Sustainable futures and leadership in business
The role of business in society as well as educating future leaders aware of the new responsibility of the private sector were the overarching topics of the Ecologic Dinner Dialogue convened on 15 September 2004 in honour of Dr. Francisco Szekely, adjunct professor at the European School for Management and Technology (ESMT) located in Berlin and Munich.
The event opened with a statement by Dr. Szekely on the profile and goal of the newly created competence centre on sustainable systems management at ESMT, identifying people as key factor in effectuating change in private sector business practices in order to strengthen corporate sustainability agendas and creating a new paradigm for business. The competence centre strives to be an innovative platform for sharing knowledge among practitioners and academia and thus contribute to sustainable business leadership.
As the most important challenges for business actors today he highlighted:
- conducting business profitably and responsibly today while not compromising the needs and rights of future generations,
- moving from an orientation towards shareholder value to an involvement and consideration of all relevant societal stakeholders,
- thinking and acting in the dimensions of the triple bottom line.
He furthermore pointed to the importance of corporate reporting on sustainability in order to build trust with society and in this context also emphasised the need for establishing objective, clear and representative metrics and criteria for measuring sustainability.
Dr. Szekely, who acted as Mexico's Deputy Minister of the Environment for the past three years, held various academic assignments and served as an international consultant on environmental issues to corporations and organisations world-wide, also put special emphasis on the social aspects of sustainability. He challenged business actors to go beyond corporate sponsorship and make a real contribution to a more sustainable society by actively contributing to job creation and employment security. In concluding, he made the case for the effectiveness of voluntary agreements with business actors, thus arguing that not the avenue taken but rather reaching the destination, i.e. a sustainable future world-wide, is of paramount importance.
Dr. Klaus Mittelbach of the Federation for the German Industry (BDI) and the Econsense initiative responded to Szekely's statement as the evening's first discussant. He made a strong statement for finding practical solutions for practical problems in business reality and explained that not all three dimensions of sustainability are equally important for all business actors alike, but that compromises are in some cases necessary, while there needs to be room for each company to find its own definition of sustainability. He also argued that a company should define its own criteria for reporting corporate sustainability and validate those in a dialogue with all stakeholders affected.
In the ensuing dialogue discussants addressed the following issues:
- the problem of standardised reporting while the need for reporting in order to assure accountability was clearly acknowledged, the role of auditors and the importance of in-depth research and an effective system of checks and balances,
- the need for finding the right balance of voluntary agreements vs. legal frameworks in supporting entrepreneurial innovation in the field of sustainability,
- the innovative potential of business actors to find solutions to global problems and the possible contribution of the private sector to conflict prevention through 'investments for peace',
- the increasing awareness in the corporations for sustainability issues,
- the role of individuals in companies for inducing change and the role of universities like ESMT in providing the right impulses through offering learning opportunities.