Viking Ship - 3D render

by Robert Strand, Executive Director, Center for Responsible Business

The Vikings are invading!  The Vikings are invading!  Do we run for our lives?


I am talking about the Sustainable Vikings.  And their invasion may be exactly what the U.S. business community needs.  Allow me to explain.

Yours truly spent the better part of the past decade in Scandinavia exploring sustainability and corporate social responsibility.   I had a particular interest in this cluster of countries that consistently lay claim to a disproportionate amount of companies that perform incredibly well from a financial, environmental and social perspective.  In comparison to U.S. based firms, Scandinavian based firms are 3x more likely selected to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and 19x more likely selected to the Corporate Knights Global 100 sustainability leading companies.

I initially went to Scandinavia because I wanted to understand why.

I first went to Norway on a Fulbright scholarship and later to Denmark to pursue my Ph.D. and become a professor.   Through this, I had the good fortune to come to know business leaders including Susanne Stormer, VP of Corporate Sustainability with the global sustainability leader Novo Nordisk; Claus Meyer, co-founder of the world renowned Noma restaurant in Copenhagen and the New Nordic Cuisine Movement; and Marianne Barner, architect of IKEA’s IWAY progressive program to address social and environmental challenges in the supply chain.  These Sustainable Vikings have been quietly helping to create many of the world’s most sustainable organizations and movements.  And we would all be better off if we knew of their work.

Enter Berkeley-Haas and the Berkeley Social Impact Fellows (SIF) program.

I have now been part of Berkeley-Haas for two years as the Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Business (CRB).   Through our Berkeley Social Impact Fellows program, run through the Institute of Business & Social Impact (IBSI) of which the CRB is part, we are bringing these Sustainable Vikings to Berkeley-Haas.  Susanne Stormer is a Berkeley SIF this upcoming year and we welcomed Claus Meyer this past year and Marianne Barner the year before.

These are Sustainable Vikings from whom the U.S. business community can draw inspiration.

Marianne is the Sustainable Viking who built IKEA’s supply chain approach to always consider what is in “the best interest of the child” as the rule for making decisions when encountering the potential of child labor in the supply chain.  (This is a radical departure from the self-interest mantra touted by our U.S. friend Milton Friedman who famously argued the lone social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.)

Claus is the Sustainable Viking who co-founded the world renowned Noma in Copenhagen built upon the sustainability tenants of the New Nordisk Cuisine Movement to “express the purity, freshness, simplicity, and ethics we wish to associate with the Nordic region” and “promote animal welfare and a sound production process in our seas, our farmland, and in the wild.”

Susanne is the Sustainable Viking who has helped to shape the sustainability strategy of the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk – a company that Forbes has described as “the most sustainable company on Earth.”  Susanne has embraced a role as a sustainability leader to challenge the company to engage with its most critical stakeholders and encourage critical self-reflection as a means through which to constantly challenge and ready itself for the next opportunity.

Sustainable Vikings have a home at Berkeley-Haas – and it’s not just through our Berkeley SIF program – but also because of our Defining Principles.  Sustainable Vikings have been long practicing our Defining Principles – just in a different language.

Please, allow me to translate.

  • Sustainable Vikings embrace purpose-driven organizations and launch movements in which the ultimate goal is something much bigger than any one person and where the needs of society are taken closely into account. At Berkeley-Haas, we call this Beyond Yourself.
  • Sustainable Vikings encourage critical thought and critical self-reflection. These are individuals and organizations that assume a humble posture where there is always more to learn and where no single discipline is assumed to have a monopoly on insight.  At Berkeley-Haas, we call this Student Always.
  • Sustainable Vikings encourage critical dialogue where leadership is much more about asking thoughtful, provocative questions than it is about providing “answers.” At Berkeley-Haas, we call this Question the Status Quo.
  • Sustainable Vikings are a humble group who prefer to walk the walk, rather than talk the talk. At Berkeley-Haas, we call this Confidence without Attitude.

In sum, Sustainable Vikings are what I call “pragmatic idealists.”  By this, I mean Sustainable Vikings hold a sense of purpose close to their hearts while pragmatically engaging with the most critical voices and painstakingly building the consensus and cooperation necessary to affect major change for the positive.

I was attracted to come to Berkeley-Haas in large part because our Defining Principles felt so much like the positive attributes I came to find in Scandinavia as exemplified by these Sustainable Vikings.  I strongly believe the U.S. business community can draw a great deal of inspiration from these progressive approaches.  But I have also come to a realization that these are not likely practices that will become mainstream in the most dominant economy of the world, i.e. the U.S., without deliberate encouragement.

I believe Berkeley-Haas is the right place to foster such encouragement.  As an elite, mainstream business school with a progressive edge, Berkeley-Haas has a remarkably unique opportunity to usher in the progressive practices of these Sustainable Vikings.   One could make the argument that Sustainable Vikings have been practicing the Berkeley-Haas Defining Principles for some time now and, conversely, that members of the Berkeley-Haas community are Sustainable Vikings.

Please keep an eye out as our calendar of events begins to fill for the academic year that will again be infused with Sustainable Vikings invading Berkeley-Haas.

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