Competencies that count: Where are Responsible Leadership and Sustainability proficiency listed in the job descriptions?

Recently, and through different announcements, a number of large global corporations have made public their intention to remove University Degree requirements from (some of) their job descriptions and requirements. They argue that the correlation between holding a degree and being good for certain jobs is weak and too many good candidates are discarded because of this wrong filter. They plan to use new and innovative online tests that will do a better filter job according to them.

I look at this with interest as I have never been convinced that current degrees, and business degrees in particular, are representative of the important skills our future leaders need (and by leaders I mean leader in whatever position they hold, not only senior management). Among the many important skills future and current leaders need are responsible leadership and sustainability proficiency. Or not?


My feeling is that if you ask the question directly to a hiring manager, they will certainly answer yes. At the same time, have you ever seen these two competencies in any job description? I am trying hard but, unless I come across some very specific job related to sustainability, I have seen no trace of the demand for these two important competencies. I am embarrassed by this. At Business School Lausanne, we have made a clear commitment to facilitate learning around sustainability and responsible leadership all across our program and courses. We design innovative pedagogy around these crucial competencies as we believe that there is no way the world will progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals unless new practices are embedded within any single next decision that business people are required to make. What is the next ingredient you will source for your product? Will you ship it by train, track, plane, boat? Will you ask for a local production? How much money will you allocate budget for personal development of your team? Will you invest in a social venture? Will you close an eye on your current polluting factory? Will you ask for innovation toward sustainable practices? Will you engage with all relevant stakeholder when making impactful decisions? And the list can go on and on forever. Almost every single decision business people are asked to make, presents a choice to go for more or less responsible and sustainable solution. Do you want your employees to be conscious of that option? Do you want them to be fluent with the consequences wrong decisions can lead to (and clearly not only financial)? This is a call for every job seeker to add where they stand with their responsible leadership and sustainability proficiency on their CV. This is a call for all hiring manager to make sure they make it clear they demand such competencies.

Let a new purposeful market grow around jobs and competencies that count and will make the world a better place!

Author: Carlo GiardinettiActive in Program Development, Holacracy and directing the BBA, Masters and E/MBA programs Business 

“Don’t Learn to Do, But Learn in Doing”

I was recently asked to speak at the Impact Hub Zurich’s event on the future of education: trends and opportunities. I am no educationalist but I am educator, so I decided to speak on what I was comfortable with, my own experience in teaching that I have worked out through trial and error over the last 10 years. I cut my teeth teaching in Singapore to Executive Masters students who would come in the evening for 3 hours of lecturing after a full day at work. They were understandably tired and so I peppered my lectures with as many case study examples as I could in order to demonstrate the real-life applications of corporate social responsibility and sustainable development, especially in a place and time when CSR and SD were still very much theoretical ideas and not a day to day reality.

And so to my current class of Masters students at BSL, I continue to try and make my lectures as relevant to real life as I can, knowing that business students need all the practical tools they can to be competitive when they head into the workplace.

This term I decided to use the theme of food and agriculture to discuss as many facets as possible of sustainability and business responsibility, and there is no shortage of material in this sector – from farming practices, (labour, pesticide use, GMOs, animal welfare), to processing (use of palm oil, high fructose corn syrup), transport (carbon footprint), marketing (obesity, fast food, veganism), to food distribution and scarcity.

To learn by doing, I asked my students to interview someone who had something, anything to do with the food sector and get their take on sustainability issues. It could be a restaurateur, it could be their uncle who likes cooking, a farmer, a winemaker, an eminent professor or their mate who likes eating…I look forwards to sharing some of these interviews with you which they have written up in blog form (of course, as the blog is another practical tool the students must master).

And how best for students to learn than to meet people who are “doing”, who can speak with confidence about their career paths and what it’s like to be at the coalface of an organisation. So we were privileged to have some time with Mr Diarmuid O’Connor (Global Agrimaterials Sourcing Manager at Nestlé Nutrition) who captivated us because he didn’t give us the blarney but told us what he did and why, and how sustainability made business sense and that he’d been working for over 20 years to support farmers in producing high quality materials for Nestlé.

I’m looking forwards to some more straight-talking guest speakers coming into the classroom over the coming weeks including Mme Isabelle Chevalley, conseillère nationale in the Swiss parliament who will speak to us about GMOs in Switzerland and Mr Sebastien Kulling who is working on a start-up in the food sector.

