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Mehr Mut und weniger alte weiße Männer

Dieses Interview erschien am 22. Mai 2021 auf ZEIT ONLINE. Das Interview führte die Journalistin Petra Pinzler im Rahmen eines Fellowships am THE NEW INSTITUTE.

Notiz der Authorin: der Titel wurde von der Zeit gewählt und muss als kontextfreier, provokativer Anreiz zum Lesen gedeutet werden. Ich empfehle dem Leser, sich auf das Interview einzulassen und sich nicht unnötig am Titel zu reiben (auch wenn dazu Berechtigung besteht).

Frau Muff, The business of business is business – hat der Nobelpreisträger Milton Friedman mal gesagt und damit gemeint, das sich Unternehmen aufs Geldverdienen konzentrieren sollen. Was ist falsch an dem Satz?

Das ist einfach zu simpel gedacht: Die Wirtschaft ist ein Teil der Gesellschaft und die wiederum ein Teil des Planeten. Wenn wir den ruinieren, dann funktioniert weder die Gesellschaft noch die Wirtschaft. Also müssen Unternehmen ihre Wirkung auf die Umwelt und die Gesellschaft mit im Blick haben.

Friedman glaubte an die Idee, dass alle Menschen egoistisch handeln, das aber in einer Marktwirtschaft trotzdem zu einem guten Ergebnis führt – weil der Markt die Wünsche aller koordiniert und das am Ende zur bestmöglichen Verteilung von Gütern führt. So ähnlich jedenfalls lernen das die meisten Ökonomie-Studierenden bis heute schon im ersten Semester.

In modernen Studiengängen lernen sie aber auch, dass auch das so einfach nicht stimmt. Die berühmte unsichtbare Hand des Marktes, die Angebot und Nachfrage so steuert, dass am Ende immer etwas Gutes herauskommt, funktioniert ja nicht. Es braucht Regeln, die der Staat bestimmt. Und es wird auch nicht alles gut, wenn in Unternehmen nur ans Geldverdienen gedacht wird.

Anscheinend überzeugt das auch immer mehr Leute in den Chefetagen. Kürzlich gelobten jedenfalls 180 Chefs namhafter US-Konzerne wie Amazon und Walmart in einem Statement of Corporate Purpose künftig auch ihrer Belegschaft, der Gesellschaft und der Umwelt nützen zu wollen – statt nur den Aktionären. Wird die Wirtschaft gerade grün und gut?

Na ja, die Ankündigungen sind das eine, Handeln das andere. Natürlich ist es erst mal positiv, wenn Chefs versprechen, dass sie beim Wirtschaften mehr Rücksicht auf die Natur und auf die Menschen nehmen wollen. Aber das ist nur der erste Schritt. Als nächstes muss das ganze Unternehmen umdenken und umlernen.

Was muss da konkret passieren?

In Unternehmen, die sich so auf den Weg machen, verändern sich vier Dinge.

Erstens, die interne Kultur, was sich nicht nur an neuen Kriterien für die Beförderung, sondern auch konkreten Unternehmenszielen zeigt. Klimaziele, zum Beispiel, müssen überprüfbar sein. Wenn ein Unternehmen verspricht, bis 2050 klimaneutral werden zu wollen, aber keine kurzfristigen Umsetzungspläne hat, dann geschieht nichts.

So was ist, zweitens, nur gemeinsam mit anderen erreichbar. Und dazu muss ein Unternehmen sich als Teil der Gesellschaft sehen, statt nur sich selbst im Mittelpunkt zu stellen. Es geht um mehr.

Drittens, braucht es einen zukunftsfähigen Aufsichtsrat, in dem darf nicht immer der gleiche Typ Mensch sitzen, diversere Aufsichtsräte bringen strategische Gesellschaftsthemen stärker auf den Tisch. Da wird dann in einer Aufsichtsratssitzung nicht mehr nur nach der Umsatzrendite und Risikominimierung gefragt, sondern auch nach neuen Geschäftsfelder, die helfen, die Gesellschaft zu verbessern oder Umweltprobleme zu lösen.

Dies ist der vierte Punkt: Wie zeigt sich das alles in neuen Dienstleistungen?

Notiz der Authorin: hier wird auf den Strategischen Innovationscanvas der Positive Impact Organizationen verwiesen, dieser enthält vier Differenzierungsmerkmale sowie acht Innovationsanstösse. Ein kurzer Online-kurs dazu hier.

Wenn ich die Nachhaltigkeitsberichte von Unternehmen lese oder Begriffe wie Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) höre, dann gruselt es mich häufig. Da stehen so viele schöne Worte und so wenig harte Fakten …

Tatsächlich schleichen sich viele Unternehmen noch mit schönen Worten in ihren Nachhaltigkeitsberichten weg. Dabei gibt es längst wissenschaftlich fundierte harte Fakten, die man messen kann: beispielsweise die Diversität des Managements oder der CO2-Ausstoß des Unternehmens. Und es gibt Verbände, die ihren Mitgliedern dabei helfen, solche Nachhaltigkeitskriterien strategisch anzuwenden. Dort lässt sich auch von Vorbildern lernen, von Unternehmen, die visionäre Versuche wagen und sich wirklich richtig ehrgeizige Ziele setzen – beispielsweise ein 2030 Netto-Null Ziel, für sich und die eigenen Kunden, was im Unternehmen vieles auf den Kopf stellt.

Die Wirtschaft ist ein Teil der Gesellschaft und die wiederum ein Teil des Planeten. Wenn wir den ruinieren, dann funktioniert weder die Gesellschaft noch die Wirtschaft.

