Astronauts, Horses and Sustainable Development

Text by Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. Ranjula reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.

Follow Ranjula on Twitter: @ranjbali

Inspiration comes from the unlikeliest sources!

When Ron J. Garan, former NASA Astronaut and Chairman of Constellation –  began speaking at the UN SDG Partnership Exchange, I was unprepared for his powerful presentation. Outer space, astronauts and Sustainable Development seemed unconnected!


Garan began his presentation with one of the most recognized and influential photograph – Earthrise. The photograph of the Earth and parts of the Moon’s surface taken from lunar orbit by astronaut Bill Anders in 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission. It  revolutionized how we see ourselves and our world. Garan said, that when one sees our planet from outer space, one realizes that we are all in it together. We are one people, travelling on the same planet, towards one shared future!

Before 1968 our vision of the world was that of  a 2-dimensional flat land, divided into nation states, competing for resources and power. Land was in-exhaustible, resources unlimited and ability to grow insatiable. This artificial image of a divided, flat world constructed by us is the wrong reference guidepost for our future! Our true guidepost is Earthrise – we are inhabitants of one planet bounded within its limited resources!


This particular session on the 2018 annual global Partnership Exchange,  was co-organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP) and the United Nations Global Compact. It had an eclectic mix of speakers.

Ms. Cora Weiss President, Hague Appeal for Peace opened the session emphasizing that without peace, no development was possible. Her 2020 vision on the 75thanniversary of United Nations was WWW or World Without War.

Dan Thomas, UN Global Compact discussed how they are translating the SDGs for the private sector under the banner make Global goals local business. UN Global Compact is the UN initiative on driving business action on the 2030 Agenda. It is a call to companies to align strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and take actions that advance societal goals. They are currently mobilizing a global movement of companies along with civil society, government and other stakeholders through their network of 10 000 companies in 160 countries, with 70 local networks around the world.

Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, Peter Thomson, Special Envoy for the Ocean said that ‘The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed’. He emphasized the need to start producing and consuming in a sustainable way, by narrowing our appetites to what we need to live a life filled with joy.

The session was full of inspirational speeches by several senior UN officials who emphasized their commitment towards SDGs: Ms. Marie Chatardova, President, ECOSOC; Message of the UN Secretary General was delivered by Ms. Alison Smale, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communication; and Mr Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for the UNAOC;  Robert Skinner, Executive Director, UNOP.


The old Japanese Zen paragon as described by Garan, best captured the essence of what was said: There is man standing by the side of a road when he sees a horse galloping towards him. He shouts to the rider of the horse, “ Where are you headed?”. The rider shouts back, “ I don’t know, ask the horse”.

It is time that as a civilization we question where this ‘horse’ of the global economy should be heading!

Written by Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. Ranjula reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.



Higher education on sustainability needs major scale up to achieve impact

Text by Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. Ranjula reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.

Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) received recognition for excellence in Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) reporting during the 2017 Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, arranged by PRME. While SSE has made substantial progress in aligning its teaching, research and outreach to sustainable development, it was inspiring to meet and learn from universities around the world at the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) Global Event at HLPF 2018. The objective was to review how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the SDGs, is being integrated into sustainability strategies, research, teaching, pedagogy, and campus practices.


HESI was created in 2012 with partnership between United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UNESCO, United Nations Environment, UN Global Compact’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative, United Nations University (UNU), UN-HABITAT, UNCTAD, and UNITAR. Given its association with the United Nations, HESI provides higher education institutions with a unique interface between higher education, science, and policy making.


The speakers were animated as they shared ways of operationalizing SDGs in education and research. A reoccurring theme was the need for investment both in terms of time and finances. Some universities had freed up to 20 per cent of their faculty’s time to operationalize SDGs into research and teaching. However, based on the discussions that followed it was clear that they were outliers to the norm.

Academics, librarians, UN officials and vice-chancellors presented some excellent examples of courses, curriculum, teaching and research. Maria Cortes-Puch, of the SDG Academy made a particularly impressive presentation. The SDG Academy is a knowledge cloud that provides a collection of free online course on Sustainable Development, prepared by international experts. Cara Smyth of the Fair Fashion Center, discussed ways in which they were developing and targeting their teaching, research and outreach for Sustainable Fashion.  This was particularly relevant to us given our own research at Misum/SSE on Monetization of Circular Economy benefits in the fashion and clothing industry. The Swedish fashion industry has demonstrated an increasing commitment towards circular economy. The objective of Misum’s project is to make a business case for a bio-based circular economy within the clothing and textile industry, showing that it is possible to increase profitability while moving towards circular economy.

Access to quality education for all (SDG 4), was also emphasized. Concerns were raised about quality education becoming  a function of ones’ income or zip code.

While HESI is successfully galvanizing the academic resources and community towards operationalizing Agenda 2030, it is beleaguered by the same problems that plague the SDGs: the lack of investments and finances; limited outreach capacity; lopsided development with a skew towards developed countries etc. In my assessment HESI is still in its nascent stage and requires a major scaling up of its activities, to achieve the global impact that it has the potential to reach.