Prof. Marina CurranAuthor: Marina Martin Curran PhD,
Professor at BSL

How to negotiate for Ethics in a Crisis: The Greenpeace-Nestlé case

In March 2010 food-giant Nestlé had to learn the hard way, how to (not) react to a hostile NGO attack: Greenpeace had released a video that made the link between palm oil used in Nestlé’s Billion-Dollar-Brand KitKat and the destruction of rain forests in Indonesia that kills Orangutans.

The video was shocking and went viral in no time. Nestlé’s first reaction was to prohibit Greenpeace to show the video on the internet. A bad move in the world of social media, because this even multiplied the interest in the video. This was probably even wanted by Greenpeace because consequently the campaign gained an unbelievable momentum: Internet users kept sharing the video and as a sign of solidarity even used the logo of the Greenpeace campaign (the KitKat brand logo modified into Killer) as their Facebook profile picture.

Of course, Nestlé did not actively kill orangutans, like the video suggested. The problem was created deep down in their supply chain. Palm oil is cultivated in South-East Asia and it is an ingredient of about 50% of all products that we buy on a daily basis: Shampoo, cookies, lipstick, ice-cream. It is virtually everywhere. It is cheap, it grows fast, it does not have a strong taste, it keeps chocolate solid at room temperature. One hectare of palm oil will give you six tons of oil. In comparison: one hectare of soy only generates a yield of one ton of oil. No wonder the world’s hunger for palm oil is ever increasing. Consequently, cultivators of palm oil actually do cut down rain forests in order to set up huge mono-cultural palm oil plantations, thereby destroying the habitat of orangutans. However, they also lift people out of poverty and build schools and hospitals. Palm oil and deforestation is a classical « wicked problem », i.e. it is complex, controversial, value driven, concerns many stakeholders and spans many domains (economic, social, political, legal, ethical). This is why such problems are very hard to solve.

In my class « Business Ethics and Negotiation » I confront my students with this case and then they need to figure out in a group work what had gone wrong in this case and develop a strategy for what Nestlé should do next. I ask them to imagine that they are the top-notch Ethics and CSR consultant and that they need to convince the Nestlé board.

This spring we had the great pleasure and privilege to actually receive the debriefing for the group work form the real-life world class CSR consultant who had helped Nestlé to cope with the KitKat crisis: Scott Poynton from The Forest Trust, a non-profit organization, that helps companies to improve their supply chains.

Guest-speaker Scott Poynton

Guest-speaker Scott Poynton

Scott is a hybrid between an activist and a consultant: He had realized that fighting deforestation and other sustainability disasters was more effective with companies than against them. Consequently, he became a “critical friend” to corporations in environmental trouble. Scott has helped some of the world’s leading companies to transform their supply chains for the better.

That made him the perfect mediator for Nestlé: He understood the problems multinationals have in keeping their supply chains out of trouble and he also is a trusted person at Greenpeace.

Scott shared with us that companies when being attacked by an NGO like Greenpeace often have trouble understanding the issues. This certainly was the case when Nestlé was attacked. The Nestlé top-management tried to explain to the Greenpeace spokesperson of the campaign on the phone that the company was doing a lot for the environment. Greenpeace campaigners know this kind of reaction and they usually react by saying: « They do not get it. They need more pain. » And they did get more pain, when Greenpeace campaigners dropped from the ceiling and unfolded banners during the Annual General Meeting.

This is why Scott’s first lesson for companies under NGO attack is to really understand what the issue is and what your responsibility is.

The Forest Trust helped Nestlé produce and implement « Responsible Sourcing Guidelines » with the objective to avoid sourcing palm oil that was linked to deforestation.

It turned out that many of my students’ good suggestions for change were too long-term to really help Nestlé out of the acute crises they faced: Reforestation, finding a substitute for palm oil are all good ideas, but they take too much time. Nestlé needed to get its valuable brand KitKat out of the negative headlines quickly and reach an agreement with Greenpeace that they would give them a break in the campaign.

In order to do this Scott’s second lesson is: Find common ground. This is easier said than done. The worlds and mind-sets of NGos and companies are often quite contrary. A company fighting to save the profits of very successful brands like KitKat notoriously have trouble seeing the ethical issue hidden somewhere in the product’s supply chain. At the same time, for NGO activists it is very hard to understand how you could not see it. This creates tensions. Then just throw in some pride and ego and the fact that in a corporation nobody wants to be blamed for these kinds of messes and you have an explosive mixture for a first negotiation meeting.

