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6-augen-gespräche
03/02/2020

Ein neues Mindset verbindet Ökonomie und Nachhaltigkeit

Patrick Bungard
Prof. René Schmidpeter

Originalquelle: https://www.faz-institut.de/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/02/20-LOW-WEB-VISSER-GESCHUETZT-V-01-2020.pdf

Ein neues Mindset verbindet Ökonomie und Nachhaltigkeit

Welche Denkweise Unternehmen helfen kann, wieder die „Guten“ in einer neu zu schreibenden Wirtschaftsgeschichte zu sein – darüber sprachen Prof. Dr. René Schmidpeter und Patrick Bungard mit dem Schriftsteller, Redner, Akademiker und Dichter Wayne Visser

Gegenwärtig wird die Frage, welche Rolle Unternehmen spielen und wie Wirtschaft funktioniert, international grundlegend neu diskutiert. Im Angesicht des Klimawandels und weltweiter gesellschaftlicher Herausforderungen drängen Konsumenten, Manager und Investoren auf ein Umdenken in Richtung Stakeholder Value, Purpose und positiven Impact. Und auch die Politik verstärkt zunehmend ihr Engagement für Nachhaltigkeit und zeigt sich bereit, die Rahmenbedingungen unseres Wirtschaftens grundlegend zu ändern – wie die jüngsten Verlautbarungen der EU-Kommission sowie die Grundsatzrede von Kommissionspräsidentin Ursula von der Leyen eindrücklich zeigen. Nicht zuletzt gestärkt durch die Wahlerfolge von ökologieorientierten Parteien sowie Tausenden von jungen Menschen, die sich auf der Straße Gehör verschaffen. Es sieht danach aus, dass gegenwärtig ein neues Mindset entsteht, welches für innovatives Unternehmertum und das Funktionieren unserer Wirtschaft im 21. Jahrhundert grundlegend prägend sein wird. Doch wie wirkt sich dieses neue Denken konkret auf Unternehmensstrategie und unser Wirtschaftsverständnis aus? Werden wir eine Wirtschaft haben, die sich nicht mehr am Profit, sondern am positiven Impact für die Gesellschaft orientiert? Unternehmen, welche die ökologische und soziale Dimension ihres Geschäftsmodells genauso in ihre Überlegungen integrieren wie die ökonomische? Das Ergebnis dieses Suchprozesses in unserer Gesellschaft ist nach wie vor völlig offen. Die Unternehmen hätten jedoch bei einem grundlegenden Wandel hin zum „Nachhaltigen Wirtschaften“ die einmalige Chance, wieder die „Guten“ in einer neu zu schreibenden Wirtschaftsgeschichte zu sein.

Dabei kann auch Globalisierung ein wichtiger Treiber für Nachhaltigkeit sein. Wenn die weltweit aktiven Konzerne alle auf das neue Managementparadigma der Nachhaltigkeit setzen, weil die Kunden und die Gesellschaft das wollen, werden ihre Maßnahmen auch schnell globale Wirkung zeigen. Jedoch könnten auf diesem Weg nationaler Protektionismus sowie der politische Schutz alter Geschäftsmodelle ein Hindernis sein. Somit ist entscheidend, welches gemeinsame Mindset sich bei den Entscheidern in Wirtschaft, Wissenschaft und Politik zur Rolle der Unternehmen in der Gesellschaft herauskristallisiert. Um die gegenwärtigen weltweiten Herausforderungen gemeinsam zu lösen, kann Europa ein wichtiger Vorreiter für eine ökosoziale Marktwirtschaft sein. Wichtig dafür ist das Verständnis, dass Nachhaltigkeit kein Umweltthema ist – sondern es in der Diskussion über ein neues Managementparadigma um die Zukunft einer erfolgreichen Wirtschaftspolitik geht. Denn schaut man auf die globalen Entwicklungen wird schnell klar: Nur wenn die Unternehmen die Marktchancen begreifen, die sich durch nachhaltiges Wirtschaften ergeben, und diese nutzen, werden Ökologie und Ökonomie eine harmonische Synthese bilden. Getrennt voneinander kann weder die Wirtschaft florieren, noch eine lebenswerte Umwelt und Gesellschaft möglich sein. Somit gilt es, Nachhaltigkeit als Potential und Treiber für wirtschaftliche Innovation zu sehen – und nicht als begrenzenden bürokratischen Faktor. Dies gelingt nur dann, wenn wir ein betriebswirtschaftliches Nachhaltigkeitsverständnis fördern, welches Nachhaltigkeit systemisch in alle Unternehmensentscheidungen integriert. Hier brauchen wir eine neue Betriebswirtschaftslehre und damit einhergehend eine neue Managementausbildung, wie sie bereits von Vordenkern und innovativen Hochschulen praktiziert wird. Wie ein neues Mindset der Nachhaltigkeit für die Betriebswirtschaftslehre aussehen könnte, wird im folgenden Sechsaugengespräch mit dem CSR-Experten Wayne Visser diskutiert.

