Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers

The perspective of the South

The President of the Bolivian National State starts with a passionate speech criticizing the conference to abuse the environment to serve the goals of all players. He says that the resolution wants weak states with weak institutions. He makes a number of examples of how Bolivia is different in how it assures a harmonious life of all people and the planet. He says that Bolivia has passed a law two days ago that foresees the assurance of the well-being of Mother Earth, its restoration of health if needed. He demands other developing countries also re-privatize its own resources. Before he became president, water and electricity was privatized in Bolivia, now they have recuperated most of their own resources. He concludes by clarifying that for him, “green economy” is a new form of colonialism!

The President of Ecuador follows just as passionately highlighting the difference of CO2 emission between the 20% poorest vs. the 20% richest countries: for every ton of CO2 emission of the poorest countries, the richest countries use 83 tons! He criticizes the mechanism for the Kyoto protocol pointing out important loopholes such as the fact that governments were not compensated for maintaining forests, but paying for reforestation if forests have been cut down and sold and need to be reconstructed. He demands a compensation for not exploiting the 14 billion dollar equivalent underground oil reserves and therefore not causing CO2 emissions by leaving the resources in the ground. Ecuador has demanded that every nations recognizes the rights of mother Earth, that nature is not an object but a subject! He is frustrated that this suggestion was rejected. He concludes by saying that the root of the problem is in Europe and the U.S. where money rules nature. And that it is a big tragedy that the problems we face is not a technical one – we can safe the planet and all live well – but a political one. He reminds his fellow statesman of the girl from New Zealand who spoke yesterday asking that rather than saving their face, they save the planet. He highlights that 80% of the countries that have just attended the G20 summit in Mexico are not attending the Rio+20 conferences and don’t even care enough about our planet to come and save their face!



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Public-private partnership on green growth

A high-level session hosted by the Danish prime minister and the President of South Korea and the Mexican Minister of the Environment filling in for his president and Unilever CEO Paul Polman. The Danish and South Korean statesmen make an unlikely couple: a beautiful, young and tall blond lady and a small, restrained, nearly introverted gentleman. They jointly present the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) as an innovative international action-oriented platform in service of  a future “we want”. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is absent as is the Mexican Prime Minister who had just hosted the G20. After short statement, the South Korean Prime Minister and his delegation leaves. When will the discussion start?

We learn that the heads of state have somewhat unexpectedly already approved the proposed new document generated by the Brazilian a day ahead of schedule. They seem to have followed the recommendation of the delegates who had unanimously approved the overnight effort of the Brazilians to save the conference a few days ago. This is certainly weird and a major disappointment for many. Weird because the procedure of the state addresses is still going on in the main hall of the conference. And a major disappointment as the concerns of minorities both in the global South as well as other major groups (NGO, youth, women, etc.).

Paul Polman points out that the agreement falls short of the expectations as it lacks clearly defined goals and measures to be achieved. Clear words that express a broad general sentiment. The Danish prime minister says she is “moderately satisfied” with regards to the outcomes of the RIO+20 conference. She underlines the importance of having green economy recognized as the way forward and clarified that setting a new high level global governance framework is a first step in a longer process. She reminds us that we will need  everybody will now have to go and apply the notions now, and business most particularly. Paul Polman highlights that there is a lot of energy in the private sector as a result of the RIO+20 conference with many important initiatives now emerging.

Three goals (universal access to energy by 2023, providing 3 billion people with modern cooking fuel, minimize adverse environmental externalities) in the energy are about to be agreed on and supported across all sectors. The head of UNIDO clarifies that it will take 48 billion a year for the next 20 years is needed to achieve this. This money must come from the private sector and governments seem confident that corporations will provide this cash-flow. The conversation turns on money, the financial crisis and the need for public subsidies. Polman demands transparency and points out the 33 trillion of asset from 1100 organizations reporting in the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as a start to provide the kind of transparency that is needed to succeed.

