Building Sustainable Legacies


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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!

 

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There is hope – alternatives to cloning Paul Polman!

I am not the only one to have suggested that if we want to save the (corporate) world, we have no choice but to clone Paul Polman. As a matter of fact, this is one of the comments Kate Robertson (Co-founder of One Young World), who received a Dr. Honoris Causa from BSL along with Paul, made to Paul and me on Saturday. The idea of cloning Paul Polman has two elements:

  • First, it is a great compliment to Paul who has in the past 4 years risen to be recognized as the most admired “poster boy” of corporate sustainability – a direct result of his relentless drive in not only transforming Unilever but also be co-initiating a long list of coalitions both in front and behind the scenes in a great many domains that were traditionally considered beyond reach for a CEO.
  • And second, it expresses a certain frustration if not desperation of many observers that there are not many in these influential positions who define their responsibility in such a way that what they do truly serve society and the planet while – of course – ensuring the continued success of the organization they are leading.

BSL Swiss Sustainability Hub Forum

Reflecting back on our big BSL day last Saturday, 20th September, I cannot but help realize that our two big events converged into something bigger. Paul Polman was a part of both events in a significant way – maybe this was part of the magic (more here):

  • The Swiss Sustainability Hub: the kick-off session to set up a Coalition to bring Switzerland to assume a leading role in the sustainability movement (short for: all people living well and within the limits of the planet)
  • The annual BSL Graduation with more than 500 participants from more than 40 countries

Mark Drewell, outgoing CEO of GRLI and one of our BSL Academic Advisory Board members, shared his impression of the event as follows: “the change of energy from previous years was palpable. You have now accomplished the shift at BSL – the community is really there and there is a powerful sense that there is not only willingness and desire to contribute to this new world we need, but also competencies, determination and real action.

And indeed, as I observed our graduates receive their diplomas, proudly spending a moment with their classmates and continuing the bond they started to build during their studies, I sense more determination, clarity, courage and passion to find a way to contribute to this world than I have ever picked up before (and it is not that we have lacked high-spirited students in previous years!). Bruno Oberli, the Director of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) commented on it during the Swiss Sustainability Hub panel discussion. We had our audience vote on who should drive the launch of the Swiss Sustainability Hub, government or business, and just about everybody broke the voting rule by holding up both options. Bruno laughed and said: “If you are able to shift beyond either/or to a new paradigm of both/and that easily, then we really don’t have anything to worry about as you understand the key element of what we need in future: a pragmatically new way of considering our options!”

A big part of this sense was also how smoothly and collaboratively our BSL team worked for, during and after this big event. Despite perfect preparations, events like this always require many miracles behind the scene dealing with changes, emergencies, adapting what was planned to the emergent reality. There is nobody I would like to rather work with than the BSL team consisting of Aurea, David, Denitsa, Katarzyna, Mary, Massimo, Olivier, Teresa and Yasmina. If everybody assumes their place and space with the same sense of service, dedication, passion for the common good and spirit of collaboration as our team, then maybe there are alternatives to cloning Paul Polman.

If the BSL team and our graduates have this sense of purpose, then we know that it is possible to create environments that stimulate such alignment of purpose, competency and cooperation. We all know that there are many many teams and individuals who are truly connected to an inner sense of purpose in many places around the world. And maybe rather than waiting for cloning technology to get up to speed, we  simply need to trust in the human capacity and in the emerging leadership that is happening across so many organizations at so many levels. What we can do in the meantime is getting better in building the right environments and capacities to speed this up. Educational institutions are an obvious starting place AND any other organization that has people showing up for work. This reminds me of what Mischa Liatowitsch, who graduated on Saturday from our MBA program, said during his studies (see short 1 minute video here).


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Kicking off Collaboratories in Asia – Towards “Green Living in Hong Kong”

Riding up the elevator of the brand new building of the Design Faculty at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University sets the stage: 4th floor Collaboratoy, 8th floor Innovation Think Tank. I haven’t seen the use of “Collaboratory” formally used to designate an entire floor of a building! We must be in the right space! Clearly Cees de Bont from the Design Faculty and Alison Llyod from the Business School are not only an experienced but also a very creative and effective team. Everything was set for a memorable first Collaboratory event in Asia!

Cees’ design students have worked over the past weeks to create more than half a dozen of benches made out of recycled or repurposed material. Special acknowledgment goes to Claudius Bensch, Art Director of the project, for developing the original Bench Circle installation concept. As we walked into the space, our jaws dropped at the sight of these benches! True beauty and an astounding variety! Each bench was designed by a known designer and produced by design students. Here is a short time-laps film that shows them at work:

Allison’s business students had masterfully arranged the space into the signature inner circle held by two rows of outer circle chairs. They had helped to mobilize the key stakeholders for the event and ensured that all concerned parties in Hong Kong concerned by “Green Living in Hong Kong” were not only present but had been briefed in great detail on what to expect. An energized group of approx. 50 engaged citizens, representatives of business, consulting, real estate, NGO, social entrepreneurship as well as various relevant faculty members and students was curious to see what would happen next. Everything was set for an intense 3 hours of co-creation!

The first hour served to lay out all the different perspectives on the topic of what Green Living in Hong Kong might mean, why it was possible, impossible, covering current important issues such as air pollution and the impact of the increasing inequality, the high dependency on the “Hong Kong shopping center”, the dramatically negative impact of the recent frugality strategy of the Chinese and the sky-high real estate prices that drove social entrepreneurs out of town. Yet, the fact that 40% of the land was labelled as national parks and only 30% of the surface was actually built, opened up a discussion around the potential of Hong Kong with its 70+ islands, beaches and many hills and hiking trails for every level of difficulty. We heard stories of permaculture, roof-top gardens, and the need to go beyond organic food to radically re-localize food (the footprint of organic food not being sufficient to balance population growth). A young social entrepreneur shared his initiative of in-house gardening and tourist operator a dream around eco-tourism. The elevator was introduced as a highly sustainable solution to save land (vertical city) and elegantly delegating the cost of mobility infrastructure from government to private investors (well, that’s the real-estator’s perspective). The idea that if green choices need to come more attractive (adding a price on unsustainable living), they would take off. The question of how design can help advance green living in HK. The dilemma of the importance of education and the fact that it takes too long to produce results. The businessman’s pragmatic perspective: “how much are we willing to pay to make Green Living a reality?” countered by the psychologist who believes that it is all a question of behavioral change. One sentiment expressed the rather upbeat sense of the discussion best: “If there’s anybody who can do it, it is Hong Kong!”, this despite the fact that a concerned voice reminded us that returning to a simple living also implied consuming less and that companies would need to radically reinvent themselves. A final voice made a historical comparison, reminding us that in 1972 the Hong Kong government campaigned against corruption which was considered mission impossible and today in Hong Kong corruption was largely gone. So why not campaign against unsustainable living? Well…

After a break, we shifted into the visioning phase of the process and went on a journey where we collectively dreamt up a Hong Kong that had realized Green Living. The traditional sharing round among all participants was among the richest I have experienced today: a new vision for Hong Kong came alive! A vision where Hong Kong would adopt Singapore’s positioning as an education hub to become Asia’s Sustainability or Green Living Hub. Conscious of the fact that Hong Kong in many ways plays a role model function for many cities and people of mainland China, the power of such a transformative change was palpable. Descriptions of such a future vision of Hong Kong included clean air and blue skies, a slower pace and fresh vegetables at hand anywhere to eat. Shopping as a way to secure happiness was replaced by more profound offers that would lead to a more sustainable well-being and happiness. People would come to Hong Kong to “slow up”, to recharge, re-energize and to co-create and develop great ideas.

In the final third phase of the Collaboratory, we asked the question: so what can we concretely do in the next 2-3 months to make steps towards this utopian future. To enable this, we transformed the center space into an entrepreneurial brainstorming space: at least 20 ideas were developed and any last signs of Asian shyness disappeared. The spark of a shared and embodied vision had triggered not only enthusiasm but also creativity. I was challenged to summarize and group the many ideas into 8 main prototypes of which each participant would choose one he or she wanted to spend the last hour of the Collaboratory exploring. We initially thought to vote the best 4 of these 8 ideas but there was enough energy for all of them that we split the circle into 8 sub-circles and empowered each group to self-organize and further develop their ideas. After 40 minutes each team was ready with a solid prototype idea and had identified one responsible person among them who was willing to carry-forward the project until Alison and Cees would decide on how to proceed with a next Collaboratory event to further develop if not all, at least some of them.

