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Integral Thinking & True Materiality – Part 6/7: Defining Trust, Innovation and Resilience

This 7-part series has been first published on Sustainable Brands between late January and early March 2016 as a 6-part series and a follow-up by Bill Baue, co-founder of Convetit and the Sustainability Context Group. It captures the essence of my thinking I was able to gather through the extraordinary work of the Reporting 3.0 Platform, GISR and the ThriveAbility Foundation in 2015. What came out is a structure that I called a ‘new impetus embracing purpose, success and scalability for thriving organizations’. I am reposting the original 6 parts here and add a part #7 with reflections of others. This is part 6/7.

With this final part of our series, we examine the outcomes of the newly proposed reporting impetus and assess the interconnected effects of the three parts of the triangle we discussed in Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5, synthesizing the elements of trust, innovation, and resilience into what we call integral thinking & true materiality. As we believe that reporting can be a trigger of change, following the new impetus demands additional strategic, governance, educational, measurement and process changes within the organization to be able to come into fruition.

Readers are likely familiar with the notion of integrated thinking from the work of the IIRC, which we applaud for pointing our field in new and fruitful directions. However, we posit integral thinking as a further development that transcends and includes integrated thinking in two important ways (among others):

  • Integrated thinking considers how organizations create and diminish value inside and outside the organization, but falls short of assessing the true materiality of these positive and negative impacts in the context of sustainability thresholds;
  • Integrated thinking rightly promotes a holistic approach, but it focuses almost exclusively on structural systems, essentially ignoring the internal psychological integration needed at the individual and collective level to instigate the transformations necessary to scale up a green & inclusive, regenerative economy.

We believe that both of these aspects of integral thinking are necessary to scale up the achievement of sustainability (minimally) and even ThriveAbility (maximally) by focusing on purpose (and connectedness), success (and True Future Value determination) and scalability (and the size of impacts needed).

Collaborators in the Reporting 3.0 Platform and the ThriveAbility Foundation believe that reporting can trigger this change toward the ‚North Star’ of achieving a green & inclusive – and, indeed, regenerative – economy. To do so, reporting must transcend compliance with current sustainability and integrated reporting standards that typically set norms within our existing economic regime – which can lead reporters to hesitate or even choose not to act, even as our current economic structure threatens the very survival of the human race on this planet.

To explain how the elements described in the earlier parts of this series integrate the three sides of the triangle together to achieve the overarching goals of integral thinking and true materiality at the center, we will use the final part in this series to unpack the diagram below:

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Diagram 11: Desired outcomes of the new reporting impetus are the result of the logic combinations of the aspects of the triangle: Trust, Innovation and Resilience.

 Trust

To build Trust with internal and external stakeholders, organizations must combine an organizational purpose, describing the contribution the organization can make to achieving a green & inclusive economy, with the answer to the litmus test question of Part 4: ‚have we ensured not having built financial capital on the back of any other capital’. Take, for example, The Crown Estate’s Total Contribution methodology, pioneered in their integrated reports using a multi-capital model, which the company acknowledges isn’t yet perfect but functions well as decision-useful tool for internal leaders as well as for external stakeholder scrutiny and recognition. The approach provides a much better understanding of the world view of the organization, the value it puts on all the capitals, and how it assesses its activities from a holistic perspective on collateral damages and benefits.

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Diagram 12: Aspects of Total Contribution, taking into account various capitals, as examplified by the Crown Estate, UK, to reflect a decision-useful framework about how purpose is proven and success is built upon.

Examples like Puma, The Crown Estate and a variety of other companies on the Net-Positive pathway experiment with these models and can be useful validators of a more sophisticated approach including accountants and standard setters.

Innovation

To achieve success (according to a True Future Value determination) and scalability of solutions, organizations need to map and tap into innovation pathways, that align investment decisions on products, services, and collaborations with positive impacts on the multiple capitals. Given that the Chief Sustainability Officer carries primary responsibility for managing impacts (and optimizing opportunities to regenerate) the multiple capitals, we see the CSO as the key untapped potential for unlocking breakthrough innovation. Indeed, we foresee a future where the CSO combines with the Chief Innovation Officer to become the Chief ThriveAbility Officer.

This development would remedy the current state whereby sustainability focuses on treating symptoms by digging deeper to address root causes in ways that shift from „less bad“ incremental improvements through Net Positive trade-offs and counterbalancing to enter the realm of Gross Positive impacts that continually regenerate the multiple capitals.