Müssen Unternehmen, die die Übernutzung der Natur wirklich ernst nehmen, nicht noch einen viel radikaleren Schritt gehen: Müssten sie nicht einfach eine Menge der Produkte aus ihren Katalogen streichen? Wer braucht in Zeiten der Klimakrise beispielsweise noch Privatjets oder in Zeiten der Wasserknappheit einen privaten Pool – um nur zwei Beispiele zu nennen.

Diese Beispiele zeigen genau die Größe des Problems. Man kann ja nicht einfach sagen: Schließt doch besser euren Laden! Das wäre ein sehr kurzes Gespräch. Aber machen wir es konkret, nehmen wir Coca-Cola. Die Welt wäre wahrscheinlich ein gesünderer Ort, wenn es keine hart beworbenen zuckerhaltigen Süßgetränke gäbe …

… zumindest hätten wir dann viel weniger Kinder mit Zahnschäden oder Übergewicht …

Genau. Wenn sich das Unternehmen aber zum Ziel setzt einen sinnvollen gesellschaftlichen Beitrag zu leisten, dann sollte es seine Kernkompetenzen klüger nutzen. Coca-Cola schafft es, ein perfekt gekühltes Süssgetränk bis ans Ende der Welt zu bringen. Das ist eine ungeheure logistische Leistung. Wer schafft das sonst schon? Könnte man diese Kompetenz nicht auch dafür nutzen, mit Nährstoffen und Vitaminen angereicherte Nahrungsmittel in genau diese Enden der Welt zu bringen? Das ist es jetzt nur eine Idee, und soll zeigen, welche Fragen sich Unternehmen stellen, die eine positive Wirkung haben wollen. Es geht nicht nur darum, den negativen Fußabdruck des aktuellen Geschäftes zu vermindern, sondern auch neue sinnvolle Geschäftsfelder zu entdecken und zu entwickeln. Wie der US-Ökonom Peter Drucker schon sagte:«jedes ungelöste gesellschaftliche Problem ist eigentlich nichts anderes als eine grosse unentdeckte Martkchance.»

Gibt es für solch einen Umbau auch Argumente, die den altmodischen Kriterien standhalten? Es heißt, nachhaltige Unternehmen seien langfristig auch ökonomisch stärker als andere …

Ja, und nicht nur das. Nachhaltigkeit ist auch wichtig, um gute Leute zu bekommen. Junge Leute finden es heute viel wichtiger als in der Vergangenheit, was und wie ihr Arbeitgeber im Markt anbietet. Sie bestimmen zunehmend, was verlangt wird. Bereits heute buhlen in einigen Industrieländern immer mehr Unternehmen um die besten hochqualifizierten Talente. Die wollen für inspirierende Unternehmen arbeiten, die wollen etwas Sinnvolles tun. Auch im Unternehmen motiviert ein Sinn jenseits der Rendite alle diejenigen, denen es nicht nur ums Geld geht.

Es geht nicht nur darum, den negativen Fußabdruck des aktuellen Geschäftes zu vermindern, sondern auch neue sinnvolle Geschäftsfelder zu entdecken und zu entwickeln. Regierungen müssen sich schon fragen, was gut für ihre Gesellschaft und die Umwelt ist. Und dann müssen sie das auch in verbindlichen Regeln festschreiben.

Können Sie das belegen?

Ich habe erst vor ein paar Tagen mit dem Chef eines großen internationalen Konzerns gesprochen und der hat mir gesagt, dass Klimaschutz und ein inspirierender Purpose bei der Mitarbeiterwerbung einen noch viel höheren Stellenwert als noch vor 10 Jahren haben. Es gibt auch eine Studie der Young Presidents Organization, in welcher CEOs nach der Bedeutung von Nachhaltigkeit gefragt werden – und die zeigt, wie sehr sich auch bei denen die Stimmung in den vergangen fünf Jahren verändert hat: 93 Prozent finden, dass ein Unternehmen einem gesellschaftlichen Zweck dienen muss, was dem neuen Verständnis von Nachhaltigkeit entspricht und wo auch das Klimaproblem dazugehört. Und dies aus drei Gründen: erstens wegen Druck von Mitarbeitern, zweitens wegen Druck der eigenen Kinder und drittens wegen Druck der Kunden.

Ist das Klima jetzt so wichtig, weil alle jetzt darüber reden? Oder erleben wir da wirklich einen grundsätzlichen Wandel, eine Moralisierung der Märkte, setzt sich da die Idee der planetaren Grenzen durch – also die Idee, dass wir die Erde in vielfacher Hinsicht überlasten und daran etwas ändern müssen?

Immer mehr Leute, egal an welcher Stelle im Unternehmen, wollen etwas Sinnvolles tun. Dies hat oft mit Nachhaltigkeit zu tun und kann das Klima betreffen, die Umwelt, oder die Biodiversität. Es kann aber auch die wachsende Ungleichheit in der Gesellschaft oder andere soziale Themen betreffen.

Welche Rolle spielen dabei die Finanzmärkte? Vor allem bei Aktiengesellschaften heißt es immer wieder, dass die gar nicht anders können, als den Gewinn zu maximieren. Würden sie sich anders verhalten, würden die Aktionäre die Vorstände und Aufsichtsräte davonjagen.

