Integrating Sustainability in Business – an evening with Ron Popper, ABB

Ron Popper, Vice President and head of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at ABB, paid a visit to Business School Lausanne on Tuesday, 11th September, 2013. He gave the opening keynote speech to the new MBA students and his presentation was greatly appreciated.

Ron Popper, ABB

ABB is a global company active in 120 to 130 countries worldwide, they have about 150,000 employees and another 150,000 contractors.  ABB is in the power and automaton world and they also are involved in the area of renewable energy. Popper began his career as a journalist and in that job he travelled extensively to different parts of the world. He joined ABB in 2001 and is based in the Swiss German region of Switzerland.

He commenced by asking a question. “What is sustainability? “ Easy question you might think….

The answers of the participants were, however, numerous and varied. “Using our resources only to the extent that they can be replenished”; “respect, responsibility, accountability” were some of the opinions offered by his listeners.

Guest talk at BSL, ABB

Ron Popper believes that the right set of internal values is key for corporations.  Who would want to work in a company that doesn’t respect Human Rights?  According to him, and I am in full agreement, pay scales are no longer the only reason young people choose to work with an organization, a broader view is required. Young people want more satisfaction in their work place today!

Stakeholders’ expectations, according to Popper, are changing and this has been happening for the last few years. No longer do we simply talk about the “Triple Bottom line” coined by John Elkington in his book “Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business” [1]; we now have the Quadruple Bottom line: companies need to be successful economically, they must respect and be responsible for the environment, they must stand for social progress and lastly, this must be good governance. Good processes, reporting and assurances are necessary in the field of sustainability otherwise we are only talking about public relations. According to Popper it is necessary to balance eco-success, environmental stewardship for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Listening to Ron Popper is always an incredible experience for me; his understanding of the complexity of the world of international business, his authenticity, and his ability to communicate this to his listeners has always touched me profoundly.

[1] Elkington’s consultancy company, SustainAbility, which he founded in 1987, gives a big picture description of the triple bottom line, as well as an accounting concept.The triple bottom line (TBL) focuses corporations not just on the economic value they add, but also on the environmental and social value they add—and destroy. At its narrowest, theterm ‘triple bottom line’ is used as a framework for measuring and reporting corporateperformance against economic, social and environmental parameters. At its broadest, the term is used to capture the whole set of values, issues and processes that companies must address in order to minimise any harm resulting from their activities and to create economic, social and environmental value.

Mary Mayenfisch-Tobin, BCL, LL.M, Solicitor


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