Building Sustainable Legacies


How CEOs can inspire personal change

Imagine you had 30 minutes with 4 renowned CEOs in front of several hundred business practitioners and you wanted to use the time to create change in the audience. What would you do? I recently had the opportunity and here is what happened!

At the Swiss Green Economy Symposium, the largest event among sustainability enthusiasts in the German speaking part of Switzerland, I could facilitate a CEO panel. I had about six months to prepare which was necessary given the busy agenda of the CEOs. I contacted more than a dozen to have a confirmed gender balanced panel of 4 CEOs. One of the female CEOs had confirmed early and said she would participate with one condition: that there would be at least as many women on the panel as men. What a great condition! Imagine how things would shift if all women (and men) would demand this!

I wanted to create a panel that would serve as a trigger for change in the audience rather than a the usual story-telling inspiration sharing success stories of their organizations. Would I be able to convince the CEOs to give up the opportunity to position their company in front of an attractive audience in service of creating a space where change could happen in the audience? Yes, imagine that. CEOs were open to that idea, once I shared my idea with them and had talked them through the concept. Wonderful!

Figure 1: The Circle Model connecting the inner world of personal development with the outer world of organizational development as a transformative journey towards a world worth living in (Katrin Muff, 2016)

We split the 30 minutes in three parts. After a short introduction where I framed the conversation with a simple concept (see figure 1), we started the first part. Each CEO shared a personal story illustrating the question: “which challenges have influenced them personally and how have these shaped the way you are leading your organization?” As the audience collectively leaned forward, topics such as gender stereotypes, work-place injustice, product waste and power abuse were discussed with courage and vulnerability. I invited the packed auditorium to take moment and to individually reflect on what has shaped them most in your past and how this influences their priorities at work. Both in terms of what they currently do and what they wish you were doing. People came to me afterwards and said they have never experienced a room so quiet and so focused. The magic was starting.

In a second round, we had selected only two of the four CEOs share examples of what issues were challenging their organization in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world and what long-term business opportunities were emerging concerning the Sustainable Development Goals? To grant time to the audience, the generosity of the other CEOs to stand back was really touching. We were one and we had one common objective! I invited the audience to turn to their neighbor and to discuss what options their saw to implement change for their organizations to embed the SDGs into their strategy. On a background slide, I shared a support website for those needing help. The room exploded. Everybody talked and shared and exchanged. We sat in our chairs with our jaws wide open. What an energy in the room. And how were we going to get them back to listening to us? When the time was up, the CEOs and I spontaneously stood up together and loudly applauded the audience. They look up and stared at us in surprise. They stopped talking and we could continue.

In the last round, all CEOs shared which issue concerned them most in our society and where they saw opportunities to connect these to future business activities? Their stories addressed the top burning societal issues of Switzerland as addressed by the Gapframe: CO2 overuse, equal opportunity, sustainable consumption, social integration and clean energy. I invited the audience to take a moment and choose one action that they could implement in the next 3 days to close the gap of where we are today vs. where they thought we should be in an area important for them. I offered an online tool to share these actions, if anybody felt like it.

I wish we had more time at the end, the final reflection was a minute shorter than I had hoped but our 30 minutes were up. Nonetheless, I was happily surprised when I discovered the personal commitments coming in. Figure 2 provides an overview of them grouped into some categories I hope are helpful in reviewing.

