Building Sustainable Legacies


Don’t risk your reputation! How to engage your organization and avoid the destructive effect of corporate spin

Continuing our Transatlantic Dialogue, this time with a post by my blogging partner, Dr. Kathy Miller, who reflects on the lack of coherence between company ideals and employee actions.

The Transatlantic Debate Blog

In April’s post Kathy Miller Perkins warns of the potentially destructive effect of a lack of coherence between company ideals and employee actions.

“The thing about changing the world… Once you do it, the world’s all different.” ― Joss WhedonBuffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home

Aha! All of a sudden – or at least seemingly so – you’ve been hit by a lightning bolt and have decreed that your company must address sustainability now! You furiously draft a vision statement and ask your communications department to release it to the organization as well as to the press.  Will this get the job done?

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The need for a different state of mind – moving beyond capitalism

A succession of global economic crises provoked by a dysfunctional financial sector, national as well as regional co-dependencies of debt and currencies fluctuations have demonstrated that we cannot count on the invisible hand to steer markets. They no longer behave as they should. A call for a new form of capitalism replacing the neo-classic approach has highlighted alternatives such as conscious capitalism.

The underlying question is one of trust. We don’t trust the systems we have built, we know that we cannot create what is best for the world within the existing structures, and we are afraid of stepping outside of the existing boundaries of what is known and established. We don’t trust in our own ability to create. Futurist[1] and systemic thinkers have demonstrated to what degree we are unable to develop solutions while at the same time recognizing all unintended consequences of such solutions. While it is questionable if the current financial system was created without an understanding of the extent of its implications[2], it is safe to assume that in an increasingly complex world, we will be less and less able to foresee the consequences of the actions we will take. We have entered into a mode of experimentation, yet we have not admitted this and continue pretending what we do is responsible action.

What we need is to assume a different state of mind. The French expression “état d’esprit” reflects this better, a state of Spirit rather than a state of (mental) mind. A state in which we are connected with the world, where we are in resonance with the world, so that we can create from within that source of unlimited potential, what is right for the large good. Everything we were taught and told has resulted in a fundamental disconnection from this Source, resulting in a situation where we – the most evolved race on the planet – feel like victims caught in overwhelmingly powerful and complex system within which we at best survive. It is us who have created these systems and it is us who will need to adapt or replace these systems to create something that is adequate for all living members of our planet. There are some major obstacles on this path, power, survival instincts and fear not the least of them, yet unless we – as a human race – overcome these, we will continue co-creating a world that serves only a very small minority, while destroying our habitat and creating suffering for a large majority of our fellow global citizens.

Conscious capitalism is one of many expression of such an elevated state of Spirit. It redefines the role of business beyond serving solely the shareholders as defined in the agency theory and Friedman’s claim that “the business of business is business”. It expands business’ role to serve society and the planet by embracing a more holistic and balanced responsibility towards all stakeholders. Supporting this claim, some demand that organizations become “a human community of belonging”[3].

The Inside Job Movie


[1]        Joel Baker: “The implication wheel”

[2]        Charles H. Ferguson: “The inside job”, documentary film, 2010

[3]        Dr. Roger Steare, Case Business School, London


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The need for a global common vision

Changes in the context in which business schools operate amplify the need for management education to re-evaluate its purpose fundamentally, questioning the route which it has embarked on since the middle of last century[1].

The environmental context is significantly different than 50 years ago. Environmental measures – e.g. carbon dioxide emissions have gone up by a factor of 11 between 1961 and 2011 – clearly indicate that our planet has boundaries[2] and that many of our natural resources are finite. While in 1961, the human race annually consumed natural resources of 60% of the planet’s capacity, in 2007, global consumption exceeded the planet’s capacity by a factor of 1.6. Were the entire world consuming at the European level, we would need resources of three planets. American consumption on a global scale would require six planets. The forecast for the coming decades shows an acceleration of this trend. We are challenged to fundamentally rethink both consumer and production behavior and business leaders are considered important players to make the necessary changes happen.

Yet, this is only one of the changing dynamics that business faces today. Societal changes related to demographic shifts, migration and globalization triggers questions to what degree government vs. business can or must assume the emerging new demands and costs of an aging population. OECD countries are unable to provide work to 30% of its youth. A continued acceleration of the rate of technology-driven innovation and in particular the emergence of mobile internet turns us into witnesses of a world where non-democratic regimes are overturned by an internet savvy youth quasi overnight.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) proposes a common vision for global citizens: the Vision 2050: “9 billion people living well and within the natural resources of the planet”. A vision we can start working towards right now. We – that is all of us: governments, citizens, parents, business, activists, NGO’s, educators. As business educators, we need to understand to what degree business needs to change in order to become a positive force in achieving this vision.


[1]        The reports published by the Carnegie and Ford foundations in the late 1950’s have traced a path which enabled business schools to legitimize themselves again other disciplines, namely economics, by developing distinct research in all subject domains. While this objective has been achieved, the chosen path has in the meantime led business schools increasingly astray, generating highly specialized research for a very small audience and education which lacks efficiencies in nearly every parameter studied.

[2]         W. Steffen, J. Rockström, R. Costanza: „How defining planetary boundaries can transform our approach to growth“ (Solutions, May 2011)