Doctor Frederik Dahlmann, Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at Warwick Business School, and speaker on integrating relational values into business sustainability strategies during the recent seminar Cooperating in Value-Creating Networks, is interviewed by Professor Adrian Zicari, ESSEC Business School and the Council on Business & Society.
Sustainability: Challenges and Incentives. Adrian Zicari interviews Frederik Dahlmann.
Adrian Zicari: Please tell us about your current research.
Prof Dahlmann: My research is around Sustainability. My focus is on trying to understand how we, as individuals, as members of organizations and members of society, respond to the very significant, urgent and complex challenges that we face, many of which obviously come from the environmental dimension, the ecological perspective.
They are there in the background. And they are very wide-ranging global issues. At the same time, society and our companies are faced with much more short term pressures and demands, economic pressures, geopolitical pressures, and societal issues.
That web of relationships is very difficult for leaders and organizations to handle and to adapt to. I think economic and financial pressures will drive a lot of the decision-making in the short term. I think we can’t move away from the fact that in the background, climate change, loss of biodiversity, pollution, waste and all these wider ecologic issues, are creating a long term threat to our societies and our economies.
My own research is sort of built in different ways on this tension. I’m looking at this specifically through the lens of climate change. What do companies do, particularly when they’re working with their suppliers and their customers and buyers? What do we learn from companies accounting for and recording their carbon emissions? Particularly when you start looking at scope three emissions, the big challenge is that it’s almost a case of “the more you look, the more you find”.
The paradox of sustainability accountability: A challenge
There is an inherent disincentive for you to account too accurately, because the way in which go through emissions particularly, how they are being measured means that at least in the short term, you find yourself being at a sort of legitimate disadvantage or competitive disadvantage to others who don’t measure them.
I think that’s an interesting paradox, that on the measurement side, normally people would encourage you to measure in order to get it managed, which may be right, but the process of the transparency may actually lead to some short term disadvantages.
There are benefits, relational benefits, of working with customers and suppliers, of trying to understand how you collectively address the urgency of climate change. That’s something that I’m interested in. In parallel, somewhat detached from that, I’m looking at the ethical issues and challenges, I’m looking at the roles of values, norms and principles.
I’ve just published some work recently on Aristotelian virtual ethics, and the extent of which that might give us an additional, a complimentary view to existing, more rules-based approaches towards sanctioning and penalizing people. Because I think a lot of the understanding that we see in the context of sustainability is that people have to change and adapt.
Incentives towards achieving sustainability action
We need states that drive behaviours with regulations and penalties, but we also need incentives. We also need new norms, new behaviours, individual willingness to make changes, some of which at the moment looks like making sacrifices, maybe.
I think the more people reflect on it, particularly in the wake of the pandemic maybe also in the coming months as we go through tough times. From an energy perspective, people reevaluate – what is it they need and what do they want from their lives? How much consumption do they need?
Moreover, why do we have an economy? Why do we have companies? What are they actually providing us and therefore, what kind of lives do we live or want to live? What do companies do? What’s the value that companies provide us with? I think ethics, norms and behaviours are quite closely interlinked, and therefore it’s worth exploring our relations with one another, our relations with the natural environment, with wildlife and nature and I think that will be as important as, maybe even more important, as is sort of the rules that governments and regulators are setting.
Those are the two main strands of my research at the moment. I have other topics that are in collaboration with the engineering department on circular plastics in the automotive sector, and with the medical school on the role of doctors and the health system and what they can do to address climate change through their work with patients.
Adrian Zicari: How do you see the relation between colleagues in business schools and scientists? Because sometimes we claim we are scientists, social scientists, but how do we relate with our “hard” science colleges?
Frederik Dahlmann: I think, as one of our colleagues mentioned during the conference, we need to do more on that. I’m a social scientist, but some people look at business schools and management scholars in despair and think, “Why isn’t there more impactful research coming out?” They recognize that business has such a huge impact and influence, and yet there isn’t as much work being done in collaboration with other scientists.
I think both sides would benefit greatly and there are a lot of interesting publications in natural sciences, engineering, physical sciences and elsewhere that are worth integrating. I think interdisciplinary is absolute key if you want to address sustainability issues and challenges.
- Link up with Frederik Dahlmann and Adrian Zicari on LinkedIn
- Browse Prof. Frederik Dahlmann’s research and publications
- Read Professor Frederik Dahlmann’s feature on CoBS Insights: How can large corporations become more sustainable?
Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
Member schools are all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.
- ESSEC Business School, France-Singapore-Morocco
- FGV-EAESP, Brazil
- School of Management Fudan University, China
- IE Business School, Spain
- Keio Business School, Japan
- Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa
- Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
- Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.