This text was inspired by the Responsible Business Research Seminar organized by Tampere University and the Responsible Management research group on March 12th, 2020.
I’m co-founder and chairperson of Solar Fire Concentration Oy and co-founder of Sepia Agency Oy. I have created the Sustainability and Impact Club with TAMK in 2020. The following thoughts are based on 10 years experience in the social and impact field as an entrepreneur and writer.
Sustainability is a buzz word since decades. Like every powerful idea, it has been twisted and greenwashed for 20 years. Everyone tends to be “sustainable” but sustainable to what? And what for? Shouldn’t we be regenerative? Transformative? Or even holistic instead?
We store tons of data in servers but yet, 48 years after the publication of the Limit to growth report, we are still missing powerful words to describe what we need to co-create which is simply and purely a new model of non-toxic societies.
How can we navigate in an environment where one unique word – sustainability – stands for multiple realities? How can we reach more clarity and coherence in our visions and actions? What exactly do we aim to achieve when we are starting a responsible and sustainable business? We have of course all the certifications, the metrics and the deliverables but on top of it, or to be more precise, at the core of all this stands ethics. Without ethics, it’s all about buzz words and waste of time and resources.
I’m saying this because it’s a historical time, it’s a massive crisis and should be treated as well. We can go back to gaming and fun once it’s solved. No problem.
As we can see, tons of « sustainable » initiatives are flourishing in business and communities, generating very little impact in the field and lots of confusion in the end. I’m tired of this. I want clarity, coherence and, from morning to evening, I want to talk about climate change and all the existing ethical solutions happening everywhere.
Without a deep and clear understanding of the climate change crisis ethical requirements from the change-making accelerators, the governments and industries, the so-called sustainable business sphere will continue somehow business as usual, blocking ethical businesses to unfold and shine, concentrating capital towards limited impact solutions, even when it’s not the primary intention.
This has to stop and this is what I’ve learned from all my fellow entrepreneurs: only clear ethics can allow us to do our job properly and channel our energy into achieving instead of wasting time to convince powerful greenwashers. And for this “sustainable buzz” culture to stop, we need to slow down altogether.
It’s a powerful paradox that in the heart of the hurricane, we have to slow down, become philosophers, dive into it and bring urgently ethics back into the business in order to deal properly with what’s coming, what’s actually already there in many parts of this world. But only by going through ethical thinking all together can we have business leaders trained to deal with the inevitable transformation of society and being able to execute with real impact.
When I identify my 3 core values, I can name compassion, responsibility and interconnectedness. That being said, I feel a bit lonely and slightly old school sometimes because I wonder how can we make that appealing in a culture praising badasses? How do we even know what ethics is when we are celebrating icons behaving like pirates all day long. Since I’ve read that Steve Jobs was sending his kids to Steiner schools with no screen blackboards, I’m done with all the Californian fake mythology of “success”. And even if we are connected to ethics, how do we do to keep this connection vibrant and powerful in our business daily practices when we are all overwhelmed most of the time? As my partner uses to say, “it’s not easy otherwise it would be already done”.
What is our intimacy with ethics? To me, one word summarizes it all: I care. Because of this simple feeling, because I care, I embody my values easily just like all my fellow social and impact entrepreneurs do. My working ethics is based on replacing performance with presence, immediate satisfaction with sobriety, excitement with persistence. I could continue the list and bring charts here to impress you or give a sense of “proness” but it’s a waste of time because you have to live it. You have to live ethics, that’s a powerful thing.
As I see it, to be responsible is to care, and suddenly heavy words like “ethics” or “responsibility” become light and loving. We need that lightness for the long run of solving the climate change crisis, we need that to stay alive and not become problems solvers robots.
Caring goes for me with empowerment and we urgently need to create a wave of educational content and practices to educate people to care. Finland is known to be a free country where free people do care about nature, about education, about welfare, about the common good. A transparent and free country. It’s true. Compared to other countries, it’s very true. But hey, where is the public debate about a sustainable future? As I see it, Finland is participating as well heavily to a toxic future and it’s still a lot of business as usual with a bit of green here and there. But hey, we need to go back to the essentials now!
I’ve been through so many personal challenges in my life that I have now this healthy habit to focus quickly on what can be learned. I wonder if we could learn that from the COVID-19: focus collectively on what’s essential. Re-boot. And when we’ll be back to the social life, we could all re-engage with our activities from a real ethical point of view.
We need space to slow down and think and dialogue. We urgently need these spaces everywhere do go deep together in order to reconnect to shared ethics. And this can happen only through one of the most powerful tools we have: dialogues.
Entrepreneurs are a huge force, a beautiful and powerful lever. Entrepreneurs are adventurers in a way. Action is the purpose of entrepreneurship and profit is only a consequence. We need to use this human energy widely available to solve all the poverty hidden behind our comfortable lifestyles, and we need each other for that.
A rich man/woman is a man who lives close to a healthy and clean natural environment, loved and loving, with a meaningful professional expression, hobbies, friends, skills, s/he’s a quiet and wise wo/man, who knows how to fish to survive, a man/woman at peace using exclusively products and services produced in fair and sustainable ways, eating local food, living in good shape, aging calmly, with solid regenerative sleep. Are you a rich wo/man? I’m doing good, thanks, but still, I’m very far from that, and that is not “ideal”, that must become the new normal everywhere. Can Finland transition to become a nation of rich wo/men able to train others along the way and contribute to the global ethical transition? My answer is yes, and it’s now.