services, and 3) facilitate cross-sectoral coordination through new procurement frameworks by bringing new stakeholders to the table. 

The SIB can be a useful way to show the municipalities, and the government, how to buy the solutions that actually work. 

Hans Henrik Woltmann, Investment Manager, The Social Investment Fund (DK)

What seems to be critical is also the perception that SIBs in the Nordic countries should not function as a replacement to or a privatization instrument for public welfare services. Instead, SIBs should be understood as a supplement to these, allowing public actors to change how they buy public interventions while testing new welfare solutions through de-risking strategies. Still, the novelty of the method, and its experimental character, makes it challenging to assess its true potential.

Does the SIB really allow us to scale or is it just a fancy way of financing projects? I think the question is still out there 

Tomas Bokström, Project Manager, Research Institutes of Sweden
Looking into the future: necessities for a social finance-ecosystem 

Summarizing the points from the debate, SIBs in the Nordics are on the rise and have the potential to become welfare instruments themselves, and a vehicle for promoting a social investment agenda. Looking ahead, three key aspects will be important for enhancing the Nordic social finance ecosystem: 

  1. Establish more evidence from practice and leverage these actively with public organizations to spark discussions. 
  2. Insist on experimentation and a methodological openness towards the SIB-model. Its value also resides in its ability to test innovative social interventions to later diffuse them through public practices fitting better into specific welfare situations. 
  3. Follow and engage in political discussions regarding the ambitions for SIB-practices. The SIB market is still in its infancy and relies heavily on market-maturement initiatives to develop better infrastructure.

Panelists for the discussion of Nordic Impact Bonds at ‘Copenhagen Impact Investing Days 2021’:  

· Tomas Bokström, Project Manager, Research Institutes of Sweden
· Hans Henrik Woltmann, Investment Manager, The Social Investment Fund 
· Mika Pyykkö, Director, The Centre of Expertise for Impact Investing, Finland
· Mikkel Munksgaard, PhD Fellow, Department of Management, Society, and Communication, CBS (moderator)
· Ferran Torres Nadal, PhD Fellow, Esade Entrepreeurship Institute & Institute for Social Innovation, ESADE (moderator)


About the Authors

Mikkel Munksgaard Andersen is PhD Fellow, at CBS Sustainability, Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC) at CBS. Through his PhD-project, Mikkel studies the development and implementation of social impact bonds and payment-by-results methods in Denmark. His work centralizes around the distinct characteristics of Scandinavian impact bonds and their role in supporting and financing public services. The research is driven by a participatory research design and is co-financed by Region Zealand. Mikkel has earlier worked in the social finance-field both on an academic and practical level.

Ferran Torres Nadal is PhD Fellow at the Entrepreneurship Institute and the Institute for Social Innovation, ESADE Business School in Spain. His PhD advisors are Lisa Hehenberger and Tobias Hahn. His work is focused on understanding and explaining tensions and paradoxes around complex phenomena. He is particularly interested in studying the challenges and opportunities that come with cross-sector initiatives, such as social impact bonds.   


Photo by Katt Yukawa on Unsplash

The Concept of Fragmented Labour Markets

By Janine Leschke and Sonja Bekker

◦ 4 min read 

The employment and social impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic have been larger on some groups of workers than others. In particular, low-wage workers and workers in forms of employment that differ from full-time wage and salary work with a permanent contract seem to have been especially exposed to job and income losses (see ILO-OECD Covid-19 report). The concept of fragmented labour markets, which we propose here, highlights the large and growing diversity in employment relationships. It demonstrates the relevance of relating the impact of the crisis on jobs, income and social security to the degree of ‘resilience’ workers had prior to the crisis in terms of job stability and decent earnings. It is therefore very suitable for detecting vulnerabilities that have been built into labour markets over the past decades.

Rise of diverse types of non-standard employment relationships

The concept of fragmented labour markets focuses on the group of workers commonly termed ‘outsiders’ or the population in non-standard (also termed atypical) employment. It goes beyond traditional views on segmented, dual or primary versus secondary labour markets, which divide employment into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ jobs. There are a number of arguments as to why the use of binary divisions with regard to labour market status or outcomes are obsolete, such as the substantial variety within both the groups of standard and non-standard jobs.

Over the past decades, a further fragmentation of employment status has occurred. Some speak of an ‘explosion’ of diverse types of non-standard employment relationships, making these types of jobs an often occurring or even ‘normal’ phenomenon at least for some labour market groups, such as women. Consequently, within the group of ‘outsiders’, an ever greater variety of forms of employment is materialising, making the groups themselves far from homogeneous. 

Call for a new approach

The inadequate binary division of the labour market into groups of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ has spurred a call for a new multidimensional approach to understanding inequalities in work and employment. These suggestions go beyond merely defining non-standard work as all forms of work that deviate from the standard employment relationship.

Based on the trends and observations highlighted above, we develop the concept of fragmented labour markets as a way to both define and explore the most vulnerable types of non-standard employment. We build on the work of authors who point at key elements of such a definition, including the different labour market groups that have different sets of rights and labour conditions, and refer to different employment statuses such as part-time work, fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work, self-employment, marginal employment, platform work and other ‘non-standard’ forms of employment.

Additionally, we look at the earnings that workers (can) generate with their jobs, and whether they combine several employment statuses (e.g. being part-time as well as fixed-term employed). Moreover, we zoom in on certain occupational groups. The latter focus is relevant in order to prevent certain vulnerable groups remaining ‘hidden’ in overall labour market averages (see, e.g., the example of the occupational groups of cleaners below).

Therefore, we define fragmented labour markets as:

Labour markets characterised by an accumulation of insecurities. Fragmentation is evident where workers combine non-standard employment with low wages or where they combine several forms of non-standard employment − situations that are dominant in particular occupational groups.

We argue that using the concept of labour market fragmentation may render visible which labour market groups are generally more insecure and vulnerable to job and/or income loss and fluctuations and would therefore need additional support particularly when crises occur.

Exploring selected occupational groups in Germany and the Netherlands

Using this concept exploratory with a focus on two affluent countries – Germany and the Netherlands – highlights vulnerability in some occupations, particularly among women, but at times also among men.

For instance, almost 70% of female personal care employees in Germany are part-time employed and 18% of those combine part-time employment with a fixed-term employment contract (see EU-LFS). In the Netherlands, 43% of women in the occupational group of cleaners and helpers & service employees are marginal employed (less than 15 working hours per week) and 27% of those combine marginal part-time employment with fixed-term employment. Both occupations, and particularly cleaning are at the same time characterised by low wages (see SES). These groups would have been ‘invisible’ if only data on the average economy had been used. 

Additionally, the use of the concept of labour market fragmentation shows that in some occupations and groups, there are hardly any standard jobs left.

For instance, among women in the Dutch personal care and cleaners and helpers occupations, nearly everyone has a part time job (>90%), while in Germany the vast majority of women with a cleaning and helpers occupation has a part time job (>85%). At the same time these jobs are commonly relatively poorly paid and it is not uncommon that these part-time jobs are combined with other flexible forms of employment to make ends meet.

This not only has consequences for employment and earnings security while being in a job but also has important knock-on consequences for accessibility to and adequacy of social security, which is affected to a large degree by the level of earnings and job tenure (with the exception of social minimum benefits).

The concept of fragmentation thereby transcends labour markets and its value becomes particularly evident in times of crisis. As a result of the pandemic, low-wage workers and workers in diverse forms of non-standard employment relationships have been especially exposed to job and income losses. Moreover, in times of economic downturns, new jobs will often be more likely to be non-standard contracts than in times of economic upturns.

Both in Germany and the Netherlands, social security coverage has been problematic for some of these groups during the coronavirus crisis.

Understanding the growing flexibility in labour markets

The concept of fragmentation thus assists in achieving a more profound understanding of what growing flexibility in labour markets really entails in terms of cumulative insecurities for some labour market groups. It helps fuel discussion on making social security more inclusive for workers, regardless of their labour market position. Last but not least, with respect to occupations where up to 90% of (female) workers are in non-standard employment, often combined with other forms of non-standard employment and/or low wages, it helps raise questions as to how much labour market fragmentation affluent societies can legitimise.


Further reading

Bekker, S. and Leschke, J. (2021), Fragmented labour markets in affluent societies: examples from Germany and the Netherlands, OSE Paper Series, Research Paper No.48, Brussels: European Social Observatory, 24p.


About the Authors

Janine Leschke, political scientist, is prof MSO in comparative labour market analysis. Her research interests comprise issues such atypical work, job quality, labour mobility and migration, youth unemployment, as well as gender. She is currently the Danish lead partner in the Horizon 2020 project HECAT, participant in EuSocialCit and one of the editors of Journal of European Social Policy.

Sonja Bekker is an associate professor European Social Policy at both Utrecht University and Tilburg University. Her research interests include European employment policies and social policies, particularly focused on vulnerable groups such as people with flexible employment relations, youth, people experiencing in-work poverty. She is part of the Horizon 2020 WorkYP project.


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The maker movement, the quiet, game-changing revolution near you #2

By Efthymios Altsitsiadis

◦ 5 min read 

One of the most overlooked and yet promising agents in the fight against climate change and towards realizing a circular society is the maker movement – a cultural trend that was founded on a simple premise: ordinary people manufacturing themselves what they need.

In the previous article, a glimpse of the transformative potential of democratized production for reaching the pressing societal, environmental and economic goals was attempted. The maker revolution, facilitated by the technological collaborative manufacturing capabilities can help citizens with getting access to advanced fabrication tools, skills and knowledge, to meet their own needs, reduce their carbon footprint, while creating new entrepreneurial opportunities for them and their community. For this potential to be realized, it is arguably increasingly important to understand how and why people become makers.

No movement can be successful, no community can be effective without engaging, growing, and sustaining its member base.

This was the organizing idea in the previous article. The empirical results from the Pop-Machina project were presented in overview to show the key motives, barriers and driving forces behind the decision to support and be involved in making. In this follow-up note, we complement this baseline with the next step: what can be done to act upon this knowledge.  

We draw this time insights from another running EU project – iProduce. Two large scale studies collected data from regular citizens, makers and manufacturers around Europe and the synthesis of the main quantitative results is taking place to compile some clear and actionable recommendations on how to engage with makers, existing and potential ones. The recommendations below are a preview of the upcoming report on the full findings, so it should be treated as work-in-progress snapshot.

Recommendation 1: Clearly communicate the culture of the community

On the one hand, many new makers seem to be driven by ecological and community progress beliefs and attitudes. The majority of people believe that makerspaces can make a big difference. On the other, respondents reported a lack of information with regard to the exact makerspaces’ scope and actions. Awareness about the maker-movement and its mission and benefits should not be considered a given, yet the alignment can make a considerable (and oftentimes ignored) difference in engagement. Community development and team building should be heavily promoted as in most makers, collaboration with like-minded peers is of highest priorities.

Recommendation 2: Encourage direct knowledge sharing: virtual training and skills exchange

Exchanging knowledge and gaining access to dedicated trainings is very important for makers. Such facilitations can take place digitally in which case users would expect to increase their knowledge and skills. Training could be targeted either to support a specific business venture, a creative project already underway, or for the primary purpose of gaining competencies for later use. Support in terms of direct knowledge sharing and mentorship, peer to peer online learning could be an additional option to allow existing technicians and experts to occasionally serve as mentors and advisors rather than teachers in platform-developed projects. 

Recommendation 3: Support matchmaking and professional networking

Participation in makerspaces opens up new horizons, enabling makers to reach out to a wider network which could also yield more professional opportunities. Or at least this is what the majority of the respondents expect. Makers and consumers want to be empowered, not only to depict their ideas for new products but to also be able to find expertise and manufacturing capabilities to implement them. Matchmaking services are deemed essential and at the same time, the analysis of existing roles and collaborations can set the ground for new synergies to be established and new opportunities to be identified. 

Recommendation 4: Diversity, inclusiveness, accessibility and empowerment

Makers tend to care a big deal about accessibility; they want to see action to involve groups which are underrepresented in the maker movement, such as women, elderly, low socioeconomic status groups or people with disabilities. They stress the importance of a respectful, inclusive and supportive culture, the unwarranted genderisation of tasks/interests and the need for more female role models in the social manufacturing world. While the maker movement has unique cultural elements, these are all cemented on the principles of diversity empowerment and unfettered access. 

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. There are still so many lessons to learn, angles to explore, and diverse experiences and stories to be shared and studied that one should not treat this as anything more than a humble start. The empirical nature of these insights provides some needed confidence to these results, but as is often the case with self-reported data and online data collection methods, there are some limitations to the transferability and generalizability/representativeness of these results. Nonetheless, the people working in iProduce have put considerable effort to help practitioners, policy makers and makerspace managers better reach out to the maker base. These stakeholders sometimes must face an uphill battle, especially in the covid-era, in keeping things afloat, exploring different tools, triggers and business models. One can hope that such insights can still be useful or bring up more discussion about the way forward.   


This publication was based on the work undertaken by the European projects iPRODUCE “Unlocking the community energy potential to support the market uptake of bioenergy heating technologies”. iPRODUCE has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870037.


About the Author

Assistant Prof. Efthymios Altsitsiadis, PhD (male) is a behavioural economist with a mind for interdisciplinary research. A user-centricity enthusiast, Efthymios is set to help provide evidence-based answers to some of the most persistent and evasive behavioural questions in a variety of areas like sustainability, health, energy and mobility. His Phd was in decision support systems and he is currently teaching Machine Learning and Digital Behaviour at CBS. He conducts research in collaborative production and circular economy, in advanced technological agents (smart apps, avatars, chat-bot services) and has worked as a social scientist in several cross-disciplinary research projects. 

Like oil and water…. Shell’s climate responsibility and human rights

By Kristian Høyer Toft, PhD

◦ 4 min read 

In a landmark verdict at the district court in the Hague on 26th May this year, Royal Dutch Shell lost a case to the Dutch branch of ‘Friends of the Earth’, Milleudefensie, and other NGOs. The court ordered Shell to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 against a 2019 baseline. The decision breaks new ground for the possibility of holding private corporations accountable for climate change – Shell-shocked and a Black Wednesday for the fossil fuel industry, according to expert commentators in international environmental law.

The verdict emphasizes the international consensus that corporations like Shell must respect basic human rights, such as the rights to life and family life. In the ruling, human rights are seen in the context of climate change and the aspirational 1.5-degree target stated in the Paris Agreement (2015), scientifically supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2018).

The verdict is a significant example of a general surge in climate litigation cases globally in which human rights are invoked.

Holding a fossil fuel company accountable based on the standard of human rights might sound as futile as the effort to mix oil and water.

And this sort of skepticism has roots in the recent history of attempts to connect business, human rights and climate change in what could be seen as a ‘bizarre triangle’ of irreconcilable corners.

However, the Shell verdict can be seen as a firm rebuttal to such skepticism. The court argued that Shell had violated the standard of care implicit in Dutch law. To clarify the content of the standard of care, the court used the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGPs) which provide a global standard for businesses’ human rights responsibilities. This is, however, a bold interpretation in light of the UNGPs silence on human rights responsibilities with regard to climate change. 

In fact, human rights might not fit so neatly with the difficult case of climate change. Firstly, it is difficult to trace the causal links between the emitters and the victims of climate change, although this is contested by recent studies that have traced two-thirds of historical emissions to the big oil and gas companies, the so-called carbon majors.

Secondly, human rights basically apply only to the state’s duty to protect citizens, and thus only indirectly to private companies. This state-centric approach is core to the human rights regime and tradition, and the UNGPs uphold this by allocating less stringent responsibilities to non-state actors such as corporations.

However, the UNGPs also state that private companies have human rights responsibilities independently of the state. The district court in the Hague reaffirms this in its ruling against Shell, stating that corporate responsibility “exists independently of States’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations, and does not diminish those obligations. [..] Therefore, it is not enough for companies to [..] follow the measures states take; they have an individual responsibility.” (4.4.13). 

A third source of skepticism resides in understandings of environmental law and the central role of the polluter pays principle. Accordingly, emitters are responsible for their historical output of COas enshrined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC 1992), but the scope is usually taken to be limited to the unit of production (scope 1), e.g. the refining of crude oil. The standard view of pollution is local, as for instance when a factory pollutes the local river. 

However, in the Shell ruling scopes 1, 2 and 3 are taken into account, meaning that consumers’ incineration also counts and therefore Shell must take responsibility for consumers’ emissions as well. The consequences of including all three scopes incur far-reaching and demanding responsibilities on corporations, where previously the distribution of responsibilities between producers and consumers has been disputed, for instance in the carbon majors case.

In sum, the Shell verdict raises the bar considerably for the expected level of corporate climate responsibility. The verdict also challenges the assumption that human rights don’t fit the complexity of climate change; though in fact the UNs first resolution on human rights and climate change appeared back in 2008. Moreover, the verdict goes against the widespread liberal assumption that businesses’ responsibilities are mainly to comply with the law of national jurisdictions and that consumers are comparably responsible for causing climate change. 

It might be time to rethink such assumptions and not simply continue ‘business as usual’ by seeing climate change and human rights-based climate litigation as a managerial risk factor to be handled instrumentally and in isolation from the moral duty to solve the climate crisis. 

One key lesson could be to acknowledge that corporate responsibilities are not just legal but moral as well, since the distinction is not so clear in soft law instruments like the UNGPs nor even in the notion of human rights themselves, not to mention the moral demands following from the need to respect and realize the targets of the Paris Agreement and related transition paths.

When the Special Representative to the United Nations on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie, started exploring pathways for developing the field, he was inspired by the American philosopher Iris Marion Young whose ‘social connection model’ of global responsibility in supply chains suggests a forward-looking kind of responsibility for mitigating structural injustices. Young’s notion of responsibility was designed to solve large-scale structural problems like climate change by attributing responsibility to all agents according to their powers, privileges, collective capacities and level of complicity. 

This is the kind of thinking now supported in the court verdict against Shell, and it signals a new beginning where climate change reconfigures how corporations and human rights connect… perhaps making the ‘oil and water’ metaphor obsolete.


Acknowledgements

Among the many expert commentators, Annalisa Savaresi’s work provided particular inspiration for writing the blog. I am grateful to Florian Wettstein, Sara Seck, Marco Grasso, Ann E Mayer and Säde Hormio who all gave comments to my article ‘Climate change as a business and human rights issue’ published in the Business and Human Rights Journal (2020) 5(1), pp. 1-27. The blogpost is based on the approach of this article. Julie Murray was helpful with proofreading.


About the Author

Kristian Høyer Toft, PhD in Political Science, Aarhus University 2003. During 2020-21 a guest researcher at the CBS Sustainability Centre, Copenhagen Business School. His research focuses on corporate moral agency, political theory of the corporation and climate ethics and is published in Business and Human Rights JournalEnergy Research and Social Science, and in the book Corporate Responsibility and Political PhilosophyExploring the Social Liberal Corporation (Routledge 2020). 


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Start me up – helping citizen engagement become the hot new kid on the block

By Isabel Fróes

◦ 4 min read 

In recent years, through experience and discussions in various projects and workshops dealing with urban development, this key question keeps returning: 

How to best promote citizen engagement? 

While citizen engagement is a large topic within urban development, so are entrepreneurship and grassroots movements. How do we perceive these various terms? In which ways do these forms of organization converge, where do they diverge?  More importantly, could we change the civic engagement rates if this work would be perceived as steps towards further opportunity (gaining) instead of ‘volunteer work’ (giving)?

A known challenge within citizen engagement deals with age groups. It is not difficult to engage young children (up to 12 years old) and older citizens to take part in local actions, however it becomes a struggle to engage youth and young adults as they see little return in value as results tend to be intangible or unclear.  Within this group, perception plays a big role in how ideas are sold (and consumed), so it might be time to possibly bring the concepts of civic engagement and entrepreneurship closer together.  But where do we start? 

A first point to consider is how these key concepts might be popularly understood. When mentioning citizen engagement, images of volunteers coming together to discuss, collaborate, work and vote on ideas come to mind. When talking about entrepreneurship, notions of highly driven visionaries or million dollar companies emerge.

Citizen engagement and entrepreneurship are rarely seen as equals. However, in both cases you find similarities. It is not uncommon for both groups to engage in a large amount of unpaid labour, long days, hard work and convincing people to join you and (most probably) gathering funds to execute whatever dream you may have. 

Literature covering the concepts of social entrepreneurship or community-based entrepreneurship highlights distinct formats of social entrepreneurship, both of which are top-down. In the case of grassroots entrepreneurship initiatives, articles highlight movements that emerge from “acute socio-economic, institutional, and financial resource constraints, as well as out of local knowledge and a commitment to community”, such as the one seen recently during the Covid-19 pandemic (see blogpost). It is not necessarily about creating something new, but instead, something that works for the case in focus. 

In these settings, co-creation has received a deserved attention as a method, and it has proven to be a valuable tool as it allows for diverse stakeholders to come together to develop and carry out ideas, creating shared agency. However, before that first co-creation session lies the true challenge in both user engagement and entrepreneurship: Creating momentum before the momentum, to make one person (or a few) motivated ‘out of thin air’.  

Therefore, a second point to consider is the top-down setup of projects, inviting citizens to engage with a specific topic or local pre-defined issue. Although project results might impact locals’ everyday, the personal gain might be too dissolved into the hours spent, thus people refraining from engaging. 

In order to challenge the current top-down scenario, the perception and format of these activities could be transformed to facilitating processes to let locals themselves suggest and carry the types of projects that interest them, seeing a clearer link to ‘what’s in it for me’. For unpaid efforts, the pay-off has to be visible and tangible.

Furthermore, associations, municipalities and other public institutions need to create means to replicate successful bottom-up initiatives. Some of these initiatives could then be linked to local businesses and related opportunities. 

From a service design perspective, a way to bring this information into people’s households could be to use the existing information channels popular amongst the local community to allow for an initial knowledge entry point. For instance, as citizens receive a public waste sorting information sheet, one could attach a ‘waste project opportunity’ sheet. This initial touchpoint could be a it’s your turn blueprint, a step-by-step guide showing what to do to bring your ideas out into the world. So, a project idea invitation presented as an opportunity at your fingertips.  The ‘hot themes’ in the current market should be highlighted while also offering inspirational examples. Programmes to support these initiatives should be in place, facilitating the citizen engagement startup process as a possible social ladder. Such a setup could transform current structures, making cities and citizens, not venture capitalists, the true cradle for entrepreneurship. 


This blog was inspired by a recent participation in a workshop focusing on urban development, discussing visions for green and social meeting places in urban residential areas. During the discussion, a number of key questions were raised concerning how to best promote citizen engagement.  The workshop was organized by Copenhagen University and VIVAPLAN, with presentations from VIVAPLAN, Urbanplanen Partnerskab, C40, KAB and Copenhagen Municipality. The visions discussed during the workshop are to feed into policy recommendations for sustainable and inclusive developments in Denmark and Sweden.


References

V. Ratten and I. M. Welpe, “Special issue: Community-based, social and societal entrepreneurship,” Entrepreneurship and Regional Development.

M. Wierenga, “Uncovering the scaling of innovations developed by grassroots entrepreneurs in low-income settings,” Entrep. Reg. Dev.

S. Sarkar, “Grassroots entrepreneurs and social change at the bottom of the pyramid: the role of bricolage,” Entrep. Reg. Dev.


About the Author

Isabel Fróes is a postdoc at MSC Department at Copenhagen Business School working in three EU projects (Cities-4-PeopleiPRODUCE and BECOOP). Isabel also has wide industry experience and has worked both as a user researcher and service design consultant for various companies in Denmark and internationally. For more detail please see her Linkedin profile.


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

By Dieter Zinnbauer

◦ 4 min read 

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

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

Inaction is untenable, political neutrality unlikely.

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

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

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

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

Enter corporate democratic responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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


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Megacorporations

By Glen Whelan

◦ 2 min read 

Whatever you did today, there is a fair chance that you used a product or service that is somehow connected to Alphabet. If you watched YouTube on your Android phone in an Uber, for example, then you were simultaneously contributing to Alphabet’s coffers in three ways. And on the off chance that you were thinking of enjoying your evening by first reading two new papers – on the naked mole-rat as a non-aging mammal and what classic Atari video games can tell us about the human brain respectively – and then planning out your possible life on Mars, then you would once again be thrice-engaged with Alphabet investments.

As these examples suggest, Alphabet, whose most famous asset is Google, is not just any other corporation. Rather, it is what can be termed – in building on an idea associated with the novelist William Gibson – a megacorporation.

For the present purpose, a megacorporation can be simply defined as a corporation that influences the lives of a huge number of people in fundamental ways; whose sway is greater than that of most other organizations combined. 

Perhaps the clearest historical example of a megacorporation is the English East India Company. Following its establishment in 1600, ‘the Company’ proved itself a formidable commercial, governmental and military force. Indeed, and whilst the Company was gradually disbanded around the middle of the 19th century, it still exerts influence today through its having shaped, amongst other things, a worldwide thirst for tea, the way in which people conceive of the ‘firm’, and, more controversially, how people understand the ‘orient’.

When the continuing influence of the English East India Company is acknowledged alongside Alphabet’s current scale (e.g., it is currently valued at more than $1.5 trillion), vague claims from the latter’s elite that it might exist 100 or even 1000 years from now, are not as ridiculous as they might first seem. Moreover, if predictions by Google’s Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, come true, then at least some of us could still be around in digital form, and able to confirm whether or not Alphabet is still going strong a thousand years hence. Of course, if your (happy) digital existence is dependent on Alphabet technologies, then you would have reason for wanting the megacorporation’s reign to be a very long one.  

Such speculations about Alphabet’s centrality to our future existence may ultimately prove more fanciful than factual. Be this as it may, it is difficult to deny that Alphabet already records, stores and shapes the past in major ways. For many people Alphabet is the custodian of their personal memories, the story of their life. Through its control of Gmail and Google Photos, and its vast array of ‘smart home’ technologies, Alphabet collects seemingly ever-increasing amounts of information on us. And as anyone familiar with the academic pissing contest that is Google Scholar will know, the megacorporation also goes to some length to make sure that one’s back catalog of scholarly writings is ‘unforgettable’.

When these individual collections of personal memories and activities are noted alongside Alphabet’s vast digital store of world culture and heritage, the extent to which Alphabet can influence the writing and creation of social histories becomes clear. Whilst historians worldwide can currently access a great deal of information through the megacorporation’s various platforms, Alphabet itself can play the role of historian too. Given its expertise in information storage and machine learning, Alphabet is in a prime position from which to conduct macro level, cross-cultural, historical analyses. And as the megacorporation arguably has a better understanding of what retains attention than most (through its tracking of YouTube viewing practices for example), it seems uniquely capable of presenting such historical analyses in ways that prove captivating to a wide-ranging audience. 

In short, Alphabet’s influence over how we live, and how we make sense of, the past and the future, results in it being uniquely deserving – amongst contemporary firms – of the megacorporate label. In all likelihood, and for good or bad, this influence will continue for some years to come. As a result, people in general, and business and society scholars in particular, are well advised to further consider the profound ways in which it shapes existential concerns worldwide.