Paul Polman states that business responds best to signals from the market which are reflected by investors. He demands new measures for evaluating the real value of a company and challenges the investment community to come up with relevant new measures. This and signs from the consumers will be much more relevant and appropriate than broad subsidies. Not everybody on the panel agrees. Polman concludes by stressing also the importance of supporting the youth and congratulates the Higher Education Initiative (HEI) which gained 47 more signatures during this conference reaching now more than 300 universities. BSL was among the first dozen universities to sign this important initiative which is supported by our World Business School Council for Sustainable Business.

In the middle of the closing remarks there is a commotion at the back of the room: Ban Ki-moon walks in. As there is no spare chair for him, everybody jumps up and leaves the panel, leaving the UN Secretary General sitting quite lonely up front. Tony-Schmidt who is by now called the fairytale godmother of Sustainability. Ban Ki-moon thanks her for demanding that the UN leads the global governance framework and that he takes this very seriously.

It becomes increasingly difficult to listen to Ban Ki-moon, as loud, disruptive voices reach us from the outside where a demonstration must be gaining force and size. In the intimate setting of a quite inappropriately tiny room for such a high-level session, we wonder what expects us outside. It feels like I am on the other side suddenly, on the inside fearing demonstrations outside, whereas so far I have been on the outside doing the rebelling with our guerilla business school of 50+20.

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Here is today’s launch speech.

“Today is not just another day and not just another conference. Today, we present to you the result of two years of voluntary work by many many passionate people who deeply care about ensuring that business schools and management education truly contribute to a better world. In this process, John Cimino’s song the CALL which he just performed has been our inspiration to be daring and courageous.
I was 22 years old when the original Rio conference took place in 1992. I was studying business at BSL, the school I now run as a Dean. Stephan Schmidheiny‘s book “changing course” changed my life. While I was environmentally conscious in my private life, my experience at work had taught me that I better leave personal interests at home and be strictly “professional” at work. With Rio 92, I sensed a new world opening up – one where I could integrate my personal passion into my professional work and help companies to become sustainable.
Today is not business as usual. We need something different from the usual conference debates. We have seen and heard all this before … The same words, the same arguments. We are busy rearranging deck chairs while the titanic is sinking! This cannot be another Copenhagen! The stakes are simply too high. The time is up – it is OUR generation and this is OUR time. We are the ones, who need to drop what we do, reflect and take courageous steps in a new, right direction. Now!
50+20 is a collaboratory, an open-source effort of GRLI, the WBSCSB and UN PRME. Our aim was to come up with a radically new vision for management education. A vision that started by asking big questions, like
– what kind of a world do we want?
– what does this mean for the kind of society we will need?
– what is the role of business and the economy in this?
– and what should business contribute to such a new world?
– what kinds of leaders do we need to achieve such a transformation?
– and as a result, what would that mean for management education?

We worked in a collaborative process with people around the world, including more than 100 thought leaders. Many people in this room have been involved in ways large and small. And we invite you all to stand up.

Together we created a vision beyond incremental change. Management education FOR the world, management education in service of the common good. We see 3 fundamental roles. We reframe education, we give a concrete purpose to research and we introduce public engagement as a new responsibility for business schools.

This is about new benchmarks and the benches you see here symbolize that. They have been created by artists around the world from re-cycled materials. We invite you to look at them, sit in them and feel the creativity and the fire for a socially just and environmentally sustainable future they embody.

Today, right here, right now we officially release the 50+20 Agenda. Here it is in physical form.

Digitally it’s in the conference documents and online at 50plus20.org. Its the start – we have developed a process of engagement, there will be a book in the fall, there are over 100 emerging benchmarks on the website which may serve to inspire. We have worked hard to strip out the
greenwashing the blue washing and well meaning intentions.

But what matters is not what others do, it is your engagement and whether we personally take up the challenge of service to mankind. If you share the passion to drive deep change and would like to take action in an advanced community please give me or Katrin your business cards.

