Tag Archives: Sustainability

Integral Thinking & True Materiality – Part 4/7: Success Definition For True Future Value Creation

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 4/7.

In this part of the series, we will focus on another very important aspect for the new reporting impetus that can serve the needs of a green & inclusive or regenerative economy – the question of how we define success. We are at this moment not able to truly claim when an organization is ‚sustainable’ (as laid out in stage 3 of the strategy continuum Diagram 4 in Part 3 of this series), and that just being ‚minimally good enough’ to indeed sustain the organization – and the real-world systems it operates within. Most reports aren’t giving a proper ‚world view’ or scenario context to their long-term targets.

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Diagram 5: Integral thinking and true materiality need a renewed focus on the definition of success to create True Future Value for the economy we want to live in.

Progress in defining ‚micro-macro’ links

Discussions in recent years show progress on defining ‚micro-macro’ links between companies’ impacts and the health of the broader systems they operate within. The elaborations about context-based reporting, science-based target setting, together with Kate Raworth’s Doughnut that defines environmental ceilings and social floors, has added vision and revealed depth as to the ‚devil in the details’ of measuring them in relation to the corporate context, and splitting them up into local, regional or global ‚allowances’, raising the profile of around thresholds and allocations.

Also, the link to the economic system thinking around the usefulness of GDP as the leading success factor has been called into question through the discussion around ‚Beyond GDP’, the Global Footprint Network, and the enhanced (yet mostly unconnected) indicator systems around National Sustainable Development Strategies of regions (like the EU). We see combinations of indices – e.g. country Ecological Footprints versus the Human Development Index – revealing the corridor in which countries should end up being sustainable. The problem here is that the ‚micro-macro’ link is not expressed at the corporate level, so companies take note of these data, but don’t know how to apply them in their specific case. The bigger and the more diversified a company is (crossing national borders), the more difficult it becomes.

The SDGs are an interim step to help fill that ‚micro-macro’ gap by dividing the global challenges into silo’ed aspects of problem articulation. There is merit to see the SDGs as a valuable attempt to induce companies to consider their contribution to a threshold through science-based goal-setting and context-based reporting. The problem is that, while the SDG areas are interconnected, the performance indicators aren’t. We already see companies start to think about picking and choosing some of the SDGs closest to them and define contributions they could make, without taking the step of developing a worldview (see Part 3 on purpose) that articulates responsibility for helping achieve the SDGs. We should not think that the SDGs will get us to any economic system transformation through voluntary contributions by the world’s millions and millions of companies. But without this transformation, there won’t be regeneration, let alone sustainability.

A stable solution for the next couple of hundred years?

We are in an experimentation phase, I fully admit, but I also claim that now is the time to not only set conventions for delivery indicators for the SDGs by 2030, but something that we can use for the next couple of hundred years, and that gets me to … accounting systems. Jane Gleeson-White already proclaimed the ‚third accounting revolution’ in her bestselling book Six Capitals, or can Accountants save the Planet?, cutting through double entry bookkeeping that was invented in the 15th century for the throughput economy, towards multi-capital bookkeeping. We now need an accounting system that prepares us for the green & inclusive economy.

The litmus test question of success that needs to be answered, both for each and every single SDG, and also as the basis to define what we will define below as ‘true future value’ simply is: does an organization have a license to grow by showing that it hasn’t built financial capital on the back of any other capital – or, quite the opposite, that it has built business models that regenerate all capitals? If yes, this would be sustainable, and possibly gross positive (ThriveAble) over time (stage 5 in the Strategy Continuum in Diagram 4 in Part 3).

In order to get there, though, we will need to renew our accounting system from double-entry to multi-capital-based. Why?

  • Simply because accounting is how economies and executives, boards and supervisory boards tick and answer questions: is my company successful? Where can I be more efficient? Do I deliver on my purpose? On my targets? On my benchmarks? Did my incentives work? What information does controlling need from accounting? What can I externally assure? Interesting how shy our community is to create this missing reporting link – also for the SDGs. We sorely need accountants to raise their voices on the need for multi-capital accounting!
  • A multi-capital accounting system aims to cover all sets of potential performance calculations: on SDGs, for context-based reporting, for science-based targeting, for value cycle efficiency. An outcome capital of the supplier can be an input capital for the next phase of such cycle, so it can serve as ‘docking station’ in a seamless review of value cycles – if all partners agree on the necessary convention on how to account and disclose in what the recently published UNEP Raising the Bar report calls “Collaborative Reporting”.
  • The structure of multi-capital accounting gives space to the necessary formulation of conventions (that’s what an accounting system mainly is, it’s not a 100% accurate discipline) and structuring of the discussions we need to have: what can be monetized? Is it necessary to monetize everything? How to link to local/regional/global thresholds? E.g., water has a different, more local or regional threshold basis than carbon emissions. How to implement threshold based and capital-absorbing indicators into corporate dashboards, into national statistics, into a ‘global pulse’ of how we are doing altogether.
  • Finally, the painful and often repeated mistake is that we think we can create indicators without proper data architecture in mind, where aggregation and disaggregation are possible and where slicing and dicing of information for multiple aspects is possible. A multi-capital based systematic approach can support that, like activity-based costing does in controlling for a long time.

Multi-capital accounting to create ‘True Future Value’

Multi-capital accounting shifts from measuring value to measuring ‘True Future Value’. The ThriveAbility Foundation adds a forward-looking focus on true future value, assessing not only the ongoing viability of the organization and the systems it operates in (science-based thresholds), but also its potential for breakthrough innovation to reduce (and ultimately eliminate) negative environmental footprints while maximizing and optimizing social handprint value creation. It uses 7 capitals, adding relational capital as a separate capital to the group of 6 capitals as proposed by the IIRC.

Bildschirmfoto 2016-03-11 um 09.22.40Diagram 6: High-level formula for deriving at ‘True Future Value’; a more detailed version with all variables can be sent by the author on request.

Here are some of the advantages of using a multi-capital basis to create ‘true future value’ (TFV) results:

  • CONTEXT SENSITIVITY – TFV is a context-sensitive methodology, which works on the basis of progressive approximation to arrive at a best-estimate based decision. The context of the decision/s being made is the very first factor taken into account when applying the equation;
  • TRUE BENEFIT/COST – TFV is a holistic equation that measures the ratio of the value created in any human activity through synergies between human, relational, social and knowledge capitals (or “anthrocapitals” that generate thriving and benefits), relative to the natural and manufactured capitals costs associated with that value creation activity;
  • THREE CORE VARIABLES – TFV includes three key terms – on the denominator we have Science Based Thresholds (social floors and environmental ceilings) divided by a Sustainable Innovation Factor (including, for example, circular economy/C2C, green chemistry, renewable energy, biomimicry and micro-biome based innovations); and on the numerator we have the Value Creation Capacity of the anthrocapitals that generate thriving;
  • ALL EXTERNALITIES INCLUDED – TFV includes both positive and negative externalities in terms of metrics that measure both impacts and value/thriving, in such a way that context based sustainability thresholds are honored;
  • THRIVEABLE DECISION BENCHMARKS – TFV provides a benchmark for decisions of all kinds through which a “thriveable” decision can be made, taking into account a full seven-capital, multi-stakeholder analysis of the true costs and true benefits of a particular investment, program or action.

True Future Value as the Basis for a ThriveAbility Index

Going a step further, the ThriveAbility Foundation has designed the ThriveAbility Index model in which the components of the TFV are embedded (see Diagram 7).

This model picks up on the idea of the three gap model in Part 2 of this series, and measures the gap closure in all three dimensions, and by that explaining where an organization stands in the continuum from surviving to thriving. It represents a different way to assess and report on the overall fitness of an organization. This is a completely new quality in helping to define the profile and positioning of an organization in a three-dimensional fitness space and probably represents the most holistic performance measurement. The argument that ‘sustainability’ or ‘thriveability’ can’t be summarized in one indicator, something the sustainability community has always declared impossible (and by that has kept the interest of multiple financial market players on a low simmer), can be overcome. This high level fitness indicator, to be developed for 10 cluster industries through the ThriveAbility Foundation by 2017 to 2019 (with the aim the have it ready to use in 2020), can be disaggregated into its three components, used for True Future Value Creation of any contextual area of interest (such as the SDGs) and offers high potential for a new quality of corporate, city, country or global performance dashboards. It can be used by Rating Organizations to produce a new generation of sustainability or ThriveAbility fitness ratings. It can be used by regions (e.g. counties) or national statistics offices as a meta- performance structure.

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Diagram 7: Three axis model of the ThriveAbility Index model that corresponds with the three gap model assessing progress in all the gap areas (Source: A Leader’s Guide to ThriveAbility, page 38).

Will we get there?

We may need new and different networks to build what’s needed. I fear the existing standard setters alone won’t cut it, the UN system alone won’t succeed, the governments alone won’t deliver, the accounting standard setters need support, IT companies needs an architecture meta-structure to work in consortiums and open source (liberated data), and the majority of corporations in the mainstream will anyway only respond to legal requirements or ‘cookbooks’ that give them a step-by-step delivery template.

Reporting 3.0, mentioned in Part 1, a networked community of several hundred interested individuals has recently proposed a set of blueprints to recommend the necessary ‘glue’ between those defining a green & inclusive economy and those in reporting, accounting, IT and new business models.

The ThriveAbility Foundation offers masterclasses, pilot projects and a multi-year business plan to deliver on TFV and the ThriveAbility Index and invites partners into the Index development.

GISR offers principles and an accreditation scheme to align with the principles, many of them in support to ingredients mentioned here for reporting and accounting. The Labs, one of the components of their CORE program, offer space for joint creation of the basics for thriveable ratings.

 What to do in the short term?

 So, let’s again imagine a sustainability and/or integrated report that showcases a reporting organization’s contribution through a success measurement involving a multi-capital accounting approach (e.g. as showcased by The Crown Estate, UK, in their integrated reports on Total Contribution). What would a reader expect to see answered? Here are examples of what I would find substantial in that area, taking into account that it still takes time to report back in a complete and structured manner as described above.


  • To what degree does the company inventory shows its impacts from the different levels of its value cycles (instead of value chain, reflecting the need for a circular economy)?
  • Is the internalization of external effects seen as part of a ‘True-Value-Screening’ an option to better understand the value-creation process?
  • Does one differentiate between various capitals and are these integrated in the success measurement? Does the company therefore know its value-creation potentials and weaknesses better? Does the company address the consequences from these outcomes?
  • Does the company identify one or more SDGs to align measurement methodology that looks at context-based or science-based thresholds, and does it aim to develop multi-capital assessments about their contributions to these SDGs?
  • Does the company also collect data about the organizational transformation capacity and leadership capacity, taking into account the 3-dimensionality of achieving ThriveAbility, responding to the 3-gap-problem?

 Target setting:

  • Are there defined target corridors for the sustainable use of different capitals?
  • Are ‘science-based-goals’ assessed and context used for connecting to ‘social floors’ und ‘environmental ceilings’ when targets are defined?
  • How are long-term targets defined and then used to backcast mid- and short-term targets?
  • How are data of organizational transformation and leadership capacity used in defining targets also for these categories?
  • How are potential scenarios linked to target-setting?


  • How does the company incentivize sustainable performance? How does it punish unsustainable performance? Is this based on the measurements as mentioned above?
  • How does the company trigger and incentivize better leadership and transformational capabilities?

The combination of multi-capital approaches in internal accounting and controlling as well as external reporting, combined with experimenting their interconnections through True Future Value Calculations, and adding transformational and leadership capacity factors into measurement, target-setting as well as incentive structures, could help tremendously to report on the future readiness of an organization’s business model(s).


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Posted by on March 11, 2016 in Thriveability


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Homo homini lupus – the failing answers to the refugee crisis

A month ago I published ‘The long sustainability shadow of the refugee crisis’. Today, with hundreds of readers and about 200 reactions richer, I am writing a sequel to this blog. It sums up what I heard, both negative and positive, both disgusting and heartening. My inbox was a showcase of how torn our society worldwide seems to be.

First, what struck me most was the fact that there seem to be just two camps on the issue: those that see refugees as the source of all evil, and those that see refugees as the opportunity to learn and thrive in a future to come. There’s no difference between that in Germany, UK, US, Netherlands (reflecting the countries most of the reactions came from). And there’s nothing in between.


Secondly, it was strikingly clear that those in the haters camp are simply not able to envisage a positive future mindset. All of their argumentation stems from whatever source from the past they could find and sucks up all negative provocation of current refugee misbehavior without reflecting the why. Furthermore they are amendable to all the hoax and purposefully faked stories. A German website (see collects these fake stories and uncovers the bullshit.

What doesn’t come to mind to them at all is the fact that the way that we in the Western world exploited the refugee’s countries of origin in the past might have been unfitting, that we were for a couple of hundred years protagonists for creating the situation we now face, from stuffing dictators to exploiting resources just for our own benefit, from climate change up to being asleep at the wheel and cynic when the first signs of the refugee crisis showed up (see Lampedusa). Their mindsets stop at their very own boarders, it doesn’t even need fences for that. I refuse to see them as Europeans; their national pride, their distorted sense of belonging and belongings (my home is my castle) evaporates a potential to develop a higher level of consciousness. The fear that refugees will take away what belongs to them is the primary source of the hate.


They are ice-cold when looking at the situation, there is simply no appreciation about what the refugees have gone through. In spiral dynamics terms they are stuck in blue and orange mindsets in which self-interest prevails and dominates all thinking. The fact that Europe has a huge solidarity problem is something that they of course refuse to accept, they totally ignore it. The below map shows the whole dilemma frighteningly well:


But there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Bertelsmann Foundations recently published a study in which they state that the majority of the EU citizens wants a European response to the refugee crisis and is in favor of fairly distributing the burden amongst all member states. They strongly reject the idea of individual countries acting unilaterally. 79 percent of all Europeans are in favor of a common European asylum and migration policy. Also 79 percent want a fair distribution of asylum seekers across all countries of the EU. A majority of around 70 percent also supports the demand that those states, which refuse to accept their share of the responsibility, should receive less money from EU coffers. While this is positivity news, the study also shows how decided Europe is between East and West. While a majority of 85 percent in the old EU member states think that the burden of asylum seekers should be fairly distributed, only 54 percent in the new member states support that view. Also, whereas in the old member states 77 percent demand that those states, which refuse to accept their fair share of asylum seekers, should be subject to financial penalties, only 41 percent of the citizens in the new member states are in favor of such a measure (see study here).


Thirdly, and funny enough, I was accused for not being able to exactly prove why I think that the refugee crisis will in the end be a blessing in disguise for Europe. As if one is not allowed to have an opinion without having a glass bowl at home that accurately proves future predictions scientifically. Or for not having a time machine ;-). Of course, nobody can predict the future, and what will come out over the next years and decades will mainly be dependent on how much Europe will now unite (its called a ‘union’) and be able to manage. The European question will stand or fall around this issue. To me, this is all connected to how we will develop the innovation potential of the refugee inflow. For many years we crow about ‘Diversity’ – and here it is. Fresh blood, cultural views and interpretation of whats needed for the world that is a village, knowing that scalability of solutions will be essential globally. The crowd wisdom of refugees can be a game changer.


Fourthly, let me thank all those that shared positive comments on the blog. Looking at the percentages – which are of course not representative – there was a 85% positive halo effect on this first blog. The haters camp always repeated their one-dimensional backward-looking argument: immigration didn’t succeed in the past, so it can’t succeed in the future as well. It costs us money that our own people should get. It takes jobs away that belong to us. They get our apartments that we subscribed for. There is no understanding that Europe will fall apart – damaging all economies multiple times more (see alone the Schengen discussion) – if we continue segregation, division and mercilessness.

Summing it all up, what we can state so far:

  • The majority of Europeans have a different mindsets than the refugee-haters; it doesn’t make sense to try to convince them, their experienced life conditions won’t let them change easily. The only way to dry up their dangerous mental matchboxes is to educate the next generation of Europeans that will make them run into opposition every time they light up one of the matches. Constant dripping wears away the stone.
  • Europe so far has a devastating track record in explaining to their citizens what give and take as well as solidarity and values really mean in the European context. It has both to do with awareness about Europe’s history in leading to some of the current developments (a connection often not made as it seen as ‘normative’) as well as to help citizens understand the need for immigration, the management of integration and designing circumstances in which the value added by immigration can come into full fruition. I appreciate the outcome of last week’s German Summit of Industry Federations that wholeheartedly supported Angela Merkel’s resolution towards the ability to gain strength through a proactive immigration policy, despite all opposition inside the country and from the European countries that are backsliders in taking their fair share of the solidarity value effort (see here).
  • Eastern European countries are in a cocooning mode while asking Brussels to pay for the cocoon and support if the cocooning doesn’t work and will have negative economic impact. This is the opposite of how Europe works and what to expect. If you take, you have to give. The developments in Eastern European countries, now having affected Austria (that historically always saw itself as the gateway to Eastern Europe) as well, is stubborn, demagogic and dividing. It also shows that becoming a member of the European Union was mainly built on economic benefits than on values like solidarity. Nation egos are still the main ‘elephant in the European glasshouse’.
  • We have yet to understand that a 500 million people strong European Union has not only an obligation, but also a benefit from one million refugees per year and that we need an ongoing capacity to deal with these numbers every year, spread over the whole EU. We haven’t understood the impact of climate change and have yet to define the term ‘climate refugee’. It doesn’t make sense to define ‘secure countries of origin’ when the life conditions don’t allow a life in dignity in these countries just because the political system wouldn’t imprison or kill someone that got deported back. It is in my view therefore already problematic to distinguish between ‘political’ refugee and ‘economic’ refugee. There are more than enough economic reasons to flee, based on the underlying sustainability context. Of course checking the circumstances is still an appropriate means of differentiation, I don’t believe in ‘one process fits all’.
  • The current discussions about ‘healing the problem at the source’ needs to take the broader and holistic/systemic developments into account. Otherwise we continue to throw money at countries with little to no effect.I do believe that we will continue to have 1-2 million refugees in Europe every year, no matter how many fences we build at the boarders. Refugees will find other routes. Defending our borders at that massive rate of refugees will be a bloody undertaking and will ruin Europe’s reputation. Already now there are hundreds of thousands of new refugees waiting in Libya. If we find a way to agree on a fair share in Europe and find the resources to reduce the worst conditions in the country of origin, further escalation can potentially be prevented. The systemic aspects around climate change, poverty and demographic effects won’t go away for at least another 30 years. Let’s also please keep things in relation: 1 million refugees per year mean 0,5 % of the total European population and will just protect us from social systems drying out and declare bankruptcy. It will be some of the refugees that will pay part of our pensions in the future. Yes, it does cost money in the beginning, but the payback will be rich.

In finishing this blog post I was reminded of David Suzuki’s words below. What was written to describe environmental degradation in my view also applies to Europe’s future if we’re not finding minimum agreements on how to manage the refugee issue in the long-term, making it a major success story of the EU and support its reason to be. And by that it is also a true sustainability issue. Let’s prove ‘homo homini lupus’ wrong!





Posted by on February 28, 2016 in Thriveability


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The long sustainability shadow of the refugee crisis

For those of us working in the sustainability field for many years, sometimes decades, following the current discussion about the ‘refugee crisis’ hurts. We are used to think longer-term, at least those of us who are not just on the compliance path of following a reduced understanding of sustainability. Remember, wasn’t it people, planet and prosperity, wasn’t it intra- and intergenerational equity, and wasn’t it about human’s behavior to remain safe on this planet, offering limited resources for up to 10 billion people, recognizing that there will minimally be 3 billion more people by 2050-2100. Sustainability was asking us to get ready. The current refugee crisis painfully shows how far we are away from that. What surprises me most is the fact that none of this comes right out of the blue! Politicians saying to be amazed of what has happened in the last 12 months should look into the mirror and ask themselves why they couldn’t have seen the big lines of development and have allowed themselves to be eaten up by the daily nitty-gritty. What went so awfully wrong?

Let’s go back in time. Weren’t you amazed in school when you looked at a continent map like Africa and saw the straight lines that showed the borders of all these African and Middle East countries? This is one of the most visual leftovers of colonization, lines that got drawn 100-150 years ago. Why bother, a desert is a desert, so these lines were drawn in the interest of those colonizing, not those that lived there hundreds of years, tribal heritage, cultural sights, trade routes, etc.. While colonizing is over the scars sit deep in the minds of generations and generations of Africans and Arabs, remembering very well who abused their habitat for resources, threw money at dictator regimes in a broad variety of these countries, only to keep the revolt down and continue to ‘dig, baby, dig’ for the growing need of Western consumerism. Development aid for decades ran into the wrong canals, often only a little portion reached those in need, while Westerners remained rather easy on these fatal flaws, it simply continued to keep people quiet and secured easy access to resources. Most of the oil producing countries were or are based on a brutal regime of a dictatorship of a single or a couple of families that managed to keep the poor majority somehow in a ‘too much to die, too little to live’ state, while building a life of affluence for themselves. Sure, there was growing awareness that our country’s systems and ideas about ODA failed, we needed more help for people to help themselves, avoiding what went wrong in the past. But can we say we succeeded? In my view we can’t, we never solved this problem. Did we really do the best we can? Just look at how wimpy we created development aid programs, how unimportant a development minister always was and still is, and look at the history of cuts in their budgets to close other holes in the overall budget. Look at how many countries really succeeded to spend at least 0,72% of GDP for development aid, the minimum agreed upon, hardly ever delivered upon. And why? Because it was known it was mostly useless, the real problems were never tackled since it meant stop funding dictatorships.

And then climate change, demographic developments, poverty and transparency through social media created the brew that lead to the Arab spring. Dictatorships fell because of the inability to react to massive poverty created by more and more climate-related droughts. Look at Libya and Egypt as examples. The tragedy of that situation simply was that those revolted and took dictators down had no education and hardly any help how to build strong democracies, they never learnt it. This gave space to regained religious and tribal power, awakening from their decades of suppression. While the economy was down and no improvement in sight fights between myriads of little new parties, partially religiously motivated, went on and on. Instability, just droughts and poverty, no jobs, no trade, no life. People started moving.

In other parts of the Middle East existing regimes fight against religiously motivated groups, with IS the most radical one, trying to re-establish an Islamic caliphate. It created new alliances in which the West changed fronts all too easy, the Assad regime in Syria is the best example. While he was called a tyrant some years ago, throwing poison gas against his own people and the West condemned him for that, he is now a ‘partner in crime’ against the IS. The country facing climate-related effects and related poverty is now totally demolished. There’s no hope for anyone trying to raise a family in dignity, people fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan in the first instance.

Two decades earlier Russia and the US failed in Afghanistan, and whoever is still there from the Western alliance faces the Taliban when they attack the semi-democratic leaders  through suicide bomb and other terrorist attacks. Together with Irak it remains unstable terrain, one can easily see the hesitation of Western countries to totally withdraw the remaining armed forces from there. Droughts and uncontrollable floods continue to pester these countries every year, including also Pakistan. No wonder more and more refugees also started to move from there. The ongoing struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran is on the surface one of tribal rivalry, but in the end it’s about power in the region, with the Wahabites being the most aggressive force.

Let’s be totally clear. While all of that turmoil is multi-facetted and overshadowed by tyranny, religious infatuation, tribal power plays, missing segregation of religion and state (one can say that Islam never had a renaissance like christianity) and lack of education of how to handle democracy, the root cause of this has been climate-related poverty and a disillusionment of being able to have a proper life for families. And here is where I don’t understand the Western governments: while the Arab spring was probably surprising, climate-related movements of people are not. Let’s not forget that many of the refugees now reaching Europe also come from countries like Eritrea or Sudan. So, besides historical effects, the West is now also paying back for their ignorance of climate change and climate-related poverty in these parts of the World, forecasted since decades.

Europe is at a make-or-break point of being able to solve this crisis. And while we have ignored the environmental source code of this crisis for long we utterly only have this one chance to at least show the social salvation potential of the crisis we helped to create in the first place. Europe doesn’t have a refugee problem, Europe has solidarity and humanity problem. While we always say we need immigration for demographic and economic reasons (just look at the demographic trees of our societies growing older and older) we don’t accept this opportunity now as a blessing in disguise. We have 380 million people in the European Union, one million refugees per year means 0,026% increase of population if we would be able to equally share the ‘burden’ of this immigration wave. It is in my view a devastating behavior of the majority of the EU member states, totally ignoring the mess created in the past, and a total blindness of responsibility today. As a European citizen I am ashamed of the year-long inactivity of the European Union in the light of repeating tragedies in front of the island of Lampedusa. More than once European Commissioners and ministers of various countries promised to help, the writing was on the wall for a long time, and nothing happened as soon as they were back at home. They helped to create the mess Europe is now in, and as politicians are, they are very easy to forget or blame an earlier Commission or Cabinet for purely disgusting political game plays. Let me not even start to talk about the rape of the refugee theme in US-American pre-election Muppet Shows.

While we could easily cope with this situation in Europe – and we have to as a whole – the ignorance of the past now creates the short-term problems that lead to new short-term devastation. Building fences, securing borders, the potential closure of the Schengen area, costing billions of tax-payer’s money and having enormous economic implications, are totally wrong moves and will play into the continued re-establishment of right-wing parties, partially extreme. Poland and Hungary are early warnings. Refugees are blamed for a situation we created in the first place, and honestly: it is not for the first time that I have a déjà-vu with the early days of the Nazi movement, where all of us always wondered: how on earth could this have happened? We are now seeing extremist right wing movements gaining power again, the police is met with no respect, in certain areas of our cities private groups organize ‘security services’, and all fueled by our authority’s inability to cope with the massive stream of immigrants, empowering criminal energy to recruit new herds. I am shocked that there is no streamlined immigration procedure in Europe, not even in my home country Germany, allowing system abuse. I am shocked by the fact that deportation isn’t equally enforced, and that people that now want to move back to their home countries because their immigration procedure could take up to a year and are unable to bring their families in for even longer can’t get their passports back and/or their home countries actually refuse to have them back. It is not the refugees to blame, it is a blatant failure of the European Union and its member states not being able to have organized at least a rudimentary streamlined procedure and enforcement.

So what does a sustainability expert recommend in such a situation?

First of all, those involved need to understand the broader context of the situation. We need to accept the long curves of history and establish an understanding of ‘climate refugees’. Separated from the ‘white noise’ of all of the religious, cultural and tribal aspects, we are moving into a future in which between 60 and 250 million climate refugees will be the new normal. Whatever the COP21 treaty will lead to the situation will still get worse for the next 30 years before their is a chance that it can get better. We are now seeing the effects of CO2 emitted 30 years ago. Also, understand the demographic implications of 10 billion people on Earth is essential. Immigration of 1-2 million climate refugees per year will continue. Any politician that thinks this can be solved through fences is naive!

Secondly, learn to understand the social implications of immigration. Immigrants want to work, want to learn our languages, want to put their kids into schools, and look for nothing else than a bit of dignity, and being able to make friends. Let all young people in our countries do a ‘social year’ devoted to help especially immigrants to adjust. We ourselves made friends with a Syrian family, now living close by, and offer our service as helpers when new refugees arrive. We made extremely positive experiences. The most important fact is quicker processes to get refugees into a position to be able to work and produce value-added. What has to be avoided vis-a-vis our own population is a feeling of greed in which refugees are prioritized when it comes to social housing, allowances, social services, etc.. Many of the refugees would love to help to create work to help themselves. We have architects, engineers, translators, nurses, doctors, social workers amongst them. Give them the opportunity to do something. If we created systems that don’t allow refugees to work as long as they are not fully accepted as immigrants, change that very system. Again, these people can and would love to work!

Thirdly, dry out criminal energy in our towns from the outset. We don’t get more criminals just because refugees come into the country. What needs to be avoided is that criminals can recruit disillusioned refugees into their groups, given our slow procedures. If 1 percent of the people in each country shows criminal energy the increase of the population through refugees is more likely to lower that percentage, but only if refugees get a positive vision of a potential life in our countries. It is simply not true that the refugees increase the crime rate. Simple statistics 1:1. Some culture shocks like we saw them at New Year’s Eve need to remain ‘anomalies’ in these early days of learning how to cope with such massive immigration.

Lastly, refugees are a blessing in disguise for our economies. Not only that the majority of the billions of extra budgets for handling immigration right now are already spent in our countries (and increase GDP), it’s the long-term economic effect of letting refugees work. There are many thousands of open vacancies in many industries, and our social services can themselves benefit from educated refugees. We need diversity to learn from. Infusion of new and different thinking will give extra impulses for growing strong together. We know that, the high priests of the global economy just told us in Davos this week.

It is essential to keep our inner borders open while existing law is enforced (and that includes securing the outer borders). It is a fatal flaw to close borders and blame the refugees for that. It is a flaw to think it will hold climate refugees back from coming into our countries. It is a flaw to allow right-wing extremists to fuel the fire. It is a flaw to think we need to defend our culture while all of us more or less come from immigrant families (just look back 2-4 generations in your own family history). It is a flaw to believe that Islam takes away anything from us, it adds a new colour to our society.

At this moment this is not the Europe I was born into, it is not the Europe I want to live in. I feel ashamed of what is going on. It was all foreseeable, so let’s be quick in remembering what we learned about sustainability and apply it as should have for the last 20 years.

PART 2 will come out in a couple of days.



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Posted by on January 24, 2016 in Thriveability, Uncategorized


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Comparability of sustainability information – slaughtered on the altar of materiality?

This is the third of four installments of a blog series covering crucial sustainability reporting issues on materiality, sustainability context, comparability and stakeholder inclusiveness.

The GRI content principles – sustainability context, materiality, stakeholder inclusiveness and completeness – are forming a balanced set to give guidance on how to define what a ‚good’ sustainability report should cover. The focus of work pulling G4 together was on making that balance and the process of how to get to such reporting even more clear and crisp. While our last blogs were digging deeper into the need of putting real teeth into step 1 – defining sustainability context better – another principle from the report quality section, namely comparability, has started to be discussed. The reason for that is that most communication of GRI under the banner ‚what matters, where it matters’ zooms heavily into materiality, and questions start to arise on what that means for the other important reasoning for standardized reporting – producing information that can actually be compared. This discussion has a strong connection with our earlier plea on getting more clarity around sustainability context and working on micro-macro-linked indicators. The discussion around a potential lack of comparability is making painfully clear that not having worked on these potential indicators in the G4 development process will most likely break open a whole plethora of uncomparable information. We have enough experience how certain information was presented in sustainability reports so far: take SOMO’s 2013 study on energy companies disclosure, Transparency International’s 2012 study on reporting on anti-corruption indicators, or Deloitte’s 2012 study on zero impact growth strategies that examplified dozens of ways in which companies described their CO2 target-setting. Either information was presented in many different absolute or relative ways, or different information than asked for was published (should we call this pretending?), or no information was published at all, or no context was given on what was published (how would we call that then?). Our view here is: without micro-macro-linked indicators comparability will heavily suffer. The loop to our sustainability context plea and the need for ‚different’ indicators as we have them right now becomes clear when we consider the text in the Guidelines around comparability, the core sentences here are: „Comparisons between organizations require sensitivity to factors such as differences in organizational size, geographic influences, and other considerations that may affect the relative performance of an organization. When necessary, report preparers should consider providing context that helps report users understand the factors that may contribute to differences in performance between organizations.“ Together with the wording of the sustainability context principle we really doubt that consistency in reporting can be delivered in a way that comparability will at all become realistic with the current indicator set. In total, we think that the dilemma between focusing on materiality on the one hand, and delivering comparable information on the other hand, can’t be solved without micro-macro-based indicators. The existing indicators will not cut it, we have seen this all before! Work on micro-macro-based indicators will be necessary, the denominators of these indicators will need to help defining comparability, not the voluntary, company-by-company target setting (whose long-term basis is normally not disclosed – most likely because it doesn’t exist at all?). This status quo has several consequences and effects, and it is interesting to look at least at some of them:

  1. The work of rating & ranking organizations will continue to produce more confusion. As we continue to have information about how organizations became ‚less bad’, the more than 120+ different rankings & ratings will continue to produce ‚best-in-class’ champions, for none of them we know what that really means, since we don’t know what is feasibly ‚good enough’. We have seen first attempts of rating organizations to get out of this dead-end-street, e.g. Climate Counts or Inrate who themselves start to make the link to macro-based goals by simply setting them. As GISR also puts sustainability context clearly into the focus of ‚good’ ratings, the need to also consider macro-based information on global, regional and/or local level will also continue here. More comparability will most likely be the outcome.
  2. The lack of focus on micro-macro-based indicators will produce competition for GRI. A whole set of organizations already work on such indicators, first and foremost the Natural Step-based approach on the ‚Future-Fit-Benchmark’, an approach that includes Bob Willard and a set of sustainability reporting veterans. The Sustainability Context Group, around 120 members strong, has several members that actively work on other alternatives of context-based indicators, their plea to work on them together with GRI has been noted down there, but with no outcome so far. WBCSD has started to team up with the Stockholm Resilience Centre (and the various other players connected to them) to see how Vision 2050 can be supported by an Action 2020 and how ‚values-based reporting’ can be set up. Worthwhile to mention here is that this approach also includes tooling and accounting methods, so gets to a deeper level than to just think about reporting indicators, but also how to create the processes. WRI, CDP and WWF now work on ‚science-based target setting’ and has invited to several workshops. Also here, an increase in comparable information will be a foreseeable outcome.
  3. At this moment we also observe the development of the Sustainable Development Goals, to be presented in 2015. It will be interesting to see how they will develop further; as it stands right now they seem to be more sort of ‚corridors’ of change in 16 different issue areas, and it is not yet sure how interdependencies (nexus effects) will play out on this variety of areas. In our view it would be much more effective to take a step back and first develop a set of principles (based on the probably most important ‚North Star’ question: what will really make up a succesful green & inclusive economy?) and then define action areas with a special view on interconnectedness of effects to define clear and actionable roadmaps or adaptation plans on how to get there. Targets could be defined per region, taking into account the various cultural and mindset calibrations as well as timelines necessary to measure progress. These could be built into a comparability approach for defining indicators of change with actionable items where each company can define a positive impact (instead of concentrating on the reduction of negative impact). See it a bit like the approach Unilever took when they connected their mid-term target setting with main sustainability issue areas. It is no wonder to us that Unilever’s approach scores extremely well in certain ratings, e.g. the latest GlobeScan and SustainAbility Leaders Survey, published just a couple of days ago.
  4. As a side effect the lack of comparability also creates a revival of the discussion around what was supposed to be called ‚Beyond GDP’. First of all there is the question if GDP should be used as a denominator in order to increase comparability in micro-macro-based monetary and relative comparisons, but much more important there is also again increasing discussion about the usefulness to use GDP at all as a means to measure a valueable contribution of a single company. In our view this is a must-have discussion that will sparkle ideas on what ‚success’ really means for a society at large, it seemed to get stuck around the idea of happiness in the last couple of years, which in our view is a very individual mindset and difficult to standardize. Hence, there is a glimpse of hope, and it is good to see that GRI is also one of the partners in one of these projects, called ‚Measure what matters’, with amongst others the Green Economy Coalition, Accounting for Sustainability (who are the initiators of many good developments, e.g. IIRC as well), the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and IIED.
  5. We are still amazed to see how little companies are interested in defining what a ‚green & inclusive economy’ or ‚resilient economy’ actually means for themselves. That is mainly due to the lack of real comparison opportunities to give this vision real meaning. And it will remain like that as long as we don’t define the expected minimal and/or positive contribution per company and stakeholder. We refer to our last blog on the ‚mindset gap’ for further depth there. Comparison and target setting will be the most interesting pathways for competition in the future, so again ask yourself what all that focus on materiality will help if comparability possibilities will suffer from that in this heavily interconnected world in which nexus effects will be part of the comparability agenda, to be analyzed when thinking about sustainability context.

Overall, we expect that the discussion about comparability will become as vital as the one on materiality today, simply because more materiality will not automatically lead to more comparability of information (we fear even less), and more comparability focus will not simply lead to more materiality. There needs to be a balance as both are of critical importance to understand, define and act on these urgently needed adaptation plans towards the economic blueprint of the future, the ‚green & inclusive economy’. Authors: Ralph Thurm is the Founder & Managing Director of A|HEAD|ahead, Nick de Ruiter is partner at Sustainalize.


Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Sustainability Reporting


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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.

Bildschirmfoto 2013-12-04 um 11.25.21

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 to learn more, or contact me directly at

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!

Bildschirmfoto 2013-12-04 um 11.19.17

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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Thriveability


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Understanding ThriveAbility – Join workshop 22-24 March in Perpignan, France

After a successful inaugural meeting of the ThriveAbility Consortium Core Team in London on February 8, A|HEAD|ahead is happy to announce the first 3-day ThriveAbility workshop in wonderful Chateau La Tour Apollinaire in Perpignan, taking place on March 22-24, organized together with 5Deep and Renaissance2, all founders of the ThriveAbility Consortium. This post can also be seen as an update to my earlier post on this topic (Embedding ThriveAbility) and has profoundly benefitted from the great experts that joined us in February.

Read more about this exciting seminar below or download the brochure:

Embedding ThriveAbility – Your Invitation

1) Understanding ThriveAbility

The Ultimate Wave:

Quality took 40 years to go from being an obscure industrial practice to a widespread business and social change agent. Innovation has taken two decades to become popular, though it is still widely misunderstood, and its twin sister Design has gone global though still remains shallow. Sustainability and CSR have gathered momentum in the past decade, but are only just beginning to be reflected in serious business practice. ThriveAbility integrates these all through radical simplification, to address the growing sustainability gap while empowering flourishing.

Inevitability of ThriveAbility:

ThriveAbility integrates these diverse approaches through a radical simplification enabled by

•              the emerging science of human flourishing,

•              big data and analytics driving new insights into how to close the sustainability gap,

•              breakthroughs in the art and science of change together with

•              major advances in business design and transformation.

All the factors that are needed for ThriveAbility to take off are in place- the coming wave is inevitable. The only question is how much we are able to shape it and place ThriveAbility at the heart of the wave as a force for thrival.


The March 22-24 Embedding ThriveAbility event is bringing together a small group of pioneers who will shape the future evolution of ThriveAbility. Each brings a set of unique talents and connections that form a core part of the ThriveAbility Consortium’s emerging platform.


The vision of the ThriveAbility Consortium is to create an open global platform that:

a.             becomes the acknowledged way of creating thriving businesses and communities

b.             embeds sustainable value through next generation sustainable innovation and organisational transformation through conscious evolution

c.             radically simplifies and deeply integrates existing methods, practices and tools through the ThriveAbility Consortium

Emerging Roles:

The match between the essential ingredients needed for the take-off of ThriveAbility, and the strengths and capabilities of the individuals and organisations interested is evolving rapidly. Strengths include:

a. The Circular Economy and sustainable industrial, product and building design

b. Systems Thinking, Complexity and Quality

c. Business Strategy, Quality Transformation

d. IT, Business Transformation and Spirituality in Business

e. Social and Cultural Transformation, Communications and Education

f. Renewable Energy, Resilient Communities, Leadership Development

g. Sustainable Futures

Programme Overview:

We will explore how ThriveAbility helps identify the “North Stars” for supply chains and business ecosystems, enabling the emergence of key benchmarks for every stage in the value chain.

You will learn how a thriving world can be co-created by embedding a combination of sustainable technologies, organisational transformation and conscious evolution into today’s businesses, institutions and communities.

We will explain why ThriveAbility has the potential to become the ultimate wave that can close the sustainability gap and deliver a thriving future for us all. You will learn how we can together change the game, rules and goals of business and our major institutions in the process.

The interweaving of ThriveAbility practices and the global Quality, Innovation, Design, Sustainability and CSR movements could transform our ability to co-create a viable future for all of us in the next decade.

2) Why This Seminar?

The ThriveAbility Consortium is a mobilization of like-minds to design, develop and adopt the necessary approaches, decision frameworks and incentives for breakthroughs in sustainable innovation and design. This Seminar is a gathering of this emergent consortium.  Participants will engage in the further refinement and development of the ThriveAbility Template whilst also taking a deep dive into the re-design of your own life and that of your business and/or organisation. 

Learning Objectives

Elaborate on the ThriveAbility Concept using the North Star Approach, and metrics derived from integral sciences. Create the necessary Support systems, metrics and guidelines using a North Star Approach to sustain and deliver implementable business transformations that result in pathways to active engagement in ThriveAbility practice. Learn about necessary tooling that enables ThriveAbility in your organization.

3) Who Should Attend

Decision makers and change leaders curious about the breakthroughs being achieved by organisations applying a new approach centered around ThriveAbility, and who are committed to work with peers for the purpose of discovering how to apply ThriveAbility in their organisation or business.

We also seek leaders in Strategy, HR, Sustainability & CSR, communications, product/service leaders as well as top management representatives and policymakers.

For optimal impact we welcome groups of colleagues from the same organisation looking for new ways to tackle the challenges they face in accelerating their sustainability, CSR, change and innovation efforts.

4) Key Benefits and Outcomes

Find Your Inspiration: work through challenges you currently face progressing sustainability, innovation, CSR, product/service design or other initiatives

A Systemic Model of Green Growth Drivers: explore the drivers that accelerate the transition to a green growth, inclusive economy, enabling you to map out pathways to ThriveAbility

Build on Your Strengths to Catalyse Deep Change: complete a set of Factor 100 change profiles & discover ThriveAbility thinking.

Learn From ThriveAbility Pioneers: meet and work with some of the world’s leading practitioners in sustainable innovation, organisational transformation and integrated reporting.

Become a ThriveAbility Leader: you will learn the fundamentals of integral leadership which integrate key aspects of your organisation’s strategy, culture and operations to more effectively deliver ThriveAbility.

5) Practical Applications

Scanning & Strategy: recognise promising opportunities to create ThriveAble Value Added

Development & Prototyping: scale promising prototypes into ThriveAble products and services

Simplify Processes & Partnerships: conduct fundamental reviews using the ThriveAbility Process to design integrated business models

Leadership: Apply Factor 100 Change and the ThriveAbility Dashboard to review, redesign and transform your organisation

6) Programme Details

Day 1 – Elaboration:  NorthStar Navigation

Megatrends: Beyond Sustainability & Innovation

Integral Alignment

Breakthrough Role Models: Zeronauts

Day 2 – Support : Pathways & Roadmaps

The ThriveAbility Approach

Factor 100 Change

Breakthrough Role Models: Turntoo

Day 3 – Activation: Prototyping & Dashboards

Developing ThriveAble Opportunities

Leadership for ThriveAbility

Breakthrough Role Models: various examples

Summary visualization of the 3-day seminar – a holistic approach to ThriveAbility in 3 layers:

Slide Ralph on 3 day 3 layers visualization V2

[Click on the picture to enlarge]

The Thriveability Consortium is thrilled to welcoming you in Perpignan on 22-24 of March! Registration is easy via

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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Thriveability


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Interview in Belgian online magazine Argus: Ralph Thurm – Een stap verder dan duurzaamheid

The following interview was first published in ARGUSactueel on 24th of January 2013. It was done a couple of days before my keynote speech in Antwerp at the Belgian Global Compact Network meeting on January 30, organized in collaboration with VOKA (the Chamber of Commerce for Vlanderen), and the Antwerp World Diamant Center. The text is in Dutch language. I thank the organizers for the wonderful opportunity to talk in front of more than 80 careful listeners, connect to the Belgian frontliners in sustainability, and finally visit Antwerp!

Ralph Thurm – Een stap verder dan duurzaamheid

Op woensdag 30 januari komt Zeronaut Ralph Thurm naar Antwerpen. Hij is in ons land nog niet echt bekend, maar zijn systematische en holistische aanpak van MVO- en duurzaamheidskwesties maken hem tot een zeer boeiende vertegenwoordiger van de wereldwijde transitiebeweging.

Thurm staat voor een holistische aanpak van duurzaamheid en maatschappelijk verantwoord ondernemen en brengt dat in zijn twee jobs en in zijn manier van leven en werken in de praktijk. Hij is Directeur Collaborative Sustainability & Innovation bij Deloitte Nederland en runt daarnaast sinds september 2012 zijn eigen consultingbedrijf A|HEAD|ahead, waarmee hij meer radicale en experimentele duurzaamheidsoplossingen uitwerkt.

“Misschien kunnen dat wel toekomstige services van Deloitte worden,’ zegt hij. ‘Bij Deloitte zijn we al een paar jaar bezig om duurzaamheid een onderdeel van alle werkzaamheden te maken. Duurzaamheid is een cross-cutting issue dat overal in de organisatie te voelen en te zien moet zijn. Zo krijg je ook meer authenticiteit en een groter gevoel van ownership bij de mensen. Daarnaast trachten we duurzaamheid en innovatie dichter bij mekaar te brengen, omdat het twee kanten van dezelfde medaille zijn. Waarbij ik me tussen haakjes zelfs afvraag of je innovatie die niet duurzaam is, überhaupt nog innovatie kunt noemen.”

Van minder slecht naar goed genoeg

Is Deloitte er al in geslaagd om de hele organisatie doordesemd te maken van de duurzaamheidsgedachte? Ralph Thurm: “Nou, er is nog wel wat werk aan de winkel. Duurzaamheid is een reis. Het is kwestie om niet alleen intern de neuzen richting duurzaamheid te zetten, wat mede door het relatief grote verloop van personeelsleden heel wat werk vergt, maar ook de klanten er warm voor te maken nog voor ze er zelf aan denken.”

Bedrijven hebben de mond vol van maatschappelijk verantwoord ondernemen en streven naar duurzaamheid, maar wat bakken ze er in de praktijk van? Zijn internationale standaarden de oplossing om het onderscheid te maken tussen greenwashing en echte verduurzaming? Ralph Thurm: “Als je A en B wil vergelijken, moet je dat op dezelfde basis doen. Ja, standaarden, guidelines, technische protocollen en duidelijke indicatoren zijn nodig. Maar de eigenlijke vraag is: hanteren we wel de juiste standaard? John Elkington zei het me anderhalf jaar gelden als volgt: “Het enige dat we weten, bijna twintig jaar na Rio, is dat we minder slecht zijn geworden.” We weten eigenlijk niet wat het minimale is dat goed genoeg is voor onze planeet. We moeten evolueren van efficiëntie-gedreven indicatoren naar impact-indicatoren. Zeker nu we over steeds meer data beschikken, zoals de verschillende aspecten van de ecologische voetafdruk en het monetariseren van ecosysteemdiensten. To be less bad is not good enough anymore. We moeten leren meten wat minimaal goed genoeg is, zoals Elkington ook bepleit in zijn boek Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier.”

U pleit voor Zero Impact Growth (ZIG). Wat moeten we ons daarbij precies voorstellen? Ralph Thurm: “Het begrip Zero Impact Growth komt voort uit het zoeken naar wat nu wél goed genoeg is. Wat is het minimum dat alle industrieën elk op hun manier moeten bereiken om ons in staat te stellen op een bepaald welvaartsniveau binnen de planetaire grenzen van de Aarde te leven? Nu is het zo dat elke bedrijfstak zo’n beetje definieert wat hij denkt dat duurzaam is binnen zijn industrie. Men toetst midden- en langetermijndoelstellingen, maar werkt niet aan een onderling afgestemd adaptatieplan. De rode draad doorheen de gesprekken in Zeronauts van John Elkington is het streven naar groei met nulimpact. Maar daarmee begint het alleen nog maar. Eigenlijk moeten we meer willen: regenerative growth en positive impact growth (PIG): meer teruggeven dan wat wij van de planeet nemen. Anders zijn we vanwege de rebound effects door klimaatsverandering en bevolkingsgroei eenvoudigweg ten dode opgeschreven.”

Kan elk bedrijf in elke sector ZIG of PIG bereiken? Ook staalbedrijven, vliegtuigbouwers, mijnbouwbedrijven en bedrijven in de fossiele brandstofsector? Ralph Thurm:“Er is in ieder geval nog heel veel potentieel voor bedrijven in de energiesector om minder CO2 uit te stoten, in te zetten op hernieuwbare energie en om hun netwerken slimmer te maken. Betekent zulks dat ook een consumentenbedrijf als Unilever per se ZIG moet zijn? Dat is een afweging. De vraag is: wie doet wat het best en hoe kunnen wij met elkaar samen zo snel mogelijk successen boeken? Want tegenwoordig doet iedereen een beetje van alles. Belangrijk is dat wij afgestemd op elkaar een beeld van Zero Impact Growth moeten vastleggen, en dat is al zeer moeilijk.”

Een nieuwe generatie van transparantie

De impact van ZIG/PIG voor het milieu en het klimaat is duidelijk. Wat betekent het voor de groei en de winstgevendheid van de bedrijven? Ralph Thurm: “Zero Impact Growth betekent niet Zero Growth. We hebben groei nodig, maar dan wel groei naar dingen of situaties die we met zijn allen willen hebben. Het betekent ook precies kunnen meten wat precies de situatie is op deze planeet. Zo lang niemand dat echt kan zeggen, blijven alle inspanningen veel te incrementeel en komen wij ook niet verder met duurzame regelgeving voor een nieuw economisch stelsel en incentivesysteeem.”

Moet ZIG/PIG op termijn wereldwijd de norm worden? Ralph Thurm: ‘We moeten komen tot nieuwe spelregels in de economie waarbij het niet anders kan dan juist te handelen. Moet dat via regels en wetten? Waarschijnlijk wel. Maar het is ook meer dan dat. Momenteel zitten de incentives verkeerd in ons economisch bestel. In het vaarwater van een  Zero Impact Growth-adaptatieplan moeten we komen tot true costing, true pricing en true taxation. De prijzen moeten de werkelijke totale kosten weerspiegelen, we moeten komen tot een internalisering van externe kosten.”

Hoe kan de internalisering van externe kosten worden geïmplementeerd? Ralph Thurm: “Er zijn meer dan genoeg consultants die dat kunnen berekenen. We moeten het nog wel eens raken over de juiste standaarden die uitgaan van correcte gemiddelden en niet opnieuw appelen met peren vergelijken. True costing heeft enorme effecten op de profit- en loss-accounts van de bedrijven en de prijzen van de producten. Om dat op een sociaal aanvaardbare manier te regelen, zal de overheid de taxatie anders moeten aanpakken. Daar is alle reden toe, want op dit moment wordt het meest waardevolle, de menselijke arbeid, het zwaarst belast. Terwijl dingen die bedreigend zijn voor de toekomst van onze planeet nauwelijks of helemaal niet worden belast. Als je erin slaagt om dat op orde te krijgen, is het niet langer de vraag of een bedrijf meedoet of niet: iedereen wordt gewoon meegesleurd. Maar je moet het mondiaal aanpakken, met aandacht voor lokale verschillen, of je hebt geen eerlijke concurrentie. Ook moeten wij het zo regelen dat de totale kosten voor de consument ongeveer gelijk blijven en niet tot nieuwe sociale spanningen leiden.”