About the Author

Glen Whelan’s book, Megacorporation: The Infinite Times of Alphabet, is out now through Cambridge University Press. He sometimes teaches at McGill, and researches the moral, political and social influence of corporations, amongst other things. He is on twitter @grwhelan.


Photo source: chrome unboxed

Remote research: A story about “being there”

By Elizabeth Cooper

◦ 2 min read 

It has now been more than a year since researchers have been forced to move most of their data collection online and, where this has not been possible, to cancel it completely. Doing research remotely has revealed some benefits: it is much cheaper, it is better for the environment, and it usually saves time, to name just a few. So, why should we go back to the “field” when this is all over? The following is a story about the importance of ‘being there’ – and about how the things that go wrong can indirectly lead to better quality research.

The settlement of Kulusuk is home to about 200 people and is located on a small island off the eastern coast of Greenland. As I touch down in a helicopter, I can see nothing but empty and dull terrain – different shades of brown rock contrasted against the electric blue sea, which glitters with the even brighter white of scattered icebergs floating endlessly into the distance.

The year is 2017 – summer, although the untrained eye wouldn’t guess so, judging by the snow-covered mountains drawn sharply on the horizon. I have been travelling around Greenland for a few weeks now, and my task is to interview tourists about their experiences in the country, as part of a market research project for Greenland’s national tourism board. 

The problem with interviewing tourists in one of the most remote places in the world, however, is that there aren’t that many. This is a problem I have been dealing with throughout my travels, but one that is markedly more pronounced here on the east coast. There simply aren’t that many tourists who have the perfect combination of sufficient wealth and excess adventurous spirit that it takes to travel to Greenland, and most of those who do, head to the more accessible and well-equipped towns on the west coast. Here in the east, things feel incredibly…local. It’s an atmosphere that simultaneously excites me and fills me with panic about how on earth I will secure enough interviews to make my research statistically valid.

I drop my bags off at the town’s only hotel and start preparing for the twenty minute walk into the settlement itself, where I’ve heard there is a museum – and perhaps the chance to bump into a tourist or two. However, as I begin to march determined out of the door, a member of the hotel staff blocks me. She tells me that there is a “piteraq” on its way, and although I have no idea what a piteraq is, her expression in itself is grave enough to stop me in my tracks and make me step back into the warmth for an explanation. 

The Greenlandic word “piteraq” literally translates to “the thing that attacks you”, and refers to a cold and incredibly fierce wind that originates on the polar ice cap and sweeps down the east coast. With wind speeds that are usually comparable to a category 1 or 2 hurricane, these storms effectively cut off the island for days on end, as flying in or out, or sailing anywhere, is made impossible. 

Overcome by renewed frustration about the feasibility of my research, I head upstairs to the hotel restaurant, where the first stages of the piteraq are already playing out on its huge, panoramic windows – spatters of tiny raindrops are gathering on the glass, accompanied in surround sound by the occasional distant roar of wind gusts picking up momentum. To my surprise, the restaurant is full. As I soon learn, these are tourists who were supposed to be passing through, but who have now become stranded due to the weather. Grabbing a plate at the buffet, I sit down with an Austrian family who invite me to play cards with them.  

Over the next two days, I don’t go anywhere – and neither do the tourists. We are imprisoned by the storm, and for lack of anything better to do, my fellow inmates are happy to engage me. I move from table to table, drinking coffee after coffee, and then wine after wine, with all of the other characters who have found themselves at this point in the world at this point in time. I hear stories from the British man who accidentally left all of his luggage (including his phone and wallet) on the tarmac at Reykjavik airport, and, upon arrival in Greenland, knocked on the nearest front door, told the family who lived there his story, and was taken in by them for three days; the elderly Canadian woman who had been dreaming about visiting Greenland since she was 14, when she saw a picture of a Greenlandic Inuit woman who, to her, “exuded happiness”; the two skittish French ladies who mistook a sled dog for a polar bear and sent the whole town into emergency response mode for no reason. 

The skies after a piteraq are some of the bluest and clearest skies you will ever see in Greenland – it’s like going to sleep in black and white and waking up in colour. Mother Nature’s twisted sense of humour, I conclude, as I finally head to the airport, with a folder full of interview notes, a deeper connection to my research environment, and a newfound appreciation for going with the flow.


About the Author

Elizabeth Cooper is a PhD Fellow at Copenhagen Business School, within the Department of Management, Society and Communication. Her research aims to link the fields of behavioural science and tourism, by experimenting with strategies to ‘nudge’ cruise tourists into behaving in more sustainable ways, specifically in the ports of Greenland.

Impact of COVID-19 on mortality inequalities: The case of France

By Clément Brébion

◦ 3 min read 

Despite an unprecedented worldwide decline in mortality over the last century, a substantial income gradient in life expectancy persists within most countries. In the US for instance, the 1% richest men have a life expectancy at the age of 40 that is 15 years larger than the poorest 1% (difference of 10 years for women) and this spread is currently increasing. In France (on which this blog post is based), the income gradient is of a similar size despite a more egalitarian access to health care.

Pandemics likely amplify this spread because they reveal latent inequalities in individual health capital and because they spread differently across living environments. Our recent study reveals that the COVID-19 crisis, which epitomizes such massive mortality shock on a worldwide scale, is not an outlier in this respect.

A few definitions

We analyse the impact of COVID-19 on mortality inequalities over the whole year 2020 in France, one of the most severely hit country in the world. We use comprehensive registered data, allowing us to study the evolution of mortality as well as the income level of each municipality of metropolitan France. Given the unreliability of public data on deaths attributed to COVID, we focus on excess mortality occurring in each municipality, defined as the deviation in 2020 all-cause mortality with respect to the average of 2019 and 2018. The link between poverty and morality related to the epidemic is thus analysed by comparing excess mortality between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ municipalities, where ‘poor’ is defined as belonging to the poorest 25% of municipalities (‘Q1’ hereafter).

Two waves that have affected more the poor municipalities 

Figure 1 below shows that, as in many European countries in 2020, France has been hit by two distinct waves that peaked in April (17,000 extra-deaths) and November (15,100 deaths), respectively. Each time, a lockdown was implemented at the national level to reduce the spread of the disease (March, 17 to May, 11 & October 30 to December 15). The first lockdown was the most stringent and has seemingly worked best to reduce casualties to COVID-19.

Figure 1: The figure represents the difference between the monthly number of deaths in 2020 and its average over 2019 and 2018 in France

Figure 2 shows the distribution of excess mortality across municipalities according to their income. Each month, the figure shows the average number of abnormal deaths that occurred since the beginning of the year in each group of municipalities (per 10k. inhabitants). While no specific pattern can be seen over the first three months of 2020, a marked difference between the two groups of municipalities appears in April (wave 1), that further grows as the second wave takes place (October-December). 

In-depth analyses tell us that excess mortality in poor municipalities was 30% larger than in non-poor municipalities in 2020 (2.6 more extra-deaths per 10k. inhabitants). Our research shows that this spread directly relates to COVID-19 and is not explained by differences in the geographical localisation, in the share of old-age inhabitants or in the life conditions under the lockdown between rich and poor municipalities.

Figure 2: The graph plots the cumulative sum of all excess deaths per 10,000 inhabitants from January 2020 for poor and non-poor municipalities in French urban areas.

The fact that the income gradient uncovered during the first wave is not compensated during the second wave, but rather reappears with regularity every time the epidemic returns must be emphasized. One can indeed show that the income gradient is the strongest in areas that got most affected by COVID-19 in 2020. If further epidemic waves occurred – and some signs suggest that it has already started in France as well as in several other countries – our result suggest that, once again, the poorest municipalities will suffer greater losses.

Worse housing conditions and higher exposure through employment

What are the main differences between poor and non-poor municipalities that explain the income gradient in Covid-19 mortality? Our analysis highlights the key mediating role of labour market and housing conditions, in line with the idea that local factors are important determinants of the spread of epidemics. More specifically, the larger share of essential workers and of overcrowding housing almost fully explain the income gradient in COVID-19 related mortality. Interestingly, labor-market exposure remains an important determinant of COVID-19 mortality across both waves, while the role of housing conditions decreases over time, probably because the second lockdown was less stringent. 

Our work shows that the current health crisis amplifies already existing socio-economic inequalities. It also suggests that public policies aiming at limiting its effects should primarily focus on the poorest municipalities, notably by protecting workers as much as possible in the short term and by improving housing conditions in the medium term.


References

Brandily, P., Brébion, C., Briole, S., & Khoury, L. (2021). “A Poorly Understood Disease? The Impact of COVID-19 on the Income Gradient in Mortality over the Course of the Pandemic” , Working Paper, n° 2020-44, Paris School of Economics.


About the Author

Clément Brébion joined CBS in September 2020 as a postdoctoral researcher.  He received his PhD in economics in November 2019 from the Paris School of Economics. His main research interests are labour economics, economics of education and industrial relations. He has a particular interest into comparative research. More recently, he started working on the EU H2020 project HECAT that aims at developing and piloting an ethical algorithm and platform for use by PES and jobseekers.

March for Gender #4: Leaving no one behind

By Maria Figueroa

◦ 3 min read 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

March for Gender #2: The Gendered Impact of Covid-19

By Maha Rafi Atal

◦ 5 min read

Most years, International Women’s Day is greeted by articles highlighting both progress made towards gender equality, and the distance still to close. 2021 is different. This year, organizations from the European Parliament to UN Women have instead drawn attention to how women have been pushed backwards – economically and politically – during the coronavirus. It has been “a disaster for feminism,”and a “great amplifier” which has exacerbated existing inequalities and unraveled tenuous gains. What does the research show?

First, the global economic contraction of the past year has disproportionately harmed women. In the United States alone, more than 2 million women have dropped out of the labor force altogether, a regression to 1988 participation levels, erasing a generation of gains. 

Globally, women account for 54% of jobs lost during the pandemic, even though they make up only 39% of the global formal workforce.

Women bore the brunt of job losses in 17 of the 24 member-states of the OECD in 2020, and in South Africa, a survey found that two-thirds of workers laid off or furloughed in the first wave of the pandemic were women.

In part, this is a reflection of the sectors women work in, such as travel, tourism, restaurants, and food production, which have been largely shut down over the past year.

Women are also more likely to be employed on precarious or zero-hours contracts within these sectors, which made them vulnerable to job cuts, or in informal roles which left them outside the reach of government income-support schemes.

Finally, 190 million women work in global supply chains, including garments and food processing, and these industries have contracted as buyers either withdrew orders from suppliers during the recession, or sought to re-shore production closer to home. Labor market dynamics also mean women who stayed in work are among the most exposed to contracting the virus itself. A majority – estimates range from 67 to 76 percent – of the global health care workforce are women.

Yet only one quarter of the gendered discrepancy in job losses can be explained by the sectors where women are employed. Far more significant is the burden of care labor, both paid and unpaid, which disproportionately falls on women in both developed and developing countries. 

Working mothers in the United Kingdom, for example, are 50% more likely than fathers to have either lost their jobs or quit in order to accommodate the responsibilities of caring for children with schools closed, with European women doing on average twice as much care labor as men during this period.

Over a million women in Japan left the job market in the first wave of the pandemic due to childcare needs at home, erasing tenuous progress the country had made towards workplace gender equality in the last decade. This unequal weight of the pandemic builds on pre-existing inequalities, as women are lower earners in many societies, meaning their jobs are considered a lower priority – by both employers and households – in times of crisis.

This economic crisis is not just a blow to women’s economic position, but to their political freedom. The “Local Diaries” podcast in India recounts the stories of women whose personal, political and sexual freedoms have evaporated as they have been locked down at home. As in pandemics past, covid-19 has seen a significant spike in domestic violence, femicide and other gender-bases violence in countries under lockdown. These include including developing countries like Nigeria, Argentina, Brazil, India, Pakistan, and China, and developed countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Sweden and Italy, a reminder that the home is not a safe place for many women. UN Women has referred to these spikes in violence as the “shadow pandemic.” 

Moreover, despite early warnings from international organizations and women’s rights advocates, many countries shut down or diverted resources away from reproductive health care during the pandemic, leading to a rise in maternal deaths, unsafe abortions and pregnancy-related deaths. Finally, lockdowns themselves – and the expansion of policing and military powers associated with their enforcement – can themselves pose a risk to women, as police forces can themselves be significant perpetrators of violence against women, and as governments take advantage of these powers to suppress political organizing, including feminist organizing, as seen recently in both the UK and Poland.

At the same time, in a punishing political environment, women and feminist organizations have been at the forefront of pandemic response. The Chilean feminist movement has released a useful guide for governments and employers for responding to the pandemic in a gender-just way, while the Indian Kudumbashree women’s collective organized grassroots community kitchens and takeaway restaurants to provide food and employment to women, especially migrant women, during the country’s shut down, and repurposed textile micro-enterprises, largely women-owned, for the manufacture of PPE.

Despite calls from international experts for governments to respond directly to the crisis facing women by keeping services for reproductive health or shelters for victims of gender-based violence open, targeting cash transfers to women in informal employment and providing for paid child care, UNDP reports that only 12% of governments have adopted adequate gender-sensitive measures in their pandemic response.

Meanwhile, employers who have disproportionately laid off women in the crisis now report that gender equity will take a backseat to restoring their financial sustainability as the pandemic ends. This is made more difficult by the fact that some governments, such as the UK, have suspended requirements for companies to report on their gender pay gap or comply with other equality requirements, as part of pandemic support.

In our own research on corporate responses to covid-19, we found brands advertising luxury fashion goods to women and presenting the pandemic lockdowns as a welcome relief from labor in which women could enjoy them, a regressive image that shows how women’s work is still seen as frivolous and extraneous.

This International Women’s Day, then, we must reflect not on what progress we have made or can make, but on how women, internationally, can recover what we have lost.


About the Author

Maha Rafi Atal is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Copenhagen Business School, where her research focuses on corporate power, corporate social responsibility and corporate influence in the media. She is a co- Investigator on the Commodifying Compassion research project. http://www.maha-rafi-atal.com


Photo by Giacomo Ferroni on Unsplash

Distraction and manipulation: the two horsemen of the digital economy

By Jan Michael Bauer

◦ 2 min read

Even before COVID, people have spent more and more time online. Particularly mobile devices have become a large part of our daily routines and for many there are few moments when the phone is not within direct reach. While studies have shown that even teenagers think they waste too much time online, surprisingly little is done to stop this trend. 

But how did we get here? Several dovetailing factors enabled this development and give me little hope that this trend will slow down any time soon. While technological advancements in mobile internet and device components were necessary conditions that allow for an easy and enjoyable interaction with platforms and services at all times and places, the real champions of compulsive internet use are social and data scientists driven by monetary incentives and unrestrained by a lack of proper ethics training. 

Despite the frequent regrets about the many hours wasted on the internet, people are struggling with self-regulation and apps, like “RescueTime”, with to sole purpose to block oneself from using other apps are becoming increasingly popular. 

While internet addiction has not been officially recognized as a disorder by the WHO, close parallels can be drawn to officially acknowledge gaming and gambling addictions. 

And this is certainly no coincidence as tech companies hire psychologists and designers to make their products and services as tempting as possible, frequently borrowing elements from the gambling industry. However, even though some tweaks based on the knowledge of capable social scientists will increase user engagement, much more can be learned about consumer behavior and how to manipulate it through the application of the scientific method itself. The use of experimentation, collection of big user data and application of machine learning algorithms are the big guns in the fight for user attention and their money.  

All these efforts are used to make social media more “engaging” but ultimately sales and advertising campaigns more effective. To do so, user interfaces and features are explicitly designed to grab attention and contain what has been termed as “dark patterns”. Design elements that often tap into the subconscious decision-making processes and therefore manipulate user through purposefully curated interfaces. While such practices benefit the company, they can have detrimental effects on individuals and society as a whole. 

We know that individual choices reflect individual preferences only under certain conditions, including the absence of deceptive choice architecture or marketing messages. Hence, I can’t stop wondering about the opportunity costs and side-effects of these miraculous little devices in our pockets that have grown into an ugly hybrid between a snake oil salesman and one-armed bandit. 

We have free markets based on the belief that they create value for society and make people better off by efficiently satisfying their needs. The recent U.S. opioid scandal has shown that for some products, sellers’ profits might not be positively related to consumer value. It certainly gives me pause that the best offline equivalent to the “RescueTime” App is probably the Betty Ford Clinic.

We are faced with many pressing issues that would require our full attention, while people are increasingly plagued by credit card debt, the planet is suffering from overconsumption and we spent 30,000 years alone, watching Gangnam Style on YouTube. 

Regarding the larger point that any efforts against these trends would hurt innovation, jobs and growth; let us take one step back and point out that the Western world has made it an imperative to ensure individual property rights and outlaw the use of violence with the explicit goal to increase investment and productivity. People can just do more good stuff, when they do not have to spend time protecting their property and family. Given our current technology and knowledge from the behavioral sciences, I think we have seen enough and should start treating distraction and manipulation as similar threads to human flourishing. 

So, what could we do? In the short run, we need to find ways to reduce the stream of big data feeding these efforts, force these practices out in the open and raise awareness about their use and effects, and find effective regulation to limit manipulation efforts in a dynamic attention economy. In the long run, we probably need to go beyond those patches as these issues not only hurt individual lives and careers but also the fabric of our democracy. 


Further reading

We recently published a paper showing how users can be manipulated through dark patterns to provide more data:

J. M. Bauer, R. Bergstrøm, R. Foss-Madsen (2021) – Are you sure, you want a cookie? – The effects of choice architecture on users’ decisions about sharing private online data, Computers in Human Behavior.


About the Author

Jan Michael Bauer is Associate Professor at Copenhagen Business School and part of the Consumer & Behavioural Insights Group at CBS Sustainability. His research interests are in the fields of sustainability, consumer behavior and decision-making.


Source: photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

March for Gender #1: How a feminist collective took on a media giant to challenge everyday sexism

By Sarah Glozer & Lauren McCarthy

◦ 4 min read

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

Here Sarah Glozer and Lauren McCarthy present their latest research into the activities of the feminist group ‘No More Page 3’. They explain why online activists should take a step back for campaigning in order to maintain the energy needed to affect change. This piece was originally published in The Conversation.

The daily image of a topless woman on page three of the Sun newspaper was considered by some to be a “British institution”. Yet it was also increasingly seen as a relic of institutionalised sexism in the media and society.

Then in 2015, nearly 50 years after it was first introduced, the feature was quietly removed from the publication. This decision was credited, in part, to the online campaign efforts of the “No More Page 3” (NMP3) movement, which gained the support of 140 members of parliament and numerous charities, including Women’s Aid and Girlguiding. It also attracted more than 240,000 petition signatures.

The campaign, which helped to force change at one of the UK’s most popular and powerful media companies, was widely acclaimed, described by one MP as a “seismic victory”. Activist Katherine Sladden wrote, “No other campaign has done as much to inspire a new generation of young feminists,” adding that it “became the gateway for women finding the courage to speak out on issues they care about”.

But beneath this success story lies a complex tale of how emotional energy sustained the NMP3 campaigners through personal and painful trolling.

Our research into the campaign reveals how supporters were met with online abuse on a daily basis. They regularly encountered rape and death threats aimed at themselves and their families. Campaign founder Lucy-Anne Holmes has told how she suffered an “overwhelming feeling of helplessness” and “burnout”, recalling:

It was terrifying. I was spent: financially, emotionally, creatively. Just going on Twitter with all of those voices coming at me would bring on a panic attack. I felt like I was being strangled by invisible hands.

Her experience was far from unique. For while the liberating potential of social media to mobilise collective action is widely valued, the toxic climate many experience on social media is all too familiar, and can lead to stress, anxiety and depression.

Yet the relentless online abuse aimed at the NMP3 campaigners – who deliberately tried to engage with their opponents through reasoned and polite posts – was tempered by messages of encouragement, both from each other and from supporters of their cause.

This complex interplay of positive and negative emotions led us to dig deeper into the campaigners’ survival story, and investigate the powerful techniques which kept them going in the face of such overwhelming adversity.

One important element was the underlying sense of solidarity which became a powerful force in helping the campaigners to recharge and replenish, sustaining momentum through emotional highs and lows. Faced with trolling and harassment, many campaigners felt energised simply by being online with other women with shared experiences. This feeling of alignment with others created a valuable store of emotional energy.

As one campaigner told us: “It wasn’t just a campaign … it was a space where we could go and feel completely confident, we could share anything with each other, and work out what we thought about things.”

Stepping back to move forward

Interestingly, this solidarity led to the coordinated and tactical use of a relay system adopted by the team. An exhausted campaigner wrestling with a hostile social media thread would “pass the baton” on to a colleague via a system of online messaging or “tagging” across platforms.

This system became a vital part of keeping the campaign’s momentum at times when some members felt the need to retreat from the front line. There was time and space for activists to step away from their screens, to disengage with the onslaught of social media.

Usually temporary, these moments of stepping away were deliberate and empowering – they offered protection. And in preserving individual wellbeing, they also ensured the continuation of the campaign.

Retreating, far from being seen as a form of weakness or defeat, was supported by the campaigners. It was a strategy which allowed for recovery of emotional energy and healing and, crucially, it rejuvenated the campaigners to return to campaigning.

A genuine connection to the roots of the campaign was also something that sustained the (mostly female) volunteers. They drew on their aligned personal experiences, often reminiscing about teenage shame they experienced related to their bodies or of later episodes of sexual harassment. The emotions related to these experiences meant the campaigners didn’t just “think” shame or anger, they felt it deeply.

One explained to us: “The feminist stuff still remains the thing that really lights me up.” She continued: “I feel it’s personal, it’s maternal, because I have a daughter, and a son who’s affected by toxic masculinity. It’s in my experience of abuse in relationship. I’m angry about it and passionate about it because it’s personal to me and people that I love.”

Another said: “Standing up for what is right is enough to make your legs go weak, your voice grow hoarse, and your hands shake with rage.”

Six years on from the NMP3 victory, more action is needed to fight inequality in both our online and offline worlds – there is still plenty to campaign for. Digital platforms certainly need to better police social media channels which continue to tolerate and excuse trolling and hate speech, particularly that directed towards women.

But we should be encouraged by NMP3’s story of grassroots collective strength, and its journey to success. And we should also consider the lessons it provides about activism and the common advice for women to always “lean in”. Sometimes, it seems, it’s better to simply retreat, replenish and come back stronger.


About the Authors

Dr Sarah Glozer is Associate Professor in Marketing and Society in the School of Management at the University of Bath. She obtained her PhD from the International Centre of Corporate Social Responsibility (ICCSR) at Nottingham University Business School. Sarah has also held a number of industry positions, such as Global Sustainability Manager at Cadbury Plc, UK. She is also Deputy Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society (CBOS). Sarah researches and teaches on topics including corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication, digital marketing and ethical markets / consumption.

Dr Lauren McCarthy is Co-Director of the Centre for Research into Sustainability (CRIS) and a Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies and Sustainability at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research explores in what ways business can contribute to gender equality, with a focus on global supply chains. Lauren’s research has covered cocoa production in Ghana, cotton farming in India, and most recently, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on women garment workers in Cambodia. Equally, her research has explored how feminist social movements interact with business and CSR, particularly through the use of social media.


Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

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

By Verena Girschik

◦ 2 min read ◦

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

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

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

Overcoming the legitimacy barrier through relational work

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

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

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

For better or worse?

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


Reference

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


About the authors

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


Source: photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Who really cares about the SDGs when it comes to nobody’s responsibility?

By Suhyon Oh

◦ 2 min read ◦

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the common goals of global development as we all agreed. Since its endorsement in 2015, it has become the norm. Multilateral corporations, aid agencies, development finance institutions and international organizations all refer to one or two Sustainable Development Goals (as their priorities) to legitimize environmental and social impact of their business activities. (I must confess here that I was also one of them). However, what are the actual changes in practices? Does it merely work as one other additional reference to our work? Otherwise, does it provoke transformational changes in our business strategies and practices for sustainability? Ironically, the Sustainable Development Goals are at once too sophisticated and too vague to do so.

The complexity of the goal structure should not be an excuse.  

The development process of SDGs has been grounded based on lessons learnt from the Millennium Development Goals. Because the MDGs excessively focus on the social aspect of development, the SDGs embrace economic, social, and environmental aspects. This led the number of goals to increase from 8 to 17. In relation to the goals, 169 target goals and 231 indicators have been developed to track the progress of 17 goals (In comparison, the MDGs only have 21 target goals and 60 indicators). These vast numbers intend to strengthen progress monitoring and enhance result management; however, such complexity seems problematic to fulfil the initial purpose. Some indicator selection processes are still under the technical review process after five years of SDGs have once passed and almost half of the indicators (106 out of 231) contain technical difficulties producing data on a regular basis to track the progress. I know that measuring the fulfillment of the whole massive SDGs is complex and may not be an easy task. However, when it comes to wrestling with such a giant, the sophisticated skill set (here, seeking clear target goals and indicators) would be a winning strategy rather than hurdles. Thus, how should we deal with the giant?  

 We have to consider which specific target goals and indicators are aligned with my actions if you have a will to achieve the SDGs. Simply stating one of the goals does not track your achievement. Each goal cannot be even drawn in parallel rather they are all interlinked.

Universality matters, but not everyone is in the same boat. 

We know why the SDGs have a principle of “No one left behind” across all the goals. This principle is again a result of lessons from the MDGs, which were criticized for the fact that they did not consider inequality and vulnerable groups in a development process. So that, this core principle is embedded into seventeen goals with the terms “inclusive”, “for everyone”, “for all” regardless of the developmental stage of their nations. Then, how can we make sure this would go far beyond the rhetoric?

We need extreme caution here. Do we have enough knowledge on those who are left behind? To move forward beyond the rhetoric, we need to unpack the word ‘everyone’. Even though ‘universality’ is an essential principle, we have to find out ‘who is left behind’ in every different context to make them not left behind, rather than concealing those excluded people under the name of “for everyone”.

Let’s see microfinance. It was expected as a universal means to reduce poverty and inequality since it provides a way of financial inclusion to those previously excluded to access credit. However, many research findings demonstrate that a particular type of “financial inclusion” which is embedded into microfinance cannot solve the marginalized groups’ economic challenges by itself. Without complementary social support, it was not enough to empower the poor, and even sometimes it resulted in an exacerbating situation for the people. I think this tells us the importance of deeper understanding of the poor, thus the need for a carefully targeted approach for impact. 

In brief, working for “everyone” requires additional attention and effort. Whose reality should count first? How could we guide us to hold clear accountability to turn the “No one behind” catchphrase into concrete actions? I believe one of the roles of research on the SGDs should be founded here.

SDGs as a norm: it should be embedded into everyone’s everyday life. 

Unlike the age of the MDGs, the SDGs involve a variety of actors such as private sectors and civil societies, who were not officially a part of the MDG process. Various stakeholders can create synergy through cooperation, but the responsibility to fulfil the SDGs become vague. According to Jurkovich (2019), three essential elements are needed to become a norm: “a moral sense of “oughtness”; a defined actor “of a given identity”; a specific behaviour or action expected of that given actor”. The SDGs as a global norm neither identify relevant actors for each specific goal and indicator nor have a compliance mechanism.