Role modelling

  • I commit to dedicate my working time to a project that serves 100% to make our living more sustainable
  • Lead a topic coming out of SGES 2017
  • I will define my personal SDG‘s to be achieved by the end of 2018
  • Break the barriers, create sense of urgency and implement the much needed change
  • Prepare presentation about the legal implications of a meat tax as a ghg heavy good

Encouraging others for action

  • Communicate knowledge to peers
  • As corny as it may sound: foremost change minds
  • I commit to also encourage others to live more sustainably
  • Talk with my Patents about their travelling
  • Poll others on these questions
  • Roll out the sdgxchange in a world wide level
  • Make my sons understand that they also have a big responsibility for Equal Opportunity and that they must contribute to achieving it

Community building

  • Organize a non-hierarchical roundtable for a common sustainable mindset within my organization and outside
  • Partner to strengthen the capability to act
  • Launch SDSN Switzerland on 2 Nov, the network that mobilizes the Swiss research & innovation community for the SDGs
  • Keep engaging people for a sustainable future
  • I’ll ask my fellow Entrepreneurs how they care about Sustainability! And I’ll publish it later on!
  • Organize the startups around me in a matrix to share sustainability progress

More time for the soul

  • Slow down. I will lower my expectations towards myself and spend more time speaking with my employees
  • I will observe better!

Aligning corporate sustainability goals with national priority issues

  • Identify lacks in our sustainability goals by comparing them with the topic of gapframe.org
  • Build our new 150kW PV project in Bern – Solarify
  • Verity the strategic goals of my organization against the Agenda2030 for Sustainable Development and adapt if needed
  • I will create a personal project on how we can introduce GTDs with local partners and stakeholders in our projects worldwide
  • Make sure that we also talk about social innovations.
  • Apply the standard for sustainable construction (SNBS) in the area of buildings

Social integration action

  • Partner up to reach higher employee diversity (age, gender, education, etc.)
  • I would like to support employees who lost their jobs with improving their skill-set and find a new opportunity or career path.
  • Transparency and equality

Reducing the CO2 consumption (Switzerland’s no 1 sustainability issue)

  • Only travel by train to destinations in Europe (always!)
  • Rain or shine, I’ll bike to work.
  • I commit to eating only very little meat and buy organic food, to fly as little as possible and compensate my flights
  • Compensate my flight
  • No more elevator – taking the steps, staying fit and saving energy
  • Exchange my diesel into an electric car
  • Conscious Consuming
  • Cook local
  • Eating less meat
  • Renovate our old Windows in order to create more insolation
  • Commit to an organic “vegetable-abo” in order to support sustainable and local agriculture.
  • Before I buy something, to ask: what is the harm when I buy this?

Figure 2: List of shared personal commitments as a result of a 30 minute transformative CEO panel

I don’t think I have ever spent so much time preparing for a 30 minute intervention. I think I spent 30 hours, or 60 times the intervention time, in preparation. I needed not only prepare the CEOs, I also needed to get the organizer onboard. Among the CEOs, we had spent two months carefully scripting each statement of each person so that we could create an overall story that would hopefully allow a change in the audience. This resulted in a 3500 word document that everybody had approved, outlining minute by minute who would say what. If you attempt something similar, ensure you have plenty of lead-time available! It is worth it though!

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs

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Pessimism in the developed world runs rampant

This disturbing declaration came from a 2017 study of millennials by Deloitte, a financial and risk management company.  Deloitte has been surveying millennials for the past 6 years and this year they found more general anxiety about the future than ever before.  The concerns expressed included terrorism, income inequality, crime and corruption and climate change.  Interestingly, the participants regard businesses as a force for social impact, however, they believe that companies are falling short in applying their capabilities to alleviating society’s challenges. So where is the disconnect between what millennials believe corporations could contribute versus what they think they are doing to address these overwhelming social issues?

Last month Katrin Muff’s blog was related to this theme.  She wrote about her frustration with companies that cannot see beyond their own short-term self-interest.  Obviously, she is not alone with this grievance.

Over the past few years, the news has been filled with stories about companies that acted solely in their own self-interest with calamitous consequences.  Consider the Volkswagen emissions scandal or BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. These companies flagrantly neglected all responsibility to the environment in pursuit of profits.  And, thus, both companies suffered reputation and financial damage.

