This blog post was first published in 2020.
Robin Åkerberg is the newly appointed Sustainability Manager in Visma, and we wanted to talk to him about what sustainability in business really means.
Interview: Sustainability in businesses
Q: What got you interested in sustainability?
Answer: “I have been fascinated by nature from a very young age, and I love spending time outdoors. My close connection to nature throughout my life has been the basis for my interest in sustainability, but my personal transition towards a more sustainable lifestyle started a few years ago after traveling in Southeast Asia (and Australia) for a few months.
There, the pollution of both land and sea areas, dead coral reefs, and social problems were definitely noticeable, and after that, I gradually became a lot more aware of my own privileged background and the impacts that we have in the world’s north on the environment and on people. Nowadays I try to take sustainability into account in all my decisions.”
Q: What is your background?
Answer: “I graduated from Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki in the summer of 2019, with a major in finance. At university, I also had the opportunity to take a lot of courses that had to do with CSR and sustainability, which fueled my interest in the topics and made me realise that sustainability is not only important from an emotional perspective.There is a clear business case for sustainability and taking action is crucial for our economy in the long-term and even our existence as a species.
I found the combination of finance and sustainability very interesting, which resulted in me writing my Master’s thesis about how companies’ performance on sustainability criteria impact their operational performance and risk.”
Q: What would you say “sustainability” means in terms of business, and why is it important?
Answer: “Sustainability has to do with using resources in a way so that they aren’t depleted over time. It has to do with healthy people, healthy communities (economy), and a healthy environment–both now and in the future.
It’s a very interdisciplinary concept, so from a business perspective, it is important to integrate sustainable practices and decision-making throughout the organisation. Also, it’s important to have an interdisciplinary application of sustainability, rather than viewing it only as a philanthropic activity or as something that is separate from the core business.
Sustainable business conduct is increasingly important and is more and more becoming a necessity to stay relevant in the market. Consumers, investors, and legislators alike are all stepping up their efforts to tackle global challenges such as climate change and loss of biodiversity, while finding ways to reduce inequalities and improve health and welfare.
For instance, the world’s largest asset management company Blackrock announced at the beginning of this year that they would put sustainability at the heart of their investment strategy.
Companies simply cannot stand by on the sidelines and do nothing. Information spreads across the global community in seconds, through social media and other platforms, and a company’s good reputation can be ruined quickly if stakeholder expectations are not managed.
Sustainability is also highly relevant from an employer branding and recruiting perspective, as many existing and potential employees want to work for companies that actually do more good, not only less bad in the world.
Overall, sustainability can be an important driver of business success and help companies become more profitable, and the majority of research finds that more sustainable companies are performing financially at least as well as their industry peers, and in most cases, even better (see e.g. Friede et al., 2015).
More and more institutional investors and asset management companies are shifting towards sustainable investment strategies and new sustainable investment opportunities are continuously emerging, and these are often outperforming their benchmarks.”
Want to learn more about how we work with sustainability in Visma? Visit our Sustainability page.
Q: What responsibility do businesses have to solve global problems and what about the employees of these businesses?
Answer: “Regardless of what one believes in, or whether we are talking about a business or an individual, it is obvious that we all need to be mindful regarding how we use the world’s limited resources and what the consequences of our actions are.
We live on a planet with finite resources, so in my opinion, there are no reasonable alternatives for anyone other than to act, consume, and produce sustainably.
Companies are responsible for a large part of global emissions and businesses play a crucial role in the world’s transition to become more sustainable. Businesses can have large impacts on the environment and on society (both positive and negative) and they have a tremendous chance to influence and guide their employees and other stakeholders. They are also able to provide innovative and sustainable products and solutions to help others contribute to solving these global problems.
The involvement of top management in the sustainable development of companies is absolutely crucial, as they can provide resources, create incentives, and influence organisational culture and company-wide decision-making processes to promote increased sustainability efforts.
For a company to be successful in its sustainability efforts, however, the employees also play a key role, as they are the ones who live and breathe the sustainability actions of the business. They are the ones who implement the culture and values of the organisation and make sustainability-related choices in the daily operations of the company.
In essence, businesses are run by people, and sustainability is a very people-centered topic; problems with for instance climate change, loss of biodiversity, inequalities, discrimination, and corruption, are all very much people problems–they are caused by people and it is up to people to solve these problems.
Our welfare relies on the natural world and its biodiversity, so it’s up to us to start taking care of the planet and the people that inhabit it. I truly believe that success will be reached only if we all work together, at all levels of society and at all levels of organisations.
Finally, I believe that the actions we take, both as individuals and as organisations, have the potential to influence those around us. By making sustainable choices, we can inspire others to follow suit.
The more we put sustainability on the agenda by talking about it and bringing it to attention with our friends, colleagues, and associates, the more it will be at the top of mind in their decisions, both professionally and personally. Soon, they might bring it up with others, who will make sustainable choices a rule rather than an exception.”
Want to learn more about how we work with sustainability at Visma?