Sadly, the SDGs do not assign the responsibilities to anybody and the technical difficulty to monitor them also implies oughtness can be weakened. Frankly speaking, we officially have no obligation to contribute to the SDGs. 

Despite its non-obligatory identity, I strongly believe that most of us have a willingness to dedicate to the SDGs. Although we all understand its complexity of monitoring, ambiguity of target people and non-compliance mechanisms. I urge you as an individual, a scholar or a member of the whole global development community to carefully consider what goals/target goals/indicators and for whom I can contribute with a strong responsibility. Otherwise, the SDGs risk losing its political power and may be on track to decay its status as the norm before its completion in 2030.


About the Author

Suhyon Oh is a PhD fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School, and has over ten years of professional experience working with the donor agency, international organizations, development consultancy, NGOs as well as private sectors. As an international development expert, she has worked with the projects on development finance, financial inclusion and global value chain development, etc. Her current research interest is development finance institutions, impact investing funds in developing countries, hybrid organization strategy and strategy as practice.  

Do we need to sacrifice to mitigate climate change?

By Laura Krumm

3 min read

It is not news anymore that a change of consumer behavior is needed in order to have a chance at mitigating climate change. Almost every consumer action today can be quantified in terms of environmental impact. We know that we should opt for the tofu sticks instead of the steak at our neighbor’s barbeque, and we know that we should avoid the all-inclusive vacation to the Caribbean and take a cozy camping trip at Denmark’s beaches instead. What we don’t know is what those behavior changes mean for consumers. What are the consequences for our individual quality of life and well-being?

Self-sacrificing for the planet

The expectation does not seem to be very satisfying. Most of us have heard the word “sacrifice” in the context of environmentally friendly behavior before. The message we receive from climate activists, journalists and researchers is very clear:

We need to change our behavior today to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change tomorrow. We need to change our behavior for our children, the animals, other people in other countries, or our own future lives – even if we don’t want to.

We are expected to change our behavior for the greater good, while our own desires have to wait in line [1, 2].

This sacrifice narrative cannot only be found in climate change communication but also in consumers’ minds: When investigating what was hindering consumers to act environmentally friendly when they generally value the environment, the expectation of sacrifice and lowered quality of life was found to be one important factor [3]. Consumers seem to equate environmentally friendly behavior with a loss in quality of life and comfort. This anticipation, among others, prevents them from changing their behaviors and joining in the efforts of mitigating climate change.

Why is this important?

While altruistic motivation – driving us to self-sacrifice for the greater good – is positively related to environmental behavior [4], it can only get us so far. Another main driver of our actions is egoistic motivation. And as it seems, behaving more environmentally friendly is not perceived as a particularly egoistic action. While there sure are people with very strong altruistic motivation who enjoy behaving in a morally right way, many people are egoistic some or most of the time.

If the perspective of an environmentally friendly life is a bleak one, environmental engagement will be limited.

This is not only relevant for individual consumer behavior and environmental engagement, but also for policy and activism. When an environmentally friendly life seems bleak and uncomfortable to many people, it will be a difficult task to get them on board. Why would I support or vote for somebody who wants my life to become worse right now as a tradeoff for a potentially less catastrophic future?

Aside from elections, citizens who equate environmentally friendly behavior with sacrifice and lower well-being may also have lower acceptance of necessary policy interventions aimed at mitigating climate change. Consequently, the necessary change towards more environmentally friendly consumption will be hard to realize without considering its effects on well-being.

Does it have to be sacrifice?

Is it even true that environmentally friendly consumption can be equated with sacrifice, discomfort and a bleak existence?

Contrary to what the public opinion seems to believe, the relationship between well-being and environmentally friendly (or unfriendly) behavior is empirically not yet clear.

Some correlational studies even suggest the opposite: a positive relationship between environmentally friendly behavior and well-being [e.g., 5, 6]. These studies find that people who behave environmentally friendly are more satisfied with their lives. We cannot infer any causality of course – but these findings at least challenge the sacrifice assumption. This means that there may be a discrepancy between consumers’ expectations and the reality of behavior change. The sacrifice assumption might therefore not only be unhelpful in engaging consumers to behave differently, it may even be completely untrue.

What does that mean for us environmental researchers? We need to explore why consumers expect negative consequences of environmental behavior change and how to change that. We need to understand what these negative expectations are exactly. We need to take consumer well-being seriously and keep it in mind when designing behavior change policies and initiatives. And we need to rethink how we communicate about environmental behavior change and climate change mitigation.


References

[1] Kaplan, S., 2000 – Human Nature and Environmentally Responsible Behavior, in: Journal of Social Issues, 56 (3), 491-508.

[2] Prinzing, M., 2020 – Going green is good for you: Why we need to change the way we think about pro-environmental behaviour, in: Ethics, Policy & Environment, 1-18.

[3] Lorenzoni I., Nicholson-Cole, S. and Whitmarsh, L., 2007 – Barriers perceived to engaging with climate change among the UK public and their policy implications, in: Global Environmental Change, 17, 445-459.

[4] De Groot, J.I.M. and Steg, L., 2008 – Value orientations to explain beliefs related to environmental significant behavior, in: Environment and Behavior, 40 (3), 330-354.

[5] Binder, M. and Blankenberg, A., 2017 – Green lifestyles and subjective well-being: More about self-image than actual behavior?, in: Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 137, 304-323.

[6] Brown, K. W. and Kasser, T., 2005 – Are psychological and ecological well-being compatible? The role of values, mindfulness, and lifestyle, in: Social Indicators Research, 74, 349-368.


About the Author

Laura Krumm is a PhD fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication and a member of the Consumer & Behavioural Insights Group. In her PhD project she explores the intersection of environmental consumer behavior and well-being.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Marching toward the end of enlightenment?

How management and organization scholarship can help explain new forms of anti-enlightenment organizing

By Dennis Schoeneborn

In the scholarly field of management and organization studies, which is traditionally primarily concerned with business firms and their performance, we can lately observe an increasing attention toward addressing some of the most pressing societal challenges of our times, such as climate change, pandemics, inequalities, etc. (see George et al., 2016). At the same time, one of the most striking societal challenges has found comparably little attention by management and organizational scholarship up until today: the rise of anti-enlightenment movements and the potentially corroding effects they have for democratic societies.

The rioters’ march on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021 has showcased in painstaking ways how democracies can be endangered through social movements that center around anti-enlightenment and “post-truth” sentiments, incl. conspiracy theories, “alternative facts”, or other negations of scientific reason (for an overview, see Farkas & Schou, 2020). In the same context, the question arises how the scholarly field of management and organization studies can help address and explain the emergence of such anti-enlightenment movements and how they organize themselves.

To study the phenomenon of anti-enlightenment movements (i.e. coordinated agitation against scientific reason and facts, democratic values, or the rule of law), I suggest three research areas in organizational scholarship are of particular relevance and that each (in one way or another) cross-connect to the neighboring field of media and communication studies: 

(1) Explaining organizational emergence and dissolution

First, management and organization scholarship can explore questions of organizational emergence and design. This may involve questions like: To what extent can new forms of anti-enlightenment organizing (e.g., conspiracy theorists like QAnon or science denialists like the anti-vaxx movement) be explained with existing organizational theories – or to what extent are novel theoretical vocabularies needed to account for these phenomena? Also, how can anti-enlightenment forms of organizing be dissolved or “deconstituted” (cf. Bean & Buikema, 2015)? For example, how to counter and delegitimize anti-enlightenment ideologies in the public debate, if they are based on entirely different language games (Knight & Tsoukas, 2019), where the same signifier may have completely different meanings (e.g., truth is what is factually right vs. truth is when it serves my own interests)?

(2) Studying transformations of how the public discourse is organized

Second, management and organization scholarship can explore transformations of how the public discourse is organized. For instance, how did the media landscape change, especially through the rise of digital media, and how do these changes affect the possibilities of deliberative dialog and public will formation in democratic societies (Bennett & Livingston, 2018). In a similar vein, organizational scholars have critically addressed the spread of “fake news”, incl. the erosion of “the public” into multiple fragmented “publics” that gather info by-and-large from within their own filter bubbles and echo chambers (see also Knight & Tsoukas, 2019; Foroughi et al., 2019). Furthermore, in the same context, the question arises how to “detox” an increasingly polarized public discourse (Ward, 2019)?

(3) Exploring socio-technological conditions of “organized immaturity”

Third, management and organization scholarship can explore the underlying socio-technological conditions under which anti-enlightenment movements tend to emerge. For instance, in a recent working paper, Scherer and Neesham (2020) propose the term “organized immaturity” (which alludes to the notion of immaturity or Unmündigkeit in Immanuel Kant’s theory of enlightenment). As the authors hypothesize, individuals’ delegation of decision-making to socio-technological systems (such as algorithmic filtering of content in social media) tends to lead over time to an “erosion of the individual’s capacity for public use of reason” (p. 4; version from Dec. 22, 2020). Put this way, the concept may also help explain some of the root causes of what observers of the Capitol Hill events termed the “spoilt child version of America – so ‘free’ [that] it ignored the truths, laws and decency that actually enabled that freedom” (Paton Walsh, 2020).

To conclude, while we can find some first and important steps in the direction of exploring anti-enlightenment movements, further research in this direction is urgently needed, also as a chance to demonstrate management and organization scholarship’s ability to address (and potentially help solve) large-scale societal problems. In the same context, a recent Call for Papers by the journal Business Ethics Quarterly (Scherer et al., in preparation) invites for scholarly submissions that address the socio-technological conditions of “organized immaturity” and neighboring phenomena.


References

Bean, H., & Buikema, R. J. (2015). Deconstituting al-Qa’ida: CCO theory and the decline and dissolution of hidden organizationsManagement Communication Quarterly29(4), 512-538.

Bennett, W. L., & Livingston, S. (2018). The disinformation order: Disruptive communication and the decline of democratic institutionsEuropean Journal of Communication, 33(2), 122-139.

Farkas, J., & Schou, J. (2019). Post-truth, fake news and democracy: Mapping the politics of falsehood. New York: Routledge.

Foroughi, H., Gabriel, Y., & Fotaki, M. (2019). Leadership in a post-truth era: A new narrative disorder? Leadership15(2), 135-151.

George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. (2016). Understanding and tackling societal grand challenges through management researchAcademy of Management Journal59(6), 1880-1895.

Knight, E., & Tsoukas, H. (2019). When Fiction Trumps Truth: What ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ mean for management studies. Organization Studies40(2), 183-197.

Paton Walsh. E. (2020, Jan. 8). America was lucky to be saved by its democracy – even if some don’t realize itCNN.com.

Scherer, A. G., & Neesham, C. (2020). New challenges to enlightenment: Why socio-technological conditions lead to organized immaturity and what to do about it. Working Paper (version from Dec,, 22, 2020).

Scherer, A. G., Neesham, C., Schoeneborn, D., & Scholz, M. (in preparation). Socio-technological conditions of organized immaturity in the 21st century. Special issue in preparation for Business Ethics Quarterly (submission deadline: 31/05/2021).

Ward, S. J. A. (2019). Ethical journalism in a populist age: The democratically engaged journalist. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.


About the Author

Dennis Schoeneborn is Professor of Organization, Communication, and CSR at Copenhagen Business School and Visiting Professor of Organization Studies at Leuphana University of Lüneburg. In his research, he mainly focuses on organization theory, organizational communication, digital media and communication, corporate social responsibility and sustainability, as well as new forms of organizing.


Photo from Unsplash

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

By Kirsti Reitan Andersen and members of the Artsformation consortium 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Further Reading


About the Author

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


Photo by Stan Narten and Otto Saxinger, SOMEONE.

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

By Efthymios Altsitsiadis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Findings of our study

What we found confirmed many of our initial thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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


References

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


About the Author

Assistant Prof. Efthymios Altsitsiadis, PhD is a behavioural economist with a mind for interdisciplinary research. A user-centricity enthusiast, Efthymios is set to help provide evidence-based answers to some of the most persistent and evasive behavioural questions in a variety of areas like sustainability, health, energy and mobility. He is currently teaching Machine Learning and Digital Behaviour at CBS. He conducts research in collaborative production and circular economy, in advanced technological agents (smart apps, avatars, chat-bot services) and has worked as a social scientist in several cross-disciplinary research projects.

Sustainable livelihoods? The informal sector beyond Covid-19

By Søren Jeppesen

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

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

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

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

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

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


References:

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

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

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


About the Author

Søren Jeppesen is Associate Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research concerns the development of firms in developing countries. He focuses on SMEs, CSR and driving forces (or lack of same) for strategies of SMEs in developing countries in engaging in CSR (or not engaging).


Photo by The Ian on Unsplash

Sustainability claims: In what sense are they performative?

By Lars Thøger Christensen

The number of products advertised as “green” or climate neutral has exploded in recent years, according to several newspaper articles. Should we be alarmed? To some extent, yes. In addition to cases of blatant fraud and manipulation, there is reason to be concerned when a plethora of green labels for products – ranging from milk over burgers to gasoline – competes for attention, especially when the variety confuses understandings of what it means to be sustainable.

Moreover, since carbon offset programs tend to obscure the fact that neither air travel nor fashion clothing is or can be CO2 neutral, the need to question and test green advertising claims is more pressing than ever. It is therefore commendable that politicians and NGOs in some countries call for more control with corporations that claim to market green or CO2 neutral products. 

The growth in green advertising claims attracts increased scrutiny, regulation and control.

At the same time, the expansion in green advertising claims illustrates the growing social, political and economic premium put on sustainability. Even if many such claims are superficial and hypocritical, their combined existence is performative beyond what individual corporations, NGOs and regulators can imagine and control. 

When all social actors express the significance of sustainability, something has changed.

Scholars of communication often emphasize that communication is constitutive of organizational and social reality. Communication, in their view, is performative because it does something more than simply describe a preexisting reality. Yet, in what sense does this logic apply to issues of climate change and the broader sustainability arena? 

To what extent has communication performative potential in the sustainability arena?

Critics of the performative view on communication view argue that green messages often fail to change anything, either because the senders are insincere or because larger social forces, such as profit motives or efficiency demands, override any talk about sustainability. The power of sustainability communication to shape organizational practices is therefore often described as naïve or overly optimistic. These are important objections to the performativity perspective. Yet, communication still plays a significant role in instigating better practices.

The articulation of sustainability ideals is often “the leading incident” in its performance (Austin, 1962, p. 8).

It is certainly true that sustainability communication is insufficient in and of itself to ensure more sustainable practices. Some sustainability claims may even prevent organizations from moving in the right direction. Nonetheless, communication about sustainability is an important dimension of sustainable action. Without a communicative engagement of major corporations with the values and ideals of sustainability, changes in that arena are likely to be significantly slower. 

Interestingly, critique and control of sustainability claims may help such claims to perform.

Talk about sustainability and green products tend to attract attention of critical stakeholders and increase internal and external pressure to walk the talk. Bold statements combined with public exposure and critique are important dimensions of what we might call the performativity “cocktail”. Green advertising claims and public statements about CO2 neutrality can be used to apply pressure on corporations and remind them of their promises. If major corporations, out of fear of attracting negative stakeholder attention, decide to remain silent on the sustainability issue, critics and regulators have less material to work with. In other words, a willingness on the part of corporations to expose themselves to critique is key.

Communicative performativity in the sustainability arena is a macro phenomenon.

Obviously, an organization does not become sustainable by simply “talking green”. In fact, it is a mistake to think of performativity – especially in complex areas such as sustainability – as a result of discrete and isolated organizational messages or claims. It doesn’t work that way. Even with the best intentions, green talk takes considerable time and effort to materialize into more sustainable practices. Moreover, it is rarely an organizational effect. Performativity is an outcome of multiple claims that are repeated and reformulated again and again over time and across multiple organizations, public as well as private. The sedimented effect of such dynamic interaction that lead to what Butler (2010) calls “socially binding consequences” (p. 147).

The performativity of sustainability claims should be understood as sedimented effects of multiple claims and understandings. 

The communicative performativity of sustainability claims involve reactions of stakeholders, competitors, legislators and consumers who are variously affected, inspired or provoked by the claims to expect and demand better practices. Still, there is no guarantee that the claims will stimulate significant changes. That, of course, is true for all types of messages. Messages and claims can be ignored, forgotten or outright contradicted by subsequent claims or other types of action. Without the claims, however, society and the physical environment is likely to be worse off. The trick is to use them actively to remind the senders of their social and environmental responsibilities. 


Further readings

Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Butler, J. (2010). Performative agencyJournal of Cultural Economy, 3(2), 147-161.

Christensen, L. T., Morsing, M., & Thyssen, O. (2020). Talk-action dynamics: Modalities of aspirational talk. Organization Studies

Fleming, P., & Banerjee, S. B. (2016). When performativity fails: Implications for Critical Management StudiesHuman Relations, 69(2), 257-276.


About the Author

Lars Thøger Christensen is Professor of Communication and Organization at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. 


Photo by Helena Hertz on Unsplash

Polarization and polarized opinions – that only happens to other people, right?

By Daniel Lundgaard

Recent developments in politics, especially during the American election, but also within the Danish system, has inspired a lot of talk about how social media is breeding polarization and radicalized opinions. However, from my experience, polarization is often seen as something that only happens to “those people” – often those of opposing views, and as a result, we often fail to recognize that we ourselves might fall victim to the issue of polarization. 

So, with this blog I hope to encourage you to think about how this could be happening to you – and maybe also help you recognize it when it is happening for “those people”, because polarization is a growing problem in our society. 

What is it?

Polarization – it refers to the division of people or opinions into opposing groups, and while it has been discussed since the 1800s, it has gotten much worse with the emergence of social media.

This is especially seen with regards to politics, in particular in countries with two-party systems, but research suggests that there is also significant levels of political polarization in countries with plurality electoral rule (Urman 2020). Importantly, polarization also extends beyond the political system, and it is a growing issue within society, and this is not just about Apple vs Android or Pc vs Mac, this is happening within both the climate change and the anti-vaccine debate, and it is sowing conflict and stopping us from collectively working to solve global challenges. 

How does it emerge? 

Often when I hear people talking about this topic, they talk about how certain groups of people (rarely themselves) manage to seclude themselves from opposing views. This is what is called selective exposure, and it refers to how certain people only pick news and information that align with their views.

This often leads to the growth of the so-called “echo chambers”, where the same opinions are echoed back to you again and again – eventually reinforcing current views and potentially leading to more radicalized opinions. 

Of course, a lot of you are actively seeking out opposing opinions, and might therefore not see polarization as an issue for you. However, there are some problems with only seeing polarization as something that emerge when people seclude themselves from opposing views, in particular two things are in my opinion overlooked: 

  1. Exposure to opposing views has actually been found to increase polarization (Bail et al. 2018). This means that just because you might be aware of the trap of selective exposure, and actively seek out opposing opinions you might not avoid the issue of polarization. 
  2. Polarization is not just a product of the news sources you are exposed to – but just as much, a result of the people you surround yourself with. This tendency for us to surround ourselves with like-minded others is often referred to as homophily

Homophily, is, from my experience, often overlooked in conversations about polarization, and that’s a mistake, because as humans we all tend to engage with and follow people that are interested in the same things. We watch YouTube videos about things that we are interested in, and we follow people on Twitter and Facebook that are similar to us – just take a look at who you follow on Twitter and I suspect that most are either from within your profession or share your world-views. Importantly, you also need to remember, that this behavior is further amplified by the social media platforms that are built to cultivate this, to consume as much of our time as possible and to ensure that we keep using the platform. So just by using these platforms, you might fall victim to increased polarization. 

Why is it a problem? 

Throughout history the idea of a “good” debate has always emphasized the importance of diversity – and not only that you are exposed to different views, but also that you listen to people with opposing views. However, when you mainly listen to opinions and information shared by linked-minded others, or information confirming your current views, we end up with the echo chambers, where you constantly are exposed to “echoes” of the same opinions. This is highly problematic, because not only does it stop people from developing their current views, it can also lead to more radicalized opinions. 

One example from my own research is from my analysis of climate deniers that often discuss the issue of climate change within more polarized communities. However, while some of these are willing to engage in debates about the issue, others fall victim to the same stories being echoed over and over again. In one of the more extreme cases I have seen how a group of people are arguing that climate change is happening because of a giant red dragon flying around our solar system, hiding behind a second sun. And while I am skeptical about their “evidence”, which includes badly photo shopped images or optical illusions, I also see that others, because it is shared by like-minded others, accepts the “proof” and how it reinforces their belief in the narrative. 

What’s next?

Naturally, I am not saying that any of you believe in a giant red dragon flying around our solar system causing climate change by spitting fireballs, but every time I have investigated an echo chamber, I see that they are certain that they are in the right, and that the other side is being brainwashed. Of course, the fact that a smaller group of people believe this theory might not be a problem in itself, but as we have seen time and time again, radicalized ideas seeps into the general debate, such as Mark Zuckerberg being a robot or in the Pizzagate-case that was covered previously on this blog. I just hope, that with this blog I have inspired you to be aware of the growing polarization in society, to think about how you might experience polarization in your everyday life, and reminded you that it is about more than excluding yourself from opposing views, because polarization and radicalization is a growing issue that goes well beyond politics. 


About the Author

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


Photo by Andrew Shiau on Unsplash

Insecure work: rethinking precarity through Kenya’s tea plantations

By Hannah Elliott

Over the last decade, the term ‘precarity’ has become ubiquitous in studies of work and labor, as jobs are increasingly characterized by temporary and insecure contracts; lack of basic welfare provisions such as paid leave; and low pay. The informalization of work has gained pace in a post-Fordist world. And we can expect to see more precarity. The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing employers the world over to think of new ways to reduce labor costs as economies flounder.

Anthropologist of work Kathleen Millar has argued that we need to be careful about how we think about ‘precarity’ when we talk about insecure work. The term can inadvertently “smuggle in a conservative politics”, valorizing and romanticizing a Fordist past of full-time wage labor. This employment past is not universal. In the majority of the world, economies have historically been characterized by informality. Here, formal secure work has been more of an idea, a promise tied up in teleological ideals of modernization and development, than a reality. Furthermore, in former settler colonies such as Kenya and South Africa, formal wage employment has roots in colonial capitalism, coercion and exploitation.  

I’ve been thinking about precarity through the case of changing employment conditions on Kenyan tea plantations, where I’ve been researching the production of certified sustainable tea as part of the SUSTEIN project. I carried out my latest fieldwork between January and March this year, right up until the majority of European countries went into lockdown. A few weeks later, Kenya followed suit. In Kericho, the heart of Kenya’s tea production and where I spent most of my stay, there was little sense that the world was on the brink of an impending global pandemic, let alone reflection on what that could mean for the tea industry. And yet, in conversations with diverse actors in the sector, there was a shared narrative that the industry, responsible for one of Kenya’s biggest export commodities and foreign exchange earners, was struggling.

Enduring low prices of tea on the global market and rising costs of production have led multinational companies owning large tea plantations to look for ways to cut labor costs.

Tea is a labor intensive crop, and companies have historically depended on large resident workforces to pluck tea, plant and prune tea bushes and operate factories, among a multitude of other tasks required to maintain vast tea plantations. Biannual collective bargaining agreements led by the workers’ union have seen wages increase at a rate companies say is unsustainable for business. Citing high wages relative to other agricultural sectors in Kenya and the additional costs of employee benefits such as free housing and water, payment of retirement funds, and contributions to health insurance, along with the costs of maintaining infrastructures used by workers and their dependents such as schools and dispensaries, companies argue for the need to reduce labor forces.

The gradual reduction of company-employed low-level or ‘general’ workers has been taking place through parallel processes of mechanizing tea harvesting and outsourcing tasks outside of companies’ core activities of tea harvesting and factory processing. While workers carrying out core tasks continue to be employed directly by the company, thus receiving a union-negotiated wage and the package of employment privileges described above, outsourced workers are hired on insecure terms by external service providers who hold contracts with tea plantation companies. Outsourced workers are typically employed on short contracts, sometimes for as little as a few days. This renders them ineligible for union membership, and most earn less than half the daily salary of a company employee. If they are unable to work due to sickness, they will not be paid. The contractors who employ them are required by the company to make deductions from their salaries to national health insurance and social security schemes, but low wages and short-term employment mean that contributions are meagre.

Kenya has a large work-seeking population, and people are prepared to take outsourced jobs because of few employment opportunities.

In spite of the striking unsustainability of labor outsourcing for these workers, international sustainability standards say surprisingly little about this category and establish few mechanisms to safeguard them.

In the context of decreasing opportunities for employment in permanent company jobs on tea plantations, current and former workers talk with nostalgia about a time when company jobs and their related securities were a plenty. This nostalgia echoes the valorization of stable, full-time wage labor that Millar identifies as lurking in the notion of precarity. But, without dismissing workers’ nostalgia, we should be careful not to romanticize plantation jobs of the past which were, in spite of their securities relative to outsourced work, inherently precarious.

During the early twentieth century, the colonial administration sought to disrupt and undermine subsistence economies so that people would be forced to seek work on infrastructure projects and in settler industry and agriculture, including tea plantations. For decades, the industry struggled with labor shortage which undermined its growth and expansion. During the 1940s and 50s, efforts were made to create permanent resident labor forces through welfare provisions such as housing, kitchen gardens and retirement funds. Yet workers could never own the houses they lived in, nor the land they were given to cultivate, which remained the property of the company.

In seeking to create a stable workforce that could make Kenya’s tea industry sustainable, the colonial administration destabilized rural economies and created a class of people who would be forced, for generations, to seek wage labor.

If, in these uncertain times, we shouldn’t wish for a whole-sale return to permanent, full-time wage labor, what might we hope for instead? Millar argues for a critical politics of precarity that problematizes the centrality of economically productive work and its promise in contemporary capitalism rather than calling for a return to stable full-time work. Campaigns that propose alternatives to work include Universal Basic Income – where governments makes regular unconditional payments to every individual – and Universal Basic Services. A 2017 study by UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity proposing Universal Basic Services in the UK argues that government provision of basic services such as food, shelter and transport has the potential to reduce dramatically the cost of living for those on the lowest incomes, making participation, belonging and cohesion possible in the face of increasingly precarious work. These initiatives are becoming more compelling as the world reels from the pandemic and we try to imagine a recovery that prioritizes social and environmental justice.


References

Kathleen M. Millar (2017) ‘Towards a critical politics of precarity’. Sociology Compass, 11 (6), pp. 1-11.

Henrietta Moore, Andrew Percy, Jonathan Portes and Howard Reed (2017) Social prosperity for the future: A proposal for Universal Basic Services. Social Prosperity Network Report: Institute for Global Prosperity, UCL.


About the Author

Hannah Elliott is a postdoc at MSC focusing broadly on the political and economic anthropology, in particular in eastern Africa where she has been conducting research since 2009. Her current research examines the production of certified sustainable tea in Kenya as part of the SUSTEIN project. 

Delivering and Financing Better Societies

How can cities self-finance environmental and social solutions?