Speakers: Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations; Cara Smyth, Vice-President and Founding Director of the Fair Fashion Center, Glasgow Caledonian New York College; Angel Cabrera, President, George Mason University Bruce Stiftel, Professor, Georgia Tech School of City and Regional Planning; Amy Tu, Montclair State University; Athanasios Giannakopoulos, Dag Hammarskjöld Library; Orrin F. Summerell, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) initiative; Nikhil Seth, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Director of UNITAR; Ignacio de la Vega, Dean, EGADE Business School, Tecnologico de Monterrey; Alex Wright, Head of Policy, Association of Commonwealth Universities;Jean-Marc Triscone, Vice Rector, Geneva University, Geneva Tsinghua Initiative for the Sustainable Development Goals; Yang Bin, Vice Rector, Tsinghua University; Eugenie Birch, Professor, University of Pennsylvania; Chalapan Kaluwin, Acting Dean of Natural and Physical Science, University of Papua New Guinea, Centre for Climate Change and Sustainable Development; Maria Cortes-Puch, Head, National and Regional Networks, Sustainable Development Solutions Network.


Written by Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. Ranjula reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.




The role of Information and Communication Technologies in the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 11

Text by Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. Ranjula reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.

Follow Ranjula on twitter: @ranjbali


SDG 11 focuses on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The increasing urbanization rates and growing use of ICT has the potential to promote inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities. Rapidly growing ICT infrastructure, digital mobile devices and connected users offer opportunities to local government, private sector and civil society, to innovate in provision of services to promote and accelerate sustainable development and support all SDGs.


The session included speakers from academics, high-level UN officials and the civil society. Discussing the ‘smart’ in the smart cities, Chaesub Lee (Director, Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ITU) described it as presence of technical elements of collaborative knowledge, compatibility, integrity, interoperability and interconnectivity. Lee stressed the need for local solutions for cities while mapping the culture of the city to SDGs. Professor Eugenie Birch, University of Pennsylvania pointed that the language of SDGs was not the language of the cities. Quoting from their study of US cities, Birch added that they had to insert the SDG agenda into existing local government plans where possible.

Before employing ICTs in implementation of SDG 11, Warren Feek, Executive Director, The Communication Initiative, stressed the need for deliberative thinking on the objective, the principle and identify natural public spaces. Feek discussed the need for using ICTs as a freely available public utility, media watch dog and as a tool for amplifying the voices in the natural public spaces to impact policy-making. He suggested that potential areas in which ICTs could be employed were: public dialogue and debate, gender, peace process, human rights etc.

Claudio Acioly, Head of Global Capacity Development Unit and Senior Housing Expert, UN-Habitat identified ICT as an important tool for local e-governance that could be used for monitoring and reporting on the SDGs with greater transparency and accountability.

Overall the session remained focused on governments with little discussion on how ICTs could be employed by private sector, civil society, consumers or netizens (citizens of the internet).

Written by Ranjula Bali Swain, a Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. She reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.

Follow Ranjula on twitter: @ranjbali



Happiness, taxation and the SDG financing gap

Ranjula Bali Swain is a Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

Follow Ranjula on twitter: @ranjbali

The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development was inaugurated on July 9, 2018, with opening remarks by Marie Chatardová, President of Economic and Social Council and Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations. With 2500 organizations attending, and 47 countries presenting voluntary national reviews during HLPF 2018, Chatardová said that the motivation is high but there is also a true sense of urgency in improving Agenda 2030 implementation.

Zhenmin, raised concerns about the significant persistence of poverty in the rural areas, stating that close to 4 billion people were without social protection in 2016, especially the vulnerable like elderly, mothers with newborns, children, people with severe disabilities and the unemployed. Furthermore, for the first time this decade, hunger is on the rise. He stressed the need to deal with the ongoing climate change (2017 was one of the three warmest years on record with 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels); gender discrimination; water stress; electricity access; migration and on-going violent conflicts. Although by 2018, about 108 countries have national policies on sustainable consumption and production, Zhenmin also stressed the urgency in implementing Agenda 2030.


In its third year of implementation, the keynote speakers identified the most important trends and actions that would catalyze transformative pathways through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and Alex Steffen, Co-founder of online magazine made compelling presentations.

Sachs made three powerful points. First, SDGs were achievable, but not being achieved because of greed and vested interests. He pointed out unsustainable supply chains in the food industry and the continued use of brown energy, as common outliers. Second, he emphasized that there was an overlap between sustainable development, happiness and taxation. Sweden, once again topped the SDG 2018 ranking, doing well on world happiness (9) and tax-GDP ratio (6). He credited Europe for being the closest to achieving SDGs and was critical of US which was low on sustainable development (ranked 35) and happiness (ranked 18) indices. Sachs made a forcible case that countries with high happiness index also tax themselves more, spending on social infrastructure (education and health) and environment,  and do well on sustainable development.


Third, Sachs identifies a SDG financing gap of roughly $190 billion. A gap that he suggests can be easily filled by raising $100 billion by increasing Overseas Development Assistance from 0.3% to 0.5% of GNI of the developed countries. Another possibility is to raise $90 billion from  2,208 billionaires, if they would agree to contribute 1% of their net-worth per year. He called out to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to contribute saying, “Come on Zuckerberg, you were a kid in dorm 10 years back”. His concrete suggestions on raising additional revenues for financing SDGs through some other sources included: high net-worth levy, taxation of offshore accounts, tech tax (Facebook, Google, …), financial transactions tax, carbon tax, carbon offset purchases by industry, industrial fines for pollution and climate disasters, and crackdown on tax evasion etc. Sachs message was deliberate, distilled and sharp.