So now we bring you the voices and faces from around the globe who have helped us define the 50+20 vision. Turn off your email open your hearts and souls, and enjoy what the people out there have to say to us.

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Why are global mega cities so ugly?

I woke up to a grey and rainy skyline of the outskirts of Sao Paulo. During my breathing exercise I reflected on the many million of my fellow global citizens who will leave their homes in the country side to join cities like this. Apartment blocks lined up until the distant horizon in a general hazy, grey heavy and overcast sky. The heavy rainstorm suited that mood well. Are we crazy? Who on earth would in her right mind design such a picture of inhuman living cut off from nature as the dream of so many of us with otherwise limited futures?

Why do we design and build cities for our fellow citizens to live and work in that offer subhuman conditions and that are totally disconnected from nature. If I was an alien visiting planet Earth, I would seriously wonder what the inhabitants had in mind when they figured out how to live together. Somehow our societal governance structures don’t operate in the best interest of all. Why do we accept this? And what if we could and would actually start doing something about this?

I started my part of the 50+20 pre-RIO conference with this picture of the Sao Paulo skyline which I took this morning. I talked about where we as a global community are today versus where we need to get to to ensure that the 9 billion of us will be living well and within the limits of the planet (as per vision 2050 of the WBCSD). Nobody took offence. As a matter of fact, I didn’t have to spend more than a short moment on why we need a better world, new societies and as a result a new role for business. Swiss ambassador Meier who opened for us set the stage by highlighting all the things that are going wrong today and everybody was nodding. Given that this was the first time we talked about our project in front of a non-captive audience of mostly business executives, this was significant. There was no question about the fact that business must contribute to society and the common good. But: there was much blame on “others” and much frustration about things not going fast enough.

Thomas Dyllick from the University St. Gallen and I had lunch with Angelica Rotondaro who runs the St. Gallen hub here. She is doing a great job finding internships for St. Gallen students who want to experience the NGO or SME worlds in South America. She has an amazing network of social entrepreneurs in the fair-trade sector and she shares her challenges with us. Before long, we are in the burning issues of the agricultural world. I can’t help it but I get mad every time I reflect on the abuse that is taking place around GMO seeds of just about anything by now. The importance of fair-trade as a small but important new growth development supporting small regional farmers in their nearly impossible struggle against the multinational superpowers.

The other main issue that comes up today is the big difference between the challenges of developed vs. developing countries. As Julia von Maltzan Pacheco of University FGV points out correctly, people here in Brazil are craving for getting to the lifestyle we have achieved in the North or West (I am coining Northwest as a global new term for the developed world). People in the South and the East want that refrigerator, that car and that TV they have been longing for. We cannot tell them that “growth” is not sustainable (even if it isn’t). As Martin Bernard from Amrop points out: “there is no such thing as sustainable growth, the planet does have finite limits”. Well, we cannot even publicly say that to the folks in the Northwest! I liked Christian Cetera’s perspective (Director Training & Development of GE for South America) who humbly stated that his organization is nowhere despite having achieved an unheard of shift in their business reducing their financial services business from 55% to less than 15% of their net profits. While GE defines their ideal manager today very different from the days of Jack Welsh, he concludes that GE “has a long way to go.”

I walk away from our presentation happy with the unilaterally positive reaction of our vision. I also realize that we need to ensure that our audience understands that we have completed but the first step in a long journey: we propose a far-out, new vision that now needs concrete next steps in order to generate action and a relevant pace to realize it. We have passed the “fire drill” or “dry run” and are now ready for RIO+20!

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Katrin goes to Rio

Today is the day. I am packing for Rio. Analogous to “Frankie goes to Hollywood”,  this is not just another business trip, this is not business as usual. Looking at my wardrobe, I skip the usual formal work clothes and I create a mixture of casual and funky that I hope I can get away with in the many very formal sessions and presentations. I grab the “A Rebel with a Cause” t-shirt, my partner brought me from Amsterdam with the instruction that this is THE right t-shirt for me in Rio!