By Luise Noring

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

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

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

How do we deliver and finance better societies?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Further Reading

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

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


About the Author

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


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Cultural sensitivity and diversities in the measuring of sustainable development

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

By Fumiko Kano Glückstad

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

Who they are?

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

Adapted from Schwartz (2012) [3]

Schwartz [3] states that: 

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

Schwartz, 2012, page 12

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

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

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

Which society they belong to?

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

Adapted from Markus & Kitayama (2010)

Markus and Kitayama (2001; 2010) explain that:

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

Markus and Kitayama, 2010, page 423

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

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

Uchida, Norasakkunkit, & Kitayama 2004, page 227

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

Socially responsible reaction to the New Normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural sensitivity and diversities in the measuring of sustainable development

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

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

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


References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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


Photo by Kate Trifo on Unsplash

Branding in the COVID-19 pandemic

Not every time is the right time for real-time marketing

By Maha Rafi Atal and Lisa Ann Richey

This article is based on previously written piece for the Centre for Business and Development Studies.

As the global Covid-19 pandemic spread through Europe and North America, companies raced to communicate how they were responding to the crisis. Advertising that focuses on a company’s response to humanitarian crises is hardly new. Every holiday season features a parade of brands touting their seasonal partnerships with charitable causes. Yet these exercises in “Covid-branding” struck a particular nerve with both consumers and media commentators because so many of the brands stuck to the same script. Quickly that script even became the subject of satire.

‘The hallmarks of the coronavirus ad are so consistent they could be generated by bots. They begin with eerie drone footage of empty streets, a shot of a child staring plaintively out the window and then — cue the upbeat musical key change — a medical worker peeling off a mask, a guy jamming on a home piano, maybe a deeply pregnant woman rubbing her belly as if summoning a genie from its bottle.’

Amanda Hess, The New York Times, May 22, 2020

These patterns are important. In the uncertain early weeks of the pandemic, as governments were still crafting their responses, the stories brands told played a role in shaping how the public made sense of the crisis. What kind of a crisis was it? What sort of solutions did it need? What role should business play in delivering them? Covid-branding offered answers to those questions.

In this briefing note, we present a preliminary analysis of Covid-branding by companies in Europe and North America during March and April 2020. Our analysis finds that messaging clustered clearly into two ways could engage: ‘Covid-helping’ and ‘Covid-coping.’ These messages of ‘managing the pandemic’ and ‘managing yourself’ frame the consumption of goods and services as a way that consumers can show they care, presenting shopping as a form of everyday heroism. In this way, they make the case that private sector has a role to play in humanitarian response.

Economic Context

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken an extraordinary toll on the global economy. Measures to combat the spread of the virus, including border closures, and national lockdowns affecting one-third of the world’s population, shut down much industrial production and pushed white-collar professionals to remote work. These measures, coupled with a fall in consumers’ own confidence in response to the health crisis, contributed to rising unemployment, falling consumer activity, and the worst global recession since the Great Depression.

This context, with consumer activity declining overall and shifting from closed stores to online retailers, placed pressure on brands to compete for a share of the smaller e-commerce pie. At the same time, the recession placed pressure on marketing professionals to demonstrate their relevance at a time of overall corporate retrenchment.

Marketing Context

We focus our analysis on online communications, especially social media output. Social media marketing is often informal in tone and crafted quickly to respond to real-time events, so that brands can ride the waves of attention paid to viral news stories, from royal babies to sporting events.4 Most research about this practice has suggested brands choose to focus on positive or neutral stories to avoid mistakes, as humorous tweets about a serious event can backfire. That makes Covid-branding in the early weeks of the pandemic, when infection and death rates were rising, unusual.

We also examine promotional emails and newsletters, a form of content marketing. Content marketers have begun to develop more journalistic skills, including as storytellers and explainers of complex phenomena, and indeed many former journalists are employed as content marketers. Covid-branding, in which brands help consumers make sense of the emerging crisis, is an example of this phenomenon.

These online forms have not received much attention from researchers of corporate humanitarianism, which has focused on more traditional forms of print and broadcast advertising. We hope that this brief typology of how marketers used these newer forms in the Covid-19 pandemic encourages further research into these formats.

Covid-branding as Covid-helping

Brands that emphasized their role in helping to manage the pandemic did so in distinct ways. To understand this, we considered two aspects of each marketing message: First, whether companies are making an engaged or disengaged intervention. Companies which are engaged use their own business capacities toward the Covid-19 cause. Second, we consider whether companies are claiming to directly or indirectly impact the Covid-19 crisis itself. We investigate whether the brand claims to address the medical situation (direct) or indirect societal outcomes of the pandemic, including economic impacts.

The four modes of engagement
Direct Engaged: Business puts its core capacities into directly fighting Covid

Some companies with core operations in the fields directly linked to fighting the pandemic (i.e. health care or logistics companies) quickly began communications around their role.

This Novo Nordisk Facebook advertisement shows healthcare workers holding up a sign reading “Thanks” in Danish. Novo Nordisk is a leading pharmaceutical company. Photographs of healthcare professionals at work in Novo Nordisk-made protective gear signaled company’s direct engagement.


Examples of countries where these products are in use underscores that the company serves a modern, global, and racially and gender-diverse group of professionals. Other direct engagement included shipping company Mærsk tweeting about “Mærsk Bridge,’ an air bridge and supply chain operation to transport PPE to healthcare workers.

Indirect Engaged: Business puts its core capacities into indirectly managing Covid

Since direct business engagement was only possible for companies whose core business was in medical or logistical operations, many companies emphasised managing indirect societal impacts of the pandemic in their early response.

As a food and drinks business with a national supply chain, Starbucks was able to use its core capacities to address indirect economic impact of pandemic on food supply. Promotional email highlights corporate donations of 700,000 meals to food banks and use of company logistics network to assist foodbanks with transport.

Makes the case that hunger “is part of the crisis” to underscore relevance of this indirect engagement.

Other indirect engagement included Draper James, the American actress Reese Witherspoon’s fashion brand, announced on its Instagram account on April 2, donations of dresses for teachers (deemed essential workers during pandemic); campaign backfired when dress supplies ran out.

Direct Disengaged: Business helps others directly fight Covid

Businesses who could not easily link their core operations to medical needs instead highlighted partnerships to help others managing the Cover crisis.

A promotional email from Camper highlights the use of 3D printers from its manufacturing operation to produce medical visors. The Email also highlights donations of shoes and slippers to staff and patients in hospitals.


Camper does not claim that they are themselves engaged in work to combat the medical crisis, but rather that they are making resources and equipment available to others who can do so.

Other direct disengaged examples included fashion brand Armedangels making cloth masks while explicitly stating on Facebook that they could not protect the wearer – “we can’t produce medical masks” – but that 2 euro from the sales of each mask would be donated to Doctors Without Borders, or gas company Crusoe Energy Systems announcing that they were donating computing power to Stanford University coronavirus research.

Indirect disengaged: Business helps others indirectly manage Covid

Businesses who could not easily link their core operations to urgent economic or societal needs instead highlighted partnerships to help others managing the impact of the Covid crisis.

Instagram post by crowd-funding platform GoFundMe promoting that its platform can be used by consumers to identify causes to support. Following the link to “learn more” shows company also offering free consulting to nonprofits on how to raise additional funds.


The company is not mobilizing its own resources to support Covid-related causes, but rather facilitating donations to other organizations through information sharing. Such consulting activity is not an ordinary part of the company’s core business.

Other indirect disengaged examples included Facebook offering grants for small businesses in the United States and using its network to promote the existing loan program from the US government.

Covid-branding as Covid-coping

Many brand engagements we examined did not make any claims to be helping combat the crisis, or its social impact, at all. Rather they focused on helping individual consumers to cope with the circumstances surrounding the crisis and its personal impact on themselves.

Because these “Covid-coping” messages focused on helping individuals, rather than society or the economy, our analysis focused on the demographics of what kind of consumers each type of “coping” message addressed, as well as what the messages said. We identified three coping mechanisms brands sold to consumers in these Covid-coping messages: coping-through-practicality, coping-through-pleasure and coping-through-denial.

1) Coping-through-practicality

Like indirect Covid-helping, it portrays shopping as way to address consequences of the pandemic, but instead of focusing on consequences for society, it targets how consumers can address their own needs.

An Instagram post by Zoku, a real estate company managing coworking spaces, offered private office rooms for professionals needing a socially distant office away from their household. Emphasis is put on a spare and clean layout of the office and “peace and quiet” for workers.


It suggests appeal to professionals with children struggling with disruption to work practices in shared family homes. Coping-through-practicality engagements largely addressed themselves to consumers in their identities as professionals and parents.

Other coping-through-practicality examples included laptop manufacturers advertising tools for working from home; home furnishings brands advertising tools for cooking at home; and phone, internet and electricity providers advertising their services as essential infrastructure for remote working and home-schooling. Marketing of this type emphasizes how brands could help families and businesses carry on “as normal” during a period of crisis.

2) Coping-through-pleasure

Exclusively comprised of brands in the fashion, fitness and lifestyle industries, with messages targeted to young and predominantly white women; present luxury goods as means of coping with pandemic through ‘self-care’.

A promotional newsletter for the “athleisure” brand Jolyn depicts a slim and muscular white woman on an inflatable pool float wearing sunglasses and painted toenails. Sunlight appears to reflect off the body of water in which she floats, with a caption advertising a “Bikini for staycation.” The Image and caption present the lockdown, which compelled individuals to stay home from their usual recreational activities, as a “staycation,” an unexpected source of free time at home.

Other coping-through-pleasure messages included advertisements from fashion brands including Anthropologie and Nicole Miller advertising loungewear as “self-care style” and clothing for “virtual dates or happy hours,” as well as make-up brands offering online tutorials for those with “more time (inside) on our hands.”

These messages present the health crisis as an opportunity for women to take a “break” from work outside the home and relax with home-bound versions of their usual recreational activities. They draw on influencer culture, which depicts recreation as a full-time occupation. Coping-through-pleasure offers the chance to purchase some of the influencer lifestyle, where the pandemic is not a stressor, and one can escape at a moment’s notice to a sunlit pool.

3) Coping-through-denial

Targeted widely to all consumers, these messages suggested that consumers shop as though the pandemic were not taking place, or advertised products which made light of the pandemic.

A full page newspaper advertisement in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s mostread newspaper, on 7 March, by two Italian ski resorts, Bormio and Livigno, captioned “Live the mountain with full lungs: There’s a snowy place where feeling great is contagious!”


At the time of advertisement running, lockdown was dissuading tourists from traveling to Italy, putting pressure on ski resorts, while deaths from the respiratory virus – which kills by targeting the lungs specifically – were at their highest in northern Italy, where ski resorts are concentrated.

Other coping-through-denial advertisements included Passports, a travel rewards program, contacting members in mid-March, when concerns about virus spread were focused on cruise ships, to advertise “the best pricing and exceptional bonuses” on celebrity cruises, and online retailers of topical and humorous T-shirts advertising limited range clothing with coronavirus-related captions. Notably, these engagements came broadly from the early weeks of our sample, and brands appeared to shy away from explicitly seeking to make light of the crisis or encouraging consumers to travel in spite of it, by the end of March 2020 when more severe lockdown and suppression measures were in place across Europe.

Implications for Brands

The different types of early Covid-branding in our sample, whether they focus on helping or coping with the pandemic, offer some cautionary lessons for brands.


About Commodifying Compassion

‘Commodifying Compassion: Implications of Turning People and Humanitarian Causes into Marketable Things’ is a research project focused on understanding how ‘helping’ has become a marketable commodity and how this impacts humanitarianism. An international team of researchers funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (2017-2021), we examine ethical consumption intended to benefit humanitarian causes from the perspectives of consumers, businesses, NGOs and recipients. The research will produce a better understanding by humanitarian organizations and businesses leading to more ethical fundraising, donors weighing consumption-based models as part of more effective aid, and consumers making more informed choices about ‘helping’ by buying brand aid products. To learn more about our work, visit the website.

Download full briefing here


About the Authors

Maha Rafi Atal is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Copenhagen Business School, where her research focuses on corporate power, corporate social responsibility and corporate influence in the media. She is a co- Investigator on the Commodifying Compassion research project. http://www.maha-rafi-atal.com

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


Photo by Colton Vond, “Obey Consumerism,” March 3, 2019. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

Has COVID-19 changed our relationship with food?

CBS is involved in two large-scale international studies about people’s changes in food-related habits during the pandemic 

By Meike Janssen

It might sound familiar: Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, photos of homemade bread, fancy meals and desserts are circulating on social media while empty pizza cartons are piling up in the neighbours’ garbage bin. It seems that many people have changed their food-related habits during the pandemic, partly in opposite directions.

That is why consumer researchers from the Consumer and Behavioural Insights Group (CBIG) at CBS Sustainability launched two large-scale consumer studies [1] in collaboration with international colleagues. The studies analyse the shifts in terms of buying, cooking and eating habits that have been brought on by the pandemic and the related restrictions and lockdown measures. 

Food-related behaviour is to a large degree subject to habits and routines. Changes in eating patterns are normally occurring rather slowly over longer periods of time.

Besides, we know that food consumption is largely influenced not only by personal preferences but also by context, i.e. where we eat and with whom we eat.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been experiencing the unprecedented case that many people have spent much more time at home. That also means many people have eaten more meals at home than before the pandemic. Now, we are beginning to understand what consequences these changes in the context of food consumption have had, e.g. in terms of how (un)balanced the diets have been or whether people’s cooking skills have improved. 

Findings

Our data was collected at the end of April / beginning of May 2020 among more than 1.000 consumers in Denmark. The food frequency questionnaire revealed a number of interesting trends. Depending on the type of food, 10-45% of consumers changed their consumption frequency during the pandemic compared to before. In all food categories, we observed diverging trends with some people having decreased and others increased consumption. We observed the highest rates of change in the categories frozen food, canned food, and cake and biscuits, while the lowest rates of change occurred in the categories bread, dairy products, and alcoholic drinks.

For all types of fresh food analysed, the proportion of people who had decreased their consumption was higher than the proportion of people who had increased consumption, i.e. the overall average consumption of fresh food significantly decreased during the pandemic. The consumption of sweet snacks, by contrast, significantly increased.

Partly, the observed changes in food consumption can be explained by decreases in food shopping frequencies. As expected, a decrease in shopping frequency was significantly related to a decrease of fresh food consumption and an increase in the consumption of frozen food and canned food but also of sweet snacks. 

Photo by  Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

We further found significant effects of restriction and lockdown measures on changes in food consumption, i.e. the effect of the closure of:

  • physical workplaces
  • work canteens
  • cafés and restaurants
  • schools and kindergartens.

While it is not surprising that these restrictions impacted upon people’s food consumption, we were surprised to see that those people affected by the same restrictions were likely to change their consumption of certain types of food in similar ways. 

For instance, people affected by a closure of their physical workplace were likely to decrease the consumption of bread, cake and biscuits. Families with children tended to increase the consumption of fruit and veggies, presumably in a pursuit to eat more healthily. At the same time, they also increased the consumption of bread, sweets and chocolate, and alcoholic drinks, perhaps as a means to cope with stress.

Single-person households, by contrast, tended to decrease their consumption of fruit and vegetables and fresh meat, probably because they ate less cooked meals. They also tended to decrease the consumption of bread, and sweets and chocolate. 

The results demonstrate that the relatively strict restrictions and lockdown measures in spring 2020 affected different people and households in very different ways. While some people spent more time with meal preparation and cooking, others did the opposite.

The results provide insights, e.g. for the areas of healthy eating, food system resilience, and behavioural change. We are currently compiling recommendations for decision-makers in the food sector on how to prevent detrimental effects of the pandemic on people’s food-related habits. Key insights of the two studies will soon be published in scientific journals.


References

[1] Our relationship with food (www.food-covid-19.org), and Corona Cooking Survey (https://coronacookingsurvey.com)


About the Author

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


Photo by nrd on Unsplash

Economics for Life

Time for a New Economics

By Sandra Waddock

Steen Valentin recently pointed out in a BOS blog that we – and particularly economists – need to look beyond Milton Friedman’s famous New York Times argument that ‘The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits’. Friedman’s argument underpins today’s dominant ideology and the economics that shapes it – neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism has a core and often repeated set of tenets or memes – the core building blocks of narratives and of culture (ideas, phrases, words, images, symbols). These well-rehearsed memes include that markets and trade are ‘free’, economic actors are self-interested profit maximizers, free markets will resolve societal problems, responsibility is individual, less government is invariably good, and continual economic growth through globalism is feasible and desirable.

Fundamentally, Friedman stated that the sole purpose of the firm is to maximize profits or shareholder wealth, despite that shareholders are, as Charles Handy long ago pointed out, hardly actual owners of the firm in any real sense.

This narrative completely overlooks both societal and ecological impacts of economic activity because nature is completely ignored, even assumed away.

As former UK Prime Minister once put it, ‘There is no such thing as society’. More to the point, Thatcher also stated, ‘There is no alternative’ to neoliberalism, a phrase that got shortened to TINA – still widely believed today.

There Really Are Alternatives!

Is there really no alternative? Particularly in the era of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate emergency, massive species extinction, and growth global inequality? In a recent paper ‘Reframing and Transforming Economics around Life’ I argued for just such an alternative, and also that economics that supports all of life needs to be the mainstream economic orthodoxy. It cannot be considered ‘heterodox’ or come with a modifier that sets it apart from the mainstream.

That means finding new memes as powerful and compelling as the neoliberal ones they need to replace.

Such thinking, while fundamentally based in economics, also needs to encompass core societal and ecological considerations to reframe how business is done and how economic activity in general is undertaken.

The paper synthesizes six new memes that frame an economics in support of all of life. It draws from a wide swath of economics and other literature (including now ‘heterodox economics’) and supports new approaches like Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics – with a few core memes. The six memes are briefly described below.

Six Core Memes for Economic Orthodoxy in Support of All of Life
  • The first new meme is stewardship of the whole, which means that all economic actors have a shared responsibility for the whole system (or nested set of subsystems) that their activities impact. This meme explicitly recognizes both the broader social – societal – system in which economic activity is embedded – and the natural environment in which societies are intimately, inextricably, and interdependently nested. The good of whole systems needs to be kept constantly in mind, whether that is the good of a whole company, a community, a nation, or the planet itself.
  • Another is Co-creating Collective Value. Here I draw from the pioneering work of Donaldson and Walsh, who stated the purpose of business as creating collective value absent dignity violations. The idea of co-creation invites collective participation in the production of value for the whole system – not just for one stakeholder but for the many that are affected by businesses and other economic actors. Multiple values and multiple stakeholders will inevitably mean new metrics by which to assess economic productivity and activity. Co-creating collective value brings back the original meaning of wealth, which has been corrupted to meaning only financial wealth, but which originally meant health, wellbeing, and prosperity.
  • A third relates to cosmopolitan-localist governance. The idea here is that though we live in a globalized world (and some things will remain globalized), many decisions – economic and other – need to be placed at the most local level feasible. That ensures access, voice, and participation by many more actors, and encourages sharing of ideas, knowledge, and other resources in contextually appropriate ways.
  • A fourth is that of regeneration, reciprocity, and circularity, which acknowledges the interconnectedness and interdependence of humans and nature, and that todays so-called take-make-waste production processes are no longer either truly efficient from a whole systems perspective. Regeneration means that production processes need to allow time for the Earth to regenerate resources that will be needed long into the future. Reciprocity means that trade and exchanges need to be mutually beneficial among other humans and with respect to nature. Circularity embodies the idea that ‘waste equals food’ as frequently expressed by the concept of circular economy.  
  • The precept of relationship and connectedness places human economic and social activity into the full complexity and ‘wickedness’ of its connected and relational socio-ecological context. It recognizes that people are social creatures by nature, who only exist in the context of community. It acknowledges, as the African saying Ubuntu goes, ‘I am because we are’.
  • Finally, equitable markets and trade recognizes that markets exist and are important to meeting real (not manufactured) human needs, and that they need to be fair to all participants throughout the supply chain. That means that products and services need to be fully-costed and priced accordingly – and that all so called ‘externalities’ or negative by-products of production need to be incorporated into prices.

Though far more detail is provided in the actual paper, this brief outline synthesizes some of the core aspects of a framing for economics that has the potential to support all of life, rather than as is the case with neoliberalism, ignoring life and our Earth itself as a living system. It is past time for such a shift in thinking – and core memes – to take place. These ideas are offered as a tentative framework for beginning to reshape economic thinking in the direction of what works for all of life – wealth in its original meaning!


Further Reading

Sandra Waddock, Reframing and Transforming Economics around Life, Sustainability, 2020, 12, 7553; doi: 10.2290/su1218755


About the Author

Sandra Waddock is the Galligan Chair of Strategy, Carroll School Scholar of Corporate Responsibility, and Professor of Management at the Carroll School of Management, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA USA. Her research interests include large system change; management education; cross sector collaboration; corporate responsibility; and social and organizational change.


Photo by Echo Grid on Unsplash

Is Tourism an Essential Industry?

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

By Elizabeth Cooper

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

How do we define an essential industry?

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

Source: lectrr.be

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

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

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

Is tourism just an industry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Travel is the language of peace.”


References

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

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


About the Author

Elizabeth Cooper is a PhD Fellow at Copenhagen Business School, within the Department of Management, Society and Communication. Her research aims to link the fields of behavioural science and tourism, by experimenting with strategies to ‘nudge’ cruise tourists into behaving in more sustainable ways, specifically in the ports of Greenland.


Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Private Standard-setting Organizations and the Theory of Change

Theory of Change – Evaluating Supply Chain Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

ISEAL – The Standard for Standards

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

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

Case in Point – RSPO

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

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

The Mechanics of TOC

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

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

The Role of Interactive Adaptivity in Supply Chains Evaluation

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

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

About the Authors

Caleb Gallemore is an Assistant Professor in the International Affairs Program at Lafayette College. He holds a Ph.D. in Geography and within his teaching, he focuses on southeast Asia, global land use, sustainability, research methods and geographic information science.

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

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

Kristjan Jespersen is an Assistant Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He studies the growing development and management of Ecosystem Services in developing countries. Within the field, Kristjan focuses his attention on the institutional legitimacy of such initiatives and the overall compensation tools used to ensure compliance.


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Normative foundations for stakeholder involvement in environmental and societal impact assessments

A complex issue of global relevance

By Karin Buhmann

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

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

Public requirements on consultations and corporate management of risk to society

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

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

Recommendations on ’meaningful stakeholder engagement’ in societal impact assessments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mandatory requirements

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

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

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

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

Common demands on a good consultation process

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

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

The Aarhus Convention establishes that:

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

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

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

Consultations aim to create dialogue, not conflict

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

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

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


References

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

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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


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What does it mean to call someone a stakeholder?

By Matthew Archer

The word “stakeholder” is ubiquitous in sustainability discourse. We see it in corporate sustainability reports, policy documents, business plans, and sustainable development guidelines. Stakeholders are discussed in parliaments, in corporate boardrooms, at sustainability conferences, and in classrooms around the world.

The stakeholder concept was popularized with the 1984 publication of R. Edward Freeman’s Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, where the stakeholder was defined as a person or group who are able to affect or are affected by an organization pursuing its goals. Although the term has been hotly debated ever since, it is clear that Freeman’s work has had a huge impact on management discourse, especially when it comes to social responsibility and sustainability.

In my own ethnographic research over the past few years among people I refer to as “sustainability professionals,” I’ve heard the word stakeholder mentioned countless times, in nearly every context, from venues like the COP21 negotiations in Paris to casual conversations with friends and colleagues at the pub.

Students in my classes use it fluently to refer to groups as distinct as shareholders, consumers, and factory workers. They’re able to classify these different stakeholders according to how important they are from the perspective of the company. Sometimes, the stakeholder concept can seem too expansive, with students questioning whether anyone is not a stakeholder.

But in my own research, I’ve found that although it is pretty widely accepted that most people are stakeholders in one form or another, there is a particular imaginary surrounding stakeholders. In a recent article, I found evidence for this by looking at the images that accompany mentions of the word stakeholder in sustainability reports and standards guidelines.

More often than not, these images depict workers in the Global South who are almost always people of color, and who are often women.

Similarly, when people use the word “stakeholder” in interviews, they are typically referring to people in producer countries, with the implication that these distant, marginalized stakeholders are the ones who stand to benefit the most from sustainability projects and, crucially, stand to lose the most if those projects are unsuccessful.

This led me to question the power dynamics that are inherent in the stakeholder concept. There’s a big literature in geography and anthropology on the power to categorize groups of people, drawing on decades of critical research on international development. More to the point, when companies talking about engaging with stakeholders in their corporate sustainability and corporate social responsibility initiatives, most of the time they’re actually treating the people we think of as stereotypical stakeholders as stakes, that is, what stands to be lost in a game of chance.

Given the power differences between people who can affect an organization and people who are affected by it, perhaps it’s time to come up with an alternative to the stakeholder concept.


About the author

Matthew Archer is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School. He is an ethnographer and political ecologist interested in corporate sustainability and sustainable finance. Visit Matthew’s personal webpage.

By the same author:  Teaching (and doing) anthropology in a business school


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Tax havens, COVID-19 and sustainability

By Sara Jespersen

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

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

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

“Tax haven free” recovery packages

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

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

Two immediate takeaways can be drawn from this:

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

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

Opportunities in the long term

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A timely workshop on corporate tax and inequality

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

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

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


About the author

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


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

By Kristian Roed Nielsen

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

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

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

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

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

The study in a nutshell

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh insights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the author

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


References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Supplier perspectives on social responsibility in global value chains

By Peter Lund-Thomsen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the author

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


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

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

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

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

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark

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

Lobbying and the virus – three trends to take note of


Image by International Labour Organization ILO

The rise of social media bots – how do they work, and how can you spot them?

By Daniel Lundgaard

Bots and their impact on online conversations is rapidly becoming an important problem on social media. If we look at the conversation around the current Coronavirus pandemic, somewhere between 45% to 60% of the accounts on Twitter that promoted disinformation were identified as bots, in the anti-vaccine debate researchers have found that bots are used to “weaponize” online health communication and create discord, and in the climate change debate research suggests that about a quarter of all tweets are produced by bots.

These bots are used in a wide range of misinformation “strategies”. Based on findings from my own research and a review of current research on the topic, I have summarized what I perceive as the three main “strategies” where we know that bots have been used:

Amplifying certain opinions. The simplest strategy where bots have been used is in efforts to amplify a specific opinion, often by continuously re-tweeting the same tweet or link, or by only endorsing the shared posts of people with similar interests.

Flooding the discourse. Malicious actors often seek to increase confusion and challenge the current status quo e.g. the scientific consensus that climate change is man-made. In this strategy, bots are used to spread large volumes of information and start multiple conversations (often covering both sides of the debate), which makes it easier to question the current consensus. A similar tactic is as often seen in disinformation campaigns where large amounts of “fake news”-outlets create a new media ecosystem, and because of the increased volume of information, the voice of the validated outlets is “drowned”, which empowers the fake news outlets.

Linking issues to current tensions. Efforts to link debates to current tensions seek to polarize opinions and cause divide as seen within the vaccine debate where a debate was associated with current racial/ethnic divisions. Here bots are mainly used to either explicitly make the connection in their own tweets, or by commenting on content shared by others, suggesting the presence of a link to certain socioeconomic tensions.