This is why, for Scott, one of the most important things (yes, this is lesson Nr. 3) in negotiating in heated situations is to start with the values of the persons involved. If you want to mediate between conflicting parties, you always need to genuinely believe that your negotiating partner is a reasonable, rational, and decent person. If you enter a sensitive negotiation already convinced that your counterpart is mean and evil, they will sense this instantly and the necessary basis of trust cannot even be started to be built.

Scott’s stories show very nicely that if you want to negotiate for issues around ethics and sustainability, you cannot use the standard “I win – you lose” approach to negotiation. In this approach, we only divide the cake and try to get the biggest piece of it. This does not work, when you are dealing with “wicked problems”. In these cases, concentrating on positions only leads to impasse, misunderstandings, blaming, and zero-sum games that nobody can win.

If you want to successfully negotiate conflicts around wicked problems, you need to concentrate on interests and try to create a larger cake for all parties involved. Nestlé was not interested in deforesting Indonesia and killing orangutans. They are interested in having a well functioning supply chain for good quality palm oil. In order to find out the interests of the other party, you have to stay open and not judge the other side. You have to ask the right questions to understand them, listen carefully and then you can find common ground.

Thank you, Scott, for bringing to life what my students have learned in theory and negotiation role plays in class in a way that they will remember every time they will eat a KitKat.

Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoDr. Bettina Palazzo
Professor at BSL

What do Sustainability, Inclusion and Organisational Transformation have to do with Leadership?


BSL professors have taken a long hard look at leadership and sustainability and have a strong vision of what is needed to make transformative organizational change a real buzz and not just a string of jargon. We know it won’t be easy, it involves mindset, culture and habits. We know that even when all these important elements are taken into consideration the hurdle of willingness and the resilience to push through the discomfort of uncertainty in order to sustain the change, remains.

There are courageous leaders working throughout industry to make this happen and BSL is looking to bring a selection of these people together to dialogue, share insights and learn how we each are contributing to make this happen. May 10th 2016, we’ve invited 30 companies to bring their know-how to the table. BSL brings its own secret sauces; our grass roots expertise, millennials’ insights and a fervent desire to convene a conversation that honors those who are willing to create change.

If you are running a team, a department or company and would like to receive information on the outcomes or reserve a place at the table on a second courageous leadership conversations in June contact:

Author: Nadene Canning, BSL Professor

Nadene Canning

“The black hand” of Chevron in Ecuador

Usually petroleum companies can be really harmful for the environment and sometimes can damage the landscape of the whole region where they work, causing future problems on the inhabitants of those regions and to their way of living. This is what happened in Ecuador with the former company TEXACO when they damaged the whole landscape of the zone of Lago Agrio in the province of Sucumbios, north-west of Ecuador. Today TEXACO belongs to the company CHEVRON, who is known as one of the least ethical companies globally, because they have been accused of tax evasion as well a number of environmental infractions in several countries around the world (Kiser).

How did all this happen?

In 1967 there was a discovery of petroleum under the soil of the Ecuadorian jungle. The government opened a bidding process for the extraction of the oil. One of the companies that got one of those contracts was Texaco. They were operating in Ecuador for around 28 years until 1992. That year Texaco stopped their activities in Ecuador and just left the country.

When they left the country, they also left behind them around 1000 open toxic waste pits with all the toxic wastes caused by their extraction activities. These pools full of harmful chemicals and from the extraction per se produced around eighteen billion gallons of toxic and highly saline “formation waters“. These toxicities began to flow into the rivers near the extraction site. This would not be that serious if these communities had potable water or a good system of water provision, but the contaminated water is the water that they consume and irrigate their crops with.

The polluted water caused diseases on the skin, the stomach, cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, dead livestock, sick fish, and the near-extinction of several tribes from the villagers of those small communities. Some of them got organized and suited the company TEXACO for all the damages that they had caused to the environment and to the people from that part of Ecuador. Since 1993, a group of Ecuadoreans had been pursuing an apparently fruitless legal struggle to hold Texaco responsible for environmental destruction in the region (Benali).

But what happened during the Lawsuit?

We arrived at the year 2001 and the big company TEXACO was acquired by the even bigger company CHEVRON. Everybody knows that when you acquire a company you also acquire the responsibilities and problems that the acquired company could have, for instance, a lawsuit against this company due to environmental damages in a country in South-America.

An Ecuadorian tribunal from the city of Lago Agrio decided in justice to put a fine of 9.5 billion dollars to Chevron for all the damages previously described. CHEVRON dismissed this decision saying that everything was already solved and that they have nothing to do with this issue, even saying that all was already remediated by TEXACO before.