While most companies do not commit fraud as was the case with VW, many do operate as if their only reason for existing is to create as much wealth as possible for their shareholders. These companies describe themselves by the products they make and the profits they generate. Consequently, they are in danger of becoming irrelevant to customers, employees and investors, all of whom are becoming increasingly impatient with corporations that lack any social purpose.

On the other hand, many companies do take their responsibilities to society very seriously.  Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a widely-recognized expert on organizations, says that an increasing number of successful companies emphasize purpose, values and long-term institution building.  These purpose-driven companies believe that they are inherently connected to society at large, and thus have obligations as members of society beyond mere economic transactions.  That is not to imply that financial success is unimportant to these companies.  In fact, Kanter says that they embrace financial success partly if not wholly so that they can carry out their commitments to society.[1]  And in fact evidence from a 2014 Deloitte study shows that companies focusing on a broader purpose are more likely than others to achieve success for the long-term. The confidence that stakeholders place in these purpose-driven companies tends to lead to investments and growth.

Most of us want to work for companies with a distinct purpose and clear values.  A  2016 study of purpose in the workplace conducted  conducted by the consulting arm of PWC, showed that  a large percentage of all generations in the workforce, not just millennials, want to find purpose in their work. The study emphasized the following:

“A truly purpose-driven company must have purpose as its guidepost for decision-making—including the opportunities it decides to pursue and not pursue—to demonstrate commitment to responsible business leadership.”

Unilever, the company that Katrin cited in her blog last month, serves as a great example of a multinational corporation that lives its purpose every day. Their vision is as follows:

“Unilever has a simple but clear purpose – to make sustainable living commonplace. We believe this is the best long-term way for our business to grow.”

This purpose is embedded in all of Unilever’s decision-making including how they interact with their shareholders, as well as how they develop and package new products.

It is time for all companies to critically examine their roles in society. Certainly, at times our global challenges can seem overwhelming so it is no wonder that we will see alarming headlines about millennials’ pessimism! Nevertheless, we can’t become so discouraged that we are paralyzed.  It is time for all companies to act with purpose.

Of course, the business community alone can’t fix everything.  However, those of us in this community can and should contribute to finding solutions to our world’s challenges, which, at the same time, will help us make our businesses more profitable and sustainable.  And those not working in the business community can and should hold us accountable for more than merely creating wealth for our shareholders.

[1] Kanter, R.M. (2015) How purpose-based companies master change for sustainability. In R. Henderson, R Gulati and M. Tushman (Eds.), Leading Sustainable Change (pp.11-139). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Author: Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins 

Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins is a social psychologist and is the CEO and owner of Miller Consultants , a firm specializing in organizational development, executive coaching and change management. Her work involves helping companies create and sustain organizational cultures that are conducive to executing sustainable strategies. She has worked with companies such as Toyota, IBM, Kindred Health, Brown-Forman, Lexmark, Anthem, Ashland Chemical, the U.S. Military and BC Hydro.


Imagine Corporate Governance for a Sustainable World

I was asked to speak at the Zurich-based conference organized by Frank Bold legal services entitled “Corporate Governance for a changing world”. This conference is part of a global thought leader engagement process with events in London, New York, Brussels and Zurich and aims to develop new insights for new corporate governance. I was mostly impressed by the very impressive turn-out of many of the who-is-who of Switzerland’s relevant stakeholders on the subject, featuring prominent thought leaders from business, government, academia, civil society and consulting.

Given the nature of the 4-hour brain-storming session and the Chatham rules, I am able to share only some general personal insight that particularly struck me. While the pre-reading material and preparatory questions seem to be very detail-oriented, the various speakers (me included) highlighted the need to step back and embrace first the bigger and broader picture. I had suggested that we consider corporate governance in the context of the challenge of living well on one planet, the WBCSD Vision 2050 goal. This allowed me to frame corporate activity within the “safe operating space” of OXFAM’s doughnut model which includes on one hand the outer limits of the planetary boundaries (based on work done by the Stockholm Resilience Center) and the inner limits of social foundation (based on RIO+20 work).