Alex Steffen, who describes himself as a Planetary futurist, made the overwhelming point that the solution for achieving sustainable development was ‘speed’. Steffen said that we are at the cusp of massive change with two economies in place, the sustainable and the unsustainable one. He stressed that sustainability is disruptive and we need sustainable innovations, redistribution of wealth and rapid speed in the transformation towards sustainable development. According to him, the significant predatory delay in this transformation was due to the unsustainable, fossil-fuel economy. Pronouncing Donald Trump as a road bump to sustainable development, Steffen stressed that as sustainable solutions accelerate political will will change.

The opening session set the stage for two weeks of HLPF 2018 for sustainable development, identifying the positives but at the same time raising concerns about the many dimensions of SDGs implementation for the transformative change that Agenda 2030 demands.

Written by Misum´s Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor, who reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018. Ranjula Bali Swain is specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

United Nations High-Level Political Forum 2018 and participation predicament – an academic’s dilemma!


Text by Ranjula Bali Swain, who is a Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

The High-level Political Forum (HLPF), is United Nations central platform to follow-up and review the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the global level.  It supports the member states to “conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven” (paragraph 79). The forum meets annually with a mandate to follow-up and review the General Assembly resolution 70/299. The HLPF 2018 theme is ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies’ and it reviews the progress of SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17, with voluntary national reviews from 47 countries. A brief digression here before I plunge into the HLPF history.

This spring and summer I cancelled my participation/presentations in the Climate Change: Impacts and Responses conference at UCLA Berkeley and the World Finance Conference in Mauritius, due to my air-travel carbon footprint concerns! It was a mindful decision. Before deciding to travel to New York, I bundled up multiple tasks including an invitation as a visiting scholar at the United Nations – Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN), participation in HLPF 2018, lecturing in an economics graduate course at Columbia University, seminar presentation at UN SDSN, participation in IAFFE annual conference at State University of New York and collaborative research with our partners at the Stern Business School, New York University. However, it is the HLPF 2018 Carbon-Neutral effort that enabled me to travel and participate with a lighter conscious! According to the estimates, 98% of the carbon emissions at HLPF 2018 will be from air travel. This is equivalent to over 3.5 million kilograms of carbon or 13,805,650 kilometers driven by an average passenger vehicle or the consumption of 8,103 barrels of oil. Each participant at HLPF 2018 will emit on average of 1,246 kilograms of carbon from air travel that is equivalent to 33 tree seedlings grown for 10 years in the USA. However, if each participant flying in at HLPF 2018 would donate around USD 5 to a certified carbon-offsetting project, all air travel to the HLPF would be carbon-neutral! The process is uncomplicated! First, one estimates the emissions from the trip using the ICAO’s air travel carbon emissions calculator.  Second, one can compensate those emissions by purchasing an equivalent amount of carbon credits recognized under the United Nations Climate Change Convention. A must-do for the globe-trotting tribe!

The establishment of the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) was mandated in 2012 by the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), ”The Future We Want”and its format and organizational aspects are outlined in General Assembly resolution 67/290. In 2013, its focus was on ‘Building the future we want: from Rio+20 to the post-2015 development agenda’ to ‘Achieving the MDGs and charting the way for an ambitious post-2015 development agenda, including the SDGs’ in 2014. The HLPF has been facilitator in enabling the transformation from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The emphasis in the 2015 HLPF was on ‘Strengthening integration, implementation and review- the HLPF after 2015’. This was followed with a series of review HLPFs,  ‘Ensuring no one is left behind’ in HLPF 2016 and a review of SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 9 and 14 in  ‘Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world’ during HLPF 2017. The  ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres emphasizes that ”The 2030 Agenda is our roadmap and its goals and targets are tools to get there.”Others, more forcefully argue that Agenda 2030 is perhaps our last and only shot at stopping climate change.

Text by Ranjula Bali Swain who is a Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

Follow Ranjula on Twitter: @ranjbali

Is the World Getting Better or Worse?


”The progress that we have made as species in improving our circumstances gives hope that we possess the ability to tackle our contemporary challenges.” Kristian Roed Nielsen

Text by Kristian Roed Nielsen, post doc researcher at Misum specialized in sustainable consumption, sustainable innovation, crowdfunding and behavioural science and policy

All things considered, is the world getting better or worse? If you were to read the papers and peruse the latest headlines you would be hard pressed to believe in anything but a slow and gradual decline. Many indeed engage in nostalgia about the past and bemoan our fall from grace blaming a variety of undefined groups from the lazy youth, to the elite, the unemployed, or the foreign. Even in academia – where all things should be treated with reasoned scepticism – I cannot escape the sense of dread about the future that many of my colleagues feel. In the end very few people think that the world is getting better – and if you are one of those in tiny minority who argues that the world has improved vastly – be prepared for a bombardment of what can politely be called scepticism. We are for some reason willing to accept bad news on whim, but remain strongly critical of good news. That the world is increasingly poorer, more violent, and even dumber seems for many as a fact – I will try to convince you otherwise.