“Chevron’s insistence that Texaco undertook and completed a “remediation” in Ecuador is a clear acknowledgement that Texaco is responsible for causing significant environmental damage. That said, the scientific evidence in the trial has made it increasingly clear that Texaco’s self-described “remediation” was nothing more than a choreographed fraud designed to evade any level of accountability for the company’s reckless use of sub-standard operational practices in the planet’s most delicate ecosystem” (AMAZONWATCH).

To avoid this lawsuit the company alleged that Ecuador was involved in a case of bribery due. They spied on the judges in Ecuador who were in charge of this case.

“Chevron invested tens of millions of dollars in its legal defense as well as counterattacks against the plaintiffs and Ecuadorean officials. It has long argued that a 1998 agreement Texaco signed with Ecuador after a $40 million cleanup absolves it of any liability in the case. The plaintiffs say the cleanup was a sham and didn’t exempt third-party claims” (CBS News).

The current government is running a Campaign called “La mano Sucia de Chevron” (The dirty hand of Chevron) to show the world how they had destroyed the Ecuadorian environment.

For more information you can always watch these videos:

The True Story of Chevron’s Ecuador Disaster

Chevron: The Real Human Story in Ecuador

Author: Mauricio Chavez, Master in International Business, 2015
Business School Lausanne

Fashion Revolutionaries: Vivienne Westwood

I wanted to find out more about the infamous fashion revolutionary Vivienne Westwood, I was able to interview Félicie Pythoud, an intern designer at Vivienne Westwood. Félicie explains that she mainly modifies and copies pattern.

Concerning her thoughts about the current situation of the fashion system and if she experiences the negative impact of the system inside the company, she comments[1]:

“I think today more and more people are aware about how terrible the situation is but not that many are really trying to change something.”

She says that, as a young designer, you have to be “sustainability-oriented” to be trendy, but the main actors are not ready to look at this reality. Unfortunately, as soon as money comes into play, the rest loses its importance. Some people are also afraid, because going against the system could be dangerous for their image and their career. She thinks that it is a lost battle in a way. Westwood makes a point of being an eco-friendly company.

To the question how Vivienne Westwood treats the production process and supply chains, she answers:

“What I can say is that most of the Westwood products are made in Italy and in England. But certain details where specific manufacturing processes are required are produced abroad.”

When asked about what they are doing to improve the fashion system, and what is their main focus:

“the most important is the sustainability.” Most of the materials used in the office and production are recycled or reused. The VW packages are recycled. Furthermore, she points out that at the beginning of the Westwood, the pattern-cutters found easy patterns to place on the fabric in order to save material. That is the reason why one of the most famous Westwood piece is the “square t-shirt” simply made up of two fabric squares! “

When asked if Félicie feels empowered by the company to drive change in the fashion system, she replies:

“No, but I think Westwood has important influence on the fashion world but acts as if it wasn’t aware of it. Vivienne herself is very politically engaged, however it is more about climate change and protecting animals than changes in the fashion system.”

These changes are complex and require collaborative solutions to transform old ways of doing business. Even Vivienne Westwood who claims to be sustainable, seems not to be really committed to sustainability in the fashion system and its supply chain. The Guardian newspaper: “a more sustainable supply chain is needed, but will only emerge when the breakdown in trust between suppliers and buyers is resolved”.

Author: Ayrton Peron de Castro, Master in International and Sustainable Finance, class of 2015-16

[1] These are Felicie’s opinions and do not reflect those of the company she works for.



A discussion on Systemic Sociopathic Arbitrage

Mr Scott Williams (Twitter: @scott42195), Adviser at PwC Switzerland, addressed the course on Sustainable Corporate Finance at BSL on 14th January about systemic sociopathic arbitrage (Twitter: #systemicsociopathicarbitrage) and the need for full pricing of risk in the global financial system. Scott’s goal is to connect global catastrophic systemic risk information to investment evaluation. This is based on research on the rise of catastrophic global risks, the need to build resilience and invest in adaptation, and most particularly trigger a shift away from prevailing thinking that financial systems are disconnected from nature. Scott asked the audience to consider the question “what constitutes success?” as a way of framing his presentation.

Scott opened open the discussion by sharing his experience in driving sustainable change in PwC and the shock of personally experiencing the Great East Japan Earthquake. This brought clarity in his mind about the reality of unpriced catastrophic risk, the need to accelerate systemic change at the highest level, and the imperative to shift the global financial markets which underlie the economic fabric of society.

