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  • Breaking down the door to the boardroom

    10:23 pm on August 20, 2012 | 0 Permalink | Comment
    Tags: boardroom, MInistry of Finance, State-owned companies, , Sweden

    Some 58 companies, at a combined value of almost 600 trillion Swedish crowns, collectively employing almost 100,000 people. When it comes to investment power, the Swedish government has substantive influence over the Scandinavian marketplace. Its Minister for Financial Markets has recently decided to flex his owner-muscles to ensure that sustainability strategy finds a permanent place on the corporate board agenda. With its fire-power, the Minister’s move is bound to change the conversation in the country’s boardrooms.

    This government prides itself on its vision of sustainability and has long touted business partnerships to achieve it. It has been using its role as regulator and motivator to help transform the marketplace with some degree of success. Laying out clear rules is something Swedish government does rather well. But obviously, more needs to be done.

    State-owned companies Vattenfall and Telia could have both used better board-level competence to understand the connect between sustainability and business strategy.

    The Swedish way of tackling corporate sustainability challenges has always been the systematic way—relying heavily on management systems and standards. This work seldom reaches the ears of board members. While UK companies like BT, BP and Unilever have oversight on sustainability strategies at board level through their countless CSR and social and environmental accountability committees, competence in this area is sorely lacking on C-Suite levels in Sweden. That’s something that the Swedish government intends to change.

    A couple of months ago, Peter Norman, Minister for Financial Markets, tasked all board chairs, CEOs and sustainability managers at state-owned companies to set relevant sustainability goals by 2014 and develop strategies for meeting these goals. The announcement signaled that the government intends take a proactive stand to raise the competence bar among board members.

    With a few exceptions, this country’s companies still focus too heavily on process and performance measurement—a recipe for risk management. But times are changing the corporate landscape. Bold leadership and forward-looking strategy are key ingredients for value creation. Without a doubt, this is an initiative that makes perfect sense for any long-term investor.

  • Relax and Enjoy the Paradigm Shift

    8:06 pm on February 28, 2011 | 0 Permalink | Comment
    Tags: , , Sweden

    You cannot speak for very long to Karl-Henrik Robert, the founder of The Natural Step, without getting a fresh perspective on the world’s trials and tribulations around sustainability.

    Perhaps it is his slight, endearing Swedish accent as he exclaims, “It is baloney!” in response to a question about world finances and our current speculation-based money system. Or his truthful reply – “We’re in deep shit” – when asked how well we’ve done creating a sustainable economy.

    Maybe it is just Robert’s infectious optimism. Yes, we’re in deep shit. The deep shit that makes some of us working in sustainability morose and melancholy. But Robert suggests it could be the deep dark just before the dawn…of a new business paradigm.

    The Natural Step (TNS) is in many ways the standard-bearer of sustainability. If you are searching for a comprehensive definition of the very word, Robert created it, and TNS has got it.

    And while no doom-and-gloom naysayer, Robert isn’t afraid to admit to some trepidation about the fact that the world is so reluctant to disconnect the growth of material flows ( i.e. making more stuff from finite resources) from economic prosperity.

    To him, however, (this is the good news) we’re basically just in-between paradigm dominance. The old, dinosaur-like paradigm (that links economic growth to material flows) seems to be strong because it’s so huge it can still generate a lot of growth even though it is rotten.

    Robert says though we can’t quite see it yet, a new clean energy paradigm – is emerging. It doesn’t look that promising if we compare it to the old dinosaur. Yet on its own it is growing exponentially (think wind power, solar photovoltaics, etc.) from quite small starting points.

    Sooner or later, Robert says, the two curves – the dinosaur growth curve and the sustainable energy growth curve – will intersect. And that’s where paradigm shift will happen.

    “It might be painful,” Robert said. Though he takes some comfort from the idea that the faster we move toward the new paradigm, the fewer the repercussions will be, he’s a little worried that the role models and leaders needed for quick shifting are, well, insufficient.

    For once paradigm shift kicks into gear, he says, “There’s no going to the library to try to figure it out. It will already be upon us.”

    When I see how hard it is for promising climate-saving, clean energy technologies to make it to mass-market commercialisation, it does feel slightly hopeless. But Robert says that there really isn’t any choice. Businesses that wait too long to really take stock of their own situations, determine a sustainability strategy, and then create a step-by-step implementation, will lose out, as it will cost them the most when the paradigm does shift.

    The comfort comes from the realization that though sustainability as a concept may sometimes seem tarnished, in fact it’s the paradigm-in-waiting, ready to take over when business-as-usual (finally) flags.

  • Culture of understatement

    4:01 am on January 11, 2011 | 0 Permalink | Comment
    Tags: 'Ethical Corporation', , performance, strategy, Sweden

    In Scandinavia, actions speak louder than words. The country prides itself on its ingrained culture of understatement. They call it jantelagen, and it forbids anyone from feeling superior to their neighbors.

    Transfer this to corporate sustainability and you get a focus on process, performance measurement, getting your house in order and a long-standing appetite for global management systems and standards. In fact, there are 14,000 companies with ISO14001 certification and Sweden ranked 4th in the number of ISO14001 accreditations in the world in 2010. This is indeed impressive for a country with a population smaller than Belgium.

    Sweden’s corporate performance stood out most when sustainability was perceived as risk management. But we’ve entered into a different era. Bold leadership and forward-looking strategy is the way sustainability performance is being gauged now, and Swedish pioneers are being marked down by their traditional discretion.

    In 2010, four Swedish companies made the DJSI World index (Electrolux, Volvo, Sandvik and SKF). This has shrunk from six in 2005; Ericsson, H&M, Atlas Copco and Gambro have since lost their standing. This loss in recognition is a big deal here. The question is whether these shrinking numbers in the DJSI World coupled with the huge Scandinavian interest in the index have played a role in the recent decision to launch the DJSI Nordic.

    Introducing a new index tailored to the Scandinavian way of doing things isn’t going to cover up the core challenge for these companies.  When it comes down to it, Sweden’s approach towards sustainability isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. To regain their position, Swedish companies need to shake off ‘jantelagen’, stand tall and find a stronger voice. In practical terms, it means defining bold strategy and long-term targets, and talking vision and leadership.

    If you want to read more about One Stone’s take on Swedish corporate sustainability, check out the UK Ethical Corporation’s Sweden Country Briefing. The link leads you to a short content synopsis. You can access the full report as a subscriber or by taking out a 2 week trial subscription.  We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  • Festive Cheer and Sustainability in Sweden

    7:30 am on December 21, 2010 | 0 Permalink | Comment
    Tags: , , government, NGOs, , , Sweden

    2010 has seen bustling activity at One Stone in Scandinavia, the US, Australia, Southern Europe and the UK. During the year we have worked with some of Sweden’s best known companies, and were delighted to be invited to write Ethical Corporation’s latest addition to their Country Briefing series.

    So One Stone’s Christmas gift to you this year is a taste of essential Scandinavian reading. Why not tuck into your own copy of our Sweden Country Briefing by taking up Ethical Corporation magazine’s two week trial offer? Sample the key flavours of Sweden’s sustainability cornucopia and savour our insights into corporate, government and NGO activities. And for a little spice, enjoy our case studies of Ericsson, SCA and the Swedish fashion industry.

    Happy reading from all of us at One Stone, and the very best for a successful 2011!

    Photo courtesy of Hans Kylberg, Flickr Creative Commons

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