”We are for some reason willing to accept bad news on whim, but remain strongly critical of good news.”

In an event-obsessed world, the positive developments that our species have made in ensuring richer, more peaceful, and less oppressive world is often lost to us due to its slow pace (Roser 2018a). Instead our attention is drawn to the steady stream of single news events like terrorist attacks or natural disasters. Single events thus become our barometer for measuring the state of the world and we lose sight of the bigger picture. But let us have a closer look at a period of time that we often have a positive association with: the booming post-WWII world.

If you were born in 1950 you would, looking at the then present day statistics, face a 72 percent chance of being born into extreme poverty, your child(ren) would face a one-in-five chance of dying before reaching age of five, and you would most likely live in autocratic or colonial political regime. You would also in all likelihood be illiterate, not vaccinated, and live in an exceptionally violent time – oh, and because of that probably live to an age of around 48. Now let us compare with 2014. There is now a 9,6 percent chance that you are born into extreme poverty, your child(ren) would face a one-in-twenty chance of dying before reaching age of five, and you would most likely live in a democratic political regime. You would in all likelihood be literate and if in the majority have a lower secondary education or above. You would be vaccinated and live in one of the most conflict free times in human history. You could now expect to live to an age of around 71,4 year.

Now – and I for some reason always have to say this – my argument should not be mistaken as blind optimism. I am well aware of the enormity of the challenges that we as a society face. The very progress that we have made has undeniably challenged our planets ability to sustain the current equilibrium we have so long enjoyed (Rockström et al. 2009). Challenges like climate change, loss of biodiversity, and interference with the nitrogen cycles have already crossed their “safe operating space” and thus require “factor 10 or more improvements in environmental performance, which can only be realized by deep-structural changes in transport, energy, agri-food and other systems” (Geels 2011, p.24). We face a situation where we need to make better use of our increased welfare, for example, by using the vast resources and increasingly educated global body to find ways to decouple economic growth from CO2-emissions. However, we also need to restrict and rethink our current consumption levels and find alternative means of ensuring that these positive trends continue without compromising the welfare of future generations.

”I believe we should look at history with clear eyes to understand how far we have come in solving previously thought intractable problems.”

These challenges are massive, but the progress that we have made as species in improving our circumstances gives me hope that we possess the ability to tackle these challenges. Some say we should look to grassroots organisations for hope and inspiration – I believe we should look at history with clear eyes to understand how far we have come in solving previously thought intractable problems. In the words Max Roser (economist and researcher at Oxford University), who inspired this blog-post, in a “perverse way the histories of decline give us comfort. They allow us a perspective of helplessness and are absolving us of our personal responsibility. We need to know what we achieved over the course of history to understand that we can achieve more” (Roser 2018a).

Kristian Roed Nielsen, post doc researcher at Misum specialized in sustainable consumption, sustainable innovation, crowdfunding and behavioural science and policy.

Follow Kristian on Twitter: @RoedNielsen


Geels, F.W., 2011. The multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions: Responses to seven criticisms. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1(1), pp.24–40. Available at:

Rockström, J. et al., 2009. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461(7263), pp.472–475. Available at:

Roser, M., 2018a. The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it. Our World in Data. Available at: [Accessed May 1, 2018].

Roser, M., 2018b. Our World in Data. Available at:

Is the reputation Scandinavian investors have for being on the forefront of sustainable investing deserved?


Text by Robert Eccles, Visiting Professor of Management Practice at the Said Business School, University of Oxford, a former Professor at Harvard Business School and a current member of the Misum board.

Given the well-deserved reputation Scandinavian investors have for being on the forefront of sustainable investing, it is not surprising that seven of them are in the data base of The Investment Integration Project (TIIP). These funds are the Swedish AP2, AP3, and AP4; Denmark’s pension funds ATP Group and PFA Pension; Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), Norway’s sovereign wealth fund; and the Finnish pension fund Varma Mutual Pension Insurance Company (Varma). In this blog, I will explore the extent to which this reputation is deserved using a database of 100 asset owners and asset managers developed by TIIP.

TIIP is a research services firm under the leadership of Steve Lydenberg (Founder and CEO) and William Burckart (President and COO). It’s mission “to help institutional investors understand the feedback loops between their investments and the planet’s overarching systems that make profitable investment opportunities possible.” Just as modern portfolio theory extended analysis of individual stocks to a basket of stocks, TIIP helps investors to move their level of analysis beyond just portfolios to include the context in which these portfolios exist. This is important because failure to do so will lead to dramatic disruptions (e.g., the Financial Crisis of 2008) and steady or even dramatic degradations (e.g., from climate change and inequality) that will make it impossible for investors to earn the returns necessary to meet the expectations of their beneficiaries and clients, respectively.

TIIP is a very welcome initiative since it is the first one to look at systems-level considerations from an investors perspective. The database, which can be used by investors as a guide for what their peers are doing to contribute to the system level, is just one aspect of TIIP’s efforts. The organization is developing a significant body of research and analysis regarding the importance of systems-level thinking and how to ensure its viability. In addition, TIIP fosters collaborations among investors interested in addressing common issues, works with other organizations that have complementary goals and objectives, and provides customized solutions for investors.

