Smashing clichés: has business really changed for the better?
Students, researchers, and leading industry professionals gathered at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) on 10 May to talk about the sustainability agenda in business. At the RSM STAR Sustainability Forum 2019, the 110 participants discussed who is responsible for leading change and innovation, how business sectors measure ‘positive impact’, and what the limitations are when using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for sustainable business. The key question was: has business truly changed for the better?
Keynote speaker Marcello Palazzi, who is global ambassador of B Corporations, spoke about building a regenerative economy, a mission that seeks to shift from exploitation to exploration of natural and human resources which repairs the planet and society.
“How can we shift the capitalist system towards more positive than negative impact? Entrepreneurs can get us there!” said Palazzi. But he also pointed out that a great portion of the existing 10,000 B Corp-certified companies include bigger companies who want to take on the journey towards a regenerative economy. “We have been extracting value from society and the planet – so our profit is close to nothing.” There needs to be a shift away from mere profits, to profit plus impact, he said.
Smashing sustainability clichés
Four professionals in the field of sustainable business who are dealing with social resilience formed a panel and smashed sustainability clichés: Anniek Mauser (sustainability director at Unilever), Arnoud Molenaar (chief resilience officer at the City of Rotterdam), Justin Pariag (head of sustainable business at De Bijenkorf), and Talitha Muusse (millennial expert/social entrepreneur). The discussion, which was moderated by Professor of Strategic Philanthropy and Volunteering Lucas Meijs, explored sustainable clichés into much detail.
One cliché was ‘it is impossible to be against sustainability’. All panelists shared anecdotes on experiencing resistance when presenting sustainable practices. Mauser said sustainability is merely a term that one needs to define on their own, especially in such a polarizing political climate. Molenaar argued that strategic framing is essential to the delivery of disruptive practices, noting that transparency and potential benefits are key selling points. In addition to framing, Pariag reminded the predominantly student audience that the common understanding of ‘sustainability’ has evolved over the decades but that the necessity to create business resilience against the changing environment – both social and natural – is ever-prevalent.
Participants then attended breakout sessions in which they explored real-life sustainability issues with business representatives from various industries. Representatives from Capgemini, Corekees, EY, ING, Plennid and Wolkat brought forward business cases focusing on storytelling, start-ups, integrated reporting, banking, sustainable business models and recycling strategies.
KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award
The KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award was presented at the Sustainability Forum. Alumnus Paul Ruijs (a 2018 graduate from RSM’s MSc Global Business & Sustainability), was recognised for his thesis about short-termism in investments. MSc Supply Chain Management alumnus Annelou Ringers, whose thesis is about socially-responsible purchasing in the fast-fashion industry, was the runner-up.
The RSM STAR Sustainability Forum 2019 was moderated by Melissa Ablett, Cambridge Innovation Center’s Strategic Director for Europe.
Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China. www.rsm.nl
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