People, Planet, Profit: a trend or a business essential?
Executive MBA / 19 September 2022
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Executive MBA Class of 2023
Patricia is a current student of the Executive MBA class of 2023. She holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering (Catalysis) from the New University of Lisbon. She has worked in different roles within the Automotive Industry, from R&D leader to Principal Expert. Currently, Patricia is a Senior Manager for a market leader organization in the Energy Industry.

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Last month, I was honoured to join a week-long sustainability course held at the Kedge Business School in Paris. A group of Executive MBA students of Frankfurt School and students of Kedge Business School joined to discover sustainability trends. Accelerated by the increased threat of climate change combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, the sustainability “trend” is accelerating rapidly in an attempt to find lasting solutions to shape the planet’s future. Is sustainability a trend or a business imperative?

What will the future look like?

Investors are looking for more sustainable, still profitable investments. They are changing their focus toward the organisation’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting (a way of assessing companies on their environmental, social and governance performance). But how are the ESG’s and UN development goals aligning? Are the sustainable development goals (SDG) driving a real impact on a sustainable future for our planet?

These were some of the topics discussed during the week. In addition, we also discussed the consumer sentiment towards sustainable products, renewable energies, carbon offsetting, going from a net-zero to a climate-positive emission company, materiality analysis, Scope 3 calculations, the difference between ESGs and SDGs, inclusion and diversity.

If you are someone like me who works in an industry extremely focused on sustainability, you would want to learn and deeply understand this concept!

Experiencing personal conflicts regarding sustainability

Personally, I felt very challenged during the week! First of all, we experienced a temperature of 44°C outside, so you can imagine what that means. I felt like I was being baked in an oven; therefore, I did not want to let go of the air conditioning (that made our lives much easier) and was finding ways to justify that my being in a cooled room was not contributing to climate change or to the increase of CO2.

Moreover, most of us are working for companies that do focus on profit. On the contrary, do organisations need to let go of the profits to enable a more sustainable future? Is it the vision that the business’s primary objective is to create profit for the shareholders that brought us here? These were some of the questions that I was debating and, to a certain extent, still am. So, I keep asking myself – “how can I help”. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein.

The next steps to creating impact

Inspired by the week, I grew curious about how indigenous communities live, thrive and protect the environment and biodiversity. I am not suggesting following their model, but I do believe there is wisdom to be learned. In indigenous cultures, the land is seen not as a means of production or a commodity to be acquired but rather as an integral part of existence connecting all living beings and as a means to support a sustainable life.

This view would perhaps ask us all to review the current values in business. Can we continue aiming for maximum shareholder profits and continue to have a short-term view on profits?

Shareholder value creation – is it the approach for the future?

The biggest concern about shareholder value is obviously its narrow-minded focus on creating value for shareholders without necessarily taking into consideration what happens to the rest of the world (other stakeholder groups, society or the environment).

On the one hand, many scholars and corporations defend that shareholder maximum value creation is seen as “the only way”. However, on the other hand, when a company does not focus on a sustainable future or on an inclusive integration of the stakeholders, it can’t create sustainable value in the future. Strong environmental, social and governance propositions can also take to higher value creation. See several examples, such as Lego, Alphabet or Patagonia.

The module in Paris stirred us, created awareness and helped in a positive direction towards shaping a more sustainable future. I am very grateful for this week! I am also very grateful for the opportunity to develop deeper connections with my colleagues. Everyone’s openness and eagerness to learn, understand and take action were outstanding and extremely inspiring for me!

This is our planet; this is our home! How can we create a way to thrive that enables a sustainable future? What can you do to help? It is time to ask yourself those questions.