The primary measures of success remain short-term financial indicators, and a disconnect remains for the wider use of so-called non-financial information. This gap is rapidly closing as the number, and severity, of dramatic events rise and as the quantification and measurement of uncertainty of non-financial information improves. In particular, the adoption by all of the world’s governments of the three universal agreements (the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in March 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, and the Paris Agreement at COP 21 in December 2015) should see momentum continue to build to change the way financing and investment decisions are made.

As a certified accountant, Scott put the spotlight on the reliability of figures being generated by banks and corporations alike using generally accepted accounting principles such as IFRS. He argues that the interpretation by preparers and users of financial information currently fails to adequately incorporate the value of social and environmental externalities. So what then is the basis of valuation models? Looking at a chart from the Global Footprint Network and the UN Human Development Index made it clear that most of humanity is living below the line of basic human dignity and that the high-income countries are living beyond the Earth’s capacity. Scott suggested that it was time to abandon the notion of developed and developing nations as, effectively, no country on the planet has developed sustainably.

Change needs to happen – massive, not incremental, change. The time to focus on mitigation only has now passed. The days of believing that CSR is enough are over. Humanity is adapting to the changes in the world, but the UN Global Assessment Report on global risks concludes that the worst earthquakes, tornadoes, climate shifts – and the associated financial and economic shocks – experienced to date are but a taste of what is expected. Our decisions, particularly those of the Davos elite who are either incentivised not to consider, or are intentionally ignorant of, the impact of their (in)actions, will decide the degree of suffering that the majority of humanity will experience as we respond to global scale change.

Scott defies the gloom with unrelenting optimism. Through various initiatives and at the highest levels, he interacts with financial and industrial leaders to share the message of growing disasters, coupled with major global initiatives which are creating frameworks to enable a safer transition to a new financial, social and environmental reality.

As an example of the shift occurring among global leaders, he cited Mark Carney, the head of the Financial Stability Board, (which has oversight across the global financial system)– who in a contentious speech at Lloyd’s in London in September 2015 recognized the systemic risk to the global financial system – financial, social and ecological alike. Scott pointed to the following initiatives and developments as positive examples of change:

  1. The Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures, sponsored by Carney and Mike Bloomberg, to develop a common global standard for disclosure of the implications of climate change
  2. The Climate Summit commitments by a broad consortium from the global financial ecosystem on Integrating Disaster Risk and Resilience into Financial System and the development of the Smart Risk Investment Framework by the global insurance industry
  3. S&P quantitative Sovereign disaster risk ratings
  4. Development of Green Bond and Natural Catastrophe Bond markets
  5. Integrated systems models such as Resilience IO
  6. Sophisticated multi-stakeholder scenario analysis such as the Food System Shock work supported by Lloyds

The COP 21 Paris conference made it explicit that no investor can now neglect or deny their broader fiduciary duty to consider the environment or society. Changes are coming from the investor side, from rating agencies, companies and other actors in the financial world.

The information that until recently was thought of as immaterial or impractical is becoming increasingly relevant and its inclusion in the accounting procedures and world of finance will only increase.

Towards the end of the talk we had a look at the overall scheme of things and the wider patterns of change already under way:

  1. Signals are here: the quantitative revolution is happening, we are moving towards multi-dimensional data sets and open source science with silos between different disciplines rapidly breaking down
  2. Smiles: change in the business and political landscape following suit – it is happening now. It may take a big shock, a tragedy of huge proportions to act, but preventive measures are starting to emerge even now with new never-before-seen binding accords agreed to by world leaders and supported by investors and CEOs in 2015
  3. (More) Smiles: investors’ rationale is changing as well – from ‘risk-blind’ to ‘risk-informed’. The alignment between the financial and natural systems is now being recognized because this link is reality, it’s just not yet quantified properly by finance.

The final message was that of choice. The world is changing, it changes from the fact that real effects of our actions on the planet’s life-giving systems catch up with us, which triggers the feedback change in the government policies and investor perspectives. The choice is now whether to embrace the change and help shape it, to find a new link between money and how it relates to real issues, the real measures of success and a sustainable quality of life. Or do we resist and stick to our financial world of numbers and making even more money (and persisting with centuries old thinking that we can control the environment)? Can our current financial systems be aligned with reality through our existing lens of accounting, reporting and regulation? If so, for how long? We were left with the open question…what constitutes success?

Twitter: #systemicsociopathicarbitrage

Written by Scott Williams, contributor Sergey Skotnikov