Da habe ich gute Nachrichten. Was da im vergangenen Jahr passiert ist und in diesem Jahr auch noch passieren wird, wird die Welt verändern. Die Verwalter der großen Fonds haben begriffen, dass man mit Nachhaltigkeit Geld verdienen kann und dass die Renditen bei nachhaltigen Unternehmen langfristig gut und sicher sind. Schweizer Großbanken wie die UBS oder auch die Black Rock, der weltweit grösste Investor, verändern ihre Kriterien für Investitionen gerade stark, nicht nur wegen den Vermögenstransfers an die nächste Generation, die einfach andere Prioritäten hat und das Geld bewusst anlegen will.  Jedenfalls ist der Zuwachs bei sogenannten nachhaltigen Geldanlagen und beim Impact Investment rasant.

Impact Investment bedeutet …

… dass Menschen ihr Geld dort investieren, wo es es etwas bewegt und zwar nicht philanthropisch sondern als profitables Geschäftsmodell mit gutem Zweck.

Reden Sie sich die Welt da nicht schön und ist die Realität nicht doch noch eine andere? Kürzlich hat RWE, das große deutsche Energieunternehmen, die niederländische Regierung vor einem Schiedsgericht auf Schadenersatz verklagt – weil die Niederlande schnell aus der Kohleverstromung aussteigen wollen. Gleichzeitig wirbt RWE in großen Anzeigen, dass das Unternehmen künftig ganz grün werden will. Das passt doch nicht. Das Argument für diese Art von Klagen ist dann immer: Wir müssen das tun, sonst werden wir von den Aktionären verklagt.

Einerseits fordern gewisse Investoren nun was anderes. Auf der Aktionärsversammlung von Unilever wurde dem Unternehmen vor Kurzem der Auftrag gegeben, die Klimastrategie ins Zentrum der Unternehmensstrategie zu stellen. Es spielen jedoch tatsächlich die Aufsichtsräte häufig noch eine hinderliche Rolle. Den Aufsichtsräten geht es zu oft nur um die eigene Risikominimierung, die wollen nicht von den Aktionären verklagt werden und haben eine zu kurzfristige Perspektive. Da wünsche ich mir mehr Mut und weniger weiße alte Männer. Denn schon wenn Sie die Gremien anders zusammensetzen, würde das viel verändern.

Das klingt verblüffend einfach. Eine andere Personalpolitik in den Chefetagen und damit dort eine andere Sicht auf die Welt – und alles wird gut?

Wir sind im Moment tatsächlich in der glücklichen Lage, dass Unternehmen von allen Seiten Druck bekommen. Und für ein solches Umdenken bringen jüngere, weiblichere und insgesamt diverse Chefetagen und Aufsichtsräte den nötigen frischen Wind und Weitblick.

Wäre das leichter, wenn wir strengere staatliche Regeln hätten, die von allen Unternehmen verlangen, dauerhaft und nachprüfbar anders mit der Umwelt umzugehen?

Ja, das wäre sicherlich hilfreich. Regierungen müssen sich schon fragen, was gut für ihre Gesellschaft und die Umwelt ist. Und dann müssen sie das auch in verbindlichen Regeln festschreiben. Der New Green Deal der EU setzt ein hervorragendes Zeichen,  der einen schonenderen Umgang mit der Umwelt für die Wirtschaft verbindlich zu machen will. Diese signalisieren der zögerlichen Wirtschaft: Euer Sandkasten wird gerade verschoben. Und unterschätzen Sie dann die Unternehmer nicht. Die sind sehr innovativ, wenn es darum geht, ihr Spielzeug dann auch zu verschieben.

Es kursieren im Moment viele Ideen für andere Unternehmensformen. Da gibt es Social Entrepreneurship, in den USA die B-Corps, in Deutschland die Bewegung der purpose economy. Bei allen geht es im Kern darum, dass schon in den Statuten des Unternehmens nicht nur die Gewinnmaximierung steht, sondern auch andere sinnvolle Ziele. Für wie wirkmächtig halten Sie die?

Die stoßen auf jeden Fall etwas an. Und sie knüpfen im Grunde an eine alte Idee von Unternehmertum an. Nehmen Sie beispielsweise den Gründungsgedanken von Unilever oder Nestle. Die wurden gegründet, weil sie ein gesellschaftliches Problem lösen wollten. Bei Nestle ging es darum, die Kindersterblichkeit zu senken, Unilever wollte die Hygienestandards in England verbessern.

Ich kenne Nestle vor allem, weil es immer wieder für die Privatisierung von Wasser kritisiert worden ist – und dafür, dass es viele Tonnen unnötiger Plastikflaschen produziert. Also nicht gerade als Modell.

Stimmt, da müsste wohl einiges passieren, damit der Ursprungsgedanke wieder stärker in den Fokus kommt. Unsere Forschung zeigt, dazu braucht es einen CEO mit entsprechenden Zukunftskompetenzen und ein Unternehmen, welches ko-kreativ mit anderen Akteuren arbeiten kann.

Kennen Sie eigentlich ein Unternehmen, bei dem alles stimmt – das gute Produkte hat, gutes Geld verdient, gut für die Umwelt ist und für die Gesellschaft? Oder ist das die Quadratur des Kreises?

Wir nennen solche Unternehmen „Positive Impact Organisationen“. Es gibt alternative Banken, die ihr Geld nachhaltig und nach ethischen Kriterien anlegen. In der Schweiz gibt es Choba-Choba, welches die Kakaobauern am Unternehmen beteiligt. Und die SV-Gruppe, ein Catering-Unternehmen, das seinen Klimaimpact dank einer Umschulung der Chefköche massiv reduzieren konnte, mit gleichem Profit. Oder es gibt Climeworks, ein Zürcher Unternehmen das CO2 aus der Luft holt und nicht nur bindet, sondern auch Mineralwasser-Herstellern weiterverkauft. Wir sammeln einerseits Beispiele solcher Unternehmen um zu inspirieren (Kurzvideos hier auf Sustainability-Today.com) und helfen Unternehmen andererseits beim Entdecken solcher neuer Geschäftschancen. Packen wir’s an, denn die Zeit läuft!