With these strategies in mind identifying the users that in reality are bots seems like a crucial task. However, detecting and adequately handling these bots has proven to be a challenge for the major social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Nonetheless, after reviewing current tools made available for bot detection, current research on the topic and my own findings from an analysis of roughly 5 million tweets about climate change, I have identified a few tips that might help you to spot these bots – and potentially their impact on the conversation. For this list, I have left out bot-detection approaches that are based on reviewing patterns not normally visible to most users e.g. network features detection if the same group of users follow and re-tweet/like another group of users with similar language and message.

The user profile

Reviewing the user profile appears as one of the best ways for “normal” users to detect a bot. The most simple indicators could be a missing profile picture, however sophisticated bots might use stolen photos and here a quick “reverse image search” (right-clicking on the profile image and “search google for image”) might reveal something about the source of the image e.g. that it is taken from someone else. A generic (or poorly worded) profile description might also be an indicator, and in my own research I have found that reviewing the content of user profile descriptions is even better than reviewing the content of the tweets shared on a specific topic for predicting opinions.

Different or “stiff” language

The conversation on Twitter is often informal and people often use abbreviations or structure their sentences differently, which can be difficult to copy. As a result, bots might appear mechanical or rigid in its language – often returning to the same topic, share the same link over and over again, or returning to a topic that should have outlived the rather short life-cycle of some topics on Twitter.

Lack of humor

Granted, everyone misunderstands a joke sometimes and people can have trouble with understanding sarcasm. Because of this, understanding humor, especially sarcasm, also remains one of the major challenges for bots to both understand but also respond accordingly. This is particularly relevant on Twitter, where conversations may refer to shared understandings, inside jokes or memes used in a certain way within a community, which even sophisticated bots may have trouble understanding and adapting to.

Temporal behavior

Reviewing past activity, in particular with focus on patterns in temporal behavior might also be useful e.g. by spotting that a user seems to tweet at the same hour every day if it shares multiple tweets pr. Minute, or if the user immediately retweets or comments on other posts, which can be an indicator of an automated and pre-defined response.

It is important to acknowledge that not all bots are seeking to manipulate political conversations on social media. However, while some bots definitely are created for noble purposes, bots are increasingly becoming an important tool for various (potentially malicious) actors and their efforts to shape conversations on social media – especially Twitter. As a result, we, as a society needs to become better at detecting bots and limiting their power to shape the online debate, and I hope that by reading this blog I might have broadened your understanding of bots – and hopefully you have picked up a few tricks to spot potential bots appearing in your Twitter feed.


About the author

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


Photo by ?? Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Fresh Air: An Impact Story

By Lara Anne Hale

What do fresh air, canaries, and research all have in common? Academics often humbly conduct and publish research, hoping but not knowing if it had any impact on society (we hope very strongly!). This becomes even more bewildering when it comes to the advent of research impact metrics, such as with the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) (UKRI, 2020). It is a rare and wonderful occasion in which one can not only bear witness to impact but actually physically touch it. As an industrial researcher with CBS and the VELUX Group, I am often moving between theory and practice, but the tale of an innovation process stands out. This impact story is the story of how research became related  — albeit several steps removed — to the development of an innovative product, AirBird®, co-created by GXN, the VELUX Group, and Leapcraft. Moreover, it is the story of inspiration in practice, a breath of fresh air in the academic realm.

The academic story starts with a group of nine researchers. The ‘Smart Buildings and Cities’ research group is composed of nine industrial PhDs and postdocs employed in diverse Danish organizations and universities, housed in the BLOXHUB Science Forum and supported by Realdania and the Danish Innovation Fund. Some of us are social scientists engaging with engineering (that would be me), some are architects engaging with computer science, and yet others are engineers conducting social research. I’ve never seen such a mad mess of transdisciplinarity, and it’s beautiful (and also very much guided by our Science Forum coordinator, Pernille Berg).

The innovation process parallels the fourth research case I have been building to better understand and theorize business model innovation for smart technology in the building industry. This case concerns indoor climate data-driven building renovations as a potential business model and involves collaboration among CBS and the VELUX Group (the research), Kokkedal Skole (the building), and Leapcraft (the technology). Fredensborg Kommune has allotted nearly 1 billion DKK (120 million euro) to the improvement of its schools in a program called ‘Fremtidens Folkeskoler’ (Primary Schools of the Future); and it is kicking off the program with an investment of over 35 million DKK (4 million euro) in renovations at Kokkedal Skole. Prior to renovations, we needed to answer the questions: How is the building being used now? What is the indoor climate like? How do teachers and students interact with space? And then we can compare the data post-renovation. This kind of research, as it turns out, is especially timely, given the Danish government’s commitment of 30 billion DKK for sustainable housing renovations.

Kokkedal Skole
Image by Lara Anne Hale

The Kokkedal Skole project is a fascinating one to discuss with others, given the visionary leadership of their principal Kirsten Birkving and excellent building management of their facilities manager Lars Høgh-Hansen. They have in fact been featured on CNN Business for bringing new technology into the classroom, namely Leapcraft’s AmbiNode sensors and SenseMaking tool, the latter having been developed by VELUX based on the Green Solutions House project. Two of the Science Forum group’s companies, GXN and the VELUX Group, started to take discussions at length about the emerging findings on health in buildings, the invisibility of indoor climate, and the need for a simple alert when the situation is dangerous. They posed the question, is it possible to make an indoor health equivalent of the canary in the coal mine, who would start tweeting to coal miners when in contact with dangerous air?

Early in 2019 these talks came to fruition when Realdania invited applications for seed funding to research group members interested in collaborative innovation. This led to the Smith Innovation-coordinated workshop “The Canary in the Goalmine” with the VELUX Group and GXN working on the goal of defining how the ‘canary’ would look like, and – based on the research at Kokkedal Skole and renovation challenges presented by the Student and Innovation House – how it would function. A year later, I am working with VELUX and Leapcraft to finalize the one-year monitoring report from Kokkedal Skole, and AirBird® is ready to hit the shelves. The concept is simple and beautiful, just like the bird: when the CO2 levels indicate unhealthy air, AirBird sings a bird song to let its users know they should bring in some fresh air; which TV2 Lorry featured at Kokkedal Skole on the 25th of May. The AirBird® has been ideated, designed and developed in co-creation between GXN, VELUX Group and Leapcraft.

Airbird introduction
Image by Lara Anne Hale

Although the development of AirBird® does not tell the story of sustainability dynamics within innovation ecosystems (Oskam et al., 2020), nor the story of smart technology-facilitated business models for health and well being (Laya et al., 2018) – two examples of academic work that resonate with my research – it does challenge the idea that business model innovation precedes product innovation. Nudging tools like AirBird® may stimulate awareness and behavioural changes that anticipate business opportunities for a healthy indoor climate. Further, serendipitous product innovations may serve as artifacts embodying value negotiation, the foundations of business model innovation.

But ultimately, the AirBird® story is attractive because it presents impact that is tangible. And whereas the physical product is the most tangible of all, this innovation has had other impacts as well: collaborative innovation experience among the organizations involved; encouragement within the Science Forum of the value of transdisciplinary research; and the need to face directly the tensions between the academic and practice worlds. For my part, it’s uncomfortably different from the impact implied in academic publications and absolutely refreshing — something fresh air, canaries, and research should all have in common.


References

Laya, A., Markendahl, J., & Lundberg, S. (2018). Network-centric business models for health, social care and wellbeing solutions in the internet of things. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 34(2), 103–116.

Oskam, I., Bossink, B., & de Man, A.-P. (2020). Valuing Value in Innovation Ecosystems: How Cross-Sector Actors Overcome Tensions in Collaborative Sustainable Business Model Development. Business & Society, 000765032090714.

Rafaeli, Anat, & Pratt, Michael G. (2006). Artifacts and Organizations: Beyond Mere Symbolism. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc,US.

UKRI (2020). REF Impact. Accessed 29 May 2020 from: https://re.ukri.org/research/ref-impact/


About the author

Lara Anne Hale – Ph.D., M.Sc., Assistant Professor, Industrial Postdoc Fellow with CBS and VELUX. Lara conducts transdisciplinary research on sustainability in the built environment, including aspects of digital transformations, circularity, user-centered design, and systems thinking. Her current project focuses on business model innovation for smart buildings in the BLOXHUB Science Forum ‘Smart Buildings & Cities’ research group, supported by the Danish Innovation Fund and Realdania.


Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

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

By Søren Jeppesen

One thing seems to be clear by now – that we are all challenged by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes all enterprises, large as well as small firms. As states and individuals, also SMEs (Small and Medium-size Enterprises) need to figure out how to respond. SMEs constitute the vast majority of enterprises on the Globe, and their response to the current situation, including how they behave in terms of social responsibilities matter a lot. If jobs disappear, or wages are lowered and/or working conditions deteriorate, a large number of persons (employees) and families will be negatively affected. If environmental standards are lowered the nature and humans will be negatively affected.

The perception of what constitutes social responsibilities varies substantially across countries. As SMEs in different parts of the world face very different situations (see Spence et al. 2018), also in times of Covid-19, the responses will be very different. We already witness intense debates on what is the ‘appropriate way’ of reacting. Most SMEs have a less formalized way of operating compared to larger firms. While this is viewed as leading to being less socially responsible compared to large firms this type of organizing – not being so standardized – maybe be is an advantage in an unknown situation like the one that we are witnessing right now. Agility, creativity and ability to make a decision fast could be an advantage right now like the Danish small firms that have adjusted their production to include critical health products show.

However, the examples are probably the exceptions rather than the rule as only a smaller section of the SMEs typically can be characterized like this. The majority of the SMEs are operating in more traditional, standardized ways and have a more limited range of responses as things stand right now.

In our part of the world, governments have implemented numerous support schemes trying to assist the private sector, including SMEs, in various ways. The Danish SME has various public-funded support packages and a highly formalized labour market cushioned by a number of social benefit programs to factor into the considerations. Hence, we can insist that an important part of managing continues to be keeping an eye on working conditions and the environmental impact. In other parts of the world like the developing countries, governments have so far done less and given the much more informal nature of the economies, SMEs are much harder effected.

The Ugandan SME is faced with no economic assistance and a complete lockdown of the society leading to a dramatically reduced – if not totally halted – operation and turnover. In addition, no social benefits exist to assist employees who are losing their job. So, the overarching topic concerns the socio-economic dimensions of how many SMEs that survive while retaining a good number of the staff – or on the more pessimistic side – how many that go down leaving scores of people unemployed and without an income affecting individuals as well as tons of families.

What can we then expect in terms of social responsibilities in such a situation? Given that some developing country SMEs are characterized as having ‘family-like culture’, we would expect such enterprises to retain the employees (Tran and Jeppesen, 2016). Even though the SMEs retain the employees, owners and managers personally have to handle the insecurity that accompanies the situation as well as relating to the concerns among the employees.

The family-like type of organization could ensure that employees are kept and not fired. Still, we know that a number of SMEs pay little if any wages in times of limited production. Hence, having a job with no income does not make a difference right now.

Small enterprises in developing countries are also praised for their community engagement in taking up activities ensuring women (Langevang et al, 2015) or young people income. The localized response may assist in various ways of helping citizens in dire need. Religion and which church that you are a member of play a role. Some churches, as well as the wealthier members (and among these SME owners and managers), come forward to assist their congregation and the less well-off families in times of need. 

We need to wait for the answer to whether and to what extent Covid-19 will be marked by resilience and a protective and more caring (social) response by SMEs – or rather by the tough reality of downsizing and/or closing down with numerous dire consequences.


References

Langevang, T., Gough, K. V., Yankson, P. W., Owusu, G., & Osei, R. (2015). Bounded entrepreneurial vitality: The mixed embeddedness of female entrepreneurship. Economic Geography, 91(4), 449-473.

Spence, Laura J., Jedrzej George Frynas, Judy N. Muthuri, Jyoti Navaret, 2018. Research Handbook on Small Business Social Responsibility: Global Perspectives. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Tran, Angie Ngoc & Søren Jeppesen. 2016. SMEs in Their Own Right: The Views of Managers and Workers in Vietnamese Textiles, Garment, and Footwear Companies. Journal of Business Ethics, 137(3), 589-608


About the author

Søren Jeppesen is Associate Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research concerns the development of firms in developing countries. He focuses on SMEs, CSR and driving forces (or lack of same) for strategies of SMEs in developing countries in engaging in CSR (or not engaging).


More about coronavirus pandemic on Business of Society blog:

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

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark

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

Lobbying and the virus – three trends to take note of


Image by US Army Africa

On the Ground: What CSR and sustainability standards fail to address

By Hannah Elliott

In the fall of 2019, there was a flurry of news stories in the British media about political events in western Kenya which, according to one article, threatened the future of the nation’s beloved cup of tea. In Kericho, the heart of Kenya’s tea-growing country, the local community are reclaiming vast tracts of land obtained under British colonialism for the large-scale cultivation of tea. Faced with a land shortage that hinders possibilities for sustainable development, local activists are challenging the extensive land acquisitions that took place under colonial rule, many of which constitute the premises of multinational agri-business today. CSR initiatives and the sustainability standards that are increasingly ubiquitous in Kenya’s tea industry fail to address or acknowledge a sustainability issue that is of major concern to local communities on the ground: land.

During the early 20th century, while trying to create an export economy in eastern Africa, the British government identified the highlands of Kericho in Kenya’s fertile Rift Valley as a place of high agricultural potential and gave out land to European settlers. The area was identified as an ideal place for growing tea, a commodity that was already thriving elsewhere in the British Empire. With the entry of two major companies engaged in tea production in India and Sri Lanka, further land allocations were made, providing the premises for the expansive tea plantations that dominate Kericho’s landscape today.  

Colonial laws enabled these land allocations: the British government could acquire land and relocate the ‘natives’ who were occupying and cultivating it. The Kipsigis community living in the Kericho area lost large amounts of land, only to be compensated with smaller areas of less agriculturally conducive land in designated ‘native reserves’. Others remained in their home areas but were rendered ‘squatters’ required to work for settlers in return for their continued occupation.

Many today struggle to make a living from diminishing farms in the former native reserve areas as family land is subdivided among children, while others remain landless or forced to purchase land at high prices. Land shortage poses a direct challenge to sustainable livelihoods in Kericho.

These grievances are what the Kericho County Governor seeks to address. Identifying as a victim of historical land injustices himself whose ancestral land lies within the vast tea plantation owned by the multinational giant Unilever, he advocates for reparations that acknowledge the forceful acquisition of his community’s land. This implicates multinational tea companies directly. For the Governor and Kipsigis community activists campaigning for justice, these companies are operating on stolen property that rightfully belongs to the community.

Tea plantations employ large numbers of locals in roles that range from tea plucking to top management and offer opportunities and bursaries for adult and child education. While much of the British media coverage of Kericho’s land politics, including an article in The Economist, has envisaged Zimbabwe-like evictions of British companies in Kenya, the Kericho Governor made clear when I met with him earlier this year that it is not in anybody’s interests for the tea companies to hand over the land and leave.

Rather, following recommendations made by Kenya’s National Land Commission, the Governor asks that tea companies apply to the county government for new land leases, following which the land can be resurveyed.  Undeclared acreage, he argues, should then be reverted back to the county government. In addition, the Governor seeks to increase land rent so that the county government is more adequately remunerated for the land.

This, along with demanding mesne profits from multinationals for the use of the land since 1902, is intended to enable more equitable redistribution of the wealth generated from large-scale tea production.

One Kipsigis community activist whom I met envisaged a new model of business: a continuation of plantations’ management and operations, but with the local community, the ‘rightful landowners’, as the major shareholders. This is not to say that all of these proposals are wholly feasible or realistic for tea companies, but to envisage other ways of doing business whereby local communities and authorities are rendered more equal partners.

This goes beyond CSR initiatives which, while valued in Kericho, can be seen as a continuation of colonial paternalism rather than rethinking the very premises of companies’ local engagement. It also goes beyond the certified sustainability standards provided by organisations such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade that seek to ensure economic, environmental and social sustainability in the tea supply chain yet are generic, driven more by the demands of distant buyers in Europe and North America than those of local communities on the ground.

Undoubtedly, community land claims in Kericho are entangled in local politics. The Kericho Governor’s campaigns are part of a populist political strategy that has seen him win two terms in office. Furthermore, judging by Kenya’s postcolonial history, there is no guarantee that relinquished land or funds would be equitably rolled out to the community should he succeed. Another caveat relates to major challenges facing the tea business in recent years with regard to profitability: at the time of my fieldwork earlier this year, the price of tea hit an all-time low.

The coronavirus pandemic will surely further threaten the industry. In this context, local political challenges of the kind we see in Kericho might push companies to reconsider their operations entirely.  

However, this shouldn’t preclude reimagining the terms of companies’ engagement, not only in Kenya but across Britain’s former settler economies. If large-scale agri-business is to face up to the challenges of sustainability in the places it operates, it must acknowledge the historical grievances attached to the ground beneath it and engage with local communities beyond the confines of CSR and sustainability standards.    


About the Author

Hannah Elliott is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CBS’ Department of Management, Society and Communication. Her research on the SUSTEIN project critically examines the production of certified sustainable Kenyan tea.


Image by ©2010CIAT/NeilPalmer

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

By Isabel Froes

Cities are hard and complex systems. With their defined policies, grids and routes, they offer limited space for experimentation, with a low threshold for any type of interference to their regular flow.  To test and prototype [1] in the urban, besides dealing with regulatory procedures, require clear indications of the positive impact those tests might bring. Thus, any change in routine flows is disruptive and not necessarily welcomed by all.

Some of these difficulties have become explicit during the processes carried out by various cities in four EU funded neighbourhood projects, Cities-4-People, Sunrise, MUV and Metamorphosis [2]. These projects have brought together citizens and other key city stakeholders to identify and co-create mobility solutions and approaches to tackling local problems. Each project has had a distinct goal, but all are part of the CIVITAS initiative focusing on ‘sustainable neighbourhood mobility planning and have been running since 2017, with three of them to end in 2020 and another in 2021. In the case of the Cities-4-People project, running in the cities of Hamburg, Istanbul, Oxford, Trikala and Budapest, cities, citizens and transport authorities have worked closely together to co-create and implement solutions addressing congestion, bike parking, safe and new routes to reach public transportation, and more [3].

Primarily, one of the biggest difficulties in deploying urban prototypes deals with permissions, space sharing, closing parts of or an entire street, or pavement, changing traffic routes, etc.

Even when implementing aspects citizens see as valuable and beneficial, such as bike racks, paths, during construction, these processes tend to be perceived as a nuisance. Another aspect stems from the fact that, unless it is a whole new city or neighbourhood been planned, the city, as a canvas, is never blank. Therefore, cities are constantly bound to develop solutions, which are imposed over an existing and fixed grid with very little wiggle room. All true, until March 2020.

The pandemic, through lockdowns and other movement restrictions, has changed the flow of cities almost overnight. For the first time, since the widespread city development focusing on automobiles, cities have had a chance to look at their now empty public spaces and rethink their use and purposes. These changes have forced the neighbourhood projects into a sudden halt, as people’s engagement with urban spaces has been very limited. However, while physical workspaces, shops and many businesses closed their doors, with citizens mostly at home, cities have encountered an unprecedented opportunity to rethink their streets.

In two related mobility examples, Vilnius, Lithuanian capital, the city Mayor has opened up eighteen of the city’s public spaces, free of charge, to bars and restaurants, so they can run while keeping the required social distancing [4].

In Milan [5], over the summer, the city will engage in a large-scale urban prototype, deploying 35km of temporary biking lanes and enlarged pavement areas.

While the city slowly opens up, with most employees still working from home and not commuting as much, citizens, when going out, should have enough space to keep a safe distance, while also experimenting in environmental friendly modes, such as walking and biking.

When some of the neighbourhood projects, such as Cities-4-People, resume in a few months, their cities and citizens might have changed. However, instead of considering the data that has been collected in the projects prior to the lockdown as ‘outdated’ or no longer valid, these projects can consider repurposing this data, using it as a robust baseline to be compared with post lockdown. From a mobility perspective, this ‘new normal’ might prove itself a valuable mobility asset. As people return to their streets, they can experience these known spaces in new formats encountering novel mobility patterns, where people and businesses can repopulate streets differently, reconfiguring city flows.

Furthermore, some of these temporary changes might prove to be popular and become permanent, promoting not only better mobility, but also lower pollution and improved air quality [6], indirectly helping cities leapfrog into achieving some of their sustainable development goals (SDGs). The opportunity to reset busy urban centres is rare; however, as it has occurred and continues to run with the pandemic, more cities and citizens have the unique chance to engage and exploit their cities’ canvas in new ways to seize their days.


References

[1] Implementing a temporary solution

[2] https://civitas.eu/projects/research

[3] https://cities4people.eu/

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/28/lithuanian-capital-to-be-turned-into-vast-open-air-cafe-vilnius

[5] In Milan, the lockdown brought a city to an almost complete stand still, decreasing an endemic congestion problem by 30-75%, thus improving air quality. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/21/milan-seeks-to-prevent-post-crisis-return-of-traffic-pollution

[6] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-future-mobility-solutions?cid=soc-app


About the Author

Isabel Fróes is a postdoc at MSC Department at Copenhagen Business School working in two EU projects (Cities-4-People and iPRODUCE) dealing with distinct aspects of urban services and sustainability. Her latest publications deal with urban planning and co-creation based on results from the Cities-4-People project. Isabel also has wide industry experience and has worked both as a user researcher and service design consultant for various companies in Denmark and internationally. For more detail please see her Linkedin profile  


More about coronavirus pandemic on Business of Society blog:

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark

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

Lobbying and the virus – three trends to take note of


Photo by ?? Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

The problem with CSR: why companies need to listen to their activist employees

By Luda Svystunova and Verena Girschik

The current pandemic has exposed blatant social injustices and inequalities around the world, prompting businesses to face their societal impact. Before the crisis, however, a rising wave of employee activism had already started to call into question the extent to which companies had managed to meet their moral obligations. Employees at Wayfair, Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Amazon have protested against their employers’ stance on issues ranging from climate change to migration, pushing them to deliver on public commitments or refusing to contribute to morally dubious projects, such as Amazon’s facial recognition software that had potential to contribute to racial discrimination.

As the crisis has provided ample opportunities to reflect on and reconsider the role of business in society, we believe that this is the time to learn from employee activism – and to learn to embrace it as a force for change.

The problem with CSR

Virtually all companies today pursue a CSR agenda, strengthened by the global agreement around Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the growing power of corporate sustainability rankings, standardization of sustainability reporting and the proliferation of consultancies who offer support to companies pursuing a shared value approach to social responsibility. Aligning business and societal value creation, such approaches promise win-win solutions in addressing social ills. Yet it is the very promise of win-win solutions that undermines critical engagement with companies’ roles in creating or reproducing social ills.

First, CSR has become the corporate worlds’ dominant paradigm for change that is positive and comfortable. If CSR managers want to avoid eyerolls, especially from top managers and shareholders, they need to speak the language of profit and present a measurable business case for addressing social ills. By enabling companies to do well by doing and looking good, however, CSR may also cultivate complacency. This does not mean that CSR has failed to encourage companies to embrace more responsible business conduct. But it is a potent substitute for engaging with the many uncomfortable social problems as to which companies have hitherto failed to do the right thing.

Second, the triumph of CSR is symptomatic of and reproduces social inequalities. CSR is driven by privileged employees and managers often based in the corporate headquarters – members of the organizational elites. The voices of others in the company, as well as the people affected by corporate activities, are seldomly included. Indeed, Kaplan (2020) suggests that the business case alienates employees and does not deliver on promises to stakeholders. Misguided CSR initiatives can actually make things worse for those they aim to help. By limiting attention to win-win solutions, CSR has failed to pay attention to those who lose.

How can employee activism help?

Activist employees are those employees that care about and actively promote social justice in their company. With this, we call upon companies to stop viewing employee activists as antagonists or nuisance and instead invite activism in order to face problems head on. Specifically, we suggest that companies should consider the following:

1 ) Accept activist employees rather than “handle” their dissent.

Activist employees bring to the front the less comfortable social problems that a company creates, reproduces, or in other ways is complicit in. Commonly, companies manage dissent by firing those employees who speak out against corporate misdeeds. Activist employees’ voices may be uncomfortable, but if fired, they will certainly still be heard – if not by management, then certainly by the public.

2 ) Listen to dissenting voices and engage with uncomfortable truths.

Employee activists can help by shedding light onto just such areas where businesses may have missed the mark. Representing social movements inside the company, they generate awareness of problems it may have missed or not taken seriously and even contribute to solutions. Most importantly, the break with the complacency of corporate CSR practice and drive the more radical change that is so badly needed.

3 ) Confront privilege and listen to employee activists

Companies should be mindful of who gets to have a say in the issues that matter. It is easy to overlook issues voiced by activists on the ground – across the operations and especially in distant local offices. Yet they are often the ones with a first-hand understanding of social ills as well as externalities produced by the company.   

4 ) Tackle social injustices within.

Not all employee activism is driven by personal values and compassion for others: alongside staff walkouts for greener business at Google and Amazon, Google’s temporary workers and Amazon’s warehouse employees fight for fair labour conditions. In tackling social ills, companies should never overlook the struggles of their own employees.

CSR is still needed, but we can do even better. What we are proposing is inconvenient, disturbing, and uncomfortable, but it’s time for companies to get things right.


Our critique of CSR is inspired by the following contributions:

de Bakker, F. G., Matten, D., Spence, L. J., & Wickert, C. (2020). The elephant in the room: The nascent research agenda on corporations, social responsibility, and capitalismBusiness & Society, in press.

Feix, A., & Philippe, D. (2020). Unpacking the narrative decontestation of CSR: Aspiration for change or defense of the status quo?Business & Society59(1), 129-174.

Kaplan, S. (2020). Beyond the business case for social responsibilityAcademy of Management Discoveries, 6(1), 1-4. 

Khan, F. R., Munir, K. A., & Willmott, H. (2007). A dark side of institutional entrepreneurship: Soccer balls, child labour and postcolonial impoverishmentOrganization studies28(7), 1055-1077.

Schneider, A. (2019). Bound to Fail? Exploring the Systemic Pathologies of CSR and Their Implications for CSR Research. Business & Society, in press.


About the Authors

Luda Svystunova is a Lecturer in International Management at the Institute for International Management, Loughborough University London. Luda’s research examines multinational firms’ interactions with their non-market context through corporate social responsibility and corporate political activity, particularly in non-Western settings. She is also interested in the role individuals within and outside companies play in these interactions. Luda’s Twitter: @LudaSV

Verena Girschik is Assistant Professor of CSR, Communication, and Organization at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School. Verena’s research focuses on the responsibilities of companies in the contexts of complex societal problems and humanitarian crises. Interested in relations between companies, governments, NGOs, and other societal actors, her research explores how companies negotiate their roles and responsibilities, how they perform them, and to what consequences. Verena’s Twitter: @verenaCPH


Image by GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg

Lobbying and the virus – three trends to take note of

By Dieter Zinnbauer

Writing about anything in relation to Covid-19 is rather hopeless. Any attempt to describe current developments has a half-time of 30 minutes. Any attempt to speculate what lies ahead drowns in the flood of near infinite plausible trajectories. And any and every attempt usually ends up with the hammer and nail problem, resulting in the author pushing his favorite pre-existing policy to ask  as an essential ingredient in the crisis response, much as the whole world looks like nails when you hold the proverbial hammer in your hand.