Integral thinking catalyzes root-cause, multi-capital, context-based, holistic decision-making. Below is a highly simplified example of an investment assessment from a multi-capitals basis.

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Diagram 13: Preparation for an investment decision for the energy supply system for a plant, looking at 3 potential solutions from a multiple capital perspective.

The ThriveAbility Foundation has laid out comprehensive Innovation Pathways for organizations (‚Alpha Partners’) interested in closing the 3 Gaps (Sustainability, Organizational, and Mindset), and aims to work with experienced third parties (‚Delta Partners’) that can execute the program under a license agreement and quality control by the ThriveAbility Foundation. Working with up to 300 Alpha Partners in various industries, supported by the Delta Partners, will lead to working groups that will assist the development of a focused ThriveAbility Index for their cluster industry. It is aimed to roll out these Indexes by 2019, to be fully implemented by 2020.

Resilience

What constitutes resilience when it comes to building a green & inclusive, regenerative economy?

  • A (financial) market mechanism that serves the economy by respecting how money and goods/services are created and distributed through a balance between true costing, true pricing and true taxation;
  • Companies that aim to create Gross Positive benefit;
  • Customers that understand the accurate pricing of resources without triggering extra burden through lower taxation of labor;
  • National budgets that respect nature and the wellbeing of their citizens and immigrants.

Looking at such a world, reporting creates ‚the glue’ for how organizations communicate their successes internally and externally on a multi-capital and True Future Value basis. As we closely look at organizations in this series, governance is potentially the other resilience factor that needs to be in place to allow for the new impetus to come into fruition. So, how would a resilient company’s governance approach look like?

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Diagram 14: Organizing governance as part of a GSE Pull instead of the existing ESG Push.

Currently, ESG activists push companies to adopt governance structures that lead to social and environmental (and economic) sustainability because it’s necessary; a more resilient governance regime pulls companies toward social and environmental (and economic) ThriveAbility because it’s more attractive than business-as-usual.

In our view, governance is defined by authority, decision-making and accountability, and they are nicely linked to the new impetus as described here:

  • Authority stems from mindsets, built from value systems. This constitutes the will of an organization to discuss purpose vis-à-vis its contribution to a green & inclusive economy in a holistic system.
  • Decisionmaking is based on metrics that better describe impact – and create success by measuring (and generating) True Future Value.
  • Accountability, based on multi-capitalism, creates value. In a green & inclusive economy this value is dependent on the scalability of that value within a 1-planet footprint through an enlarged positive handprint.

In a GSE pull approach, organizations would look at these basic ingredients when defining objectives, committees, principles and processes for a resilient governance approach.

The grande finale

‚A better world is possible’ – this is one of the sentences that all of us in the sustainability community grew up with. But a reality check reminds us that the data still show the opposite, and future trajectories suggest that a better world is slipping further and further from our grasp. 40 years of pursuing CSR to retain a license to operate has failed to deliver sustainability. Clearly, a reset is in order.

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Diagram 15: The constituting parts of the journey towards becoming a resilient company in a green & inclusive economy.

ThriveAbility sets its sights higher than sustainability – in part to inspire greater excitement and innovation, and in part to give ourselves a greater margin for error as we re-engineer a new global economic operating system on the fly. Diagram 15 shows the building blocks of such a system, set on the foundation of respecting the carrying capacities of social and environmental systems to launch innovation that optimizes synergies between and amongst the multiple capitals to realize our future potential of a green & inclusive, regenerative economy. The Reporting 3.0 Platform, the ThriveAbility Foundation as well as GISR are three non-profit organizations that corporations can join and that are driving this journey, they link synergistically for the described outcome of this new impetus. Come take a seat and join us for the ride!

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2016 in Thriveability

 

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Integral Thinking & True Materiality – Part 2/7: The Need for a New Impetus

This 7-part series has been first published on Sustainable Brands between late January and early March 2016 as a 6-part series and a follow-up by Bill Baue, co-founder of Convetit and the Sustainability Context Group. It captures the essence of my thinking I was able to gather through the extraordinary work of the Reporting 3.0 Platform, GISR and the ThriveAbility Foundation in 2015. What came out is a structure that I called a ‘new impetus embracing purpose, success and scalability for thriving organizations’. I am reposting the original 6 parts here and add a part #7 with reflections of others. This is part 2/7.

Those of us who have been working in the areas of corporate sustainability and integrated reporting struggle to reconcile the gap between our aspirations for a world we envision, and the current world that falls short of sustainability and integration. More precisely some of the following aspect have also lead to the raison d’être of the three initiatives that I presented in Part 1. Here are the most important ones:

  • the fact that existing standards (GRI, IIRC, SASB, etc…) fall short of enabling if and when an organization will actually be ‚sustainable’. We call this the Sustainability Context Gap, which the Sustainability Context Group has been addressing with the major standard setters for years. Many Sustainability Context Group members are actively engaged in Reporting 3.0 as well as the Sustainable Brands community of practitioners.
  • the failure of linking corporate performance with social floors and environmental ceilings in ways that lead to organizational transformation and pioneering leadership. The ThriveAbility Foundation calls this a ‚three gap problem’, and, if not tackled all together, there is little chance of success that the reporting entity will ever be sustainable.

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Diagram 2: The 3-Gap-Problem defines the lack of ‚integral thinking’ (Source: A Leader’s Guide to ThriveAbility, page 33).

  • the still diverse understanding of materiality. Allen White, co-founder of GRI described this in a recent virtual dialogue, held to prepare the 2015 Reporting 3.0 conference: ‘Corporate reporting must keep pace with the realities of an economically and ecologically interdependent world. The narrow scope and short-term horizon of financial reporting is increasingly detached from the complexities and multiple performance drivers of 21st century organizations. It is a moment for leading initiatives to find common ground, synergies and win-win situations in laying the groundwork for the next decade of innovation and mainstreaming a new form of corporate reporting. It is time to remove the artificial distinctions between internal and external materiality’. In other words, companies need to address both what’s material when considering the interests of their own organization, and what’s material when considering broader societal interests.
  • the contracted notion of what is now called integrated reporting. This way of applying what the IIRC advocates for as ‘integrated thinking’ lacks two main components. First, integrated thinking is mainly used to increase the collaboration of departments within an organization and often still lacks fluid interaction with various sets of external stakeholders around the multiple capitals, which is traditionally addressed through old-fashioned dialogue, but has become less and less prevalent and truly functional as of late; and secondly, this sort of thinking misses out on two of the three gaps as described by the ThriveAbility Foundation, namely really instigating organizational transformation and pioneering leadership. Integrated thinking as articulated by IIRC falls short on these fronts, and thus fails to be truly ‘integral’.
  • the fact that accounting isn’t yet ready to shift toward multi-capital bookkeeping (even in trial pilot form). The litmus test of ‚integral’ approaches in accounting needs to showcase that financial capital hasn’t been built on the back of any other capital (natural, maufactured, social, human, relational, intellectual). Based on that the ThriveAbility Foundation offers the idea of ‚True Future Value’ as a new business equation of success, to be discussed in part 4 of this series.
  • the fact that many organizations pursue sustainability as a goal isolated from other aspects of the business. For example, most organizations focus on negative footprint reduction, and have yet to learn how to increase their positive impacts (handprints) and how to scale them up through their products and services, through collaboration, through advocation of their leaders, and by organizing their own operation around flexflows instead of hierarchies. Scalability of what works well and how it can be combined through yet unknown possibilities are often far out of sight.

In consequence of this list of struggles, strategy, organizational dynamics, data management, accounting and finally reporting need a new impetus if we want to tap the ‚transformational potential’ to become thriving organizations. We need trust, innovation and resilience as the outcome of a combined approach to renew the discussion around purpose, success and scalability, as shown in diagram 1 in Part 1 of this series. Part 3-5 will pick up on each element – purpose, success and scalability, while part 6 will look at the wanted effects – trust, innovation, resilience. Together, they define the future agenda of reporting as a trigger for sustainability – to create the future we envision.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2016 in Thriveability

 

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Integral Thinking and True Materiality – Part 1/7: Introduction

This 7-part series has been first published on Sustainable Brands between late January and early March 2016 as a 6-part series and a follow-up by Bill Baue, co-founder of Convetit and the Sustainability Context Group. It captures the essence of my thinking I was able to gather through the extraordinary work of the Reporting 3.0 Platform, GISR and the ThriveAbility Foundation in 2015. What came out is a structure that I called a ‘new impetus embracing purpose, success and scalability for thriving organizations’. I am reposting the original 6 parts here and add a part #7 with reflections of others. This is part 1/7.