When the Stakeholder Perspective takes a Purpose Orientation

Understanding Business Sustainability Types in terms of stakeholder engagement

Every organization talks about stakeholder engagement – yet what does this really mean? In the era of positive impact, engaging with stakeholders goes beyond reaching out to your employees, customers, suppliers and concerned civil society institutions. A truly sustainable organization will have recognized that it is itself a stakeholder in a much larger context, in which it doesn’t play the central role. Creating a positive impact through focusing on purpose is all about recognizing one’s own limited perspective and value contribution to a society which includes other perspectives such as civil society and government.

The purpose orientation of business has become a popular topic recently. It is hard to open a new book on the current and future challenges for business and society and not stumble over the purpose topic. In analyzing the evolution of business sustainability empirically, Grayson et al. conclude in their book “All In” (2018: 30-32) that we have entered the “Purpose Driven Era” in 2016. For them, today’s best corporate leaders focus what they do through the lens of the purposeful and positive impact they aspire to have in the world.

This understanding of purpose contrasts with another popular interpretation of the role of business, the stakeholder model. The Business Roundtable, an association of some 200 CEOs of major U.S. companies, published a widely acclaimed statement on the purpose of a corporation in August 2019. These companies committed for the first time since 1997 to a responsibility to all stakeholders – namely customers, employees, suppliers, the communities in which they operate, and their owners. All stakeholders are seen by them as important, and value must be created for all of them. This is a significant extension of understanding from seeing the shareholder as the one primary stakeholder of business.

What is the difference between these two interpretations of business and its role in society?

What is the difference between the purpose orientation of business and the stakeholder model? And how do they relate to each other?

A helpful answer can be found in the Davos Manifesto 2020 on the role of business in the 21st century presented by Klaus Schwab, the founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum. This manifesto goes beyond the Business Roundtable’s position in two different ways. First, it includes society in the catalog of stakeholders. Second and more significantly, it sees business not only as an economic entity in the service of wealth creation for different stakeholders, but also as a societal institution delivering multiple values. Along with government and civil society, business here is seen as another, equally important “stakeholder of our global future”. Business is expected to contribute through its specific resources and capabilities to improve the state of the world, together with government and civil society. To achieve this, a purpose orientation is needed to guide the business.

How do we make sense of this evolution of understanding of stakeholders?

In a first step, an organization extends its understanding from a single stakeholder, often the owner or shareholder, to a more extensive group of business-relevant stakeholders. This is the shift from Business Sustainability 1.0 to Business Sustainability 2.0 in the Dyllick-Muff Typology (see below).  This extension from a single to a number of relevant stakeholder groups can be viewed as a “horizontal extension,” with new stakeholder groups being added to existing ones. A majority of organizations are in this conceptual phase of understanding stakeholder engagement. At this stage, the central focus, however, remains on the business, which is seen to fulfill multiple demands through its activities.

When an organization, in a further step, starts to consider itself as a societal stakeholder, this is a completely different perspective. It represents the shift from inside-out to outside-in thinking which means that an organization is able to look at its own role from an external meta level. It starts perceiving itself as just another stakeholder in society. It is society which takes on the central space, no longer the organizations which sees its role as providing a positive value to society. This shift introduces an additional dimension and can be seen as a “vertical expansion” of the relevant perspective. This new position is what Business Sustainability 3.0, or true business sustainability, is all about.

The graph illustrates that we are in effect dealing with two different perspectives on business and society. And these two perspectives bring about two quite different discussions, as has been demonstrated also in developing our concept of True Business Sustainability.

In reviewing the established approaches to Business Sustainability, we developed a typology that focuses on effective business contributions to sustainable development (Dyllick and Muff, 2016). We call it the Business Sustainability Typology (BST). It ranges from Business Sustainability (BST) 1.0 to BST 2.0 and BST 3.0.

What do we mean by this?

In a first phase of BST 1.0 companies recognize that through sustainability management they can save costs and reduce risks, they can increase their reputation on the job market as well as their differentiation in the product markets. We defined this early form of Business Sustainability 1.0 as a form of “refined shareholder value-management” where shareholders play the dominating role. This is reflected in the interaction between business and their shareholders in the graphic.

In a second phase, companies start broadening their stakeholder perspective beyond their shareholders, thereby pursuing a triple bottom line approach. Value creation mow includes economic or social values to other stakeholders as well. This advanced view of BST 2.0 we have called “Managing for the Triple Bottom Line”. In contrast to BST 1.0 not only economic objectives, but also social and environmental objectives are pursued by business as part of their stakeholder management. But the companies still look at things from the inside out, from its own activities to stakeholders and to society. And it is about diminishing the negative side effects of the economic activities. This is well reflected in the horizontal extension to multiple stakeholders in the above graphic.

In a third phase, companies shift from an “Inside-Out-Thinking” to an “Outside-In-Thinking”, i.e. when the company starts from society and its problems and then asks itself which opportunities arise by contributing to solving societal challenges? This results in BST 3.0 or “True Business Sustainability” and is well reflected in the perspective where an organization sees itself as a societal stakeholder.

