RSM Sustainability Forum 2014

RSM Sustainability Forum 2014

RSM Sustainability Forum 2014:
RSM Sustainability Forum 2014: Mainstreaming Sustainable Business
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The 2nd Annual RSM Sustainability Forum offered more than inspiration; speakers from business and academia offered real proof of concept for sustainability, demonstrating the pragmatic and profitable possibilities of new business models and innovations demanded by a world of shrinking resources and growing population.

Held on Friday, 25 April 2014, and co-organised by Sustainable RSM and STAR, the Forum attracted around 180 corporate and alumni relations, staff, faculty and students of RSM. The day was moderated by Marga Hoek, CEO of De Groene Zaak (the Dutch Sustainable Business Association) whose book ‘Doing Business in the New Economy’(Vakmedianet 2014) was awarded Management Book of the Year 2014, and featured a Welcome by Pauline van der Meer Mohr, President of the Erasmus University Rotterdam Executive Board.

The business of sustainability was presented in a keynote by Kees-Jan Rameau, Managing Board Eneco, as well as break-out sessions in which speakers from BAM, Cradle to Cradle, Enviu, Eosta, Philips and Unilever shared specific ways that their organisations mainstream sustainability into such areas as finance, strategy, innovation, marketing, supply chain and entrepreneurship.

Even the refreshments were sustainable: catering was provided by Kromkommer, the business launched by RSM Distinguished Alumni Award winners Jente de Vries and Lisanne van Zwol, which ‘upcycles’ the cosmetically imperfect produce and bakery goods that would normally end up in the bin, into delicious food.

Operationalise sustainability

“I applaud RSM for choosing the topic of mainstreaming sustainability,” said Pauline van der Meer Mohr, President of the Erasmus University Rotterdam Executive Board, in her welcome to the Forum. “Too often when we think about sustainability, we think about ‘nice to have’- but mainstreaming is something entirely different. We have to operationalise sustainability.”  She offered the five ‘must- haves’ as outlined in the Vision 2050 report, an agenda for sustainable business created by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD, whose President and CEO Peter Bakker is an alumnus of EUR). These are (1) incorporating the costs of externalities, starting with carbon, ecosystem services and water, into the structure of the marketplace; (2) doubling agricultural output without increasing the amount of land or water used; (3) halting deforestation and increasing yields from planted forests; (4) halving carbon emissions worldwide (based on 2005 levels) by 2050 through a shift to low-carbon energy systems; and (5) Improved demand-side energy efficiency, and providing universal access to low-carbon mobility.

Sustainability a core strategy at Eneco

The ‘operationalising’ of sustainability in the energy business was presented in Kees-Jan Rameau’s engaging keynote, “Sustainability as a Core Strategy,” in which he outlined  Eneco’s  strategy for moving from a centralised, fossil-fuel dependent model to a sustainable, decentralised future.  While many energy companies will find it a “bumpy ride” in transforming from fossil to sustainable energy over the coming years, he noted that at Eneco “it all starts with a vision.”  The business case for renewable energy is clear: not only are fossil fuels finite, with an unstable market price and a deleterious effect on the environment, but the cost of sustainable energy is descending dramatically while new business models will create jobs and national and international economic growth. This new environment requires a transition for Eneco, said Rameau:  “We are no longer a seller,” he said. “Now we’re a service provider with a new business model,” in which the customer has a central role as both a consumer and producer of energy, and which demands a ‘team’ approach where government, NGO’s, business, shareholders and the consumer must work together. “Now is the time to invest in renewables,” he said.

Break-out sessions

Mr. Rameau’s keynote was followed by six parallel break-out sessions. In these smaller groups, Forum attendees worked hands-on with leaders of small, medium and large businesses which have already mainstreamed sustainability into their business model. The line-up included William van Niekerk, Director Corporate Social Responsibility for Royal BAM Group NV with an interactive presentation about sustainable finance; Diana den Held, Strategist and Senior Researcher RSM Cradle to Cradle Chair (the first Academic Chair in Cradle to Cradle in the world) with a group project on sustainable strategy; Wouter Kersten, Innovation Manager of Enviu, with a lively interactive discussion about sustainable entrepreneurship; Michael Wilde, Sustainability and Communications Manager of Eosta (an organic produce company) who presented the company’s many ways to reach and motivate the new consumer through its label Nature & More;  Martijn Douven, Indoor Segment Manager, who presented such new business models as ‘Light as a service’ in a session about sustainable innovation; and Frederieke Koopman (Brand Development) and Stefanie Wolff (Category Management) of Unilever, who outlined a sustainable supply chain direct to the company’s consumers.

KPMG awards top RSM Master theses

One highlight of the RSM Sustainability Forum was the presentation of the KPMG-sponsored Sustainability Master Thesis Award. Since 2006, KPMG has been presenting the award, which aims to honour research that combines academic excellence and business relevance on a topic related to the management of sustainability. This year the five nominees each made a ‘home video’ to describe their interest in their thesis topic:

  • Daphne Blokhuis “Scaling Inclusive Business”
  • Joost Boer “In Conversation with People at the ‘Base of the Pyramid’ “
  • Sophie Gaarenstroom “Socially Responsible Purchasing and its Effect on Operational and Relational Efficiency”
  • Britt de Lange “Microfinance Over-indebtedness, Truth or Myth? “
  • Laura van de Ven “Fair Play via Fair Pay”

The award was introduced by chair of the jury Jan van den Herik, Director Strategy & Innovation KPMG. The background on the jury's assessment of each thesis was provided by Tim van Kooten, a longtime leader of communications and issue management for such companies as Ogilvy & Mather and Shell. In addition to Mr. Van den Herik and Mr. Van Kooten, the jury comprised  Elfrieke van Galen, Partner at The Rock Group, and Jan Bom, Editor in Chief of P+ People Planet Profit magazine.

Mr. Van den Herik presented the top award, including a €1000 prize, to Sophie Gaarenstroom, with the runner-up award, including a €500 prize, to Britt de Lang.

Living in interesting times

The wrap-up of the RSM Sustainability Forum was facilitated by Professor Rob van Tulder of the RSM Business-Society Management Department.

Mainstreaming is needed for a “system in crisis,” the current economy and ecology, he said. As a business school, RSM is helping to create the change to mainstreaming sustainability through its executive education and research, amongst other means.

Ultimately mainstreaming sustainability is “an opportunity, and a necessity,” said Professor van Tulder. “New leadership is needed – we need you!” he added. “These are indeed interesting times, and my invitation to you is to continue this conversation about mainstreaming sustainability here at RSM.”