Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers


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).


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!


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Deep “new” change vs. changing the titans – a comment on George Monbiot opinion on Unilever

Let me be honest – I love Monbiot’s columns: they are sharp, edgy, provocative and to the point. They challenge present thinking and strive for more. I also think that Unilever is one of the way to few examples of a multinational working honestly on making the world a better place. I think we should clone Paul Polman – he is that good! So Monbiot’s critic on Unilever certainly got my attention – if you haven’t read it, here it is: http://www.monbiot.com/2014/04/08/loved-to-death/. As usual a real Monbiot piece of work. And I think he makes the point well in many ways of challenging Unilever for not yet having managed to be as coherent as they probably wish across all brands and divisions. I can think of a bunch of examples that would greatly support Monbiot’s case. Yet, I also think that Unilever more than any other similarly large multinational has initiated significant change both inside their organization and in their markets including consumers and investors. But, or better, and, there are still dark and blind spots. Look at Nestle and you see more dark than bright spots, despite their Creating Shared Value (CSV) claim – what they do with their water strategy and what they claim outrages me! It is tough for a large multinational to change course – maybe impossible. Just a few degrees of change, however, brings significant leverage and change due to the sheer size and relative impact of such large organizations.

Of course a few degrees is totally insufficient – we need radical, deep change. And we need it now. But, much like in any other industry or field of practice – business schools included – such radical and deep change does not happen in the established, large organizations with the famous brand names. Transformational change happens in the fringes, with small, relatively unknown players who have little to lose and much to gain. Such organizations are still lean, agile, fast and thus innovative. Like sailing boats compared to streamliners! I am in favor of supporting those streamliners who dare to embrace change, even if its just a few degrees and I am willing to celebrate those who are ahead of the pack and are undertaking radical big change that from the outlet looks impossible, yet inspires others to follow (and Paul Polman at Unilever is leading such radical big change). I believe we should focus our criticism on those who are fast asleep and have not yet woken up to the new realities of a resource-constrained, climate-changed world. Our criticism should tear them out of their sleep and their comfort zone, shake them up and get them to sit up straight and think – fast. Our students have created a consumer opinion poll to show companies in the food sector what consumers think of their sustainability initiatives – vote here to express your opinion, share the link and we will ensure the world hears about the results!

Monbiot talks about a critical issue: the lack of healthy food. Lets take a look at it. Indeed, since food has become a processed and heavily industrialized item, “healthy food” has become an oxymoron. To get the nutritious value an apple had in the 1950s, we would today need to eat 25 apples we buy in our supermarkets – “an apple a day” won’t keep the doctor away anymore! Sugar, salt and fat are our top 3 societal enemies that are and will be costing us not only unimaginably big health bills but are also ruining us as healthy, capable and caring human beings. Just take the combination of stress and sugar – it will turn anybody in a monster, unable to breathe, care and slow down. I recently wrote about this in the Transatlantic Blog. The pharmaceutical industry must love all of this, the number of emerging new conical deceases  are sky-rocketing, assuring life-long medical dependencies and revenues. Read what Michael Moss (salt, sugar, fat) has to say about it! I believe that the single biggest opportunity for food companies today is to turn their practices upside-down and to step back from feeding the world junk. To remove all the unhealthy, addictive ingredients and to serve us healthy, nurtious food that supports our well-being, happiness and health. There is chocolate without added sugar (thanks to Villars in Switzerland, a hugely innovative, small chocolate producer at the fringes!). It is possible! It is also unacceptable – I agree with Monbiot – that food companies including Unilever boycott and prevent proper “traffic-light” labelling of our enemies sugar, fat and salt. They managed to prevent a law to pass in Switzerland and I am sure in many other countries – scandalous! It feels like back in the days when tobacco companies tried to manipulate research that proved that smoking was bad. Unilevers of this world: embrace the challenge and return healthy food to us with your great distribution and brand power that you have. You can not only save the world, but build the foundation of a society that can start to heal itself and become well again. BSL is a place to help make it possible: we are a platform where engaged citizens work on burning societal issues. Our food-waste collaboratory on May 6th is such an example: we are committed to reduce consumer food-waste by 50% by 2018. What could you do in your space and what are you going to do to make a difference?