Underpinning all of those activities is TIIP’s framework on the “Tools of Intentionality”—a set of 10 strategies investors can use to have a positive effect at the system-level:

  1. Additionality: Invest to add to the wealth-creating potential of systems.
  2. Diversity of Approach: Offer diverse products or use numerous approaches to address systems-level issues.
  3. Evaluations: Place a non-financial value on difficult-to-quantify wealth-creating elements of systems.
  4. Interconnectedness: Increase the flow of information about systems-level considerations.
  5. Locality: Invest in the development of resilient systems in targeted geographic areas.
  6. Polity: Engage in policy debates about systems-level risks and rewards.
  7. Self-Organization: Build organizations to increase investors’ capacity to address systems issues.
  8. Solutions: Utilize vehicles that target specific systems-level challenges
  9. Standards Setting: Limit investments that transgress the bounds of normative conduct.
  10. Utility: Align asset classes with systems-level concerns.

TIIP has also identified five “on-ramps” to system-level investing: ESG integration, impact investment, investment stewardship, long-term value creation, and universal ownership. These are stepping stones to investing in a more system-focused way. Finally, TIIP has the “key investment activities” for each investor in its database: investment belief statement, security selection and portfolio construction, corporate engagement, targeted investment program, and manager selection, directives, and monitoring.

”The second major finding is that with this group of asset owners, the Swedish funds (AP2, AP3, ad AP4) and NBIM are relatively more advanced. Possible reasons for the Swedish funds are Swedish financial regulations and the fact that they are all raising the bar for each other.”

In terms of the “Tools of Intentionality,” the overall pattern is the relatively limited number of them being practiced as shown by the simple ratio of the number of tools being used by all seven investors (18) to the total possible (10×7) which is .26. This suggests that even these advanced asset owners are in the early stages of thinking about their investment strategies in the context of system-level considerations. Not a single one of these asset owners is using Additionality, Evaluations, Locality, or Utility. AP2 is the only one using Solutions. Diversity of Approach (AP2 and AP4) and interconnectedness (AP2 and NBIM) are being used by two. Three are using Polity (ATP, NBIM, and PFA). The most popular tools are Self-Organization (all but PFA and Varma) and Standards Setting (all).

Seen from the perspective of the investors, AP2 is using five of these tools, NBIM is using four, AP4 and ATP are using three, AP3 and PFA are using two, and Varma is using only one. This raises the question of whether only a limited number of these tools can be used, perhaps as a function of size and investment strategy, or whether all of these investors have substantial room for improvement.

The pattern is different for the on-ramps, with relatively more of them being used (a ratio of .40). The most popular one is long-term value creation which is being used by all except for PFA, followed by ESG integration being used by five (the exceptions are AP3 and PFA). AP3 and NBIM are using universal ownership, only AP3 is using investment stewardship, and none are using impact investment. The latter is probably due to the fact that “impact investing” still largely connotes small, private investments in specific projects at funding levels too small to be of practical significance to these large asset owners.

In terms of key investment activities, all seven are integrating system-level investment strategies into their security selection and portfolio construction. All except for ATP and PFA have targeted investment programs—that is investment programs specifically targeting system-level challenges. Only the Swedish funds of AP2, AP3, and AP4 are using corporate engagement to address system-level challenges. None of these investors have included system-level considerations in their investment belief statements (easy to do if the will is there) or have incorporated system-level thinking into their manager selection, directives, and monitoring processes (harder to do because this is a complex process).

Finally, in terms of addressing specific environmental, societal, and financial systems-level themes, the pattern, like with the Tools of Intentionality, is one of relative sparseness with a similar ratio of 0.36. Not surprisingly, the theme of climate change is of relevance to all investors, six (AP2, AP4, ATP, NBIM, PFA, Varma) of which have leveraged the Tools of Intentionality (Diversity of Approach, Polity and Standards Setting) to address this. Human rights is another theme that all seven investors are addressing. All seven are doing so using the Standards Setting tool in their security selection and profile construction, and some are also using the tools of Self-Organization (AP2, AP3, AP4, NBIM) and Interconnectedness (NBIM).

After that, five (AP2, AP3, AP4, NBIM and PFA)—all through the Standards Setting tool in their security selection and portfolio construction—are addressing corruption. There are four investors addressing natural resources (AP2, AP3, AP4 and NBIM), consumer health and safety (AP2, AP4, NBIM and Varma), corporate governance (AP2, AP3, AP4 and NBIM) and employment, labor rights and working conditions (AP2, AP3, AP4 and PFA), and three addressing oceans (AP2, AP3 and AP4), renewable energy (AP2, NBIM and Varma), and transparency (AP2, ATP and NBIM). Only two investors are addressing water (AP3 and NBIM) and social equality and diversity (AP2 and AP4).

On environmental themes, sustainable land use is the focus of only AP3 and on financial themes, stability is the focus of only PFA. None of these investors are focusing on biodiversity, waste management, food production and security, income inequality and financial inclusion, infrastructure or shareholder rights.

AP2, at 11 of the 20 themes, and AP3, AP4, and NBIM at nine stand out. PFA is only focused on five, Varma only four, and ATP only on three.