With regard to the vertical expansion the relevant questions address the needs of society to continue solving its problems and the relevant contributions made by government, civil society, and business. It raises questions about the role of business and its purpose in the development of the economy and society. This requires business to engage with the broader external environment, beyond the economic and market environments. And it requires an “outside-in perspective” instead of the dominant “inside-out perspective.” Such a perspective considers the company and its impact from the outside, starting with the societal problems and challenges; rather than from the inside, starting from the goals and concerns of the company itself.

This is a major step change in thinking about the development of business sustainability, or more generally, about business and society. It opens the discussion for the new question about corporate purpose. And it frames the discussion in a different way. Not as adding value to more stakeholder groups, but as focusing on very different challenges, societal challenges, where corporate contributions are much in need.


Reimagining capitalism – Three concrete options for business

Rebeccca Henderson is a University Professor at Harvard Business School in the area of sustainable business. In her passionate new book “Reimagining capitalism” she looks at a world on fire and develops a model of what sustainable business in a fundamentally transformed capitalism would require and look like.  She distinguishes three strategy levels for business, which I find very helpful and which I link to my experiences in Switzerland.

Massive environmental degradation, skyrocketing economic inequality, and institutional collapse (by looking at the USA and other nations turning increasingly autocratic, but also at multilateral organizations like the WHO or the WTO) grow more important by the day. She argues convincingly that this is something that cannot be left to governments and civil society alone, as classical economic thinking declares, while companies continue with business-as-usual. If we fail in transforming capitalism and putting its significant power and resources to better use, we will not be able to effectively address these problems. And business will put its own – but also our future at risk.

What can be done in such a situation? What are the available options for business?

Three different progressively more far reaching but also more demanding strategy levels can be found in the book, although in a somewhat different logic and argumentation as presented here.

Creating Shared Value

A first strategy level is based on the idea of creating shared value, a concept championed by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer. They define shared value creation as creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. “In today’s world, reimagining capitalism requires embracing the idea that while firms must be profitable if they are to thrive, their purpose must be not only to make money but also to build prosperity and freedom in the context of a livable planet and a healthy society.” (R. Henderson) However, as long as shared values are defined by business looking from the inside out, their perspective will focus on reducing the bads of their existing activities. They will reduce waste, resources, or risks and happily report on newly created shared values. This cannot be sufficient. Only when they start to look from the outside in, starting from the problems society is facing and finding economic solutions for them, will their contributions address problems of real social relevance. Only then, they may be approaching what Katrin Muff and I call “true business sustainability”. For this, they clearly will have to follow a larger purpose than simply maximizing their profits.

Cooperative Self-Regulation

A second strategy level is based on cooperative self-regulation. It engages firms with each other, with the third sector, and with government partners in the pursuit of solutions to common problems, which cannot be solved by any of the partners alone, often prototyping solutions that prove to be a model for subsequent practice. Famous examples are Nike trying to get child labor out of its supply chain by creating the Sustainable Apparel Coalition or WWF and Unilever which spearheaded the creation of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil, both as a response to the massive critique by NGOs. A current example on a national level, where the author is personally engaged, is PRISMA, an inter-industry cooperation of major companies in the food production, retailing, and packaging sector engaged in bringing about a circular economy solution in Switzerland for consumer goods packaging. While the existing system of materially separated collection systems has been working well in the past, it has reached its limits of including new packaging materials and of demanding an increasingly difficult contribution from the consumers to separate and collect the different materials. The new model developed and promoted by the PRISMA-coalition is an innovative One-For-All collection and recycling system. It consists of a blueprint for a future collection system, prototypes of different elements of a practical solution, and a roadmap for developing and promoting an industry agreement.

Supporting Inclusive Political Action

Cooperative self-regulation is a powerful new way to mobilize the business community in support of promoting collective goods. The increased reach, however, comes at a price. It is hard to achieve and even harder to sustain over time. It needs to be carefully managed. To create more stability and to counter market deficiencies, we need to turn to the third strategy level which is supporting inclusive  political action. Environmental degradation, climate collapse, inequality, and public health are systemic problems that cannot be solved without government action. Free markets need democratic, transparent and effective governments, if they are to survive, as well as the other institutions of an open, inclusive society including the rule of law, shared respect for the truth, and a commitment to vigorous free media. Free markets need free and effective politics to continuously balance and rebalance the evolving rules of the market in light of changing conditions and challenges.

The challenges are huge

Energy demand is projected to double over the next 50 years. Stopping global warming will mean ensuring that every new plant that’s built is carbon-free. It also means shutting down or decarbonizing the world’s existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Inequality, poverty, and migration present a similarly tough set of intertwined systemic problems that can only be fully addressed through government action. Most of these challenges are beyond the reach of individual countries and need international political cooperation. A good example is the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to phase out ozone-destroying chemicals which became effective 1989. It has been remarkably successful. It proved to be possible to find CFC substitutes relatively quickly, despite strong opposition from major business players, and the Antarctic ozone hole is expected to return to its 1980 status by 2030. It has also reduced global Green House Gas emissions by about 5,5%.

The systemic problems we are facing today confront us with the fact that we must build effective global institutions. Business must become an active partner in shoring up the institutions that we have and in building the new ones that we need. And to be clear, this is not about improving the framework conditions for one’s own business or industry. It is about supporting the foundations of our society and of its healthy development. It is about protecting and developing the institutions that have made business and all of us rich and free.