Nevertheless here a foolish attempt to jot down some small observations of how the Covid situation is currently influencing how businesses lobby government, or in jargon corporate political activity. In a nutshell: there are indications that there is more, that it is more conventional and that integrity in lobbying is more in demand than ever.  In detail:

1) A lot to win and a lot loose means a lot to do or: “Everybody is upside down. All the clients are upside down” (US lobbyist)

Lobbying is typically understood as anti-cyclical as it tends to experience an uptick in economic downturns. Yet this time is a difference in scale and a difference in kind. Covid-19 is an essential threat to a vast array of industries and companies that until a few weeks ago looked very solid. At the same time, the scale of financial support and transformational depth of regulatory responses that are being considered and dispersed are absolutely unprecedented in the post WW2 era.

Existential stakes convert into a sharp increase in lobbying. Recent data shows that lobbying spending in the US has climbed to near-record levels already and the centrepiece of legislation, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is the second most lobbied upon a piece of legislation.

There are new clients – that also fuel the lobbying boom – three quarters of lobbying filings in the US that mention COVID issues are by new principals. And there is a flourishing new service line out there helping companies shape new rule-writing and expedite approval for their anti-corona products. Many are desperate, everyone is out to get a piece of the cake and as even the most adept watchdogs have a hard time with tracking all proposed rule-changes and handouts it may also be a good time to slip in this long-coveted, yet unrelated regulatory tweak in one’s own favour that otherwise might have not withstood public scrutiny.

2) Forward to the basics tools, tactics and incumbents.

It seems likely and there are indications that corporate political activity is for the time being concentrating on tried and tested tools and relations. First, the Covid-19 response is the hour of the executive as the first phases of the policy response are firmly driven by the executive in most countries around the world. Emergency powers are being invoked, far-reaching policies are hastily cobbled together in small committee, and implemented qua executive orders. Ex-ante legislative deliberation is compressed, public consultations are limited and judicial reviews are only slowly kicking into gear.  All this means that lobbying is currently heavily focused pragmatically on very tangible outcomes and the executive branch of government as for example, a top German lobbyist has described in a recent interview.

Expected budget cuts and trimmed client accounts for public relation agencies in the first-affected Asia-Pacific also suggest that more sophisticated upstream strategies for framing and influencing public debates in the longer run are being put on the backburner and efforts are shifting towards core government relations work. Add to this that social distancing measures and going virtual makes it difficult to cultivate new relationships. As a result, existing, networks and long-time friends who may have walked through the revolving door between public office and private practice carry the day dealing substantive incumbency advantages to the already well-connected and established players both in terms of in-house lobbying departments and hired firms.

3) An incipient debate about the fundamentals close to home – and high stakes for integrity

Financial distress and zero-sum dynamics in what are ultimately finite support programs demand maximum resolve when making one’s case to the government. Many more interests than usually have come to the fore to compete for the pie and some of these competitors can be expected to act very opportunistically. All this puts enormous stress on integrity in lobbying. But this comes at a time when the integrity of the corporate political activity is perhaps more important than ever. 

Policy-makers enter into uncharted territory with many of their interventions and stabilization efforts. Peak uncertainty means they need accurate information on the situation of different interests and stakeholder groups and how they may be affected by different policy options. Policy-makers need more of this information more urgently than ever. Extreme fragility means that the consequences of mis-judgments are substantive.

All this highlights how important the honest, proportionate, evidence-supported articulation of interests and concerns to government is at this moment in time. In the eye of the public business appears to be largely failing in this area. Less than 40% of respondents in a very recent 11-country survey – the spring update to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer –  perceived business to be a reliable source of useful and accurate information during the pandemic, a number that dropped to even more staggering lows of 24% and 15%  in France and Japan respectively.

Yet, the relevance of credibly upholding integrity in lobbying goes even deeper. The specter of special interests hijacking the Covid response looms large as a tremendous PR nightmare. Such a storyline is ready to combine with the bitter aftertaste of the last financial crisis response that many perceived to be undermined by strong industry lobbying. The prospects of a special deal for special interests could thus further inflame the very anti-business sentiments that are already on the rise: in the same survey as referenced above respondents put business CEOs last when thinking which types of professions and leaders do a good job in meeting the demands the pandemic puts on them, while only 38% thought business did a good job in putting people before profits.

Pushing public opinion that is already at the edge further into the negative territory through reckless corporate political activity looks like a bad idea even from a narrow tactical perspective. This is because another fallout from Covid is an emerging public debate about the basic bargain between business and the public and the increasing readiness to consider options for a fairer settlement that until recently seemed to have difficult to find acceptance in the mainstream.

The 11-country Edelman survey again captures some of these sentiments: a remarkable 64% of people agreed with this statement:

“This pandemic has made me realize how big the gap in this country is between the rich and the working class, and that something must be done to more fairly distribute our country’s wealth and prosperity”

Massive public financial support is a great lever for updating the social licence to operate for the corporate world. This is not a theoretical possibility but has already become a reality. Widely discussed provisions to bar companies that engage in overly aggressive tax planning or pay out dividends in times of crisis from benefiting from post-Covid support is one example. So is the observation that a debate about the legitimacy of share buy-backs that despite its policy relevance was more or less confined to the fringe of experts and specialized advocates all of a sudden features prominently in the policy mainstream. It has even prompted the European Commission to require a ban on share buybacks as a central condition when government prop up companies by acquiring equity ownership.

This public limelight for a seemingly arcane issue is well deserved considering that for example the top airlines in the US that are currently clamoring for public support are estimated to have spent 96% of their free cash flow during the last decade on share buybacks and built no meaningful reserves to weather a major crisis, a strategy termed by a banker from a top firm as “a staple arrow in the quiver of companies… to optimize how they drive the most value for their shareholders”. From a corporate lobbying view not particularly productive narratives to feed any more.

Many, including this author, view this as a much needed and welcome conversation about how to refresh the principal compact between business and society in view of sharing the benefits and costs from business activity fairly and within planetary boundaries. Business will not do itself a favor when flexing its lobbying muscle too hard for special treatment at this point in time when the public is increasingly prepared to doubt and revisit the basic tenets of this compact.

Responsible corporate activity, transparent, well-governed and aligned with purpose, planetary boundaries and broader regards for all stakeholders is not a nice add on for good times. It is essential to protect the public trust in functioning institutions, functioning crisis response and a functioning societal bargain with business. This is not the time to call in special favours and push a narrow agenda. This is the time to do act as a responsible corporate citizen on all fronts and particularly when it comes to government engagement.

Now there it is:  my policy agenda framed as essential in Covid times. The whole world looks like nails when you have a hammer in the hand.  But in this instance, of course, it is for real.


About the author

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

Twitter: @Dzinnbauer

Essays: https://medium.com/@Dzinnbauer

Working papers:  https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=1588618


More about coronavirus pandemic on Business of Society blog:

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark

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

Photo by Dieter Zinnbauer

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

By Lucia A. Reisch

The vision of healthy and sustainable food systems that facilitate appropriate food choices by individuals is gaining momentum in practice and in the marketplace. As the single strongest lever to optimize both human health and environmental sustainability, the food choices we make matter in multiple ways – for our bodies, the environment, and the economic and social fabric of societies. Acknowledging and actively harnessing co-benefits of “win-win diets” is a major focus of current food, farm, environmental, and health policy that aims to positively influence consumer behaviour. A behavioural turn in food policy that puts individuals and their choices at center stage holds promise for manifesting the vision of healthy and sustainable food systems.

As we collectively ponder lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, a key aspect will be to consider how to increase resilience of societies and economies in general and food systems in particular, to better endure a crisis in the future.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) defines resilience as ‘the ability to prevent disasters and crises as well as to anticipate, absorb, accommodate or recover from them in a timely, efficient and sustainable manner. This includes protecting, restoring and improving livelihood systems in the face of threats that impact agriculture, nutrition, food security and food safety.’ [1]

Food chains today are long and globalized, and retail systems are streamlined for efficiency with just-in-time inventories, all adding to the vulnerability of systems. While the basic food provision in Europe continued during the pandemic (not least due to the availability of local food chains), cracks appeared at the retail level with shortages of staples. Admittedly, many shortages were due to stockpiling by frightened people – a behavioural factor rather than a reflection of true supply shortages. One can speculate now that if the crisis were to continue, other dependencies (for instance, on mostly Eastern European farm workers for harvesting) will become obvious.

In a healthy and sustainable food system, the products that are grown, processed, and distributed are health-supporting, safe, environmentally and climate friendly; farmers and laborers work for fair wages under decent conditions; and on the demand side, equal and easy access to affordable, healthy, and sustainable diets as well as nutrition security are provided for today’s and future generations. This sounds like a utopia but it is our future.

The EAT Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets for Sustainable Food Systems recently defined a concrete healthy reference diet that, if applied, can be provided “for an anticipated world population of nearly 10 billion people by 2050 and still stay within a safe operating space on Earth” (Willett et al. 2019).

Balanced and sustainable food systems that stay within the planetary boundaries and provide a minimum level of safety, access, and equity are doubtlessly more resilient – i.e., more robust in times of shocks and crisis – than lean, efficiency-maximizing, far-flung global supply systems. The advantages and necessity of system resilience are likely to constitute one big learning from the pandemic.

Another big learning is that consumer-citizen behaviour is much more malleable and adaptive than many policymakers (and researchers) had thought. People are able and ready to quickly change deeply ingrained habits, adopt new practices (social distancing, home cooking), and adhere to new social norms (wearing masks, hand washing) if – important qualifier – the reasons seem (scientifically) sound, are limited to a bearable time span, and are well explained by a trustworthy government.

Some governments (Sweden, e.g.) rely on voluntary action and “nudging” alone; others (Germany, e.g.) combine harsh bans, intense risk communication, and behaviourally informed policies such as warnings, framing, priming, reminders, defaults, and boosts. We don’t know yet which strategies will work best, but it has already become clear that much can be achieved by using behavioural insights, calling on the responsibility of people, giving positive feedback and reminders, and harnessing the power of (dynamic) social norms and peer pressure.

In the words of the great Danny Kahneman: good policy needs to activate both types of people’s decision-making: the quick, intuitive, emotional “System 1” and the slow, cognitive, deliberate “System 2”.

It is not a new idea that insights into the biases and heuristics, the habits and motivations of consumers can be useful to design effective policies. This is the essence of the new field of Behavioural Public Policy that constitutes these days an International Association of Behavioural Public Policy. The evidence is increasing that a behavioural approach can indeed help design better food policies. What we call Behavioural Food Policy puts people’s needs, biases, and decisions at center stage, offering a specific behavioural lens to existing (hard and soft) policies that can make them more effective. It relies on governance processes that are based on empirical, often experimental testing, learning, and adapting. Public deliberation and participation in these processes help consumer-citizens understand and eventually approve of the policies. This potential of behavioural policies to shift habits and food demand is under-utilized but growing.

This approach is echoed by the global climate change community in the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) upcoming 6th Assessment Report. [2] The report identifies two major behavioural changes that substantially mitigate greenhouse gas emissions: avoiding food waste and dietary shifts to plant-based nutrition. As to the former, simple behaviour such as meal planning and creative use of leftovers can help reduce food waste on the individual level; retail can adjust its marketing, and regulators can improve the handling of expiration labels and best-before dates. Regarding the latter, reducing (mainly ruminant) meat consumption and substituting animal protein with field-grown protein are seen as major steps. A diet light in meat is better for one’s health, leads to greater animal welfare, helps reduce food-borne diseases and food crisis, and produces less greenhouse gas emissions. Because individual choices are the basis of any healthy and sustainable food system, understanding and influencing consumer behaviour is a promising route to achieving sustainability, resilience, and healthfulness of our food systems and society generally.


References

[1] http://www.fao.org/emergencies/how-we-work/resilience/en/.

[2] The author is a contributing author to this IPCC AR6 chapter.


About the author

Lucia A. Reisch is Professor of consumer behaviour and consumer policy at the Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC) within the CBS Sustainability. Her research focuses on behavioural economics, behavioural public policy, sustainable consumption (in particular, energy, food and health, active mobility and fashion), intercultural consumer behaviour, consumers and digitization, as well as consumer policy.


More about coronavirus pandemic on Business of Society blog:

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark


Photo by Chad Stembridge on Unsplash

In Movement from Tanzania to Northern Italy to Denmark

By Lisa Ann Richey

This article is based on her previously written piece for the Centre for Business and Development Studies.

My first memory of the Corona virus, before we became politicized enough to refer to it as COVID-19, or the “new” Corona virus—or for some special politicians, the “Wuhan” virus—was in Tanzania. Enjoying the evening breeze from the Indian ocean in the public area of our workshop hotel, I sat with a couple of our research team members catching up on life via apps on the smartphone. I came across a small shitstorm on my social media about our Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. Technically speaking, she is not ‘my’ Prime Minister as my citizenship application was denied last year on the grounds of having spent too much time living outside of the country in South Africa, Italy and the US during the past 20 years. The “Wuhan virus” bleach-your-lungs guy, is actually the current head of the nation where I vote.

Yet, our Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was in the media adamantly refusing to issue a public apology for a Danish cartoon that had been published on January 27th by Jyllands-Posten, a second-rate, nationally distributed newspaper, infamous for publishing the 2005 “Muhammed cartoons” which led to international violence, boycotts and around 200 deaths. The latest cartoon was a drawing of the Chinese flag with its five gold stars replaced by five virions of Corona. China’s embassy accused the cartoonist of insulting China and demanded an apology. The Danish Prime Minister refused and her response is on record as saying ‘we have freedom of expression in Denmark – also to draw.

Most politicians and many Danes supported the cartoonist, attributing the outrage of many Chinese as ‘cultural difference.’ The newspaper editor defended that the publication was not ‘poking fun of the situation’ stating: ‘We cannot apologise for something we don’t think is wrong. We have no intention of being demeaning or to mock, nor do we think that the drawing does. As far as I can see, this here is about different forms of cultural understanding.’ When the Corona flag was published, 100 deaths from the virus had been documented in the Chinese city of Wuhan and ‘cultural’ understandings of right and wrong ways to portray the virus, to call its name, to recognize its symptoms, to document its death rates, to protect citizens within closed borders were just beginning.

But it was only January, and our international research team starting a five-year project on how people outside of the formal humanitarian sector respond to crises in Tanzania, had no idea the ways that this Coronavirus would come to affect us. We still don’t. We live quite specifically in Copenhagen, Dar es Salaam and London. But many of us are a bit of an Afropolitan/Cosmopolitan mish-mash by parentage— Chagga/Meru, British/Dane, American/Italian, Kenyan/Tanzanian and we have lived across various countries in Africa, Europe and Asia for work, studies, or by the accident of birth. We are all employed by the state in university jobs. For all of us, these are good jobs. We are comfortable. But, now, we are uncomfortable.

We are in different stages of our careers—from doctoral students to full professors—and these days, as the global pandemic settles over all of us in different and forcibly separate parts of the world, we feel differently the burdens of different responsibilities. One of our team wrote to me: ‘I work like hell while managing a family who is also sick and tired of being locked up… I’m trying to manage 200 staff members’ teaching, supervision and examination responsibilities, plus their externally funded research projects, their problems with spouses, kids and dogs… I want my life back…’

Another of us had to travel upcountry to Kilimanjaro to look after her ageing mother who lives alone on a farm. I imagine her weighing the risks of the transport, the confusing messages from the government about whether anyone should travel, or even leave their house, of whether the handful of cases that had been officially reported in Tanzania were exaggerated hyperbole or grossly under-reported with those of your own mother, and getting on the bus. I would have done the same.

But I am getting ahead of the story, back in January when we were planning how to study earthquakes and floods, refugee camps and their communities and perhaps locusts, we had no possible imagination of the new crisis that would consume us. We held our workshops, discussed the academic literature, planned the plans, drafted the MOUs, enjoyed our barbecue and good conversations and parted ways. Since January in Dar es Salaam, our team’s intellectual energy has become professional, intellectual, political and highly personal about whether to hoard supplies or wear medical masks, how much hand washing with which kind of water could be enough, how would people help each other when the most helpful thing they were told to do was to stay apart?

My flight went from Dar es Salaam to Istanbul. When I arrived in the crowded airport, something felt a little different to me, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. As I neared the gate for my connecting flight to Venice, I noticed that about half of the passengers were wearing medical masks. Thinking about our Danish Corona-flag incident, I remembered to check my cultural bias as I noticed the masks around me. Many appeared Asian and I know it is good hygiene to wear masks when in crowded public places, so I thought it mostly a sign of politeness. Yet, many were also Italians, headed on the plane with me. Not checking my cultural bias so effectively when considering a culture that I now also claim as my own, I remember thinking, ‘hysterical, over-reacting Italians.’


About the author

Lisa Ann Richey is a Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at the Copenhagen Business School.


More about coronavirus pandemic:

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan


Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

A Green and Fair COVID-19 Recovery Plan

By Stefano Ponte

This article is based on his previously written piece for the Centre for Business and Development Studies.

The COVID-19 crisis has made evident the limitations of existing thinking, preparedness and policy in relation not only to health pandemics but also to the sustainability challenges we face, locally and globally. Contemporary capitalism, with its hyper-individualistic culture and just-in-time – instead of just-in-case – approach to infrastructure and essential equipment, is not geared towards solving global problems that require coordination, cooperation and solidarity. As some activists, scholars and medical personnel have stated recently, ‘We don’t need heroes if we have preparation’.

Clear examples that have emerged with particular force in the past few months include the political inability to coordinate emergency responses within the EU and the US, cut-throat competition among countries seeking to procure essential medical gear, and the realization that we have been undermining the working conditions for ‘essential workers’ for decades. Therefore, an expansive economic stimulus to restart the economy during/post-covid-19 cannot be based on the first-line response of capitalism – restoring production and consumption back to ‘usual’.

This is the time to expand and rethink our socio-economic models to stimulate a more sustainable approach to consumption – not limited to consuming more sustainable goods and services (such as organic milk, ecotourism holiday or FSC certified timber), but also on consuming less.

We need to rethink the current organization of the global economy, reform the national economic and political institutions that govern it and devise new forms of governance and collective action within states and across borders. Contemporary hyper-capitalism, rather than humanity per se, is the root cause of the global sustainability crisis and the spread of pandemics – and thus should be the focus of action.

To achieve this, we need a different kind of ‘green entrepreneurial state’ that de-couples sustainability from growth, and that does not intervene to bail out carbon-intensive industries tout court. Oil markets have tanked in recent weeks, and $0 (or even negative) oil prices are devaluing oil industry assets dramatically. A green and just recovery in the oil industry transition means focusing on helping workers first and foremost, rather than executives or shareholders. This could entail partial nationalization of assets to essentially shut the oil industry down in the mid-term and open the way for further investment in renewables, which would otherwise be dampened by competition from cheap oil.

Second, what we need is more community involvement in the economy, changes in labour law to make unionization easier, tax reforms to make municipal and cooperative forms of organization more attractive, corporate regulation to facilitate employee ownership, and stimuli to expand the radical and democratic ecological experiments that are already in place – such as the shared living communities that have been active in Denmark since the 1970s.

Third, important insights for a recovery plan can be offered by the idea of ‘just sustainability’, which incorporates ‘the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst living within the limits of supporting ecosystems’. Therefore, a path towards recovery during-and-post COVID-19 needs to address inequality – as it drives competitive consumption and leads to lower levels of trust in societies, making public action (including under a pandemic) more difficult. Excluding companies from recovery funds which have made use of tax avoidance tools is one of the necessary steps. But broader and collective actions to stamp out tax heavens are needed more than ever.


About the author

Stefano Ponte is Professor of International Political Economy at Copenhagen Business School and Director of the Centre for Business and Development Studies. His latest book Business, power and sustainability in a world of global value chains was published by Zed Books in 2019.


More about coronavirus pandemic:

The Coronavirus Pandemic – and the Consequentiality of Metaphors

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

The Political Economy of the Olympics – Misconceptions about Sustainability

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic


Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

Supply Chain Responsibilities in a Global Pandemic

By Jette Steen Knudsen, Erin Leitheiser, Shaidur Rahman & Jeremy Moon

What is the responsibility of Western retailers to the workers who make their garments as the coronavirus forces factories to shut down?

Shopping malls are closed, gatherings are banned, thousands of employees have been furloughed, and movement outside of one’s home is discouraged if not outright illegal.  This has meant bad news for apparel brands and retailers as nervous customers cease buying. In the U.S., for example, retail sales in March were down almost 9% compared to in February.  Those brands and retailers which have built their businesses on a fast fashion model – predicated on the continuous churn of high volumes of cheap clothes – face unprecedented challenges and questions about responsibilities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Retailers have responded in different ways.  As they have had to shut down their stores many have stated that they will not pay rent. For example, German sportswear producer Adidas stated (March 26 200, Reuters) that

“Almost all over the world there is no normal business anymore. The shops are closed. Even a healthy company like Adidas cannot stand this for long”.

Adidas was one of a string of retailers in Germany that said they wouldn’t be paying their landlords while their stores are closed as part of efforts to stem the coronavirus spread. Adidas said it would need credit even after staff cut their working hours, executives waived part of their pay and the company stopped share buybacks. Adidas’ decision was met with an uproar in Germany eventually forcing the company to formally apologize and to report that it planned to suspend a planned 1 billion euro ($1.09 billion) share buyback in an effort conserve cash after closing its retail outlets in Europe and North America. Adidas also said it would pay rent.

In Denmark, Anders Holck Poulsen, the owner of the clothing company Bestseller and Denmark’s wealthiest man, also announced that the company would not pay rent for its stores. Bestseller (parent company for brands like Vera Moda, Jack & Jones, Pieces, and Name It, among others) later reversed the decision following a public outcry and the CEO went on national television to apologize. Bestseller subsequently laid off 750 employees and sought financial support from the government.  This decision was met sharp with sharp criticism because over the last five years Mr. Holck Poulsen has paid DKK 7.6 billion (more than $ 1 billion) in dividends to his private holding company Heartland.

Not all companies have responded this way. Patagonia, for example, has promised that all of its employees will continue to receive their regular pay during store closures.

However, with many large brands scaling back their social responsibility in the Western part of the world, what kind of responsibility can we reasonably expect from Western retailers in places such as Bangladesh?

Bangladesh is heavily dependent on apparel production. Apparel comprises more than 80% of the country’s total export revenue and the sector employs more than 4 million workers, most of them women.  However, in recent weeks many Western brands have cancelled their orders from Bangladesh, and it is estimated that more than 2 million workers have lost their jobs.  H&M is the largest buyer of garments from Bangladesh and has reluctantly agreed to take and pay for the shipments of goods already manufactured as well as those that are still being produced. Inditex, PVH and Marks and Spencer have also agreed to pay suppliers for orders that are already produced but not all companies have done so. Primark, for example, has cancelled orders, and virtually all buyers have pulled orders that have not yet gone into production.  At the end of March 2020 orders for more than $1,5 billion had been cancelled, and Bangladesh reported -19% year-on-year export volume for the month.

What is the responsibility of large brands like Bestseller or H&M for their supplier factories in Bangladesh? Western brands have a long tradition for stating their commitment to CSR in global supply chains, including elaborate Codes of Conduct for social and environmental performance in supplier factories. Bangladesh has staked its claim as the low-cost producer of garments, and its costs and production capacities cannot be easily matched elsewhere in the world. The model of fast fashion needs Bangladesh, and Bangladesh, in turn, needs fast fashion. 

Now that crisis reigns upon all of us in the form of a global health pandemic, it is the most vulnerable of workers who have been left in the lurch, be it the retails associates who stock shelves or the stitchers who sew together T-shirts.  As buyers cancel orders, few recognize the perilous position that these workers are left in. For those working on the factory floor in Bangladesh, more than 2 million have been furloughed, many without pay, despite a governmental scheme intended to address these issues.  The meagre wages of garment factory workers have not allowed for savings that could support them in such times, and the prospect of long-term closures – or at least, no orders to fill and therefore no paid work – means almost certain disaster for them and their families. 

Garment workers in Bangladesh have risen up in protest, stating that

“…we don’t have any choice.  We are starving.  If we stay at home, we may save ourselves from the virus.  But who will save us from starvation?”

(13 April 2020, The Guardian).

While some brands, like Primark, have set up charitable funding pools to help support workers, the money has yet to make it to their pockets, and the “charitable” framing of this funding on behalf of brands speaks volumes about what they see as their responsibilities.  Yet, when the crisis passes and shopping malls re-open, brands will again be reliant upon these workers to satisfy their demand for an endless supply of cheap garments. 

Given that cheap labor is a fundamental need for fast fashion companies to survive, shouldn’t brands likewise ensure the survival of those on which it depends? 


This is the first in a series of blogs which will further explore the responsibility of the Bangladesh government, factories, Western governments and civil society organizations for dealing with COVID-19 in places like Bangladesh.  


About the authors

Jette Steen Knudsen is Professor of Policy and International Business at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and holds the Shelby Collum Davis Chair in Sustainability.  She is also a Velux Fellow at Copenhagen Business School where she is part of the Regulation of International Supply Chains (RISC) project

Erin Leitheiser is an Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School and Project Manager of the Regulation of International Supply Chains (RISC) project

Shaidur Rahman is Professor of Sociology at BRAC University where he is part of the Regulation of International Supply Chains (RISC) project

Jeremy Moon is Professor of Sustainability Governance and Director of the Sustainability Centre at Copenhagen Business School.  He is the Project Coordinator of the Regulation of International Supply Chains (RISC) project.

Photo by ILO Asia-Pacific

Sustainable Development, Interrupted?

By Steen Vallentin

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.


About the author

Steen Vallentin is Director of the CBS Sustainability Centre and Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research is centred on CSR (corporate social responsibility) and sustainable development in a broad sense.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Normalizing Sustainability

By John Robinson, University of Toronto

We often hear the argument that, given the urgency of climate change and sustainability concerns,  significant changes to individual behaviours and lifestyles are required. This has led to a wide array of public education and climate literacy campaigns aimed at changing such behaviours. In this blog, I will argue that some fairly strong research findings suggest that such campaigns are of limited value in influencing behaviour change, and moreover that focusing on changes in individual behaviours may be distracting us from much more significant possible steps.

There are many models of behaviour change in the literature, and of the relationships among values, attitudes, intentions and behaviours. It is probably fair to say that many of the most influential conceptualizations of behaviour change assume that most individual behaviours are the result of some form of conscious decision-making about desirable outcomes based in turn on some assessment of the consequences of different courses of action. [1]

On this view, people act in environmentally irresponsible ways because they lack the information they need to make better decisions. Such an ‘information deficit’ model leads in turn to what we might call a persuasive communication approach to stimulating behavior change, which assumes that providing more information as to those consequences, through information provision, educational programs, and science and climate change literacy campaigns, will lead to better and more environmentally responsible decision-making [2].