 


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!


Sustainability By Enlivening Your Day

A great blog post on creating an environment where you feel more present. How do you live the principles of sustainability in your own daily life?


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Recommendation of the Day: Strategy for World Peace

A great newsletter post I received  by the Schumacher Center for a New Economics – warmly recommend the read below!

Judy Wicks’ 2004 E. F. Schumacher Lecture described the White Dog Café and the vision and principles that inspire similar locally-based businesses that treat employees fairly, source materials regionally, and support other community businesses.

“Let me capsulize the local-living-economy movement for you by contrasting what it is and what it is not, what it does and what it does not do:

  • maximization of relationships, not of profits;
  • growth of consciousness and creativity, not brands and market share;
  • democracy and decentralized ownership, not concentrated wealth;
  • a living return, not the highest return;
  • a living wage, not the minimum wage;
  • a fair price, not the lowest price;
  • sharing, not hoarding;
  • simplicity, not luxury;
  • life-serving, not self-serving;
  • partnership, not domination;
  • cooperation, not competition;
  • win-win exchange, not win-lose exploitation;
  • family farms, not factory farms;
  • biodiversity, not monocrops;
  • cultural diversity, not monoculture;
  • creativity, not conformity;
  • slow food, not fast food;
  • our bucks, not Starbucks;
  • our mart, not Wal-Mart;
  • a love of life, not a love of money.”

The BerkShares businesses featured in the “Business of the Month” series understand this ethic.

“When you’re in business long enough, eventually people get to know you, they trust you, and they know what you’re all about,” says Locke Larkin, who runs Locke, Stock, and Barrel in the Berkshires.  “I work with producers who still have a feeling for what they make, they care about it, and it’s their reputation that’s on the line. . . When the town’s businesses cooperate, it’s a better place for everyone. Competition is the old paradigm. The new paradigm is ‘let’s cooperate.’ We’re all in the same boat, so let’s get our oars aligned.”

Eric Wilska, the owner of an independent bookstore says, “The mission of BerkShares really makes sense—to keep money circulating in town.  We all talk like that, but with BerkShares you can put your money where your mouth is. . . I’d love to drag people in to the back room and show them a chart. Here’s a list on the left-hand side of all the things the Bookloft has done in 39 years, such as: number of high school kids and interns hired over the years—62; number of gift certificates given—thousands; amount of sales tax paid to Massachusetts—$3 million; payroll paid out to people who live in town; taxes paid to the town. . . And on the right-hand side the same categories for a company such as Amazon.  The amounts would literally be zero.  Zero, zero, zero.”

In her 2004 Schumacher talk, Judy Wicks went on to argue that supporting local businesses is more than a strategy for building resilient local economies:

“Perhaps the greatest benefit of the local-living-economy movement is that by creating self-reliance we are creating the foundations for world peace. If all communities had food security, water security, and energy security, if they appreciated diversity of culture rather than a monoculture, that would be the foundation for world peace. Schumacher said, ‘People who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade.’ There you go!”

Judy Wicks’ newly published Good Morning Beautiful Business, from Chelsea Green, is available at independent booksellers.  It has hit a resounding chord with readers.  As a result, Judy’s tour schedule is full and her events enthusiastically packed. On April 17th she will be in Northampton for the Pioneer Valley Sustainable Network.  Join us there.

Best wishes,
Susan Witt, Alice Maggio, Michelle Hughes, Kate Poole, Paris Kazis, and Sam Moore
Schumacher Center for a New Economics

Board of Directors:  Peter Barnes, Mary Berry, Hildegarde Hannum, Dan Levinson, Anne MacDonald, Jerry Mander, Gordon Thorne, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, Greg Watson, and Judy Wicks.
Advisory Board:  Wendell & Tanya Berry, Merrian Goggio Borgeson, Eric Harris-Braun, and Otto Scharmer

“A good community insures itself by trust, by good faith and good will, by mutual help. A good community, in other words, is a good local economy.” Wendell Berry from “Work of Local Culture”