Sustainable business schools – is a new story of business being written?

13487588_10153684632673568_488090969_nLast week, we attended the “International Conference on Business, Policy and Sustainability” at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). The extremely intensive two-day sessions covered timely topics related to solving sustainability issues in society, ranging from shipping industry examples to panel debates on sustainability education.

The mornings were action-packed with presentations as well as panel discussions, covering the role of policy, business and education for sustainable solutions and mindsets. We agree with all speakers: this is a challenge that should have been addressed a couple of decades ago. Although well overdue, as of today, it is necessary to fully integrate and concretely act towards sustainability.

One of the focal points in the panel debates at this International Conference on Business, Policy and Sustainability was a topic close to heart for many of the attendants, namely that of sustainability in business schools or the sustainability of business schools. This is a topic we are not immune to in Sweden, see not least the recent critique and debate regarding our own alma mater Stockholm School of Economics and its critics (Holmqvist, 14th April 2016: and the answer from our own blog from Lerpold, Wahlund and Werr)  – what role do business schools play in promoting ethical values, and teach/promote sustainability for the betterment of mankind? These are questions any forward-thinking business school such as CBS or SSE should ask themselves, and are righteously so doing. We are of course delighted that the new BSc Programme “Global Challenges” is being implemented at SSE, with the possibility of engaging students with such important questions.

Professor of Strategy Dirk Matten from Schulich School of Business at York University, and one of the most widely cited scholars on CSR, argued that business schools could and should take a prominent role in shifting frames and promoting sustainability. Unfortunately, business is frequent encumbered by a first-mover disadvantage in sustainability. Edward Freeman, the father of modern stakeholder theory, and Ethics Professor at the Darden School, University of Virginia, expressed his disbelief that business schools can take this role and walk the talk, whilst simultaneously promoting the old paradigm of eternal growth, profitability and the ideal assumption of the homo economicus. Business, rather than business schools, was hailed as the way to move forward: “there is a new story of business being written”.

Others such as Peter Jonasson, former director of CBS, as well as PRME’s Jonas Haertle argued that it is necessary to work with the paradigm of old, in order to enroll the new generation. It is important to take the financial bottom line in to consideration, and understand other people’s vantage points in order to ascertain that sustainability is embedded into organizations. In this sense, it was argued that the business for CSR cannot be dismissed. It is clear that this topic is in no way exhausted, and it was proposed as a theme for the next conference.

We were also presented with examples of student involvement at BSc and MSc level, helping to promote these values internally – the CBS Oikos chapter; Oikos is a student-driven organization present on four continents. The CBS chapter with 45 members is the second largest in the world, and current president Julia Andre Junge-Jensen presented us the numerous forms of engagement that students enable, such as the Sustainability prize cup with former winners including expanding social enterprise Rubycup. Perhaps the time has also come for a new chapter of Oikos at SSE?

Our brains and batteries were charged over a delicious lunch buffet, giving us the opportunity to network with PhD students and senior faculty from all over the world. It is always inspiring to hear new perspectives but also that there are shared views and aspirations among an international crowd. Without any doubt, the interest in academia is rapidly growing in our field. The sessions encompassed ranged from gender and governance to the Scandinavian cooperative advantage, proving indeed that the relevance of CSR and sustainability research goes far and wide beyond a niche subject.

The presentation of our paper “What is it with you Swedish Companies?” – Bridging the responsibility gap: A digital device for workers’ rights as partial organization” was well perceived and we received constructive feedback that certainly helps us to shape our research ambitions. It was especially useful for us to receive feedback by Robert Strand, professor at Haas Business School, Berkeley, who is one of the leading contributors to the “Scandinavian CSR” literature.

Other Misum-related contributions included PhD Student Enrico Fontana presenting his co-authored paper (with Ravindra Nyaupane of Swansea University) “CSR performance: from society or from company? The cases of H&M and M&S” as well as Mistra Financial Systems-affiliated Sophie Nachemson-Ekwall presenting her paper “Swedish institutional investors as value creative stakeholders”.

We are happy to be part of this growing community and believe that conferences as this one in Copenhagen are crucial to spreading the idea that “sustainability” should not be considered as a cost/efficiency issue. It should instead be regarded as a life-style or mindset, knowing no limits of application.

Written by: Clara My Lernborg and Tina Sendlhofer, PhD students at Misum

Seminar ”Making sustainable lifestyles attractive”

On June 1st, we attended an inspiring seminar on the subject “Attractive Sustainable Lifestyles”. We received a warm welcome at the Swedish Government offices and enjoyed the opportunity to mingle with interesting people dedicated to this topic. This high-level event included participants from over 20 countries representing Asia, Africa, South America, North America and Europe, along with representatives from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), NGOs, academia, government and business. The wide range of participants constitutes a true testament to the importance of this subject.

The morning was tightly scheduled with 8 short sessions, ranging from the perspective of the Swedish governmental strategy for sustainable consumption, presented by Per Bolund (Swedish Minister of Financial Markets and Consumers), global frameworks for mainstreaming sustainable lifestyles (UNEP), youth and entrepreneurial perspectives (ungdomar.se, Sellpy, Naturskyddsföreningen’s initiative “Schysst sommar och vinter”), to IKEA’s sustainable lifestyles principles. The event’s moderator, Johan Kuylenstierna (Executive Director, SEI) did an excellent job to make the morning entertaining, insightful, and on track!

We especially wish to highlight one item on the agenda, the youth panel discussion. It was inspiring and motivating to listen to success stories of young entrepreneurs and passionate youngsters who are dedicating their life to figure out and reach out to the concerned and not (yet) concerned youth. Certainly sustainable strategies and goals, such as the SDGs, only make sense if they are also understood by the next generation, the people who are tomorrow’s decision makers. It became quite clear from all of the three presenters, that even more so, it is important to nudge youth into a sustainable mindset. Moreover, the youth of course has fantastic ideas and insights themselves on potential solutions. One survey, pointed out by Kim Jakobsson from ungdomar.se, points to the facts that the majority of youth is quite interested in finding sustainable solutions for their consumption patterns, however they are confused in how to do so in every day life. Hence, they need the right tools for this. IKEA’s Sustainability Director Lena Pripp-Kovac also ended on the note that it is especially important to co-create these tools for a sustainable life style with the youth, and that in order to reach this state: “We need to make it easy for the many, and difficult for the few; right now it is difficult for everyone to have a sustainable lifestyle”.

What we try to contribute with at Misum is to use our research for making tools like these more visible. It is fantastic to see that our research is urgently needed by society. From that we take our extra bit of inspiration and motivation to do a good job for a sustainable present and future.

With high hopes for change,

Written by: Clara My Lernborg and Tina Sendlhofer, PhD Students at Misum

Deluxe recommendation: book about the changing of the luxury fashion sector

 

Deluxe

Is luxury still best that money can buy? What are we paying for when quality has given way to quantity?

This book is not exclusively focused on sustainability/responsibility issues in the fashion industry. It rather gives it gives a fantastic look behind-the-scenes of fashion brands in the luxury fashion industry. The author describes the transition in the luxury fashion sector, from family-owned businesses to multi-billion dollar global corporations, from design and exclusiveness to mainstream and mass-market production, from local production to global production, from European/North American markets to Asian/South American markets. The book gives the reader an interesting view on the diminishing “values” on luxury goods and consequences for society and environment.

It is an easy read that triggers deeper reflections on their own consumption behavior.

Book: “Deluxe – How luxury lost its lusture” by Dana Thomas, 2007

Recommendation by: Tina Sendlhofer, PhD student at Misum