Unfortunately, the relevant research on the relationship between information and behaviour shows that persuasive communication approaches based on an information deficit model are not only ineffective in changing behaviours in the desired direction [3], but may in fact have perverse consequences.

Studies of the relationship between knowledge and attitudes have found that increased science literacy does not lead people to become more concerned about climate change, but on the contrary, actually increases polarization on this issue[4]. It seems that educating people on the science of climate change, or other sustainability problems, will not lead them to change their views on the problem itself, but instead may further reinforce their prior position.

In fact there is evidence from many fields of study, going back multiple decades, that information is only weakly connected to behaviour change. Studies of the effectiveness of energy efficiency programs [5], research in health promotion[6], or community-based social marketing[7], over many decades have all reached similar findings. So widespread are these findings that it can be said, in the words of my colleague David Maggs that:

The best evidence that information does not change behaviour is that we have decades of evidence in multiple fields that it does not do so, yet we continue to create and implement pubic education campaigns intended to change individual behaviour.

While this is bad enough, the problem gets worse.

It turns out that it is not clear that changing individual consumption behaviour is the right goal anyway. A number of studies have shown that there is no significant difference in either the carbon or ecological footprint of individual who cares deeply about environmental issues and behave accordingly, and those who do not care at all and do not behave in environmentally responsible ways [8]. The reason is that the ecological and carbon footprints of individuals are determined much more by their income than by the degree to which they choose more environmentally appropriate behaviours such as recycling or buying sustainable products.

So we seem to be in a depressing circumstance: information and literacy programs won’t change behaviour; moreover, it wouldn’t much matter, in term of overall environmental impact, if they did.

But rather than ignoring this evidence and intensifying our efforts to educate people into sustainability, or else throwing up our hands and retreating into apathy, perhaps a more fruitful approach is to reframe the original questions and ask whether a different approach altogether might be useful, on both these questions.

With regard to information provision, instead of a persuasive communication approach, it might be more useful to take what we might call an emergent dialogue approach [9]. Instead of assuming that we know the right answers and we have to get those answers into the heads of our audience, perhaps we need to listen as much as we speak, and to find two-way approaches to dialogue in order to co-create narratives with citizens that describe our circumstances in ways that are more faithful to the disparate views and values of different groups and that thereby offer the possibility of finding common ground on controversial societal problems.

The goal switches from a focus on changing behaviours to a focus on trying to create shared narratives, in order to better inform collective decision-making processes, and to foster social mobilization in support of policy change.

With regard to individual behaviour change, perhaps we need to rethink our ideas about change itself. As long as sustainability requires change, then it is fragile because human activities and practices will often snap back to prior unsustainable normals. Instead, we need to normalize sustainable practices, so that they become the default, not the required change [10]. In this connection, it might be useful to move from a focus on conscious individual behaviour and pay more attention to more collective processes of activity. There has been an upsurge of work on social practice theory approaches to human activity, which suggests that much of that activity is unconscious and collective, connected to social processes and relationships, and social and cultural norms [11]. Can a focus on collective social practices lead us towards processes of normalization of sustainability?

Following this line of thought, it is not about encouraging behaviour change instead of technological change, but of exploring how the overall socio-technical system itself, including powerful social norms, influences and is influenced by individual choices and actions, including political demands or support for changes in collective decisions. Perhaps we need to try to create ‘virtuous cascades’ 12 of positive normative change and identify leverage points that will allow us to foster and encourage more sustainable outcomes. Trying to convince people to change their lifestyles in the absence of change in the overall system will be ineffective and may even work against larger system change.


About the author

John Robinson is a Professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and the School of the Environment at the University of Toronto.  He is also an Adjunct Professor at Copenhagen Business School. His research focuses on the intersection of climate change mitigation, adaptation and sustainability; the use of visualization, modelling and citizen engagement to explore sustainable futures; sustainable buildings and urban design; the role of the university in contributing to sustainability; creating partnerships for sustainability with non-academic partners; the history and philosophy of sustainability; and, generally, the intersection of sustainability, social and technological change, ways of thinking, and community engagement processes. 

References

[1] E.g. see Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 179-211

[2] Masud, M.M., Al-Amin, A.Q., Junsheng, H., Ahmed, F., Yahaya, S.R., Akhtar, R., & Banna, H. (2016). Climate change issue and theory of planned behaviour: relationship by empirical evidence. Journal of Cleaner Production, 113, 613-623. See the discussion in Kollmuss, A., & Agyeman, J. (2002). Mind the Gap: Why Do People Act Environmentally and What are the Barriers to Pro-Environmental Behaviour? Environmental Education Research, 8(3): 239-260.

[3] See, for example, Kollmuss & Agyeman, op. cit.; Sheeran, P., & Webb, T.L. (2016). The Intention-Behaviour Gap. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10(9), 503-518; Ungar, S. (1994). Apples and oranges: probing the attitude-behaviour relationship for the environment. Canadian Review of Sociology, 31(3); Steg, L., Perlaviciute, G., & van der Werff, E. (2015). Understanding the human dimensions of a sustainable energy transition. Frontiers in Psychology, 6; Owens, S. 2000. `Engaging the public’: information and deliberation in environmental policy, Environment and Planning A, 32, pages 1141-1148; Shove, E. 2010. Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change, Environment and Planning A, 42, 1273-1285. 

[4] Kahan et al, (2012) The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks, Nature Climate Change, 2(10), pp.732-735; Drummond, C., & Fischhoff, B. (2017). Individuals with greater science literacy and education have more polarized beliefs on controversial science topics, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(36), 9587-9592.

[5] Stern, P. C. 1986. “Blind spots in policy analysis: What economics doesn’t say about energy use.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 5(2), 200-227; Hirst, E. (1990). Progress and Potential in Evaluating Energy Efficiency Programs. Evaluation Review, 14(2), 192–205; Robinson. J. (1991). “The proof of the pudding: Making energy efficiency work.” Energy Policy, 19(7), 631-645; Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C., & Rothengatter, T. (2005). A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation. Journal of environmental psychology, 25(3), 273-291.

[6] Green, L. W., & Kreuter, M. W. (1993). Health promotion planning: An educational and ecological approach. McGraw-Hill

[7] McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2011). Fostering sustainable behavior: An introduction to community-based social marketing. New society publishers.

[8] Csutora, M., 2012. One more awareness gap? The behaviour–impact gap problem.  Journal of Consumer Policy, 35(1), pp.145-163; Tabi, A., (2013). Does pro-environmental behavior affect carbon emissions. Energy Policy, 63, pp.972-981; Moser, S., & Kleinhückelkotten, S. (2018). Good intents, but low impacts: diverging importance of motivational and socioeconomic determinants explaining pro-environmental behavior, energy use, and carbon footprint. Environment and Behavior, 50(6), 626-656.

[9] Robinson, J. (2004) “Squaring the Circle: Some thoughts on the idea of sustainable development”, Ecological Economics, 48(4): 369-384; Antle, A. N., & Robinson, J. (2011). Procedural Rhetoric Meets Emergent Dialogue: Interdisciplinary perspectives on persuasion and behavior change in serious games for sustainability; Bendor, R., Lyons, S. H., & Robinson, J. (2012). What’s there not to ‘like’? sustainability deliberations on facebook. JeDEM-eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government4(1), 67-88; Maggs, D. and Robinson, J. (2016) “Recalibrating the Anthropocene: Sustainability in an Imaginary World”, Environmental Philosophy, 13(2), 175-194; Robinson, J. and Cole, R. (2015) Theoretical underpinnings of regenerative sustainability, Building Research & Information, 43(2), 133-143; Westerhoff, L. and Robinson, J. (2013) “’Practicing’ narratives: exploring the meaning and materiality of climate change”, Proceedings of Transformation in a Changing Climate, June 19-21, 2013.

[10] John Robinson, “Normalizing Sustainability: from behavior change to metamorphosis”, Keynote Presentation at IST2019: Accelerating sustainability transitions: Building visions, unlocking pathways, navigating conflicts, Ottawa, Jun 25 2019

[11] Gram-Hanssen, K. & Georg S. 2017. Energy performance gaps: promises, people, practices, Building Research and Information 46(1), 1-9; Strengers, Y., & Maller, C. (Eds.). (2014). Social practices, intervention and sustainability: Beyond behaviour change. Routledge; Shove, E., Pantzar, M., & Watson, M. (2012). The Dynamics of Social Practice. London, UK: SAGE Publications; Hargreaves, T. (2011). Practice-ing behaviour change: Applying social practice theory to pro-environmental behaviour change. Journal of consumer culture, 11(1), 79-99; Reckwitz, A. (2002). Toward a theory of social practices: A development in culturalist theorizing. European journal of social theory, 5(2), 243-263.

[12] Homer-Dixon, T. Coronavirus will change the world. It might also lead to a better future. The Globe and Mail, Mar 5, 2020  https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-coronavirus-is-a-collective-problem-that-requires-global/

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

Sustainable Consumer Behavior: Go Big or Go Home?

By Laura Krumm

In recent years, news on issues such as climate change, environmental degradation and plastic pollution was almost inescapable. At least in Europe, newspapers reported on environmental topics regularly, political discussions often revolved around greenhouse gas emissions or environmental policy, and sustainability content creators gained large numbers of followers on social media with tips on package-free grocery shopping and vegan recipes. Additionally, with Fridays for Future, environmental issues inspired one of the largest youth movements to date. It is fair to say that almost everyone is talking about the environmental issues we are currently facing.

The role of consumption

With almost everyone talking about environmental issues, most have understood that our consumption behavior in the industrialized world is a major cause of environmental problems. After all, the issue of climate change is an issue of consumption. Almost three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions originate from household consumption (1). A change in consumption behavior, therefore, is deemed necessary to have a chance of mitigating climate change.

Even though environmental beliefs and values are increasing, consumers often do not follow through and translate their attitudes into environmental behavior. Many scholars are concerned with this phenomenon, often termed attitude-behavior gap or value-action gap (2, 3). This gap is frequently calculated by subtracting the market share of sustainable goods, e.g., organic produce, from the percentage of consumers having an intention to buy those products. The estimated size of the gap ranges mostly around the 30% mark (4, 5).

If consumers acted according to their attitudes, the market share of sustainable products would, therefore, increase by 30 %, which would certainly have a substantial environmental impact. Is it, however, enough to focus on closing the attitude-behavior gap? Unfortunately, no.

How sustainable are we really?

Behaviors commonly considered as sustainable, such as bringing our own reusable shopping bag instead of using the plastic bags provided by the store, might not have the big environmental influence we think they have. Bilharz and Schmitt have termed such actions as the “peanuts of sustainable consumption” (6). Often, consumers that identify themselves as “green” have similar ecological footprints to consumers who do not identify themselves as “green” (6, 7).

A green self-image, although associated with higher rates of some environmental behaviors, is therefore often misleading.

This can be problematic. If consumers with high attitudes towards sustainable consumption overestimate their own positive impact and already perceive themselves as sustainable after performing relatively low-impact sustainable behaviors, such as stopping the water while brushing their teeth or using a reusable tote bag for shopping, the motivation for bigger steps might be reduced. While these small behaviors are important actions and first steps in the right direction, they are only that: first steps. To mitigate climate change and solve other environmental issues, more drastic measures will be necessary.

Focus on high-impact behaviors instead of low-hanging fruits

Some researchers, therefore, suggest to reduce the focus on the intent-based view of sustainable behavior (e.g., environmental attitudes or motivations) and rather take a more impact-based perspective (8). In that case, the actual environmental effects of certain behaviors and actions are assessed in the form of, e.g., emitted greenhouse gases or ecological footprint calculations. An impact ranking of sustainable behaviors can then give insightful information, which behaviors to give priority.

A recent study found, e.g., that a change towards a vegan diet has the potential to mitigate up to 14% of European carbon emissions, whereas a change towards exclusively purchasing organic food has the potential to mitigate 2% (9). While this certainly does not mean that organic food products are not important and we should stop buying them, a focus on them will not suffice to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

This change in perspective is not only important for consumers themselves, but also for companies, research and policy. While, e.g., an EU-wide ban of single-use plastic or company initiatives to eliminate plastic bags in some supermarkets have a considerable positive impact on the problem of plastic pollution, it is by far not enough.

Even though the probable consequences of climate change are well known and already start to become apparent, countries and governments still fail to adopt effective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (10).

An enhanced focus on high-impact behaviors and actions can help political institutions, research organizations and consumer education strategies achieve their sustainability goals. While it is certainly necessary to address small and easily implementable changes, they should not distract us from tackling the big consumption challenges (11).


About the author

Laura Krumm is a PhD fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication and part of the Consumer & Behavioural Insights Group at CBS Sustainability. Her research interests lie in the fields of sustainable consumption behaviour and policy.

References

(1) Hertwich, E.G. and Peters, G.P., 2009 – Carbon Footprint of Nations: A Global, Trade-Linked Analysis, in: Environmental Science and Technology, 43(16), 6414-6420.

(2) Kollmuss, A. and Agyeman, J., 2002 – Mind the Gap: Why Do People Act Environmentally and What are the Barriers to Pro-Environmental Behavior?, in: Environmental Education Research, 8(3), 239-260.

(3) Huddart Kennedy, E., Beckley, T.M., McFarlane, B.L. and Nadeau, S., 2009 – Why We Don’t “Walk the Talk”: Understanding the Environmental Values/Behaviour Gap in Canada, in: Human Ecology Review, 16(2), 151-160.

(4) Carrington, M.J., Neville, B.A. and Whitwell, G.J., 2010 – Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Walk Their Talk: Towards a Framework for Understanding the Gap Between the Ethical Purchase Intentions and Actual Buying Behaviour of Ethically Minded Consumers, in: Journal of Business Ethics, 97(1), 139-158.

(5) Young, W., Hwang, K., McDonald, S. and Oates C.J., 2010 – Sustainable Consumption: Green Consumer Behaviour when Purchasing Products, in: Sustainable Development, 18(1), 20-31.

(6) Bilharz, M. and Schmitt, K., 2011 – Going Big with Big Matters, in: GAIA, 20(4), 232-235.

(7) Gatersleben, B., Steg, L. and Vlek C., 2002 – Measurement and Determinants of Environmentally Significant Consumer Behavior, in: Environment and Behavior, 34(3), 335-362.

(8) Moser, S. and Kleinhückelkotten, S., 2018 – Good Intents, but Low Impacts: Diverging Importance of Motivational and Socioeconomic Determinants Explaining Pro-Environmental Behavior, Energy Use, and Carbon Footprint

(9) Vita, G., Lundström, J.R., Hertwich, E.G., Quist, J., Ivanova, D., Stadler, K. and Wood, R.,  2019 – The Environmental Impact of Green Consumption and Sufficiency Lifestyles Scenarios in Europe: Connecting Local Sustainability Visions to Global Consequences, in: Ecological Economics, 164, 106322.

(10) UN Environment Programme, 2019 – Emissions Gap Report

(11) Centre for Behavior & the Environment, 2018 – Climate Change Needs Behavior Change: Making the Case For Behavioral Solutions to Reduce Global Warming


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Helpful hypocrisy? The ‘ironic turn’ in corporate talk about sustainable development

By Sarah Glozer and Mette Morsing

Do you feel uneasy to think that companies use a humorous tone in their communications about grave challenges such as climate change, pollution and inequality? We suggest the notion of helpful hypocrisy to coin this new ironic turn in recent corporate communications.

Ironic campaigns

We have ourselves been intrigued by this new ‘ironic turn’ in corporate communications. Large international fashion brands such as Patagonia, Benetton and Diesel have recently challenged conventional informational approaches to marketing communication about sustainability, choosing instead to incorporate a humorous (or more precisely, an ironic) edge to their visual representations as they address issues of climate change.

Such campaigns are ironic because they bring a twist of message incongruity and ‘double talk’, where they show a world within which ambiguity, incongruity and contradictions are real and leaving it to consumers what to make of it. This stands in sharp contrast to conventional prescriptions in marketing communications where the idea of ‘one message’, or what we refer to as ‘single talk’, prevails with the purpose of targeting consumers effectively. In our recently published paper, we suggest the term ‘helpful hypocrisy’ as a way of coining the ironic turn.

On the one hand, these new ironic messages show consumers the dire consequences of pollution, climate change, flooding and deforestation (i.e. implications of consumption) and on the other hand, they simultaneously carry strong aesthetic appeals to enjoy life and consume more, comforting consumers that ‘life goes on’ and hedonistic lifestyles will continue. In new ‘twisting’ advertising campaigns, companies blend these two narratives in complex, ironic visualization.

Such double talk is often deemed hypocrisy and greenwashing in research as well as in practice. And while we agree with such assessment, our analysis shows that there is also something else going on.

Double talk

We point to how such double talk may also provoke critical reflection and surprise through displaying inconsistencies between ‘talk’ and ‘talk,’ and hereby engage its audiences as more than passive recipients. In a cosmopolitan context, where people like to think that they are able and capable of critically reflect on their own lives and make their own decisions, preaching and moralizing communications about ‘good behavior’ is becoming increasingly less effective.

Youth is particularly opposing being told what to do. And even in spite of the severe consequences of continued consumption, a certain ‘climate change fatigue’ has entered the market. Consumers know that they should buy less and more sustainable products, but they are resistant to messages that give them feelings of guilt and shame.

In such a world, we suggest, one way to gain traction is to engage audiences in ironic and humorous communications in which the receiver is him- and herself activated to interpret incongruous ambiguous messages.

Helpful hypocrisy

Analyzing Diesel’s Global Warming Ready campaign, we find how the technique of irony is particularly outspoken as beautiful people in beautiful clothes are inserted into out-of-place environments, juxtaposing them if you will, by the dire implications of climate change, in a way which makes the whole scenery appear absurd.

In our analysis, we develop an analytical model that positions irony and double talk vis a vis conventional marketing campaigns.

We point to how the blend of climate change and luxury consumption is an ambiguous affair, and we show how incongruity is present across four levels of Diesel’s use of irony: fantasy versus reality (framing), survival versus destruction (signifying), utopia versus dystopia (symbolizing) and political activism versus consumer society (ideologizing).

Without moralizing or telling consumers what to do, or even restraining from telling consumers how good the corporate sustainable activities are, Diesel exposes the ambiguities of society and sustainability by using humor.

Now, we are not fooling ourselves. Diesel is a company with an ambition of selling more products. And where satire is a technique that intends to improve humanity by critiquing its ‘follies and foibles’, companies are generally known to have less noble ambitions.

But we argue – with Swedish sociologist Nils Brunsson – that “hypocrisy appears to be exactly what we demand of modern organizations: if we expose organizations to conflicting demands and norms, and expect that they should respond to them, then we must also expect hypocrisy” (1993: 8-9).

We propose that irony may be considered a means of ‘helpful hypocrisy’ in which the public is exposed to the contradictions and vices of society with the purpose of changing people’s opinion and create betterment of society.


References

Brunsson, N. (1989). The Organization of Hypocrisy: Talk, Decisions and Actions in Organizations. Wiley.

Glozer, S. and Morsing, M. (2019). Helpful hypocrisy? Investigating ‘double-talk’ and irony in CSR marketing communications, Journal of Business Research


About the authors

Sarah Glozer is Associate Professor of Marketing and Society in the School of Management at the University of Bath, UK. She is also Deputy Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society (CBOS). Her research focuses on corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication, digital marketing and ethical markets/consumption.

Mette Morsing is Professor and Mistra Chair of Sustainable Markets at Stockholm School of Economics (Sweden) and Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility at Copenhagen Business School (Denmark). Her research concerns how organizations govern and are governed in the context of sustainability. She is particularly interested in how communication, identity and image dynamics work in this regard.


The image is one of the eight images displayed in Glozer & Morsing (2019) from the Diesel Global Warming Ready campaign: New York City submerged in water

Fake news and the future of the truth

By Jan Michael Bauer

At least since the last U.S. elections in 2016, the issue of “fake news” is frequently debated in the public and the news. The strategic and targeted distribution of misinformation to undermine political opponents peaked in the conspiracy theory termed “Pizzagate”.

Originated from leaked emails, the story suggested that the former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton along with other high-level Democrats ran a child trafficking out of a pizzeria in Washington[1]. Despite these absurd claims and the lack of any credible evidence, the owner received multiple death threats and the restaurant was attacked with an assault rifle[2]. Luckily, nobody was injured.

The hunger for likes

Though admittingly an extreme case, this is only one example of many fake news stories shared on social media and often echoed among equal minded users. Even though multiple psychological studies emphasize the human tendency to believe information that supports prior beliefs, it remains astonishing that even the most outlandish fakes find their believers and are frequently shared. This phenomenon fueled by the hunger of many users for likes and reach of their posts, which seems to be extended with more extreme content.

These dynamics have given prominence to the recent focus on “fake news” but looking at the latest technological developments the future might even hold dire prospects.

Modern computer software, like Photoshop©, allows for realistic manipulations of images since many years. While some faked photos have famously traveled through the internet, I would argue that people have developed a healthy and critical attitude towards digital images as people can no longer trust their own eyes. Increasing processing power and novel algorithms start to enable trained users to not only alter photos, but also voice recordings and video material [3]. While not yet perfect, with enough training data these technologies are able to rearrange and even create new audio and video material that is hard to distinguish from the original.

Thinking a few years ahead, it is not hard to imagine that these methods become better and better, and fakes will ultimately be indistinguishable from real footage.

This will allow the creation of fake content about individuals using their own voice and presented by a realistic video of the person without their knowledge. While this will certainly trigger a cat and mouse game between people creating fake material and others trying to identify the fake through digital forensics, it will always be easier to create a fake than detecting one. Hence, one might hope that people develop a similar skepticism towards videos and voice recordings than most have towards images. In any case, the line between what is real and what is fake will inevitably become blurrier as technology increases.

Type 2 error

Currently, the discussion about fake news focuses on the spread of what is literally fake news, the spreading of information that is not true – like Pizzagate. Borrowing from the language and ideas of statistics, people believing the Pizzagate conspiracy make what is called a Type 1 error: they believe a story to be true, even though there is nothing to it.

I, however, would like to focus attention on the second type of error that has so far received less attention. A Type 2 error occurs if someone does not believe a story, even though it is actually true. In other words, declaring something fake news, even though it is real. There are a few recent cases that highlight this problem.

For instance, in 2015 a real video of the former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis surfaced where he showed “Germany the middle finger”. However, in the name of satire, a German comedian wrongly claimed to have created the video by showing a fake video of the Minister only raising a clenched fist and declared it to be the original before his team added the raised middle finger digitally [4]. This “Varoufake” controversy circulated the media until an official clarification stating that the video with a raised middle finger is actually real footage. Resolving the confusion took several days. A long time for the current speed of information on social media.

A more recent example stems from Prince Andrew involved in a sex scandal [5]. Confronted with the accusation of an inappropriate relationship with, at the time, underaged Virginia Giuffre, he claimed to not remember ever meeting her and responded to a photo showing him with his arms around her that there is no way to prove the authenticity of this image and suggested that it could have been faked.

Fakes affecting social media and public opinion

While fakes might ultimately be identified by experts in the famous cases or the court, it is unlikely that social media and public opinion will not be affected by this issue. The mere possibility of fake images, audio, or video evidence might undermine the credibility of real incriminating evidence and help perpetrators spread doubt about the authenticity of evidence against them.

In 2012, a shaky video surfaced where republican candidate Mitt Romney declared 47% of the nation as government-dependent and his job would not be to “worry about these people”. In 2016, a hot microphone recorded Donald Trump before leaving a bus bragging about sexual assault. In the latter case, Trump on numerous occasions suggested that the audio might be a fake,[6] creating doubt at least among some voters, and ultimately won the election.

An increase in such “Type 2 fake news” issues might be even more problematic than the currently discussed Type 1 problems.

If the public can no longer trust any of their senses to separate truth from fake due to technological progress, the democratic process is certainly in danger. And if at some point even experts struggle to clearly identify the authenticity of the evidence, the issue might even spread into our courts and the legal system.

When teaching my students about the different error types in statistics, the lecture generally concludes with the lesson that the probability of making either of the errors is connected. Being more skeptical reduces Type 1 errors but increases the probability of making the 2nd types.

Despite this link, it is ex ante not clear which errors cause more harm and we should be careful that our current emphasis on “fake news” focusing on type 1 error not inadvertently creates too much skepticism which will leave us with many more type 2 errors. “Pizzagate” is the former, climate change denial is the latter.


References

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/10/business/media/pizzagate.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/05/business/media/comet-ping-pong-pizza-shooting-fake-news-consequences.html?action=click&contentCollection=Business&region=Footer&module=WhatsNext&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&moduleDetail=undefined&pgtype=Multimedia

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ54GDm1eL0

[4] https://www.euronews.com/2015/03/19/varoufake-when-satire-acts-as-media-watchdog

[5] https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/11/26/cal-forensics-expert-casts-doubt-on-prince-andrews-claim-sex-slave-photo-was-faked/

[6] https://observer.com/2018/09/trump-still-wants-you-to-think-the-access-hollywood-tape-is-fake/


About the author

Jan Bauer is Associate Professor at Copenhagen Business School and part of the Consumer & Behavioural Insights Group at CBS Sustainability. His research interests are in the fields of sustainability, consumer behavior and decision-making.


Last year, the Seminar on Fake News – Digital Transformation Platform took place at Copenhagen Business School. The organizers highlighted: The problem of Fake News and other problematic online content is one of our times’ most pressing challenges — it is widely believed to have played a major role in the election of Trump and the current situation with Brexit.

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Why consultations on large projects should matter to citizens as well as companies

By Karin Buhmann, Sanne Vammen Larsen and Anna-Sofie Hurup Skjervedal. This article is based on their previously written piece for the Centre for Business and Development Studies.

Insights into the concerns or needs of communities or individuals who may be affected by planned or proposed private or public energy projects or infrastructure projects is important for those who will eventually decide whether the project will be approved to make an informed decision. Such insights can be gained through consultations carried out as part of assessments of the environmental or societal impacts of projects.

This begs the question: what is a good process for stakeholder engagement of local communities and citizens in impact assessment processes? This is a global issue that in recent years has come to be high on the agenda in countries from the Arctic to the Global South.

Consultations as part of impact assessments

Consultations allowing for stakeholder involvement in impact assessments are common in regard to private projects concerning the establishment of mines, windfarms, sun-power farms and dams for hydro-power. The same applies to public infrastructure projects such as airports, roads and ports, which are often necessary for the transport of the products to be gained from private projects.

Societal impacts of projects are typically assessed through social impact assessment (SIA), environmental impact assessment (EIR), or human rights impact assessment (HRIA), or combined approaches such as ESIA or ESHRIA. All aim at identifying and preventing or mitigating adverse impacts and advance positive impacts, of planned projects or extension of existing ones. It is customary and often mandatory for the impact assessment to involve local stakeholders who are or may become affected by the project.

