Notes from a panel discussion held at the Global Sustainability and ESG Summit, 28 August 2022
In August, GRLI Executive Director, John North hosted a panel discussion at the Global Governance SABSA Event, which explored the theme of ‘managing and measuring environmental issues for sustainability’.
He was joined by Head of PRME, Mette Morsing and Co-founder and Director of Incite, Jonathon Hanks. In keeping with the GRLI’s approach to whole system transformation, which follows that making an impact at organisational level requires committed individuals who are willing to bring a ‘whole person’ approach to their work and lives, the panelists introduced themselves using short whole person biographies.
In discussing how to manage and measure environmental issues for sustainability, John introduced the session by referencing the initiative that GRLI has held as a core view in the nearly two decades since its founding – referred to as the three laws of the GRLI:
- The natural system is not a stakeholder in our businesses; it is the ultimate foundation of the rules
- Everything, everywhere is linked to single system, therefore, every action must be considered in the context of its effect on the whole system
- Globally responsible leaders must become engaged in solving the dilemmas that confront us as a consequence of the first two laws
After referencing the United Nations Secretary General’s plea this year to accelerate the end of our fossil fuel addiction and speed the deployment of clean renewable energy, the panel discussed why this call was not landing
“Could it be that it is not happening because of our addiction to economic growth? How do we shake business and business schools awake to address this?”
In response, Mette argued that infinite growth is not possible.
“If it gets measured, it gets done – the question is are the two ‘ifs’ the same? Are we measuring and assessing the right ‘it’ for business school? The tendency is that our measurements and rankings create a ‘me first’ attitude among our schools and students.”
She pushed for greater collaboration in propelling innovation and pushing against the ‘me first’ boundary, arguing that the world needs other ways of appreciating good work: partnership, collaboration and innovation need other frameworks and that competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive.
Jonathan built directly on Mette’s thinking by highlighting the importance of what we are measuring and being clear on what we are looking to grow, understanding that economic growth is the means to the end, and not the end itself, and promoting a focus on “growing the things that matter: biodiversity, human health and wellbeing and prosperity”.
Arguing that, although we have traditionally assumed that growth is needed to boost living standards and drive social progress, it’s increasingly clear that this has also come at a cost – such as rising inequality and crossing of ecological thresholds.
To end, on their thoughts on the top barriers to achieving full spectrum acknowledgement and measurement of environmental impact, the panelists suggested:
- Societal impact not being central for leadership education
- Lack of knowledge exchange
- The incentive structure of business schools; tenure track promotion system: under appreciation of faculty development
- Over emphasising technological innovation at the expense of innovating through relationship. The GRLI’s work on promoting Whole Person Learning may be able to play an important role here.
So, is insistence on growth the elephant in the room? And what does globally responsible management education look like in a context where growth is no longer possible or perhaps desirable. If you are interested in exploring topics like this then sign-up for the GRLI webinars and courageous conversations in 2023.