I remember the feeling 20 years ago, when the original Rio conference took place. I was   22 and studying business (yes, at BSL) at the time. The world stopped and watched – Rio was the news and suddenly everybody was talking about the environment, the role of business, of rain-forests dying, the ozone layer disappearing over Australia and the extinction of wildlife. Schmidheiny’s book “Changing Course” changed my life. I remember sensing a new possibility – something shifting within me. The so-far unimagined possibility of maybe, just maybe, being able to combine two parts in me that I thought could not be united in the adult world I was entering.

On one hand, I have always felt this deep sense of connection and care with nature and the world. I spent my youngest childhood roaming the forest in the area I grew up. Ah, that smell, that light! I am tempted to say that anybody growing up in Switzerland automatically becomes an environmentally conscious person. It is so much part of the Swiss DNA, this ridiculously serious sense of responsibility for the “Gemeinwohl” (the common good, although that is a sad translation lacking the caring cosiness the German word radiates and makes you want to be a part of this common thingie) that is instilled in all of us through our upbringing both at home and in school. I am personally scandalized if I see spray-paint. When I pick up my mobility car, a 80’000 members car-sharing organization, the car is spotlessly clean and I make sure I leave no garbage in the car when I return it. To us, public property feels like private property and we treat it very similarly.

On the other hand, my three year commercial apprenticeship and my jobs in Australia and then at a F50 US multinational had kind of implicitly taught be that bringing my whole self to the job was not what was required or even desired. At age 16, my initiation to business at my apprenticeship included all kinds of hurdles. The three years tamed me into a somewhat more docile corporate citizen and I laughed exclusively in private. I had understood that my passions and interests had nothing to add to being a good employee. When interviewed for a promotion at Alcoa, the manager mentioned that she knew that I played nearly every Saturday night in a jazz band and that if I wanted the job I would certainly have to forget about such extravagance. I was 21 at the time and this was the craziest thing I had ever heard.

The two versions of me, the fun-loving tree-hugger and the serious professional, had little to do with each other. Until the Rio Earth Summit hit me. Suddenly, I felt that a bridge could be built between these two sides which generated a boost in creativity unlike anything I had experienced before. I started dreaming about helping companies become sustainable. I thought that maybe I could start a consulting company, I still have a hand-drawn logo of “stratecology” which included a blue planet. But things worked out differently, I kept on getting promoted and ended up in the U.S. In mergers & acquisitions, then in Russia in charge of a manufacturing start-up and life took off. Rio and sustainability gathered dust in my soul.

It was only about 2 years ago, during a side conversation at the “breaking the silo” pre-conference of the Academy of Management annual meeting in Montreal, when we established that business schools had done nothing as a community to participate in the public debate around the increasingly complex social, environmental and economic challenges we faced. The business community had at least created the World Business Council for Sustainable Business (WBCSD), yet what had we to show for? Wasn’t it even more our task to ensure that the world had responsible leaders? Wasn’t it up to our professors to come up with interesting alternatives to our defunct economic system and our “make-break” growth-driven consumption pattern? After all, who if not us would be there to figure out a solution?

The WBCSD had been founded by Schmidheiny (a fellow Swiss who obviously also had gotten his proper dose of Gemeinwohl-DNA) right around the 1992 Rio conference. As an act of self-depreciation we decided in Montreal to founded the World Business School Council for Sustainable Business (WBSCSB) – the world’s most unpronounceable acronym. Our aim, to take part in the public debate on sustainability and to do our job in providing the right kinds of leaders and the right kind of research that would actually serve the world. Since then, we worked on our contribution for the 2012 Rio conference: a radically new vision for management education that would contribute in all possible ways to a world worth living in. This is what we are now about to go and do.

Join me on my personal journey and follow our initiative which we call 50+20 on www.50plus20.org  (#50plus20).