A current example from Switzerland is the public vote on a popular initiative holding Swiss corporations legally accountable for environmental and human rights violations outside Switzerland. While 50,7% of the people voted in favor of the initiative, the second condition for an acceptance – the majority of cantons – was not achieved. The strong lobby of multinational corporations, their business associations and political allies prevented a move that could have paved the way for a more responsible and accountable form of supply chain management in a developing world context. In this case, it was a missed chance to go beyond simply reporting good news and demonstrate real engagement in one of the current hot spots of global development, although public and political pressure in Switzerland and on an international level will not go away It demonstrates how challenging it is for business to find a new role in this profound process of social change and business transformation.

Different strategy levels – different reach – different competences

Creating shared value, cooperative self-regulation, and supporting inclusive political action – on a national or an international level, depending on the issue at case – must be seen as three crucial sustainability strategies for business. While the first strategy is located on an organizational level and allows companies to act by themselves, this is easier to do, but its reach is also limited. Cooperative self-regulations offer a wider reach, often including whole industries or multi-industry and stakeholder coalitions. But this is clearly more challenging and demands very different competences and resources in the collaborative field to practically succeed. And a strategy of supporting inclusive political action aims at the political level and needs again very different competences and resources to act effectively. Here it will need political coalitions with business being only one player among many. But this level may prove to be the most important in the years to come.


Anybody can contribute to the mindset shift that is needed to create a positive impact!

We know that it takes an enlightened leader to reposition an organization to provide also value for society and the planet. And we also know that there aren’t enough such leaders. However, latest research shows that there is hope: any engaged employee can increase their changemaker potential by inviting external stakeholders to traditionally internal decisions-making meetings. The current digital meetings are a great bridge for this. Learn here more about the magic of external stakeholders in triggering the organizational mindset shift towards creating positive value.

What lesson does COVID-19 crisis have for business?

Covid has shown us how important it is for organizations to become resilient. There is one guaranteed way to increase your resilience, and that is by orienting yourself to the burning challenges that society and the world face today. Pioneering organizations do this by matching their core competencies with these challenges in order to develop new business models and revenue streams for their business. This requires you to create value, no longer just for your shareholder, or even stakeholders, but to think beyond the existing markets and clients to think broader. The question becomes: How can you as an organization with all the competencies, resources, and capacities you have contribute to solving societal and environmental challenges that are out there?

How do leading positive impact organizations accomplish this?

The pioneers show that in order to transform from a traditional organization to a positive impact organization, there are two predictors of success:

  1. an enlightened leader, meaning somebody who gets the benefits of contributing value to society beyond just looking for creating value for your business, and
  2. an organization that is capable to work outside of its business boundaries, as effectively as internally. I call this the co-creative organization. In addition to managing your business internally, you need to learn how to be co-creative outside, and not just the CEO, but actually many people in your organization.

So that’s why I talk about two mindset shifts: 1) one of the leader who needs to shift somehow the purpose of the organization to want to create more value than just for shareholders. And 2) the mindset shift of the organization where suddenly a sufficient number of employees in the organization learn how to work creatively outside of their boundaries and make sense for their own organization out of it. This external fluency is an entirely new expertise that typically doesn’t get developed in business schools.

But there aren’t enough such leaders, are there?

Indeed, there are unfortunately there aren’t enough leaders. But our research offers great hope. Since it takes two things, the leader, and a co-creative organization, I have some ways to make sure that your organization can become co-creative. Even if you don’t have an enlightened leader, at least you now have one of the two success factors. And we have seen that process of becoming co creative co creative becomes a mindset shift trigger for the CEO. By engaging in the practices to become co-creative, there is a transformation. Even with the leader so you may have initially a leader who doesn’t get it.

Are you saying anybody can bring about change?

Indeed, we are calling them intrapreneurs or change-makers. It could be the head of sustainability, the head of strategy, head of innovation, who says: «Hey, we’re going to bring in such new practices».  In addition, there is a younger generation, an amazing amount of changemakers that are already kind of intrapreneurs that are ready to bring in a lot of energy, new thinking and dynamism, to be the changemakers that can bring in that that can work on that co-creation part.

But what would such a change agent do?

There is a method for turning a traditional organization into a co-creative one. There is a specific way to bring in external stakeholders. I call them Collaboratory events. The change agent invites constructive external stakeholders and together with them the company participants develop a solution to a problem that is out there. In that one-day workshop, particularly if you have the CEO present, our research shows that something happens with people. Exposure to different thinking, arguments, ideas, perspectives opens your mind. And sometimes, the little opening that happens triggers a mindset shift. A mindset shift is nothing else than an expansion of mind. The key to the organizational mindset shift is all about creating triggering incidents where participants minds expands. There are specific proven processes for this. My book «Five Superpowers for Co-creators» is all about it.

So what do you suggest for changemakers out there?

If you have an appetite for helping your organization to identify what are the positive opportunities in there and get together with the innovators and the strategists in your business together, what you need to do is to find a professional facilitator, ideally somebody trained with the SDGXCHANGE methodology, and organize a multi-stakeholder meeting. You pick a day, invite some external stakeholders and a diverse range of your work colleagues – new and long-time serving your organization, all ages, genders, backgrounds and skills. And together with a skilled facilitator, the group has a conversation about what could be the positive role or contribution of your business to address these issues out there. This is what it would mean to put yourself on the «offense» team.

Take-away message

Even if you work in an organization that currently isn’t focused on creating a positive impact for society and the world, and your leader doesn’t necessarily get the importance of such an orientation, there is something you can do: find ways to bring in external stakeholders to your next meeting you have in your department. Any meeting that benefits from a broader perspective and new ideas will be perfect for this. With this simple act, you will start broadening the mindset of your colleagues and help position your organization for a mindset shift. Be surprised with how the positive benefits start to spread in your organization.