Klinkt aanlokkelijk, maar is dat geen illusie? Zijn grote bedrijven niet machtiger en meer eensgezind dan alle regeringen van de wereld samen? Ralph Thurm: “Het is enorm moeilijk omdat we in een andere economische en kapitalistische logica leven. Toch zijn er vandaag in alle industrieën een aantal leidende spelers die stellen dat we nu moeten handelen als we niet over twintig jaar met zijn allen ten onder willen gaan. Zo heeft Puma zijn eerste environmenal profit & loss account opgesteld en zijn ze bezig aan een tweede die nog meer aspecten omvat, niet alleen CO2, energie en water. Met het risico dat ze door iedereen bekeken worden en dat er heel wat gevoelige informatie bekend gemaakt wordt. Ze doen dat zodat iedereen zou begrijpen waarom ze het doen en zodat men hun voorbeeld zou volgen.”

Makkelijk, zo’n environmental profit & loss account, als je de externe kosten niet echt moet betalen. Ralph Thurm: “Dat is een veelgehoorde kritiek. Maar dit is een case die enorm wordt onderschat. Niet alleen vanwege de ongeziene transparantie, maar ook door het aanscherpen van het bewustzijn binnen het bedrijf van zijn echte impact op het milieu. Het blijkt bovendien een enorme drijver voor innovatie, omdat Puma ervan overtuigd is dat die externe kosten ooit echt wel zullen moeten worden betaald. Vandaar de beslissing om nu al volledig leervrij te worden: 70 tot 80% van de ecologische voetafdruk van Puma situeert zich in de landbouwsector en heeft te maken met CO2-uitstoot bij de productie van leer. Het is een zeer holistische aanpak, gebaseerd op een nieuwe generatie van transparantie. Dit versnelt ook de innovatiekracht van zo’n bedrijf, ze trekken de toekomstige internalisatie van externe kosten naar het nu. En het maakt een einde aan de statische “Ja maar”-discussies waarin zoveel milieukwesties verzeilen.”

Het voordeel van een crisis

Verwacht u in de toekomst een geleidelijk proces van verandering naar meer duurzaamheid of een grote revolutie? Ralph Thurm: “Ik verwacht niet één grote ommeslag, maar wel relatief veel aardbevingen en aardverschuivingen. Het zal niet allemaal soepel en lekker verlopen. We staan aan het begin van een transitiefase. Het interessante is dat aan het merendeel van de maatschappelijke en economische transitiefases in het verleden een financiële crisis is voorafgegaan. Zeker als blijkt dat je de crisis niet alleen met financiële ingrepen kunt oplossen. Daarnaast spelen nog veel andere domino-effecten mee, zoals de voedsel- en de klimaatcrisis. Je ziet nu echt ook een mentaliteitsverandering optreden.”

Hoe zou u die mentaliteitsverandering precies omschrijven? Ralph Thurm: “Consumenten willen meer informatie over de duurzaamheid van de producten die ze kopen. Het marktaandeel van de LOHAS – een acroniem voor Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability – neemt toe. In Duitsland gaat het over een actieve community van een half miljoen mensen. Ze streven niet alleen naar gezonder eten, maar kiezen er ook voor om meer tijd met familie en vrienden door te brengen en wensen uitdrukkelijk een bijdrage te leveren aan de maatschappij. Auteur Paul Hawken beschrijft de wereldwijde shift naar duurzaamheid, die veel groter is dan je denkt, treffend in The Blessed Unrest. Ik denk dat we technologisch gezien over alle middelen beschikken om de Duitse Energiewende (de systematische overstap op groene energie, red.) ook in andere landen te laten plaatsvinden. Volgens mij ontbreekt het ons alleen nog aan een intelligente en meeslepende manier om iedereen mee te krijgen.”

Op uw blog hield u onlangs een pleidooi voor Thrivability – een Nederlands woord is altijd welkom – als een stap verder dan MVO en duurzaamheid. Wat verstaat u daar precies onder? Ralph Thurm: “Ik vrees dat ‘sustainability’, ‘the ability to sustain’ de mensen niet genoeg aanspreekt. Wat is de overtreffende trap? ‘Thrivability,’ ‘the ability to thrive’ in het Nederlands nog het best te vertalen als ‘de zoektocht naar tevredenheid en geluk.’ Is dat niet de diepste wens van de mens? Met zijn allen gelukkig zijn. Kunnen zeggen dat we een moeizame maar waardevolle bijdrage hebben geleverd. Er bestaan ook mooie modellen op het gebied van het menselijk bewustzijn, zoals Theory U van Otto Scharmer of het werk van Ken Wilber. Het gaat tenslotte niet alleen over systeeminnovatie, maar om mensen mee te krijgen: individuele en culturele innovatie dus. Als mensen begrijpen wat systeemgrenzen zijn, dan komt de rest van de innovatie eigenlijk vanzelf. Dat hoop ik tenminste. Ik denk dat de volgende twintig jaar enorm moeilijk maar super-interessant zullen zijn. Het wordt enorm boeiend om deze innovatie-wave mee te maken, ook omdat ze alomvattend is, van systeeminnovatie en culturele innovatie naar proces-, product- en service-innovatie. Veel megatrends bieden aanzienlijke uitdagingen, maar dragen ook enorme mogelijkheden in zich.’

U bent al 20 jaar actief in de duurzaamheidssector en mag nu de eretitel Zeronaut dragen. Bent u zelf ook een groene en geëngageerde consument? Ralph Thurm: “Als ik vlieg, zorg ik altijd voor een CO2-offset. Die betaal ik zelf. Ik probeer altijd zoveel mogelijk van thuis uit te werken. Ik rij met een heel zuinige kleine auto. Ik zet mijn schouders met plezier onder heel wat maatschappelijk werk, zoals voor Global Compact en de Turntoo Foundation in Nederland, maar bijvoorbeeld ook  in het Midden-Oosten met het Arabia CSR Network.”

Wat was uw oorspronkelijke motivatie om u te verdiepen in duurzaamheid? Ralph Thurm: “Mijn studies economie vielen samen met de eerste conferentie van Rio. Ik vond economie zoals we het aangeleerd krijgen te weinig holistisch en te veel patchwork. Toen mijn vrouw en ik aan kinderen begonnen, nam ik me voor een goed voorbeeld te zijn voor mijn kinderen. Ik wou later kunnen zeggen: “Ik heb mijn best gedaan.” Daar zit ook een persoonlijke reden achter. Mijn vader, die vorig jaar overleden is, is geboren in 1930. Aan het einde van WOII moest hij verplicht naar een school van de Hitlerjugend. Ik wou zo veel mogelijk over die tijd weten, maar elke discussie die ik met hem voerde over hoe dat allemaal mogelijk was, liep vast op “Ich habe es nicht gewusst.” Dat was zijn manier om niet in detail te treden over de vreselijke dingen die hij heeft meegemaakt en waar hij ook niet altijd het fijne van afwist. Ongeveer drie jaar geleden zei mijn zoon me: “Als we over twintig jaar praten over het soort oorlog dat jouw generatie nu met deze planeet voert, is dat alvast geen argument dat jij tegen mij zal kunnen gebruiken.” Dat was een zeer emotioneel moment. Weten dat het niet goed zit met de wereld geeft je een grote verantwoordelijkheid, en daar een goed antwoord op trachten te geven, blijft een zeer sterke motivatie.”


Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Thriveability


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