If 2015 was the year that inspired new hope in sustainability with the publication of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the success of COP21 in Paris, 2016 is year the rubber needs to hit the road when it comes to implementation and impact. So rather than add to the end-of-year ‚10 best of this and that’ listing stampede, instead I have worked on this 6-piece series summarizing essential learnings from 2015 to focus priorities and actions for 2016.

Reflecting on 2015, my own work focused on front-end developments needed in three interlinked areas:

  • Reporting: I am curating & facilitating the Reporting 3.0 Platform, a community of several hundred concerned global individuals from various constituencies that instigates ‚Reporting for a Green & Inclusive Economy’, and looks into the greater whole of reporting, accounting, data architecture, and new business models. Helping aligned constituencies to build the necessary glue between these four interconnected areas the platform has organized 3 annual conferences, various Transition Labs and just presented their ‚Call for Participation for 2016’, offering participation in four ‚blueprint projects’ to help bridge gaps between the different areas mentioned. See: reporting3.org
  • Ratings: As Director for Engagement at the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR) I am helping with the implementation of CORE, the Center of Ratings Excellence, grounded around the GISR ‚Framework’ (Principles & Accreditation), the GISR ‚Hub’ (a database with more than 100 data points on more than 440 rating products from 125 or so companies globally), the ‚Labs’ in which companies, investors and rating agencies can work on use cases for that increased transparency and work on continuous improvement of ratings; and finally on training and ‚convenings’ for the community, building a greater knowledge base around CORE. See: ratesustainability.org
  • ThriveAbility: for several years I have been involved in the ThriveAbility Foundation as a co-founder. The Foundation published ‚A Leader’s Guide for ThriveAbility’ last summer and has started the process to scale up the ThriveAbility equation, innovation roadmap and index development through masterclasses and pilot projects, with plans for a multi-year development to deliver on the index by 2019. For an introduction about ThriveAbility, please see: http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/new_metrics/bill_baue/intro_thriveability_next_stage_development_sustainability

Circling back to the SDGs and COP 21, instead of following the hype around them, I continue to take a longer-term perspective towards what I call ‚integral thinking and true materiality’. The below diagram structures these areas in which activity is most needed, and of course Reporting 3.0, GISR and the ThriveAbility Foundation are great hosts for ongoing work in these areas. It is not without reason that they form the basis of my work portfolio.

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Diagram 1: the new reporting impetus – integral thinking and true materiality in reporting for a green & inclusive economy.

This series will focus on the different parts of the diagram. It is a distillation that might have the potential to a) define a structure for what I call ‚integral thinking and true materiality’, and b) instigate various pockets of needed change and areas of activity. The additional parts will unfold as follows:

Part 2: The need for integral thinking and true materiality

Part 3: Purpose clarification defines connectedness

Part 4: Success definition defines true future value creation

Part 5: Scalability opportunities define size of impact

Part 6: Integral thinking and true materiality define trust, innovation and resilience

Part 7: Reflections

Each part will build on earlier parts, and together they will explain the above diagram. Each part will also look at the necessary change needs and focus areas within an organization. Fully developed integral thinking and true materiality can become a real game changer!

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2016 in Thriveability

 

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TEDxRSM: Ralph Thurm on ‘how to move from a global suicide pact to a thriving econonmy’

November 2013 saw the first edition of TEDx at the Rotterdam School of Management. I was invited to speak due to my ideas about ThriveAbility that I am also teaching at Erasmus University’s Executive Program on CSR in a module about sustainability and innovation. It is the idea that sustainability in the way it is used today – reductionistic, technocratic, mechanistic, and therefore not inspiring to most in organizations – needs to regain it’s meaning. This is only possible through the reactivation of what it was made for, especially intra- and intergenerational balance and equal opportunities for human beings, and combining it with the learning from innovation, design and advanced knowledge on human consciousness (e.g. beneficial leadership, spiral dynamics, integral theory).  Structuring this in a feasible methodology will help us to design a thrival world and an economic system reflecting this. The ingredients are all there, we just need to get it done! See how in Ralph’s TED talk here.

