Sustainability and Leadership in theory and practise

03/04/2010 / Kaj

We find ourselves in the midst of societal development in which companies, organisations and politicians are taking up new positions and responsibilities. In an era of globalisation, external influences are thus much greater. This was highlighted by Niklas Egels-Zandén in one of our earlier interviews and in his doctoral thesis where he took up the issue of social responsibility from a multinational perspective. Among other things he discusses the traditional Scandinavian model of trade union involvement as being especially useful when debating leadership in sustainable development.

In another of our interviews, Lindsey Parnell, CEO of Interface Europe, (see www.speroecc.se) took up the significance of a sustainability perspective on the global market and the leading role that Interface has played in this since 1995; a unique position developed by a US-based company in which a strong business leader (Ray Anderson) has played a significant role.

Leading sustainable development is a complex task, but as Lindsey-Parnell points out in the interview, an absolute must for a CEO to understand and develop as it concerns finding the business benefits in an area that touches on 25-30 subject areas such as climate, human rights, diversity, manufacturer liability, the water issue, etc.
The MIT Sloan Management Review, which includes a survey conducted with 1,500 business leaders in large multinationals like GE, Unilever, Nike, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, shows that more that 70 per cent of the respondent companies have not developed a clear business concept for sustainable development. Everything still points to the companies’ commitment being equal to the legislation that puts demands on them.
In another survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers that covers 1,200 CEOs in medium-sized or large companies in 50 or so companies, including 30 Swedish, two out of three business leaders say that we will see an increase in consumer actions within the area of sustainability before a purchase decision is made. Ninety per cent of Swedish business leaders agree with this.

With a period of financial crisis still very much in the wings, the issue is not likely to diminish in importance, despite many not yet having taken a stance. But it is clear to see that something is happening on the market — and there are enough of us to learn from.
Kaj Embrén

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