If you need help in how to go about this, feel free to reach out to me katrin@katrinmuff.com.


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Listening – deepening a capacity

In the spirit of continued authentic communication as initiated in my last blog, I would like to share my reflections about the competency that was in highest demand in my past two months: listening!

 

Let me provide a bit of context. Having stopped my roles at Business School Lausanne at the end of July has brought an abrupt end to the previous demand of my leadership skills. I had chosen to let go of leading already three years prior when we introduced self-organization at the school. Yet I had not been able to drop the reporting function of leadership towards the owners and was in many ways still carrying the full weight of responsibility. It took August and September for me to appreciate how much lighter I started to feel, with human interaction being simplified to the person to person contact, rather than facing the projections and expectations that people would associate with me as a holder of a institutional role. With all of that gone, there was space for something new. 

 

I have discovered listening in many forms: professionally listening was a core competency when facilitating stakeholder meetings or chairing panel sessions, and when conducting interviews of best practice companies. Personally, as I reconnected to my purpose asking myself what would come next, I listened to signs of my body to guide me in deepening my intuition. I am also learning to listening to my emotional, cognitive and physical demands when it comes to freeing myself of my cognitive restrictions when it comes to eating. Behavioral scientists have unveiled to what degree modern times have disconnected many of us from a natural and healthy sense of what our physical needs are when it comes to food and how to listen to these. A multi-layer journey as I am discovering.

 

Listening to myself and to others has been complemented with my more conscious listening to what is around me in the city and in nature. A deeper listening, I am discovering, is slowing me down, grounding me and generating an instant deep connection to the core of what unites us all: the energy field that vibrates and pulsates if only we listen. 

3 x

 active listening

  • It is in that energy field that the solutions lie when I seek a transformative turning point in a multi-stakeholder meeting. Depending on the vibration and pulse, it becomes clear what the group needs to step forward in the direction they seek. 
  • It is also in that energy field that the right question, comment or exercise emerges when coaching a person in their journey. Guiding the coachee to connect to that field allows the person to find her answers herself. 
  • It is in this energy field that I am reconnecting to my deeper purpose and my passion. Be it in nature, be it simply by taking a few slow and deep breaths, be it by feeling my feet on the ground, my mind quiets down and I am operating at the speed of my body and its sensations. 

What are your experiences with listening?

 

For me, my core insight of these past two months of deep listening have let me to ponder the following question: “Why would I not live a life that follows the rhythm of my body, rather than racing through life at the speed of my thoughts always dragging my body behind?” I don’t yet have an answer and for the moment my courage is limited to sharing this question with you. 


Business Schools finally involved in the World Economic Forum

A blog by Katrin Muff at Business School Lausanne in collaboration with Julia Christensen Hughes of the College of Business & Economics at the University of Guelph and Mette Morsing of Copenhagen Business School and the Stockholm School of Economics

You may wonder why business schools should be present at a global economic event. Well, some leaders have received their education from business schools and there is great pressure from civil society and business that business schools do a better job in educating the future generation of leaders. Leaders that can deal with the complexity of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (short VUCA) world, that have a solid values-based inner compass, can work effectively both inside and outside of their organizations, fluent in systems thinking and capable of leading multi-stakeholder initiatives that address the complex issues that the world is facing. At Business School Lausanne, we call such people “Responsible leaders for a sustainable and just world”. We are dedicated to developing such leaders across all of our programs, from bachelor to doctoral degrees and substantiate our learning space with world-leading research in the areas of sustainability, responsibility and transformation.

We are not the only ones! Toby Heaps, CEO of Corporate Knights and Jonas Haertle, Head of U.N. PRME jointly invited 40 business school Deans who are championing responsible management education for a better world. So, for the first time at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a comprehensive cohort of Deans from such disrupting schools were present to discuss how to strengthen our initiatives and collaborate with like-minded business leaders. There are 13’000 business schools around the world, and while there are 700 signatories to the PRME principles, it is high time to disrupt the 20th century curriculum built on flawed assumptions about the economy, the purpose of business and the role of a leader. These 40 champions offer inspirational ideas for providing a 21st century education and research focus that provides the foundation to receive a “licence to educate” as expected by society (source www.50plus20.org).

Celebration dinner of the 40 champion business schools appointed by United Nations PRME, in collaboration with Corporate Knights. Lisa Kingo, Head of the UN Global Compact, addressing the champions

I had the privilege to spend time with Julia Christensen Hughes, Dean of the College of Business And Economics at the University of Guelph in Canada and Mette Morsing who created possibly the largest CSR center in business at Copenhagen Business School and who is now creating a similar new sustainability research center at the Stockholm School of Economics. Being roommates in a rustic (AirBnB) apartment in Klosters has allowed not only great late night and early morning talks around the kitchen table, but also deepened a human connection that results from the bonding experience when three women have to make do with one bathroom and make it out of the door by 6am. My coffee capsules helped a bit, and Julia’s tea bags did magic, as did the wine we shared. The celebration dinner hosted by Corporate Knights and PRME allowed us to deepen connections with fellow Deans who have been partners on our transformative journey such as Philip O’Regan who last year hosted an unforgettable joint PRME and GRLI conference in Ireland. It also allowed us to make new connections with delegates from around the world including Africa, and new faces such as AIM in the Philippines, Berkeley in the USA and Insead in France.