There are two major findings from this analysis. The first is that even these seven Scandinavian asset owners are in the early stages of addressing system-level issues in their investment processes. If a similar analysis were done for all 100 investors in the TIIP data base, it would be possible to compare the Scandinavian funds to the global average. The reasonable hypothesis would be that they’re better but that would have to be confirmed.

The second major finding is that with this group of asset owners, the Swedish funds (AP2, AP3, ad AP4) and NBIM are relatively more advanced. Possible reasons for the Swedish funds are Swedish financial regulations and the fact that they are all raising the bar for each other. In terms of NBIM, it has long been a leader in the narrower domain of sustainable investing and its sheer size means it has the resources to also lead the way on system-level issues.

Robert Eccles is a Visiting Professor of Management Practice at the Said Business School, University of Oxford, a former Professor at Harvard Business School and a current member of the Misum board. Follow Robert Eccles on Twitter: @rgeccles



A tree is not a forest – one tree does not flourish without the others.



“I grew up surrounded by forests. Nowadays, I consider my regular walks in the forest as a medicine. Suffering from occasional nature-deficit disorder while enjoying the urban life-style has deepened my relationship with forest and my high appreciation of nature as a whole. At the moment I am day-dreaming about travelling to Japan to study shinrin-yoku, forest bathing.” Photo: Jenni Puroila

Text by Jenni Puroila, PhD student at Misum, SSE.

Losing perspective is easy when we are too heavily invested in a certain way of looking at things. When we focus on a single perspective, we cannot see the forest for the trees.

The complexity and interconnectivity of corporate sustainability challenges require taking a broad perspective in order to tackle them. Listening to different stakeholder voices and moreover acknowledging the differences and conflicts in their points of view is crucial for companies to understand and manage their sustainability impacts. By ignoring these differences, the dominant perspectives can easily take over the discussions, and with a gentle push eventually create an illusion of consensus and harmony.

”The discussion of what matters in the corporate sustainability has drifted away from protecting nature and human rights to protecting the business from financial and reputation risks.”

By developing an ability to listen to different perspectives, we can learn from the forest and the trees – the masters of communication and collaboration. The innate wisdom of nature and its ecosystems have great potential to inspire new ways of thinking.

When I went to primary school my biology teacher taught us many interesting facts about the forests and the trees. The forests are the lungs of the planet, self-sustaining ecosystems that are rich in biodiversity and provide a home for the vast majority of the plants and animals living on land. The ability of trees and humans to interact in complete symbiosis is vital to the life on planet earth. Humans breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, while trees breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. She also taught us how trees in the forest compete with each other. The knowledge back then was based on the understanding that trees compete with each other for sunlight, water and nutrients meaning that only the strongest ones survive and grow to be big and powerful.

However, recent forest ecology research has revealed that we have had it all wrong; it is not about the battle of the strongest oppressing the weaker ones – it is all about a collaboration, sharing of resources and helping each other out.

The latest research of forests by ecologist Suzanne Simard has shown that instead of competition, trees collaborate. The trees communicate with each other through several ways such as sending electrical impulses which travel through the root system and fungi networks that serve as intermediates. There is a complex and dense underground network system which reaches throughout the whole forest. Every tree is important to the community and those individuals living in an isolation suffer from their lack of connection.

The similar paradigm shift that the scientific study of forests has witnessed is needed in the corporate sustainability thinking; a move from competition of different points of view towards acknowledgement of everything being interconnected. The discussion of what matters in the corporate sustainability has drifted away from protecting nature and human rights to protecting the business from financial and reputation risks. The argumentation for adopting sustainability management tools and reporting practices is often based on serving the business-case, the risk-management and the financial success of the company as a priority. While acknowledging the information needs of the most dominant stakeholder group: investors, who hold an unquestioned and more formally regulated position in this equation, we need to ensure that the other stakeholders are not silenced.

”A way of seeing is a way of not seeing”[1]

When a certain point of view is dominating the discussion, our attention is limited to consider the facts that are relevant to this point of view, forgetting other perspectives. When all the efforts and energy are directed to only one dominant business case’s point, the end result may not be desirable. The tree does not flourish without the forest.

”The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members”[2]. Trees are able to collaborate, take care of the weak ones and communicate. Anyone walking in the forest can sense the centuries-old wisdom and magic surrounding it. Art, science and business innovations have always sought inspiration from nature. Nature can serve as an inspiration for creating solutions to protect the sustainability of the planet itself. When addressing sustainable development, we first need to prioritize the future of the planet and its ecosystems, us humans being a part of it. Only then can we see the interconnectivity in the surrounding world.

Jenni Puroila is a PhD Student at Misum. Her research focuses on the concept of materiality by exploring how it is understood and applied to define what matters the most for corporate sustainability. Follow Jennie Puroila on Twitter: @jennipuroila

Read more about how trees communicate:


  • The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben (2016) (Review in The Guardian here.)
  • The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors by David George Haskell (2017) (Review in The Atlantic here.)

[1]Poggi, G. (1965) A main theme of contemporary sociological analysis: Its achievements and limitations, British Journal of Sociology, 16, pp. 283 – 94.

