Sustainability: A Responsibility and Opportunity in California and the Nordics
Written by: Mahon Walsh, B.S. ’22 CRB Student Advisory Board member
On March 24th, the Center for Responsible Business (CRB) presented Business Leadership for Sustainability Transformation, a roundtable discussing the role of business in driving sustainable change. In partnership with the Nordic Innovation House, the Embassy of Sweden (Washington), and the Consulate General of Sweden (San Francisco), the event united leaders from two sustainability hubs – California and the Nordics. A variety of speakers ranging from government to apparel and global transportation offered perspectives on the coming sustainable transformation.
Karin Olofsdotter, the Swedish Ambassador to the US, opened the event with a call for cooperation between California and the Nordics. She emphasized both areas’ “ambition to transition to a climate-neutral society and build resilient communities,” and emphasized the role of business in this transformation. California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis (a Haas alum) joined, reiterating California’s commitment to climate neutrality.
Tom Steyer then took the virtual stage. The former presidential candidate and founder of Nextgen America focused on the intersection between government and business. He emphasized the growing “climate mandate” given to the Biden administration, which won the presidency with a bold climate plan. Steyer noted the massive change in corporate opinions on sustainability and clean energy, moving from niche and expensive programs just ten years ago to profitable programs today. Still, he emphasized the need for reliable metrics to measure sustainable success.
The first group session of the event began with Moving from Incremental Change to Exponential Impact. Robert Strand, CRB executive director, moderated a conversation between the sustainability executive Elaine Weidman Grunewald and the CEO of Scania, Henrik Henriksson. The pair had previously partnered to write Sustainability Leadership: A Swedish Approach to Transforming your Company, your Industry and the World. Grunewald explained how a need to educate corporate leaders on climate action prompted her to write the book. Henriksson added that he hoped to go beyond education and add pressure on decision makers to act. The pair emphasized the importance of understanding current impacts, integrating sustainability into the core of a business, and committing to uncomfortable targets to push industry-level change. CRB Student Advisory Board Member Justin Hogenauer joined the conversation to inquire about ways business can move past greenwashing to drive real impact. Henriksson advised companies to move past vague goals and base strategies in science-based targets like the Paris Agreement.
The second session, Fashion, featured a conversation between apparel industry leaders. Vincent Stanley, the Chief Philosophy Officer at Patagonia, joined Eva Karlsson, the CEO of Houdini. Karlsson offered examples of the science-based targets mentioned in the first panel, explaining how Houdini based sustainability strategy on the concept of planetary boundaries. Stanley stressed the importance of designing for quality and circularity. I was able to ask the panel about a topic of particular interest to myself, the inclusivity and accessibility of sustainable fashion. Stanley emphasized the importance of reducing consumption and purchasing high-quality products, along with the inherent unsustainability of modern clothing prices. Karlsson highlighted the potential of resale systems to reduce waste while adding inclusivity and adding new revenue streams to brands. Both answers demonstrated the increasing diversity of business models in the apparel industry, where brands are increasingly able to maintain profits while reducing consumption.
The third and final session, Transport & Logistics, focused on the future of a quickly changing transportation industry. Henriksson moderated a conversation between Robert Falck, the CEO of Einride, and Jessica Alba, a Transportation Policy Manager at Stanford. Echoing earlier sentiments, Henrik remarked that sustainability is a massive opportunity for profitability in the transport sector. Falck added perspective as a start-up founder in the industry, detailing how even small players can push the entire sector forward. Alba emphasized the need to design future transportation systems around people, not cars. In contrast to the last fifty years of development, this approach would promote streets as “civic spaces, not traffic sewers.” Mariana Lopez Davila, a MSc Student at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) at Lund University, joined the conversation to ask about the policy changes needed to spark rapid change. Falck answered that governments should shift subsidies from fossil fuel transport to sustainable systems. Alba added that human-centric walking and biking systems should be advanced.
Darja Isaacson, the Director General of Vinnova (Sweden’s National Innovation Agency) closed the event by reiterating the need for business to address sustainability. She emphasized a common theme across the varying topics, that sustainability is a responsibility as well as an opportunity.
About the Author
Mahon Walsh – UGBA ‘22, CRB Student Advisory Board Member
Mahon Walsh, a CRB Student Advisory Board member, is a Junior at UC Berkeley majoring in Environmental Engineering Science. He has experience in sustainability and energy consulting, and hopes to implement a variety of sustainable supply chains in the future.