Mette Morsing, Julia Christensen-Hughes and Katrin Muff

Visiting the Sustainable Impact HUB

Business schools have a long way to go. And so does business! While it may seem contradictory to participate in an event that assembles a global political and economic elite and where social entrepreneurship is possibly seen as a noteworthy phenomena, we realized how important it is for us, leading disruptors in business education, to also have our voices heard if we are to support further disruption in enabling global business to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Our input was appreciated and called for at many sessions, including those that focused on women’s leadership (and yes, there is a case suggesting that women deans can be particularly effective change agents, like women managers!). In business oriented sessions, our input and reflection was also sought and appreciated; it was heartwarming to feel how welcome our presence was. We were also challenged. Business expects significant change in education – we heard calls for breaking down silos, teaching in interdisciplinary non-linear ways, focusing on problem solving and embracing a spirit of experimentation and co-learning with our students. We also heard of how technology, applied well, is democratizing education – providing anywhere anytime access and opportunity to learn.

Participating in a breakfast meeting

Influencing and networking at the WEF in Davos happens everywhere, not just in meetings. This is the Davos magic. I talked to a successful entrepreneur who became interested in doing an MBA at BSL while queueing for my badge. Mette challenged assumptions behind the WEF competitiveness report while sitting next to its author in a shuttle bus. Julia met business leaders with an interest in supporting further curricular innovation in her business school. She also proudly participated in sessions offered by one of her alumni on block chain and crypto currencies. We got first-hand insights into the new IMF report while riding a local train and we thought of an inspiring new initiative around the Golden Rule when having lunch with Kim Polman. Julia also met renowned author of Donut Economics and HD recipient Kate Raworth while riding a late night shuttle. Kate is designing the first entire updated 21st century economics course with BSL to be launched in September 2018. The WEF demands that you are present in every single moment and that you are free to engage in the most diverse kind of conversations you can imagine at any time of the day, from the moment you open your eyes until your head hits the cushion. It is as much exhausting as it is exhilarating and if we leave this event with one shared learning it is this:

We will be back next year and we will be better prepared and better organized. We will work on the ideas that were developed this time around and announce the results next year. We will organize a house where Transformative Deans (or Deans as Agents of Change) can meet and discuss effective ways to transform not only their own schools but the management education landscape. It takes leadership, and this year’s WEF theme seems to suggest that it takes female leadership. Well, that is a currency we have plenty of!


How to inspire scientists on a Monday morning?

The Swiss National Fund (SNF) is a key provider of research funding in Switzerland. The National Research Programme 73 (NRP73) is a CHF 20 mio. research program that supports and encourages applied research across all fields to help achieve a sustainable economy. After a lengthy application and screening process, 25 projects were selected across all major public research institutions in Switzerland. The ambition of the program is that these 25 projects deliver not just independent research outcomes but collaborate among them and also with the stakeholders they seek to influence. That is a high call and one that researchers traditionally find difficult to embrace. It is often hard enough to collaborate within a multi-stakeholder project that there is little room to investigate further opportunities beyond. My job as the opening keynote speaker of the NRP73 kick-off session with about 100 of the scientists present in one room was “to inspire them”.

I chose to address three key questions that would contextualize their projects and to develop key emerging challenges resulting from this investigation. Knowing that there would be an expert in the room with more knowledge than me on pretty much any point I would address, I needed to be careful in framing my assumptions and conclusions. The three questions addressed the role of sustainability research in Switzerland, the ability to ensure relevance, and how to achieve impact through sustainability research. Figure 1 shows an overview of the emerging challenges I have identified.

Figure 1: Overview of the emerging challenges resulting from the 3 questions

In the context of the Gapframe (see Figure 2), I suggested that each project team assesses their project with regards to the issue it addresses. Some concern issues where Switzerland is particularly strong internationally and where solutions can be pioneered as a result of new insights. Other issues are of key priority for Switzerland itself and solutions will need to be innovated to ensure local relevance. Further issues may be of critical relevance globally and Swiss solutions can be scaled and shared as best practices.

Figure 2: Overview of the emerging challenges resulting from the 3 questions

To provoke thinking, I suggested there was a perception gap between how practice looks at “applied research” and how science looks at it (see Figure 3). This generated more nodding than I had dared to hope for. I even got a positive reaction to my suggestion to consider taking an action research stance, whereby the researcher assumes a subjective partner rather than an objective observer perspective. Very promising indeed!

Figure 3: The perception gap between science and practice in refereeing to “applied research”

When looking at these challenges, I remembered the insight of Insight of Andrew Hoffman in his book “How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate”: more knowledge doesn’t change minds. So how do we maximize the value of all the knowledge that will be generated by these 25 projects? My recommendation was framed as an attempt to answer the three questions and I highlighted that the secret lies in the research process. I summarized the elements of a success research process in 7 points:

  1. PURPOSE FOCUS
  2. DYNAMIC
  3. INCLUSIVE
  4. CO-CREATIVE
  5. IMPACT ORIENTED
  6. ONGOING DISSEMINATION
  7. ADAPTIVE OUTPUT

A purpose focus entails verifying again & again: does this project truly serving society, and if so how? A dynamic process needs to integrate new developments and may embrace an action research stance. Being inclusive means involving those stakeholders that are intended recipients the project seeks to influence. A co-creative research projects includes being truly “applied” from a user-perspective rather than a research perspective and includes integrating feedback. Being impact oriented is about ensure that the project is truly influencing those who matter when it matters. Ensuring ongoing dissemination means that external communications starts from the very beginning of the project, not only once first results are in. Finally, achieving an adaptive output includes negotiating and agreeing on value of improving output along the way according to changing context.

In conclusion, I suggested that it is of prime importance to review and adapt both the research process and outcome in an adaptive and dynamic way throughout the project lifetime.

 

 

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

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


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


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!