This typically takes place through consultations, which may take a variety of forms to enable public participation in the identification of the impacts of the planned activities. Consultations are organized by authorities or the organization having applied for a permit to engage in the new activity. In addition to environmental impacts, impact assessments often include the project’s effects on a range of broader societal issues, such as health and safety in the local areas, employment, local business and sources of income generation, etc.

The Nordics and many other countries have introduced mandatory consultations of local communities. Some international development banks, e.g. the World Bank, have made certain loans conditional on impact assessments.

Uncertainty about consultations

Despite the great significance of consultations for stakeholder involvement, there is often uncertainty with local communities and other groups of affected stakeholders in regard to what exactly a consultation is, what it entails and what to expect of the process. Moreover, even when consultations have taken place it is not infrequent that affected communities are unhappy with the process or the extent to which authorities take their concerns or needs into account.

For example, Sami groups living in the High North have complained to authorities in Norway and Sweden because they are concerned that windfarms disrupt the grazing areas of their reindeer and, as a consequence, the traditional way of life of the Sami. Authorities and business enterprises can also be unsure about what constitutes the proper process or ‘best practice’ for consultations with affected stakeholder.

Photo: Reindeer at Kvalsund, Norway/ K. Buhmann, 2019

What is a consultation?

Consultations on project activities are carried out to provide an informed foundation for decisions to be made. In providing access to participation in decision-making on activities that will affect one’s life at the everyday level, consultations contribute to a form of very direct democracy and can be argued to be part of the human right to public participation.

Consultations provide citizens with an opportunity to ask questions and express their views on a project. But as is the case for other democratic processes, one does not have a claim to seeing one’s views winning out. This is an important aspect for the appreciation of what to expect of a consultation; how to engage in a consultation process; and the information that authorities, companies and consultants must or should provide when conducting consultations.

It is not infrequent that consultations are conducted by a company involved in the project. A good consultation process marked by sincere dialogue and appreciation of local concerns can build understanding and acceptance of the final design of the project. A process that does not live up to local stakeholders’ expectations of influence can lead to the opposite result.

Accordingly, it is important for involved companies as well as authorities to ensure that stakeholders are given the information necessary to understand and assess how the project may affect them, what their rights are and what they can expect of the consultation process.

Local stakeholders’ expectations and understandings

Our investigations have demonstrated that it is not infrequent for actually or potentially affected stakeholders in a local community to be uncertainty of what a consultation entails or what to expect of the process and result. Others have shown that frustration results when authorities do not seem to take views made during a consultation into consideration in their decisions.

During meetings in northern Scandinavia in June 2019, we met with several inhabitants in Sápmi, who expressed frustration with consultation processes. Sápmi is the cultural region traditionally inhabited by the Sami people, an indigenous people who traditionally live from reindeer herding and fishing. Grazing areas on which the Sami’s reindeer depend are adversely affected by the establishment of windmills and mines.

Sami communities are involved and asked for their views through consultations, but they also see authorities granting permits to put up windfarms and new mines on contravention of the contesting views and concerns presented by the Sami during consultations. Authorities in Norway have granted permission to open a new copper mine in Northern Norway despite the opposing views submitted by the Sami Parliament (Sametinget). The motivation to engage actively in future consultations easily gets reduced, even with those who are aware that a consultation does not equal a claim to one’s views to be granted when central authorities are seen to make decisions affronting local democracy.

Some of our other meetings have shown that when English is a working language or the common ’lingua franca’ in an area that does not have English as its main language, mistranslations may occur and lead to misunderstandings about the process and objectives. For example, the Danish term for consultation, ‘høring’, often gets translated into English as ‘hearing’. This may give unintended associations to the conflict-oriented type of ‘hearing’ that takes place in courtrooms and it’s objective of determinations leading to a winner and a looser, thereby disrupting the understanding of the consultation’s objectives of dialogue and developing workable solutions. Our fieldwork in Greenland and elsewhere offers several examples of this mistranslation.

Consultations and the corporate ’social license to operate’

Consultations can contribute to risks of adverse impacts being identified and addressed before they develop into actual problems because consultations offer opportunities for local stakeholders, including those who are actually or potentially directly affected by the proposed project or project idea to express their concerns.

Because of this consultations not only matter to the longer-term well-being of the local community, but also to relations to the organization that is behind the project giving rise to the consultation.

For example, a consultation concerning a proposed mine matters not only for local stakeholders who are concerned with the mine’s impact on grazing areas or the quality of water, but also for the perception of the company that wants to carry out the project, and for trust in authorities who will be granting the permit or prescribe changes and conditions.

Authorities often delegate the task to conduct a consultation to the company that applies for an exploration or exploitation permit. One the one hand, this may strengthen the consultation process because the company conducting the process knows the project very well and is able to reply to questions of a technical character. On the other hand, participation in the consultation and trust in the process may suffer if local stakeholders, who are worried about contamination or other harmful effects, suspect that the consultation may be influenced by the company’s interests.

‘Fox in the henhouse’

Allowing the company that applies for a permit for the project to conduct the consultation can appear like letting the fox into the hen house.

However, if performed well, the company will obtain a better appreciation of the project’s impacts and will be able to make relevant adaptions. Likewise, authorities often lack both the necessary technical knowledge and other resources to conduct consultations. Companies lack knowledge, for example in regard to local issues are expected to purchase relevant expertise through consultant advice. The company thereby invests in establishing the necessary informed knowledge foundations for the permit to be granted by authorities.

When companies are given the responsibility to conduct consultations that may affect the decisions to be made by authorities, it is important that they carry out a correct and good consultation process that allows local stakeholders to participate at times suitable to them. If a consultation takes place during normal working hours many local stakeholders may decide to stay away because participating would mean a loss of income.

Likewise, participation may be limited if the consultation takes place in a location that requires long transport. Consultations conducted in another language than the local one reduces the opportunity for local stakeholders to engage in a dialogue. Unless technical or health-related issues are explained in a manner that matches the prerequisites of local stakeholders, risks arise that they will not obtain an adequate understanding of the impacts of the project. This will increase risks of misunderstandings and that relevant questions remain unasked, or that relevant concerns are not voiced.

Photo: Sheepfarm in Qassiarsuk, Narsaq area /K. Buhmann 2018

During field workshops in Southern Greenland in August 2018, we were given insights into a diversity of local experience of consultation processes and expectations. The point of departure for our meetings was a proposed mine in Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld) by the town Narsaq. Greenland’s eight largest towns, Narsaq has a population of around 1,500 and is placed in an area with extensive sheep grazing and tourism based around ruins of the Norse settlers. The mine will produce diverse minerals and rare earth elements, with uranium as a by-product due to high uranium contents at this specific site.

Consultations have been conducted by the company. We met with several sheep-farmers and actors in the emergent tourism sector who expressed concern whether uranium dust from the mine would harm their business, income and human and animal health in the area. Several individuals were frustrated with the process of the consultation, such as meetings taking place at locations or times of the day or year that made it difficult for the sheep farmers to travel to the meetings and take part in them. Moreover, as the Sami noted above, several people in the Narsaq area were basically concerned that the authorities do not seem to take the concerns voiced into account. Several questioned whether the process is accordance with the ideals of a democratic society.

Ups and downs of consultations

When consultations work well they can contribute to a sense of common or including decision-making. Research shows that this underscores the acceptance of the resulting activity, related to what is sometimes referred to as the legitimacy of the activity.

When consultations do not work well they can have the opposite effect and undermine trust, not just in the specific project but also in the company or companies involved. This relates to what is sometimes referred to as the ‘social licence to operate’. The term ’social licence to operate’ relates to the risk of loss, that a company (or companies) run as a result of local protest or opposition to a project for which they have applied for a legal licence.

Even if a company has obtained a legal licence, for example, to undertake the exploration of minerals, local opposition may be present. There are indications that a weak social licence to operate is on the rise in Greenland, thereby affecting the local legitimacy of projects like the Kuannersuit mine in Narsaq (Bowles and MacPhail, 2019).

Greenland is a country based on the rule of law with strong institutions and regulation and traditionally a relatively high level of trust in authorities and their decisions. Observations that in such a society and despite formal requirements, there is lack of trust in consultations and arms-length between authorities and companies conducting the consultations, and that concerns voiced by local stakeholders during consultations are taken seriously and acted upon are severe indications that formal procedures are not sufficient for a good consultation process. Accordingly, it is important to understand what constitutes a good consultation process from the perspective of the individual stakeholder, even if there is still no claim to having one’s way in regard to the final decision.

References

Bowles, P & MacPhail, F (2019) Coming to the Surface: The Social Licence to Mine in Greenland. Paper submitted for international seminar ‘Problems and Perspectives of social responsibility in natural resources exploration, exploitation, and management’, Pskov State University, Pskov (Russia) 23-25 October 2019 (on file with lead author).

About the authors

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

Sanne Vammen Larsen is an expert in the field of environmental planning and impact assessment, with a focus on integration of climate change in Impact Assessment, local processes and social impacts, and dealing with risk and uncertainty. She is employed as an associate professor at The Danish Centre for Environmental Assessment at Aalborg University, Denmark.

Anna-Sofie Skjervedal is PhD from Ilisimatusarfik – the University of Greenland and Aalborg University, and special consultant in public participation within the Municipality of Sermersooq, Nuuk, Greenland. Anna-Sofie specializes in public participation within impact assessment processes in relation to extractive industry development in Greenland with a focus on meaningful youth engagement.

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

Female entrepreneurs & reward-based crowdfunding: Offline inequality and online equality?

By Kristian Roed Nielsen

Traditional sources of entrepreneurial finance tend to favor men, while female entrepreneurs are often bypassed. Thielst, G.H. (2019), for example, found that Danish investors tend to be more skeptical towards female entrepreneurs and place higher demands on them for details, numbers, and forecasts. However, with the emergence of reward-based crowdfunding we are witnessing an outcome contrary to this offline gender inequality, that women are systematically more successful than men (Gorbatai & Nelson 2015, p.1). Let us explore why.

Reward-based crowdfunding – how does it work?

Reward-based crowdfunding is an increasingly common source of finance for a diversity of entrepreneurs and creative projects, where individuals invest a pre-defined amount of money with the expectation that if successfully funded, they will receive a tangible (but non-financial) reward often in the form of a product or service.

In reward-based crowdfunding hitting ones funding target is thus of critical importance as the campaign, as otherwise the pre-invested (or pledged) money would be returned to the backers.

Reward-based crowdfunding, like other forms of crowdfunding, is thus dependent on the successful interaction between a number of actors including the central organizing platform, a number of content providing campaigns, and a large diverse group of funders/backers.

(Nielsen 2018)

The growth of reward-based crowdfunding has moved it beyond a niche phenomenon exemplified by the fact that in the past decade it has resulted in more than $10 billion in pledges from over 75 million backers (Blaseg et al. 2020) and has thus rightly captured researcher attention.

Female founders and reward-based crowdfunding

A diversity of studies into the antecedents of success in a reward-based crowdfunding context have all observed similar results – that women are significantly more likely to achieve their funding goals as compared to men (see Gorbatai & Nelson 2015; Marom et al. 2016; Greenberg & Mollick 2016; Nielsen 2019). Some of the reasons we have uncovered thus fare include differences in funding goals, communication styles, and activist female backers.

Both my recent research into crowdfunding in Denmark (Nielsen 2019) and the work by Marom et al. (2016) find that women tend to ask for less and thus also subsequently raise less through successful campaigns as compared to men.

For example, in a Danish context women had an average funding goal of 23.746,00 DKK as compared to men who set it at 27.960,00 DKK. Men therefore also experienced, when successful, more financial support earning on average 6.000,00 DKK more than women.

However, these differences in funding goals also mean the women are significantly more likely to actually hitting their funding goal and thus actually being financed. Women’s financial expectations of what they can raise through crowdfunding thus seem better aligned with reality. However, these differences in funding goals only account for parts of the overall picture.

In addition, Gorbatai & Nelson (2015) found that the communication style of women on crowdfunding platforms trended towards more inclusive and emotional language which in turn is positively associated with funding success. They thus propose that “the institution of crowdfunding may reduce gender inequalities in the fundraising arena by benefitting the communication style of women.” (Ibid, p.1).

Finally, both Marom et al. (2016) and Greenberg & Mollick (2016) found that female backers showed a significant preference for supporting women-led projects. Moreover, Greenberg & Mollick (2016) suggest results from “activist choice homophily” where “women are more inclined to fund women entrepreneurs because of perceived shared structural barriers that come from a mutual social identity.” (Leitch et al. 2018, p.110). They find this trend especially strong in industries in which they are least represented (e.g. technology industry).

Reward-based crowdfunding favors female founders

Thus, unlike many other forms of financing (Sorenson et al. 2016), women appear to benefit from reward-based crowdfunding for the noted reasons: communication style, activist female backers and not least financial expectations that are better aligned with crowdfunding as a financing tool.

However, as with all other research, these initial findings are not universal nor have many of them been validated by follow-up studies and the results are therefore far from conclusive. Nonetheless, we can with a certain degree say that reward-based crowdfunding contrary offline source of innovation finance systematically favors female founders.


About the author

Kristian Roed Nielsen is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School and visiting researcher at Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets at Stockholm School of Economics. His research focuses on consumer behaviour, crowdfunding, sustainable consumption & innovation and user innovation. He strives to examine what, if any, potential role the “crowd” could have in driving, financing and enabling sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation. Seeking to uncover what role the consumer could have in enabling and financing sustainable innovation.

More about crowdfunding

Reward-based Crowdfunding for Sustainable Entrepreneurs: A Practitioner’s Guide

Crowdfunding for Sustainability: Creating a platform for sustainable ideas

The Winners and Losers of Reward-based Crowdfunding

Photo by Authority Dental

SDG 17 check in: cross-sector partnerships from the beneficiary perspective?

By Anne Vestergaard, Luisa Murphy, Mette Morsing and Thilde Langevang

Have you ever wondered how SDG 17 is, in fact, delivering on its promise? Does it sometimes cross your mind to what extent cross-sector partnerships are benefitting all parties involved, including those people whose livelihood they are intended to assist and advance? Some years ago, we set out to explore the effectiveness of North-South cross-sector partnerships with a particular focus on providing novel knowledge to understand better the partnerships from the vantage point of its beneficiaries. Some of our main findings have just been published.

Understanding the value of cross-sector partnerships

In research as in practice, there are high hopes for cross-partnerships as the new global governance mechanism. Cross-sector partnerships are presented as particularly well-suited to solve some of the world’s most critical global challenges such as poverty, climate change, and inequality. No one organization, business or institution can do it alone.

It is better to address wicked problems together. It does indeed sound plausible: the more perspectives, the more knowledge, the more resources, the better. However, as we experience the emergence of a great number of cross-sector partnerships, we also see an increasing concern expressed from research and practice about the effectiveness of these partnerships.

Do they really deliver better and more than a government or a business or an NGO could alone? Are they really providing better conditions for the world’s poor? Are cross-sector partnerships more efficient in addressing fundamental problems of inequality?

So far, we have only very little research to substantiate such claims. A large part of current research has so far emphasized the advantages for the (typically North-based) business partner to partake, leaving us with a certain Northern and corporate bias in understanding the value of cross-sector partnerships.

Study of the ‘Best in class cross-sector partnership’

Our study explored what was by the Danish embassy to Ghana assessed as the ‘best in class cross-sector partnership’ involving Ghanaian and Danish actors. Over three years, we visited the cross-sector partnership several times, observed and interviewed the young single mother employees, as well as the Northern business and the Southern NGO partners.

At first glimpse, the ten-year-old partnership looked promising. A number of young mothers had been employed over the years. It was prestigious and competitive to get a job with the partnership. It had its own physical building within the NGO where the women were sitting at a table assembling the jewelry in the designed styles, talking, working and laughing.

When interviewed, the NGO manager or one of their two supervisors were initially present. English conversation was difficult for them. We heard the same kind of appreciation of the partnership as we had heard from their leaders. It was not until next time we arrived that we started to see a potentially problematic pattern arise.

This time, we interviewed the young mothers in their home territory in their villages, where the managers were not present. Also, we had a local translator, so the conversations took place in the women’s local language.  All this is just to remind ourselves, how difficult it is to get access to ‘good data’ in such circumstances.

Competence without agency

At this second glance, we found that the cross-sector partnership resulted in what we term ‘competence without agency’ for the beneficiaries. The partnership was found to provide new resources and knowledge to the young single mothers but failed to generate the conditions for these to be transformed into significant changes in their lives.

Only the most capable young women, the ‘viable poor’ were offered a job, excluding the poorest young single mothers in the villages. Women had to travel far to work in the NGO, leaving their children behind in the village and preventing traditional practices of sharing work with family and wider community.

The partnership drew on old craftsmanship from the region which was modified to fit Northern standards – all decided and directed by the Northern entrepreneur, leaving the young mothers with the task of adapting and imitating rather than innovating.

On top of that, income for the young mothers was unstable due to fluctuations in European demand for the product produced, making it impossible for the women to plan ahead and to improve support for their children’s schoolwork.

These were just some of the unexpected, invisible and unpronounced outcomes of the cross-sector partnership which occurred as the entrepreneur and the NGO leaders were focusing on making the partnership work and the Northern government initially supporting the project was happy to see some business result from the collaboration.

SDG 17 through cross-sector partnerships

While the main novel research findings from this study do not deliver an immediately positive tale of ‘how to do partnerships in a few easy steps’, it points importantly to how the whole idea of expecting cross-sector partnerships to work as development agents and to create sustainable development, must take into consideration how to empower those people who the cross-sector partnership is intended to benefit in the long-term.

This implies that instead of assuming that the young single mothers engaged in this cross-sector partnership would inevitably be better off working for the prestigious partnership by having an (infrequent) income, a careful inquiry should be engaged into how the project could potentially empower these young women (and their children) in non-financial ways and in the long-term perspective (fx. education, professional training, health provision, etc).

We argue that when considering the potential of cross-sector partnerships, it is crucial that outcomes are not conflated with impact, that it is acknowledged that resources, be they money or skills, do not necessarily transform the lives of the poor and marginalized.

This research calls for organizations, businesses and governments partaking in SDG 17 through cross-sector partnerships to engage in much more, and deeper consideration for the beneficiaries if they want to provide something more meaningful than the usual ‘North benefitting from inexpensive labor in the South’.

Factbox designed by Maja Michalewska

References:

Vestergaard, A., Murphy, L., Morsing, M., and Langevang, T. (2019). Capitalism’s new development agents: A critical analysis of North-South CSR partnerships. Business & Society


About the authors

Anne Vestergaard is Associate Professor at Center for Corporate Social Responsibility at Copenhagen Business School. Her research revolves around mainstream discourses of morality with a particular interest in how processes of institutional, technological and semiotic mediation contribute to them.

Luisa Murphy is a PhD Fellow in corporate sustainability at Copenhagen Business School. Her research examines multi-stakeholder initiatives, anti-corruption and human rights.

Mette Morsing is Chair of Sustainable Markets and Executive Director of Misum at Stockholm School of Economics and Professor of CSR and Organization Theory at CBS. Her research focuses on how identity is governed in the interplay of internal and external stakeholders, in particular in the context of CSR and sustainability.

Thilde Langevang is Associate Professor at Centre for Business and Development Studies at Copenhagen Business School. Her research interests are in the area of entrepreneurship and development studies with a particular focus on youth, women, and creative industries in Africa.

Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash

We can’t better the world at once. So let’s do it together!

By Julia Köhler

Sustainability – a concept that accompanies us every day: whether it is sustainable consumption, sustainable nutrition, sustainable traveling or sustainable management. What does sustainability actually mean and does it only serve as a means to an end?

Meet oikos Copenhagen

A big topic that concerns a student organization. Founded in 1987 in St. Gallen, oikos has ever since grown into an international student initiative with 50 local “chapters”, as we call it, on almost every continent in the world. With the underlying idea of ​​integrating sustainability as one of the core topics in economics and business, this initiative has now been running for more than 30 years.

With its 48 active members, oikos Copenhagen is one of the largest chapters and contributes to the sustainability discussion at the Copenhagen Business School since 2012. By bringing students of different backgrounds together, the six projects are looking at the topic from various perspectives and are aiming at more sustainability in business and management education.

Image by oikos Copenhagen
Image by oikos Copenhagen

The triple bottom line is at the center of our values. Future leaders should be empowered to take change into their own hands. Integrity is a central component of organizational DNA: members stand behind the core values ​​and actively develop them further. For this, our members are in a constant dialogue with each other and deal critically with the topic.

We see ourselves as representatives of the sustainability movement and each fulfills the role of a moderator in discussions with social environments.

That’s the way it should be. On the way there, oikos regularly encounters hurdles. Not only in management issues but especially on a personal, cultural and financial level. Our core values ​​reflect a way of thinking that is becoming more and more recognized but is still not adequately represented and acknowledged by our educational system. Is it even possible to combine sustainability and business at all or is a system change required first?

What if you can make a change?  

I started my time at oikos in 2018 as the Project Manager of oikos Impact, one of the six projects of the Copenhagen chapter. The project objective is to improve sustainability on the CBS campus.

Our team was negatively surprised that a university in one of the sustainable Nordic countries does not recycle.

In May 2019, we launched a pilot project with two recycling stations on campus. Recently, the campus management decided to launch recycling stations inspired by oikos Copenhagen at every canteen.

A very central project of our organization – Curricular Transformation – deals with the integration of sustainability topics in the curricula of all degree programs. oikos Copenhagen does not intend to create separate study programs exclusively on the subject of sustainability.

We see sustainability as a relevant topic just like accounting, taxation, innovation, strategy and entrepreneurship.

Our team is in touch with the Dean of Education and would appreciate supporting departments, course coordinators and professors in the shift to a greener curriculum.

oikos Career reflects the typical cycle of a student preparing for a career in the sustainability scene. Initially, students are accompanied by the content design of the curriculum vitae. Afterwards, networking event participants have the opportunity to meet potentially attractive employers. With the Career Fair, we optimally made it easier for some students to enter sustainable businesses.

Social Pioneers offers companies, mostly start-ups but also established smaller companies, a platform to teach students that it is possible to profitably combine entrepreneurship and sustainability. Students gain insights into the day-to-day work of companies, find out which obstacles founders have encountered on their way and can clean up the assumption that one cannot be profitable in running a responsible business.

Image by oikos Copenhagen

As one of our most established projects, the annual GreenWeek marks a week in which the CBS campus and teaching activities are focused exclusively on sustainability. Here we invite guest speakers, representatives of sustainable companies, experts, researchers, and generally interested people to discuss the topic together and to seek mutual exchange. In addition to lectures, keynotes, and panel discussions, we offer workshops on the topic. This year’s GreenWeek will take place from the 10th to the 12th of March 2020.

The oikos Case Competition is a project that connects students with different backgrounds to an interdisciplinary collaboration. Students from across the Copenhagen area: from the Danish Technical University (DTU), Copenhagen University (KU) and the Copenhagen Business School (CBS) work together with companies and/or public institutions on sustainability issues. Our past cooperation partners include Accenture, the city of Copenhagen and IBM.

Let’s make a change, altogether…but how?

Since June 2019, I am sitting on the board of oikos Copenhagen with five other members and as the president and head of project management, I am leading the organization.

When requesting more support from decision-makers I often get asked about the competitive advantage the university could expect from oikos’ work. oikos Copenhagen stands for values ​​that are hard to ‘sell’ as a business case.

The general opinion about sustainability is an important cultural barrier for oikos Copenhagen, as it is still considered an annoying side issue for ‘hippie’ students. The challenge is to build and maintain an exchange of ideas and communication about the relevance of the topic. I believe that business schools are an extreme example of this.

Meanwhile, several other organizations are being founded around the topic of sustainability and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of the various initiatives. Questions like: ‘Who works on which topic?’, ‘How can we collaborate on solving the problem most efficiently?’ and ‘How do we communicate that we are working on something?’ pop up.

Another problem is the lacking overlap with other disciplines outside economics. Currently, our members are mainly CBS students. Although we offer room for students from other universities to be oikos members and to participate in the oikos Case Competition, this is not enough to recruit active members from other universities.

In my opinion, this interdisciplinarity is extremely relevant in all sustainability issues. In addition, it would help us to break away from the typical business thinking so present at CBS and to look at the challenge from several perspectives.

To achieve an effective transition towards a greener Copenhagen Business School, including a sustainable campus and direct as well as indirect education in sustainability for every CBS student, we want to be the bridge to bring all actors together to work on a solution.

For more information about oikos Copenhagen, visit our website at www.oikos-copenhagen.org

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/oikosCopenhagen/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/oikoscopenhagen/

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/company/oikos-copenhagen.

You are also very welcome to contact me personally via e-mail: president@copenhagen.oikos-international.org.

About the author

Julia Köhler is the President of oikos Copenhagen and a student in the management of innovation and business development at Copenhagen Business School.

Teaching (and doing) anthropology in a business school

By Matthew Archer

For a while now, the discipline of anthropology has studied relatively marginalized or dispossessed people and communities, often in developing countries or poor parts of developed countries. What this means is that anthropologists are often critical of powerful organizations like governments, banks, and multinational corporations.

For the past year, I have tried to integrate these critical perspectives into my teaching at Copenhagen Business School. Although CBS is not a typical business school in the sense that it is not primarily an MBA-granting institution, many of my students are pursuing careers in finance and consulting that are typical of business school graduates.

Challenging business students

For young professionals who have been trained in both their classes and their internships to simplify and synthesize difficult concepts, it can come as a bit of a shock to be asked to read an essay about climate change adaptation in Guyana or vanilla bean farming in Madagascar, and unpack the theories and methods to think about how they relate to questions of corporate sustainability and sustainable finance.

But while this may be challenging, I’ve found that students often find it exceedingly valuable.

One of the hardest things to deal with as a young professional is often the tension between personal, ethical values and the pressures a company puts on you to increase profits.

The critical theories that anthropologists use to make sense of the world help students make sense of their work, especially those who are planning to go into sustainability-related careers. Understanding the way humans have navigated the relationship between nature and culture across time and space turns out to be a key piece to the puzzle of how the financial system or tech companies mediate that relationship in more familiar contexts.

Critical thinking

Just as important, it helps them learn to critically reflect on their choices as consumers, investors, citizens, and the numerous other social roles they inhabit, roles that tend to evolve fairly dramatically over time (for example, after they graduate, after they get their first promotion, after they’ve started families, etc.). This kind of reflection is key to building a more just and sustainable society.

Thinking about the role of emotions in determining who has access to clean water in Bangladesh, for example, might seem far removed from concerns here in Denmark about pension funds and money laundering, but as we’ve learned in my classes over the past few semesters, emotions like hope and anxiety play a big role in the way financial resources are distributed and accessed.

Anthropological theories and methods might seem far removed from the quantitative approach to management that defines contemporary sustainability. But to understand the role of businesses in society, the study of societies has to be taken at least as seriously as the study of business, and anthropology is a fruitful way of introducing this perspective in business schools.

About the author

Matthew Archer is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School. He is an ethnographer and political ecologist interested in corporate sustainability and sustainable finance. Visit Matthew’s personal webpage.

By the same author: Sustainability’s Infrastructure

Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash