Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers


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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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San Francisco Becomes The First City to Ban Sale of Plastic Bottles | Global Flare

I am so pleased to read this! How soon will other cities follow? How we as citizens support this? What can you do in your local community? http://globalflare.com/san-francisco-becomes-the-first-city-to-ban-sale-of-plastic-bottles/

At BSL, we have made plastic bottles redundant by offering all students a BSL bottle.

BSL-Bottles-sm

 


Reflections about the B-Corp movement launch in Europe

The importance of unintended consequences when creating change

The B-Corp movement in Europe was officially launched yesterday, at the corporate headquarters of Triodos Bank, in the Netherlands. Triodos is the European posterchild of the B-Corp movement, much like Ben & Jerry was in the U.S. We celebrated the founding 70 B-Corp companies across Europe, a cohort of mostly small, often start-up entrepreneurs in a variety of sectors including consulting. A few stand out: Fairphone and Dropper are good examples for the kind of DNA these founding companies share – coming up with innovative solutions to environmental or societal problems, looking at the business value chain and governance structure in a holistic way.

I represented Business School Lausanne as B-Corp country representative for Switzerland, a position we share with Codethic in Geneva. BSL is not (yet) a B-Corp. We completed our accreditation with the Economy for the Common Goods (ECG) movement in 2014, a slightly more profound and progressive movement with otherwise very similar ideas as the U.S. initiated Benefit Corporation. More profound in the sense that its starting base is a matrix that measures the contribution of a company to the common good (or society) in a holistic outside-in way. More progressive in the sense that the ECG is based on values derived from many European constitutions whereas the B-Corp frames doing good within a broadened business paradigm (of triple bottom line). The difference simply depicts the philosophical differences of the two continents: Europe is generally acknowledged to have a much deeper sense of sustainability and responsibility, whereas the U.S. is generally acknowledged for the innovation power of business and an inane sense of embracing opportunistic effectiveness. This may sound judgmental, but it isn’t. Both approaches are hugely important and relevant. From where I stand, they are hugely complementary and mutually enriching. I would love for the two movements to join forces and double the pace and scale of change we need business to deliver for the benefit of society and the world. Will this ever happen? Probably not; for many reasons that have prevented similar parallel initiatives to join forces. I recall that it took one third of the time to get similar initiatives on talking terms when we initiated the 50+20 movement – a compound name reflecting the need to give up individual brands for a larger cause. Quite a challenge!

Another thing that strikes me is how differently the two movements have gone about expansion and growth. On the one hand, the ECG has spent much time and probably too much energy on building a bottom-up democratic base structure with carefully discussed governance in every member country, honoring transparency and dialogue at the expense of speed and effectiveness. On the other hand, the B-Corp movement appears to have operated in a nearly diametrically opposed manner. Selection of regional partner (entire continents) or country partners (for example across Europe) has happened haphazardly at best, instilling little transparency in the process and investing little to nothing in building relationship across countries in regions (I can talk for Europe). Communication is scarce and the information gap between those in the know and those wondering, is significant. Both processes have their advantages and disadvantages. While the ECG movement frustrated me with their endless discussions and internal organizational focus to the point that I largely withdrew from the community, the B-Corp movement caused frustration due to overlaps and multiple uncoordinated country representative appointments. While the ECG movement decided to first built up a strong community at the expense of speed and impact, the B-Corp movement decided to focus on accrediting as many companies as possible in a short a period as possible at the expense of a coherent and transparent organizational operating structure. One may be tempted to say that these very different approaches themselves may be indicative of the different operating modes in Europe and the U.S. But that would be too stereotypical and easy.

What I find interesting is to reflect on the impact of the two very different types of frustrations which really reflects so-called unintended consequences of otherwise meaningful and well-considered decisions. If I could choose if I rather be frustrated because I cannot seem to be able to move into action because of the slowness of the ongoing internal alignment process (ECG), or if I prefer being frustrated because others are stepping on my toes in an effort to move ahead and implement change (B-Corp), I must say I much prefer the latter. And this is important: it is not about attempting to prevent frustration at all – that would be not only mission impossible but would require a degree of reflection and preparation that would kill any movement before it would ever get started – but to choose the least damaging unintended consequences. And here, I must say that the B-Corp movement is light-year ahead of the ECG movement. It is important to outline that there is also – unsurprisingly – a downside: namely the risk of partners angrily leaving or dropping out and the initiative needed to relaunch in a given space. Yet that downside is very similar to the reaction I had experienced in the other approach.

For the moment, both movements are quite comparable, have achieved similar adaptations and accreditation of leading small and medium-sized companies and have started a process of global outreach. Yet, of my students, 80% know of the B-Corp while only 20% know of the ECG. It may be a language thing: the B-Corp benefits from English being such an international language and the ECG movement still stuck in mostly German and Spanish with few efforts beyond what our BSL students offered as voluntary help 3 years back when they translated the measurements into English. It may be more. I think it is more than just language. I would suggest here in closing my reflection of the two movements, that the B-Corp movement has been fortunate enough to create frustrations that trigger action and advancement, as compared to the ECG movement that created frustrations that triggered non-action and retrieval.

This is an invitation to be mindful about the kinds of unintended consequences our attempts to “occupy the common space” have. How can we step up and embrace change and err in the direction that will result in more action and more engagement rather than in less action and less engagement? I like dilemmas and what I describe certainly is one. It also demonstrates that perfection is neither important, relevant nor desirable – a focus on unintended consequences (or risks to be mitigated) is much more relevant when choosing an implementation strategy. Remember, you can always adopt and change. Or to use the words of the founder of the Jesuits: “It is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”. My B-Corp vs. ECG case study is a clear demonstration of the upside of such a radical (maybe even unconscious) choice.


“The world’s dumbest idea: maximizing shareholder value” (Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff)

There is a growing number of CEO’s who are expressing an increasingly shared view about how limiting or “dumb” the idea of our dominant economic model, namely maximizing shareholder value, is. Read here an interesting article from Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2015/02/05/salesforce-ceo-slams-the-worlds-dumbest-idea-maximizing-shareholder-value/


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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The Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables

What an amazing initiative in the 2014 “E.U. Year Against Food Waste”. To be adopted across super markets around the world! Watch and be amazed!!


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