René Schmidpeter: What is the goal of business in a world of transition? Why does business exist, in your opinion?

Wayne Visser: The purpose of business has always been to help fulfil the needs of society. But somewhere along the line, in the past 50 years, the agenda got hijacked by greedy shareholders, stockbrokers and executives. Profits and shareholder returns became the goal. But that’s like saying our goal as humans is to breathe. We need to breathe to survive, but that’s not our purpose. For a world in transition, the goal must be to embrace creative destruction: to innovate sustainable solutions and speed the next industrial revolution to a low-carbon, inclusive economy.

Patrick Bungard: Why does business have to change in order to meet the future expectations of society?

Visser: Business has to maintain a social license to operate, so as societal norms shift, companies must respond to new expectations. But the truth is that there are competing expectations. We want more sustainability but also more consumption choices. We want more fairness but also higher financial rewards. We want less inter-generational guilt but without any sacrifice or inconvenience. So business sometimes has to take a lead and make sustainability easy. On some issues, like climate, business will also be forced to adapt or die by physical, political and customer changes.

Schmidpeter: What concepts have been developed in order to manage business sustainable in the past?

Visser: The evolution of sustainable business has been unfolding for hundreds of years. It started with philanthropy in the 1870s (some would say, even before), then CSR from the 1930s, business ethics in the 1960s, environmental management in the 1970s, stakeholder engagement in the 1980s, corporate governance and the triple-bottom-line in the 1990s, corporate accountability and climate action in the 2000s and redefining value in the 2010s. Each new concept and practice has been added, it has been forming a multi-threaded new DNA of sustainable business.

Schmidpeter: Is the triple bottom line a good base for sustainable management? If yes, why? If not, what is missing?

Visser: The triple bottom line has been a very effective meme for 25 years, but it has suffered from two problems. First, it has been misapplied, allowing companies to claim sustainability, while continuing to business as usual, often trading off economic value creation with social and environmental value destruction. Second, it lacks a systems perspective. In reality society, the environment and the economy are interwoven in complex webs that cannot be neatly separated or managed in these three artificial categories. It fails to show the interdependencies.

Schmidpeter: What are the latest concepts developed in the field of sustainable management?

Visser: As I mentioned, there has been a process of questioning and redefining value. The way I frame this is as integrated value, which refers to creating synergetic solutions that are simultaneously secure, shared, sustainable, smart and satisfying, thereby supporting the resilience, access, circular, digital and wellbeing economies. Besides this, other concepts and practices that have been on the rise include science-based targets (not only for climate, but also for biodiversity), regenerative business and natural climate solutions.

Bungard: How can the latest concepts been integrated in business models and strategies?

Visser: My integrated value management methodology, which at Antwerp Management School we are using to help companies like Johnson & Johnson and Domo on their sustainable transformation journey, has seven elements: rethink patterns (understand systems), realign partners (stakeholder materiality), renew principles (values dialogue), redefine purpose (strategic goals), reassess performance (value metrics), redesign products (creative innovation) and reshape playing-fields (policy engagement). In other words, it requires multi-level integration.

Schmidpeter: What is the role of the financial markets to foster a positive role of business?

Visser: Financial markets need to stop incentivizing short-term behaviour in companies. Rather they should factor in the long-term risks and opportunities associated with global challenges like climate change and the transition to a net-zero economy by 2050. This also means actively disinvesting from companies and sectors like fossil fuels. They also need to massively increase the scale of funding of sustainable solutions like clean-tech, renewables, inclusive healthcare, sustainable batteries and plant-based diets.