[2]Mahatma Gandhi among other great influencers have reiterated this quote

Harmonization of sustainability reporting standards – a solution to which problem?


Text by: Jenni Puroila and Svetlana Gross, PhD students at Misum

Currently there are more almost 400 different sustainability reporting instruments globally[1]. The SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) include a specific goal (Goal 12.6) to encourage companies to report on sustainability as part of their reporting practices. Governments, NGOs, market regulators, stock exchanges, industry associations and standard setters have developed requirements for reporting. The question is no longer about whether companies should report on sustainability but rather how. Today the discussion is focused on standardization and harmonization of the reporting, but less so about its purpose and long-term effects.

Earlier in November Misum had the pleasure of hosting a public lecture by its board member Prof. Bob Eccles, who is currently Visiting professor of Management practice at Saïd Business School at Oxford University. The lecture’s topic was “Setting standards for non-financial information: what is the solution?”, and Prof. Eccles raised some important and interesting points on the topic. The question he brought into the discussion was “who should take the responsibility of developing the global standard for non-financial reporting”.

This request for a solution is relevant since the proliferation of standards has been criticised to have increased the reporting burden for companies but also creating a certain amount of confusion among reporting entities and among information users. Therefore, the current call for harmonization and alignment seems to be echoing all over. However, the large number of standards reflects the breadth of sustainability-related issues as well as the innovation and experimentation process in this emerging field. The question that is commonly being ignored or taken for granted is to whom the reporting is directed to.

It is an important question to ask, because it determines what purpose this reporting is serving and what kind of decisions it is supposed to influence: operational, strategic or purely financial? The standards for sustainability related information such as SASB and IIRC are developed to provide information for financial decision-making. As are the more traditional financial reporting bodies such as FASB (US) or IASB (the rest of the world). Throughout Prof. Eccles’ lecture the assumption that the investors are the main audience of sustainability reporting was not questioned. What it means in practice is that information about the non-financial aspects of the company’s environmental and social impacts need to be translated, and integrated, into financial terms.

Including financial implications of social and environmental risks as a part of financial reporting provides more accurate financial information and is in fact fulfilling those reporting requirements that are already in place in financial reporting regulations. This is nothing new. But it does not fulfil the purpose of sustainability reporting if we assume that its purpose is to support the transition towards more sustainable economy.

Today, the investors are expected to make the “right” decisions about our common future, but based on which grounds? One of the most recent and acclaimed efforts in integrating environmental, or specifically climate-related, information into the current accounting and investor decision-making is The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, TCFD[2]. It has recently published a framework and recommendations for reporting to be used by financial and non-financial organizations representing the largest greenhouse gas emitting industries: energy, transportation, materials and buildings, agriculture, food and forestry. The focus is on financial impact of climate-related risks and opportunities on an organization, rather than the impact of an organization on the environment.

Recommendations include describing “the resilience of the organization’s strategy, taking into consideration different climate-related scenarios, including a 2°C or lower scenario”. If focusing on the organizations’ impact on the environment, an honest analysis from fossil-based extraction and energy companies will be – “there is no scenario consistent with a 2°C warming where our company survives”. The accepted moderate emissions reduction pathway consistent with (a 75% chance of keeping the global warming below) 2°C includes that fossil-fuel emissions should peak by 2020 at the latest and fall to around zero by 2050[3]. Scenarios for lower than 2°C require even faster phasing out of fossil fuels. Will the companies adhere to this analysis when focusing solely on the financial impact on an organization as requested by these recommendations?

There is nothing wrong with the approach of those standards highlighting investors’ point of view as such, but problems arise when this approach becomes the dominating one. Giving the lead responsibility of alignment and harmonization to those organizations that focus on the investors’ perspective means maintaining the status-quo. This kind of reporting does not give enough incentive for companies to transform their practices towards more sustainable economy but rather contributes to their financial stability. Should this kind of reporting even be categorized under the 400 sustainability reporting instruments when in fact its purpose is to provide financial information about non-financial matters without requirements of measuring the impacts outwards to society and environment?

The sustainability challenges are larger and encompass issues that have implications reaching beyond the financial performance. If we want to find a solution for these major sustainability challenges we need a broader and more inclusive perspective that changes the target from sustaining the financial returns to sustaining our planet and humanity.

Text by: Jenni Puroila and Svetlana Gross, PhD students at Misum

Follow Jennie Puroila on Twitter: @jennipuroila

Follow Svetlana Gross on Twitter: @tant_storm

[1] UNEP, GRI, KPMG & the Centre for Corporate Governance in Africa (2016) Carrots and Sticks Global trends in sustainability reporting regulation and policy. Available at:

[2], June 2017

[3] Rockström, J., Gaffney, O., Rogelj, J. et. al. 2017. A roadmap for rapid decarbonization. Science, Volume 355 Issue 6331


Crowdfunding for Sustainability: A new vehicle for green growth?


