Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers

Collaboratory with Greenpeace

A discussion with Amazon Campaigner, Tatiana de Carvalho on the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior during the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

People’s summit Rio+20 video report back


En route to Rio

As I stand in the long line before for the security check it hits me: the moment has finally come and nothing but a 12 hour flight separates me from actually being in Rio! 12 hours is a long time and I wonder if we can really justify the negative environmental impact we cause with our travels to go to a sustainability conference. I ask my travel companion if he chose the carbon offset option that was offered when we registered for the conference. He tries to remember. Well, I didn’t offset and suddenly feel kind of guilty about it. My president, who is also coming to Rio, chose to pay for the $40 carbon offset charge. I remember how surprised I was and how stupid I felt. Part of the reason why I declined the charge was my insecurity about how my institution would feel if I chose to incur such a voluntary expense. While the environment is personally important to me, I was not sure I could actually impose this sensitivity on my work. My colleague sheepishly admits that he also did not choose to offset. We wonder why!? If we, two environmentally conscious, comfortably employed academics specialized in Responsibility and Sustainability wont do the carbon offset, who will? When booking Easyjet, we have a choice to pay more for the offset, so far I never clicked on the option. Making a “donation” which is how offsetting carbon feels like right now is contrary to the  spirit I am in when booking a low-cost airfare. My money-saving mode prevents me from doing what is right.

When we dig deeper, we identify another disruptive emotion that perverts us: when paying an indecently low amount for a flight (Easyjet and co.) we somehow refuse to donate money without knowing what is going to happen to it. My colleague ventures that there are questions like “where is the money going?” and “will it be used in a sensible way?” suddenly come up. Not that such questions aren’t justified, but would we ask them before making a carbon-offset contribution while we don’t ask them for other expenditures. Not really consistent! I, for one, don’t consistently ask where some of the clothes I buy are made and under what conditions.

We further explore, what would change if we could choose where our money ended up?If, for example, we could select between investments to ensure biodiversity, reforestation, revamping production in the Northern hemisphere or social enterprises in emerging countries. What bothers me in particular is the idea that such donations at least partially end up in contributing to expand our already out-of-hand consumption pattern. I don’t want to support new innovations of even more stuff that I don’t need, even if it has a significantly improved carbon-footprint compared to the previous year’s gadgets I already didn’t really need. I realize that I don’t really know what projects can get funding from these offsets. I should read up on this on “my climate”. While it is critical to significantly reduce our footprint, we can’t fool ourselves by believing that investing in green growth will get us there. We in the wealthy West or North must fundamentally rethink how we want to live, what is important to our quality of life and as a result how we want to spend our personal resources (time, energy, money, and share of mind and heart) to live well and within the limits of our planet.

I recognize very humbly that I have a long way to go before I will be the kind of role model I would like to be. But, let us start talking about what we can do in every aspect of our life’s. And now that I am en route to Rio, my determination to make the best out of it increases by the hour. Two year’s ago we promised the U.N. a scandal and today we are ready to deliver it. Back in November 2010, I made that promise to the U.N. division in charge of the business sector (UNGC), namely to help save the RIO+20 conference with a significant, important contribution. With a scandal. What I had meant with it was that we would work on a radically new vision of how management education would contribute in all possible ways to a world worth living in. Already in 2010, it was rumoured that the 20th anniversary of the original Rio Earth Summit may well become another Copenhagen. A large scale disappointment. It became apparent that governments would not be able to agree on the kind of break-through agreements needed to assure the future of our planet. The private sector and namely business would have to make the difference.

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The challenge for business educators

As business educators we must challenge the underlying assumptions of economic and business development, like the need for economic growth, unlimited consumerism, shareholder value. It is up to us to ensure that we create leaders who will focus on creating value for the world rather than only for a few shareholders. Leaders who act as servants for the common good operate a conscious business, they are engaged with society and the planet and they are asking for their real needs concerning economic innovation.

This is the contract we as management educators have with the world and with society. No more silos, no more tenure, no more clear-cut divisions between institutions, nor between business and other active players in the world (formally known as NGOs) , nor more citation indices to evaluate scholars.  This is what we must measure ourselves by and this is what we should strive to achieve. And we shouldn’t leave a stone unturned in order to get there, even if it means undoing some brick and mortar and doing away with some ivory towers.

Business executives – more than any other profession – have developed the capacity to deal with complexity and to adapt their strategy to an evolving environment. Businesses have evolved beyond national boundaries into global enterprises, uniquely able to address and act on global issues. As such, they do have an important contribution to make as co-trustees and co-actors, working with all stakeholders towards a larger vision for the world (“Living well and within the limits of the planet’s natural resources”, WBCSD).


The need for a New Education

Reviews of the American education system reveal that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in  adolescents and young adults has risen in parallel with the growth of standardized testing in colleges and universities. We have come to accept that a significant percentage of kids are being routinely medicated. Unlike ever before, young generations are confronted with information from every angle, yet they are getting penalized for getting distracted from what they consider “boring stuff” at school. Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth, yet we are getting them through education by anaesthetizing them.

Child behind glass

Rather than putting students to sleep, educators should is exactly the opposite: we should be waking them up to what is inside of them! In view of the challenges we as a global community face, we should develop our thinking in the exact opposite way of what we have done so far. Instead of convergent thinking, we need to develop divergent thinking [1], i.e. the ability to see a lot of different answers to a question and lots of different ways to interpret the question – an essential capacity of creative thinking. In a longitudinal study [2], kids before schooling score 98% in the divergent thinking test, at the age of 13-15 years the score dropped below 40%. This study shows that while we all have the capacity of divergent thinking, it mostly deteriorates the more we get educated.

[1] An example of divergent thinking: “How many uses can you 
think off for a paper clip?”
Most people come up with 10-15, convergent thinkers about 200, 
by asking questions back like
“Could it be 200 foot tall and made of foam rubber?”

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A new vision for Management Education For The World – Business School 4.0

Get an understanding of the key elements of a radically new vision for business schools and management educations by the driving forces and stakeholders involved in project 50+20 (www.50plus20.org).


The need for new leaders

We are many things: children, parents, neighbours, lovers, students and teachers, employees, employers or both, citizens, experts in some domains and novices in others, consumers, stakeholders, care takers and care givers. As human beings, we are the most advanced race on earth.

We owe this distinction to the frontal lobe of our brain, the Neo Cortex. It represents the centre for reflection, analysis and perspective. It is our most potent weapon to overcome and tame the reptilian brain located right next to the brain stem: this deeply en-rooted “fight or flight” instinct that has enabled our ancestors to survive and prevail. Yet, no other species has destroyed our planet more than we have[1].  Our ancestors have brought all large animal species to extinction in a few 10’000 of years; we have transformed fertile land into desserts, and rivers[2], lakes and oceans into bio-hazards. Today, we use more resources than our planet can regenerate and despite the fact that we know this, we are unable to turn around the trend. The reptilian brain causes more harm than good and reactions triggered by conscious and unconscious fears often bear consequences that limit not only the well-being and happiness of a person, but may well endanger the well-being of communities, nations and the world. Connecting ourselves with our full potential, overcoming the reptilian instinct with more careful consideration and reflection, thus raising not only our awareness but our consciousness, is critical to fully explore the magnificent potential of our species and to preserve the world as our home.

Brain sketch

The journey of developing the full potential of a human being is a personal as well as a collective adventure. It starts with a personal choice, a desire to look inside, to connect to what drives and motivates us. It requires us to dig deep down to render subconscious reaction conscious, to reflect to what degree what we feel, think and do are triggers of deeply instilled automated fear-based mechanisms. The path requires courage, patience, persistence, humility and compassion – first and foremost with ourselves. Increasingly, this path will lead us to become more reflected, conscious and truly human beings, able to treat others with this same compassion, patience and humility. At some point, when we are able to truly embrace that we are part of one – all of us, humans, plants, animals, all living beings on earth – when we feel this in every cell of our body, we have the potential to become truly enlightened leaders. This journey is what leadership training needs to put in motion and while no training can guarantee such an outcome, it is this end goal that represents the core of a truly relevant management education of the future.

[1]        Tim Flannery: “Here on Earth” (2010)
[2]        In 1969, the Cuyahoga River (Ohio, USA) was polluted with chemical
           toxics to such an extent that it took fire.
           This represented a turn-around moment for the environmental movement.

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The Need to redefine the purpose of Business

Business must embrace a higher purpose than maximizing shareholder value. We must recognize that business needs to engage in a contract with society and the planet, respecting all stakeholders. The business contribution to society is measured by the value it provides to society and what price society is willing (or able) to pay for it.

The purpose of business lies ultimately in the satisfaction of having provided value to somebody and having been recognized for this service. Any employee and any manager, any leader, intimately knows that what really makes your day is the sense of having been of use, of having contributed to something meaningful, a sense of having accomplished something. There is nothing worse than meaningless work, empty of meaning and of importance to nobody.

