Five Questions about Sustainability – Special Interview with Dr. Paul Shrivastava, David O’Brien Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada – August 6, 2012

On the first Monday of each month Emerging Markets ESG publishes a special interview with an academic, expert or practitioner about a specific topic with relevance to environmental, social and/or governance (ESG) issues.

This month’s interview, the fifth interview in the special interview series, is about sustainability and is with Dr. Paul Shrivastava, David O’Brien Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

The David O’Brien Centre for Sustainable Enterprise (DOCSE) focuses its efforts on guiding organizations toward holistic sustainable strategies that are rooted in innovation and enterprise development. DOCSE’s mission is to be the leader in developing business practices that support corporate social responsibility, environmental health and safety, environmental management, community, and greening activities in a holistic and systemic way.  DOCSE explores issues related to sustainable enterprise, shapes curriculum development, and trains the next generation of researchers and business leaders. DOCSE has three main goals:  advancing scholarly research and developing practical solutions for creating sustainable enterprises; integrating sustainability into teaching, learning, and student activities; and outreach initiatives to embed sustainability in organizations and communities.  It accomplishes these goals through three over-arching programs:  research on sustainable enterprise; curriculum and student support; and outreach to organizations.  Through these programs, DOCSE provides a variety of ways for faculty and students to participate in building and strengthening our efforts to promote sustainability at Concordia University, within our local community and around the world.  Dr. Paul Shrivastava is the David O’Brien Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, Montreal. He also serves as Senior Advisor on sustainability at Bucknell University and the Indian Institute of Management-Shillong, India. In addition, he serves on the Board of Trustees of DeSales University, Allentown, Pennsylvania.  Dr. Shrivastava received his Ph. D. from the University of Pittsburgh. He was tenured Associate Professor of Management at the Stern School of Business, New York University. He has published 15 books and over 100 articles in professional and scholarly journals. He served on the editorial boards of leading management education journals including the Academy of Management Review, the Strategic Management Journal, Organization, Risk Management, and Business Strategy and the Environment. He won a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award and studied Japanese management while based at Kyoto University. He founded the Organization and Natural Environment Division of the Academy of Management. His work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and on the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour.  Dr. Shrivastava has 30 years’ experience in management education, entrepreneurship, and as a consultant to major multinational companies. In 1976 he was part of the management team that launched Hindustan Computers Ltd., one of India’s largest computer companies. In 1985 he founded the non-profit Industrial Crisis Institute, Inc. to mediate the industrial crisis between Union Carbide Corporation and the Government of India, and published the Industrial Crisis Quarterly. In 1998 he founded, and was President and CEO of eSocrates, Inc., a knowledge management and online training/education software company. He has served as consultant to AT & T, Baker Hughes, FMC Corp, Johnson and Johnson, Ketchum Communications, Scott Paper, Wartsila Oy, and MEC RASTOR, and Elea-Olivetti. He designs and presents strategic summits and training workshops for upper management focused on corporate and competitive strategy, sustainable management, and crisis management.  He was co-organizer of the Steelman Triathlon races and DJ-ed the World Tango Music show on WVBU, 90.5FM, Lewisburg, PA.

Emerging Markets ESG:  How would you define sustainability?

Dr. Paul Shrivastava:  The most widely known definition of sustainability is from the Brundtland Commission’s Report Our Common Future:  “economic development that takes care of our needs without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”  I like to define sustainability a bit differently as “rearranging human life in ways that allow all life on earth to flourish over the long term.”

Emerging Markets ESG:  What is the antithesis or opposite of sustainability?

Dr. Paul Shrivastava:  The antithesis of sustainability is unchecked economic growth, which is what is currently happening in virtually all countries.  The demand for goods and services is continuing to grow globally.  The advertising and knowledge mechanisms and the value systems for increasing desire and consumption remain in full force, resulting in decline of major sustainability measures (such as Carbon accumulation in the atmosphere) over the past two decades.

Emerging Markets ESG:  What is the difference between sustainable enterprise and mainstream enterprise?

Dr. Paul Shrivastava:  In practice there are no “sustainable enterprises…”This term represents our aspirational ideals or goals towards which mainstream enterprises can move.  These goals are to minimize ecological impacts of all organizational products, services and operations to a minimum and distribute the benefits of organizations in a socially equitable manner.  Those enterprises striving for sustainability are mindful of their ecological impacts and social responsibilities and strive to continuously improve on them.

Emerging Markets ESG:  Does sustainability require a paradigm shift?

Dr. Paul Shrivastava:  Well “paradigm” is a big scary word.  It implies deep and fundamental changes and long-term changes.  Enterprises, especially the large public ones, don’t do “paradigm shift;” they are too big, with too much inertia.  So while sustainability could be achieved more quickly with such radical paradigm shifts, I believe it is also possible to achieve sustainability through small incremental innovative changes. The shifts needed are changes in operations to extract eco-efficiencies, changes in corporate and business strategies to evoke long-term and cycles of prosperity, and changes in value systems toward ecocentrism. An example of this kind of change comes from our Centre where we saw a demand for understanding sustainability as it relates to the investment industry. We developed an on-line Sustainable Investment Professional Certification (SIPC) to provide finance professionals with the skills and knowledge to make investments that create positive social and environmental returns as well as financial returns.

Emerging Markets ESG:  Does sustainability mean something different in developed economies than it does in emerging markets?  Would you please describe a specific environmental, social or governance issue from a sustainability perspective, comparing and contrasting the sustainability perspective of the specific issue in a developed economy and in an emerging market.

Dr. Paul Shrivastava:  Yes, sustainability means very different things in developed and emerging economies. In fact it can mean different things even within a single developed economy such as the US or Canada.  Not all parts of the US/Canada economies are equally developed.  We have poverty and homelessness, we have hunger and malnutrition, we have health and wellness deficits in sectors of these developed economies.  Economic inequality has reached such levels as to spawn the Occupy Wall Street movement.  So sustainability is better conceived of at a bioregional level.  Healthcare is in crisis with runaway increase in costs and poor quality of care.  So even developed economies have to think of the long-term viability of their own systems, and a more equitable distribution of wealth.

As an example of a significant problem of sustainability for developed economies, let us consider “consumption”.  All developed economies are now consuming significantly more than what they can biophysically produce in their territories.  They are extracting biophysical product from other countries to sustain their own life style.  This level of per capita consumption is simply not sustainable and will need to be reduced.  This can be done first by reducing waste – currently nearly 40% of food produced is wasted, nearly 60% of electricity produced is wasted.  It will also require personal austerity and mindful consumption to achieve sustainability in developed economies.

Emerging economies, especially the BRICs, face a somewhat different challenge in consumption. The elites and middle classes in these countries are unfortunately aping developed societies model of consumption.  That needs to change.  The more crucial difference is with lower and impoverished classes who need to increase their consumption to at least meet minimum standards of human wellbeing indicators accepted in the Millennium Development goals.

Besides consumption, developed and developing economies also face different sustainability challenges with regard to “work and labor” practices.  There is a huge surplus of labor in emerging economies.  In the coming decade, the BRICs alone will need to create more jobs than currently exist in all developed economies together.  So we need very different approaches and solutions for structuring work, creating jobs, defining the work week, valuing women’s work, and managing workers.  Emerging economies need to build their own indigenous model of sustainability.  They cannot afford to blindly follow developed country examples because none of the developed countries is anywhere close to being sustainable.  There is a huge opportunity for innovative design of economies that leverage local natural and human resources as well as local cultural traditions, and are responsive to the real needs of citizens.