Text by Kristian Roed Nielsen, PhD and Misum Postdoc researcher

The emergence of reward-based crowdfunding as novel source of funding for entrepreneurs (also labelled innovation finance) has been hailed as a democratizing revolution within innovation finance (Lawton and Marom 2012; Mollick and Robb 2016). The potential to engage consumers directly for capital is proposed to be changing “how, why, and which ideas are brought into existence” (Gerber and Hui 2013:1) by, for example, reducing the geographical constraints of traditional funding (Agrawal, Catalini, and Goldfarb 2015) in addition to expanding access to entrepreneurial finance to a greater range of individuals and teams (Lehner and Nicholls 2014; Sorenson et al. 2016). Its potential for enabling sustainable entrepreneurship is therefore also gaining popular and academic traction. But is this hype or does reward-based crowdfunding truly represent a needed innovation funding boon for sustainable entrepreneurs? This is exactly what my dissertation sought to explore by examining under which conditions and to what extent reward-based crowdfunding could financially benefit entrepreneurs with social and/or environmentally-oriented products. And can it? Well it depends.

The dissertation finds that while consumers represent a significant and growing source of innovation finance this does not necessarily translate into more sustainable finance[1]. Instead, funding success for sustainable entrepreneurs depends on the purpose of their endeavor (i.e. social or environmental); the amount of financing sought; entrepreneurs’ geographic location, social capital, network and prior experience; and – in no small part – the product [offered].  The fact that innovation finance can now be driven by consumers rather than professional investors does not in itself change consumer demands; demands which more often than not fail to correlate well with sustainable behavior. Instead reward-based crowdfunding appears for certain types of campaigns as an enabler of sustainable product innovation, while in other circumstances it enables egocentrically-oriented campaigns.

The factors that influence funding success for sustainable entrepreneurs are five-fold. Firstly, while consumers are on aggregate more likely to support socially-oriented ventures – as compared egocentrically-oriented campaigns – environmentally-oriented campaigns often perform worse than their egocentric counter-parts. Secondly, entrepreneurs should consider how much funding they are seeking as in reward-based setting as entrepreneurs who seek more than 8,000 US$ (€7,400) will on average find it increasingly more difficult to garner funding. Thirdly, location still matters even with crowdfunding context and entrepreneurs located in an urban setting with a high median income and social capital will find it significantly easier to garner funding. Fourthly, an entrepreneur’s personal network in addition to past experience with crowdfunding strongly influences the likelihood of funding success. Prior success with crowdfunding resulting 173% increase in expected funding, while failure results in a 17,7 % decrease. Finally, the products on offer themselves strongly influence individual pledging behavior both in terms of sustainable and unsustainable pledging, but also in terms of whether social or environmental orientation garners support. Hence when we look at a more detailed picture of the products themselves individuals seem motivated by different things when pledging. Specifically there is some indication that for fashion items, electronics and other “wearables” consumers pledge for egocentric reasons (i.e. style, make and color), while for other more out-of-sight items social (i.e. fair wages) and environmental (i.e. recycled materials) values win the day.

Hence while reward-based crowdfunding is not a silver bullet often espoused by its proponents for tackling the funding concerns of sustainable entrepreneurs “the crowd” does hold a significant potential that thus far remains largely untapped. It is this untapped potential that hope to unravel with my work at Misum.

If you want to read the none-condensed version of my dissertation you can find it here.

Text by Kristian Roed Nielsen, PhD and Misum Postdoc researcher

Follow Kristian on Twitter: @RoedNielsen

[1] Sustainable finance referring to capital that is invested in entrepreneurs or ventures who pursues a good, service, or process system that offers an improved or the same economic performance with lesser externalities in the form of social and environmental hazards (Bos-Brouwers 2010; Halme and Laurila 2009).

Agrawal, Ajay, Christian Catalini, and Avi Goldfarb. 2015. “Crowdfunding: Geography, Social Networks, and the Timing of Investment Decisions.” Journal of Economics & Management Strategy 24(2):253–74. Retrieved (

Bos-Brouwers, Hilke Elke Jacke. 2010. “Corporate Sustainability and Innovation in SMEs: Evidence of Themes and Activities in Practice.” Business Strategy and the Environment 19(7):417–35. Retrieved (
Gerber, Elizabeth M. and Julie Hui. 2013. “Crowdfunding : Motivations and Deterrents for Participation.” ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction 20(6):34–32.
Halme, Minna and Juha Laurila. 2009. “Philanthropy, Integration or Innovation? Exploring the Financial and Societal Outcomes of Different Types  of Corporate Responsibility.” Journal of Business Ethics 84(3):325–39. Retrieved (
Lawton, Kevin and Dan Marom. 2012. The Crowdfunding Revolution: How to Raise Venture Capital Using Social Media. New York: McGraw Hill Professional.
Lehner, Othmar M. and Alex Nicholls. 2014. “Social Finance and Crowdfunding for Social Enterprises: A Public-Private Case Study Providing Legitimacy and Leverage.” Venture Capital 16(3):271–86. Retrieved (10.1080/13691066.2014.925305).
Mollick, Ethan and Alicia Robb. 2016. “Democratizing Innovation and Capital Access: The Role of Crowdfunding.” California management review 58(2):72–87.
Sorenson, Olav, Valentina Assenova, Guan-Cheng Li, Jason Boada, and Lee Fleming. 2016. “Expand Innovation Finance via Crowdfunding.” Science 354(6319):1526 LP-1528. Retrieved (