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I would like to thank the organizers of TEDxRSM for the opportunity to speak. Not one economist in the room thought that our current economic system serves the needs of the existing generation and future generations to come. This is the biggest challenge for the next two to three decades and I am asking my fellow economists to seriously go out and be part of the change to a thriving world for all human beings, while finally accepting that growth is limited, costs and prices don’t tell the truth, and taxes and incentives mainly go into the wrong direction. Take ideas like the circular economy seriously and adapt accounting and reporting accordingly. Join those that want to change education towards thrival. Only then we are able to realize the dream of a ‘Green & Inclusive Economy’!

Anybody interested in being part of the journey, feel free to go to www.embeddingthriveability.org to learn more, or contact me directly at ralph.thurm@kpnmail.nl.

Additional thanks go out to my fellow founders of the ThriveAbility Consortium (Robin Wood, Chris & Sheila Cooke) for their wonderful companionship and belief that something really necessary needs to see the light of day – our regained inspiration to make this world a thrival place!

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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Thriveability

 

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Leaving the ‘cuddly corner’ – New column published in Forum Nachhaltig Wirtschaften (in German)

This new column of ‘Der T(h)urmblick’ looks at our distorted picture of what we call ‘innovation’. Looking at it from a sustainability perspective, much of what we usually call innovation just prolongs or even makes some of our urgent problems even worse. Efficiency programs, productivity gains, new product generations – mostly all progress is eaten up by the conditions of these ‘innovations’ or the surrounding rebound effects. We are clapping shoulders because we made more turnover and/or profit, sometimes even think we did something good for the environment or society, but as long as self-created rebound effects or the continued use of old assets aren’t stopping or made obsolete, the impact will still be negative. The blog observes some of the boundary conditions under which we can better assess ‘real sustainable innovation’.

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Schumpeter’s desequilibrum today

Another often quoted economist and political scientist is Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950). He was actually born in Moravia, became Austrian and then left for the US where he taught in Harvard, an interesting career. In his book “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” (1942) Schumpeter introduced the concept of “creative destruction” in which the old ways of doing things are endogenously destroyed and replaced by the new. He described that the real driving force of capitalism is “disequilibrium”, opportunities coming up by new (today: global) demands, inspiring innovation, a recipe to also avoid monopoly power. He also warned governments not to protect certain markets or organizations that were unable to succeed in transformation processes. One could argue that this is pure Darwinism for economy dummies.

Those who understand sustainability as the roadmap to successfully implement globalization should nowadays find Schumpeter quite inspiring because his baseline for a healthy capitalism is very much in line with what is really needed now: we are facing the fact that we need to overcome several divides between the global North and South (e.g. market divide, digital divide, education divide, etc.), dematerializing by at least factor 10 until 2050, while another 3 billion people will join us until then, the majority of them in the developing and emerging market countries. The ecological footprint (a methodology to measure the planet’s biocapacity that is already used up, invented by several institutions now captured in the “Global Footprint Network”) tells us that we have already overstretched the global capacity by 20%, growing to 100% until 2050, meaning we would need TWO planets if we allow business as usual. What else than “creative destruction” can be the way forward to successfully integrate countries into the global world markets?

We already see first successful examples of creative destruction in countries like India, Mexico and Brazil, wonderfully captured by the recently died C.K. Prahalad in “The future at the bottom of the pyramid”, his legacy to global sustainability and a worthwhile challenge to companies to get their global business case act together; completely different business models that absorb the needs and adapting to the infrastructural shortages of differently developed markets. Some global companies are amongst these examples, but most of the innovative ones are rooted in developing or emerging market countries. The title of this book already indicates the failure of any “top down” approach, just exporting Northern business models to the global South in an attempt to just simply copy what has worked in the global North.

Interestingly, the year 2000 Lisbon EU strategy for innovation explicitly mentioned Schumpeter’s creative destruction as a way forward to foster innovation, enabling social and environmental renewal. It broadly aimed to make Europe the most competitive and the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010 (well, that didn’t work out, but still remains the right way forward). Not too much has been achieved since then, so one should not wonder that companies from developing and emerging markets that have successfully tested their business models in their local markets now start to also take over their Northern competitors that are stuck in a protective political climate, trapped in existing infrastructure and sunk capital investments. To sum it up, Schumpeter’s ideas today seem to better work in the bottom-of-the-pyramid context where opportunities are just simply taken when they arise, no foot on the brake. If Schumpeter would still be alive he might have again packed his bags, heading towards India or Brazil!?!

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2010 in Back to basics

 

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