The echo was really interesting and rather than facilitating a one-hour plenary session, I broke our high-level group of experts into relevant topical clusters such as voluntary corporate action, responsibility of the board, stakeholder engagement, influencing the regulatory environment, the purpose of the organization, incentivizing the existing system, and shareholder responsibility. I was deeply impressed by the depth and extent of these discussions and the creativity and engagement that emerged. Interestingly, the largest group and energy emerged in the area of influencing the regulatory environment and better understanding the corporate board to influence the purpose of the corporation.

I look forward to see what happens with a handful of really creative and provocative ideas to change the landscape and use the influence of investors to entice the management of companies to take decisions in favor of society and the planet. It was such an enriching experience to contribute to such positive and creative new ideas with thought leaders from so many different sectors and industries. Well done to Frank Bold and its local partners University of St. Gallen and University of Zurich for organizing this!


Can companies measure the materiality of their business?

Bob Eccles and the supporters of Integrated Reporting, a global initiative attempting to measure and establish the materiality of sustainability across various industries, are making most likely one of the most important contributions in this area to date. They have just shared the report of the Dutch company Aegon, one of the world’s leading financial services organizations, providing life insurance, pensions and asset management. The “Management Board statement of materiality and significant audiences” is available on p. 12 of Aegon’s 2014 integrated report. On p. 15, the company presents a materiality matrix which clearly identifies seven material issues, along with an indication of the degree of control the company has over each one. The fact that there are only seven issues demonstrates rigor, discipline, and focus. Bob explains further: “on p. 16 the company discusses the trends for five of these issues: (1) Increased regulation of the financial services sector, (2) growing importance of new technologies, (3) changing capital requirements for the insurance industry, (4) persistently low interest rates, and (5) global aging and changing demographics. On p. 17 Aegon discusses the opportunities and risks associated with each issue and explains what the company is doing about them.  The other two material issues are customer service and product performance (discussed on pp. 30-31) and employee engagement (discussed on pp. 32-34). Aegon’s 2014 integrated report is excellent in a number of ways and one from which other companies can learn. For example, this concise 70-page document also does an excellent job in using graphics and text to explain value creation for shareholders and society and the relationships between financial and non-financial performance.”

Let me tell you, if Bob Eccles says this, there’s a good reason to read the report! It is a global premiere to have a company report on this and while this may not be perfect, the next reports will be easier to do and shared learning will occur. I am sharing hopes with Bob that other companies will follow Aegon’s lead and start to incorporate a “Statement of Significant Audiences and Materiality” in their integrated report.


Costa Rica is now running completely on renewable energy

Have you heard the news? Costa Rica has managed to shift to 100% renewable energy! And they are not alone – more and more countries are following suit, and I hope you are part of a community and a country that is also moving in this direction. Is there anything you can do to fasten the pace?

My friend Jan Arend, who I stayed with just recently, just took his family and home off the grid – he was so excited to share how much energy he is feeding into the grid and the many places he found he can save energy. Hats off!!

http://qz.com/367985/costa-rica-is-now-running-completely-on-renewable-energy/?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=pubexchange


We are a part of something BIG. Can you feel it?

I am so pleased to share the trailer for the film “Planetary” with you which was released on EARTH DAY — 22 APRIL 2015. Here is what the film promises: “We are in the midst of a global crisis of perspective. We have forgotten the undeniable truth that everything is connected. PLANETARY is a provocative and breathtaking wakeup call, a cross continental, cinematic journey, that explores our cosmic origins as a species.”

More info: http://weareplanetary.com/ / PLANETARY COLLECTIVE

Rent the film today!

planetary


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Is there really a business case for sustainability?

Thanks to a comprehensive, aggregate study completed by the Natural Capital folks, we have now a clear and solid answer: YES. If you need convincing or would like to see some evidence, click here to download their report for free. Happy reading!