Bungard: Is it possible to overcome the trade-off between profit and sustainable development?

Visser: The business case for sustainability gets stronger year-by-year. I have distilled it into the 7-Rs of investment in sustainability: 1. lowers Risk (especially by better value chain and stakeholder management), 2. improves Reputation (the intangible asset of brand equity), 3. fosters Resilience (the ability to survive system shocks such as climate events), 4. increases Resource efficiency (thus saving costs through less water, energy and waste), 5. anticipates Regulation (therefore adapting and avoiding fines and penalties), 6. supports Recruitment (and retention of talent), and 7. increases Revenues (from growth markets).

Bungard: Does it need new leadership?

Visser: Research on sustainability leadership that I’ve been doing for EPCA (European Petrochemical Association) suggests that there are several competencies and characteristics that are extremely helpful: intrinsic motivation, moral courage, trustworthiness, creative mindset, emotional intelligence, visionary engagement, sustainability literacy, open communication, business savvy and a holistic view. However, we also found that the most effective leaders are those who can rapidly adapt and respond to their changing context, including the sustainability challenges.

Bungard: How does a sustainable business work differently than a non-sustainable one? How does an employee or customer know that it is a sustainable company?

Visser: The basics of business are always the same. To succeed, all companies need effective leadership, good governance, efficient processes, regular innovation and a profitable business model. The difference with a sustainable company is that it is purpose-driven. It uses the market to solve big sustainability challenges, through its products or services. The simplest way for employees or customers to tell is by looking at the company’s product portfolio and what proportion are entirely dedicated to bringing social and environment solutions.

Bungard: Is there anything you think is missing in the current discussion about the role of business in society?

Visser: There are many issues that are ignored or under-discussed, such as the increasing income inequality within companies (CEO-to-worker pay), gender-pay gaps (which are going up), biodiversity loss (which is already at catastrophic levels and shows no signs of slowing down, let alone reversing), the digital divide, negative lobbying, business consolidation (i.e. the concentration of wealth and power among fewer and fewer companies), the urgent need for a price on carbon and other externalities. Conversely, many solutions are underestimated such as the positive role of chemicals, plastics and digitalization.

Bungard: What is the relationship between innovation and sustainability?

Visser: Innovation is about bringing solutions to problems to market. It is different to invention, which may be a new idea or product. Today, innovation is key for sustainability, since many of the problems we face are serious and complex and therefore need creative solutions that go to scale commercially. This includes innovative business models, such as the access or circular economies. So sustainability directs innovation towards social and environmental goals (rather than simply fulfilling new customer needs). Philips calls this meaningful innovation.

Schmidpeter: What can Europe learn from the US? And what vice versa?

Visser: Europe can learn innovation and entrepreneurship from the US. For example, if you look at patents for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and clean technologies, the US (and China) dwarf Europe. Europe also tends not to create many multi-billion ‘unicorn’ companies that disrupt markets. The US, on the other hand, could learn a lot from Europe about creating an enabling culture of social welfare and environmental consciousness. Europe also tends to be much more proactive in investigating and improving the integrity and responsibility of its supply chains.

Schmidpeter: What books you would recommend to better understand business? 

Visser: This is probably a matter of taste. I tend to turn to non-business books to bring insights to my understanding of business in general and sustainable business in particular. These fall into two categories: 1. Books about the systems science. For example, authors like Fritjof Capra, Peter Senge and Otto Scharma; and 2. Science fiction books. For example, Frank Herbert’s Dune series is a cautionary tale about the pursuit of power, the blindness of religion, the traps of pleasure and the vulnerability of ecosystems.

Schmidpeter: What are the learnings from poetry and lyrics when it comes to sustainable management?

Visser: I’m convinced that we must make sustainable development a cultural celebration. One of my books, This is Tomorrow, features artists with a sustainability message, including filmmakers, dance groups, singers, sculptors and others. Poets reflect deeply and speak artfully about the human condition, life’s journey and the state of the world. They can be hip-hop rappers, business leaders, or 16-year old climate activists. I’ve started ending my talks by reading one of my poems, like Change the World, and I notice that it engages people at a different level. Lyrics have the same effect. What you say is important. But so is how you say it.

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