The need of sense-making for individuals also applies to corporations. As much as an individual’s well-being cannot be enriched with monetary gains, neither can a corporation. The growth frenzy of the past half a century has demonstrated that no matter how high the earnings, it is never enough. There is always an appetite for more. We need to disconnect executive compensation from share performance and relate it to a holistic value generation of a business, i.e. a balanced economic, social and environmental value. We need to create measures that highlight and sanction business that focus on economic value generation at the expense of the society and the environment. Concerned stakeholders need to be able to evaluate a company’s performance holistically, not just financially.

In future, organizations no longer represent a place of work for a disconnected workforce who left their hearts and soul at home and work solely for their own personal benefit and enrichment. As employees transform into co-owners and current business practices are being overhauled, the reflective capacity of organizations enables new strategic options and orientation.

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The need for a different state of mind – moving beyond capitalism

A succession of global economic crises provoked by a dysfunctional financial sector, national as well as regional co-dependencies of debt and currencies fluctuations have demonstrated that we cannot count on the invisible hand to steer markets. They no longer behave as they should. A call for a new form of capitalism replacing the neo-classic approach has highlighted alternatives such as conscious capitalism.

The underlying question is one of trust. We don’t trust the systems we have built, we know that we cannot create what is best for the world within the existing structures, and we are afraid of stepping outside of the existing boundaries of what is known and established. We don’t trust in our own ability to create. Futurist[1] and systemic thinkers have demonstrated to what degree we are unable to develop solutions while at the same time recognizing all unintended consequences of such solutions. While it is questionable if the current financial system was created without an understanding of the extent of its implications[2], it is safe to assume that in an increasingly complex world, we will be less and less able to foresee the consequences of the actions we will take. We have entered into a mode of experimentation, yet we have not admitted this and continue pretending what we do is responsible action.

What we need is to assume a different state of mind. The French expression “état d’esprit” reflects this better, a state of Spirit rather than a state of (mental) mind. A state in which we are connected with the world, where we are in resonance with the world, so that we can create from within that source of unlimited potential, what is right for the large good. Everything we were taught and told has resulted in a fundamental disconnection from this Source, resulting in a situation where we – the most evolved race on the planet – feel like victims caught in overwhelmingly powerful and complex system within which we at best survive. It is us who have created these systems and it is us who will need to adapt or replace these systems to create something that is adequate for all living members of our planet. There are some major obstacles on this path, power, survival instincts and fear not the least of them, yet unless we – as a human race – overcome these, we will continue co-creating a world that serves only a very small minority, while destroying our habitat and creating suffering for a large majority of our fellow global citizens.

Conscious capitalism is one of many expression of such an elevated state of Spirit. It redefines the role of business beyond serving solely the shareholders as defined in the agency theory and Friedman’s claim that “the business of business is business”. It expands business’ role to serve society and the planet by embracing a more holistic and balanced responsibility towards all stakeholders. Supporting this claim, some demand that organizations become “a human community of belonging”[3].

The Inside Job Movie

[1]        Joel Baker: “The implication wheel”

[2]        Charles H. Ferguson: “The inside job”, documentary film, 2010

[3]        Dr. Roger Steare, Case Business School, London

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Social and environmental changes are demanding new solutions in the coming decade

The world is at a turning point. Social and environmental changes are demanding new solutions in the coming decades. In 2007, humanity’s footprint exceeded the earth’s bio capacity by 50%. By 2025, we will need the equivalent of 2 planets to sustain the consumption pattern of global citizens. Business is considered to be part of the problem, yet business leaders often don’t know how to embrace a sustainable and responsible approach to getting things done.
Business schools play a critical role in assuring that the world has leaders in business and beyond who are capable of understanding, embracing and addressing the challenges the world faces today and in the coming decades. New challenges require new competences. New competences arise from assuming new perspectives and envisioning new solutions. New challenges also require new leadership skills. Subject expertise needs to be complemented with the ability to drive change and implement new solutions across organizational boundaries.

BSL takes these challenges very seriously. We consider it our key responsibility to drive innovation in business education towards a sustainable and responsible leadership in business and any other organizations active in the global scene today. As a co-founder of the World Business School Council for Sustainable Business (WBSCSB), we work on a radically new vision for what business education should or could look like in the future. The 50+20 Project, a collaborative effort of the WBSCSB, GRLI and PRME involves more than a dozen engaged thought leaders and deans from around the world, seeking to deliver both a vision as well as emerging new practices. BSL and the University of St. Gallen are launching a new executive Diploma in Sustainable Business as of September 2011, one of the concrete emerging actions to achieve this objective (more under programs).
We are open to collaborate with any interested organization, from business education to business to civil society and thought leaders in other relevant domains. Please feel free to contact me if you see how we can do better, how we can work together to make this world a better place.