On Waffle Wednesday November 20th 2019 Sonja Lahtinen came to tell us how to move towards sustainability. Sonja is a doctoral researcher, lecturer and speaker on the role of companies in society. She has experience in advancing sustainability on multiple levels, as a researcher, teacher, business advisor, community organizer and as a consumer-citizen. She is currently finishing her PhD about how companies can act as a driving force for sustainability transitions in society. In her work, she combines academic discipline with creative thinking to reframe the relationship between business and sustainability.
The topic of sustainability is becoming more and more important for companies and companies say they want to do sustainable business. However, it has proved to be a challenge for many companies. The great challenges of sustainability require new ideas and unusual approaches from all of us. Sonja gave us ideas on how to go towards sustainability and how to become part of creative solutions.
Each of us is a part of society
We can think of ourselves as a single cell in the body of society. Each cell has an important role to play in to ensure that the entire body functions properly. Ideally, society would act rationally and optimize its operations. Unfortunately, in reality, society does not do this. The world is full of problems and injustices, for example in terms of the environment, society or politics. However, there are potential change makers: the individual cells in society. Me, you and us all together.
If Mother Nature can do it, why couldn’t we?
We are entering an era in which we must radically change the way we think, act and organize our daily lives, including our work. In this change, we need to be creative and learn from Mother Nature. If Mother Nature designed production and consumption processes it would not create any waste, energy crisis nor resource depletion. It would design things so that everything was abundant. The sustainable future of the planet and its species depends on our creativity, because our creativity is needed to imitate the processes that Mother Nature is already running without creating catastrophic side effects.
Apollo 11 spaceflight
The Apollo 11 spaceflight celebrated its 50th anniversary in July this year. Apollo 11 was the first manned spaceflight to land on the moon. In that time, 400,000 people worked towards this common goal. The goal they all believed in was important and they were committed. Everyone knew that achieving the goal would not be easy, and as John F. Kennedy said in his speech, it is not done because it is easy but because it is hard. The same thinking would now be needed at this time when thinking about sustainability and the necessary changes ahead.
Three main points
Point 1. Our current solutions today to the world’s big sustainability problems are built on old roles rather than questioning them. This holds back our creativity.
Goals that we set ourselves or goals that we set to our businesses will define those roles that we take. Roles, on the other hand, define our attitudes, attention and actions. All kinds of roles have a lot of expectations, but we need to rethink roles to get rid of role expectations and to become more creative.
Point 2. We can’t solve these wicked problems with incremental changes – we need fundamental transitions to sustainability. This requires creativity.
Sustainability problems are wicked problems. Wicked problems eg. are born in the long run, are complex, interdependent, difficult to set goals and difficult to define. In such problems, everything affects everything. For example, we can think of one spaghetti hanging outside a full spaghetti bowl. When we pull this one spaghetti out of the bowl, we cannot know the consequences. In other words, when one problem is solved somewhere, it can create another problem elsewhere. This illustrates well the nature of the wicked problem.
Sustainability transitions are an important part of the change. These changes must be radical and take place in culture, structures and practices. Because we live in a market economy, solutions for sustainability are impossible without creative companies.
Point 3. Companies need to reframe their role in relation to sustainability on three areas: business strategy, management activities and co-working practices.
Reframing companies’ roles is like reframing a Rubik’s Cube. Like Rubik’s Cube, a company has many different dimensions and sides. Changes need to be made in the operational, tactical and strategic areas, particularly in business strategy, management activities and co-working practices. Changes must also be made in all aspects of sustainability, including environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability.
Rubik’s Cube is different for every company and so are the solutions. On the other hand, the companies, cities and countries that solve their Rubik’s Cube first will be the winners. It is not easy, because if it was easy everyone would come up with solutions already. As said before, it is not done because it is easy but because it is hard.
Reframing our role in relation to sustainability can be the key for creative, innovative and radical solutions and sustainability transitions as it opens up new ways of thinking, organizing and doing.
For further consideration:
- If not now, then when?
- If not you, then who?
- If not here, then where?