Here is an overview of all the ideas:

  • Introducing positive discrimination coupled with transparency to enable green organizations to perform better and attract the talent and to individuals to the incentive to change behavior. A radical shift requires radical support including the development of broader well-being measures on the macro and micro economic levels (lead: Shrikant Ramakrishnan, four members)
  • Eco-tourism: slow up in Hong Kong and relax into great ideas! Various steps needed: a) turning the city green (greening the roofs), accessible hiking trails for all levels, transforming hospital into wellness clinics, turning public spaces into oasis, taking the noise out, developing eco-tourism in the islands, etc. (lead: Stella Kwan, four members)
  • Transforming universities into practical learning centers in society, by reducing the current disconnect particularly in CSR, changing the pedagogy to include in-company learning, integrating self-realization as an integral part of learning (lead: Alison Lloyd, nine members)
  • Fostering cross-sectional stakeholder dialogue through collaboratory discussions: not a solution in itself but an enabler to contribute to a new mind frame and to rally for a common vision (lead: Philo Alto, two members)
  • Copy-cating the best green solutions and branding for massive globe scaling, by applying a rigorous process of a) what is the problem), b) who is the leader in the world to solve this, c) how can we adapt to Hong Kong, d) how can we brand to enable scaling, e) how do we commercialize globally – example: Starbucks vertical farming wall (lead: Lydia Guett, six members)
  • Developing a sharing culture towards a new governing model by bringing in relevant ideas to Hong Kong and by working with students as activists and promoting a culture of sharing, e.g. electronics (lead: Ming Ho, three members)
  • Becoming a personal role model first and then contribute to the sharing culture (see 4), supported by government actions such as theme Sundays to re-develop relationships at all levels as they used to be (lead: Match Chen, six members)
  • Developing a new mind frame: business needs new managers and leaders, current people in charge can’t lead the transformation, a higher consciousness is needed, achieving this by a significant focus on personal health for every employee at all levels (top particularly) since a better life will result in a better business as it triggers a shift in focus; also: embracing the consumer-side of the people by initiating new consumer demands which will result in new business opportunities (lead: Eric Chu, 2 members)

Cees and Alison have expressed an interest to integrate the first three into their current project development structures which are available in both Faculties. Furthermore, the PolyU business school has platforms on which other prototypes could be further developed. Both of them will communicate with everybody involved in the Collaboratory shortly to ensure that these prototype will start to be realized where possible and where the teams feel energized to further work on them.

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Walking into the Silverbox Conference room at the ICON hotel in Hong Kong the next day felt VERY similar to walking into the UN RIO+20 PRME Business Education conference back in June 2012 when we launched the 50+20 agenda: 3 benches were lined up as I walked off the elevator towards the registration desk and the back of the room was displaying with 6 more benches. Awesome! It is amazing what kind of difference some real art can make. More on the conference: http://www.bsl-lausanne.ch/news/school-news/events-and-conferences/bsls-dean-gives-keynote-speech-at-conference-on-renewing-business-education-in-asia


Mind the gap between corporate behaviour and sustainability

Here’s a great article by Michael Townsend and The Guardian. Michael Townsend is an important thinker in the space of new economic solutions – this article is important for any concerned business leader!

Enjoy reading the full article here: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/gap-between-corporate-bahaviour-sustainability 


Questioning the pertinence of the IMD 2014 World Competitiveness Rankings

As every year for two decades, IMD issues their annual World Competitiveness Report comparing a wide range of parameters to establish which country is ahead of the pack. For a number of years now, the United States maintains its pole position, closely followed by much smaller economies such as Switzerland who has been doing very well in this ranking for as long as I remember. I question the pertinence of this report for a number of reasons:

1) the Competitiveness Report is still based on old 20th century “survival of the fittest” fear-based thinking. Today, given the current realities of a resource- and demographic-constrained world, we would be much better advised to highlight and celebrate countries that a) have found alternative ways of dealing with their economic challenge (of no-growth in developed countries and of high-growth in developing countries), b) have found alternative ways to the widely questioned GDP indicator to measure relevant progress  for its citizens and nature (Bhutan with its happiness indicator is a widely cited and respected example), c) have found ways to reduce their negative impact on the identified nine planetary boundary developed by Johan Rockström et al., d) have found ways to significantly increase the relevant dimensions of the eleven social issues identified at the RIO+20 Conference, e) have used their innovation power in the critical domains that develop and critically enhance the “safe operating space for humanity“, the target area for all economic activity as defined by Kate Raworth of OXFAM, f) and have demonstrated an ability to significantly help and support other countries in their transformational journey towards a sustainable and just future.

I could go on! The point here is that I don’t get it why we are still celebrating countries that are significantly unable to manage their own budget, that have debt levels that should have long resulted in a national bankruptcy, and have social policies in place that endanger the current and future well-being of their citizens (examples for the U.S. would include its continuous health care disaster, the absurd income disparity between rich and poor U.S. citizens, a student loan debacle that is likely to cripple not only its future generation of leader, entrepreneurs, inventors and employees of all kind, and a nutritional challenge connected to its obesity problem that may well cripple its economy and societal well-being in serious ways).

I am thus launching a Call for Action to join us at BSL to start collecting data for an alternative World Collaborative Report that will highlight and celebrate countries that serve as role models in their own way of becoming a country with a vision and clear actions to enable all of us global citizens to “live well and within the limits of the planet” to quote the Vision 2050 of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). We are seeking resources and global partners to provide an alternative for old century thinking by embracing the current burning challenges of this 21st century. We are also engaged to help Switzerland embrace its own potential to become such a leading role model. Contact me if you are interested and have means to contribute. Together, we can change the world into a place worth living in for all of us!


Dreaming up the university of the future at the OIKOS Future Lab 2013

90 students from nearly all chapters from around the world met in St Gallen for a two-day session to inquire how to place OIKOS in the future of management education. I was invited as one of a number of thought leaders from around the world to trigger their creative process. What a delightful experience it was!

The other thought leaders were Max Oliva of the HUB Global and Teamlabs, Martin Cadée of The Journey Network and Knowmads, Traian Bruma who created CROS a student-led university in Romania and Rasmus Johnsen teaching philosophy at CBS in Copenhagen. What an amazing assembly of experience and creative vision in the emerging space of the future of management education.

After a first day spent getting together onto the Journey and applying the Impact Canvas, inspired by the Osterwalder Business Model Generation Canvas, to various concrete projects within the OIKOS framework, day two was dedicated to co-creation. OIKOS is the largest sustainability-focused student organization world-wide with chapters on all continents. We facilitated the initial part of the co-creative process of the students which involved painting a picture of the future of the business school in 2 phases.

Phase 1 consisted of a first group of students of drawing together a picture of what such a university could or should look like. Phase 2 consisted of a second team inheriting the drawing and determining what role OIKOS might want to play in such a scenario. The discussions which accompanied the creative painting exercise were both fascinating and revealing. While we typically think that we need to first know what to point, thus starting with a lengthy debate that ends with a few hasty scribbles on a nearly empty page, our first group immediately attempted to visualize each idea they had about the future university on paper without fully understanding what was emerging or what the final picture might be. About half-way through, one part of team 1 who had worked mostly on one side of the drawing explained what they had ended up painting and vice-versa. The team exchanged places and enhanced the designs of their friends. What emerged what a comprehensive picture which shows the future university as an open space embedded in both society and the environment thus showing the larger planetary context, while also showing the journey of an individual student working on his quest (what do I want to do in future) in his own time, working both in the collaborative open space with facilitative professors, business professionals and thought leaders as well as within reflective spaces, moving back and forth between practical experiences in society (hospitals, businesses, etc.), creating their own individual curriculum in the process (see image 1).

Phase 2 started with an immensely grateful new student team who was amazed by the creative piece of art the first team had drawn up for them. Their analysis of the picture opened the debate on what such a future university could be and what role OIKOS might want to play in there. The second team was nearly afraid to destroy the beautiful foundation work of the first team. Again, rather than trying to first finding the solution, they launched in daring to create a huge infinity loop all across the 3 posters indicating that OIKOS could be the connecting enablers supporting the student in her journey from society, the environment and the university and along her individual learning journey. The open space of the university ended up being the crossing over of the two lines which was drawn up into a green heart. The team furthermore highlighted the planetary context the first team had hinted at by filling in a blue background to the entire picture immensely strengthening the message and providing a common space which symbolized the potential of OIKOS as a universal platform of learning (see image 2).

What impressed me most is how effortlessly this creative process went along and how painting thoughts actually helped to develop thinking. We tend to think it works the other way around. We were accompanied by an amazing artist Klaus Elle who provided the visual track (as compared to the sound track) of what was going on. His ability to summarize sessions with one telling image must have seriously inspired us all!