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As founder and CEO of Scandinavia's largest think tank, Monday Morning, and founder of the Copenhagen Climate Council, Erik Rasmussen is a leading figure in the public debate over climate[…]

Corporations have a strong business interest in becoming sustainable.

Question: What needs to happen for sustainability to take hold?

Erik Rasmussen: Leading companies front-runner companies, as we already have seen, take the lead and demonstrate that this is the way for a while. So I think path will be the good examples, the front-runner examples, and then we will have a lot of follow-ups. When they really understand that on all levels, to all stakeholders—being your customers, your employees, politicians, media, public in general—that this is the way to develop a company, then the rest will be easy. 

Question: Do we need top-down or bottom-up approaches?

Erik Rasmussen: Both. And you have to adopt all kinds of strategies, especially to ensure the follow-ups follow up fast and firm. Besides that, we need to create a much stronger knowledge base, really, to document where do we benefit? Where do we have the priorities? And that means that a strong focus on R&D would be important so we develop strong cases, strong material, strong knowledge, about these issues. 

Question: Is it business’s responsibility to promote sustainable lifestyles?

Erik Rasmussen: You can always discuss that and a lot of people could discuss that. Of course, they have not sought responsibility to document benefits of sustainability but I don’t think you have to ask them to do that, and you don’t have to provoke them to do that, because they do it naturally. The companies who really see that this is an important part of their brand, an important part of the business strategy, an important part of their whole data, they will have natural interest in telling the good stories and spread the good stories, spread the good news, so application brings possibility or not. They’ll do it by themselves and have a natural drive for doing so, so you don’t have to force it upon them. It’ll come based on a market drive, market interest, so I am quite confident that it automatically will set the standard.

Question: How can businesses use their powers of persuasion for good?

Erik Rasmussen: They can do it if they want, because they have the strong power, they have the strong networks, they have the communication skills, and so they can change it overnight. They can set a standard overnight if they want to. But, as I pointed out, they’ll do it and they can do it and they are good communicators. They know how to sell a product and if the product, what it is here, is just an ability, they can do it and no doubt they’ll have a huge impact when they do it.

Question: What’s in it for them?

Erik Rasmussen: It is really to make and sustain a business. That’s their way of being sustainable. They’d be sustainable if they tell about their sustainable strategies. All companies have a natural interest in having a strong position to their stakeholders, again being the employees. It’ll be a very important part of their ability to attract new talent, that you have a sustainable company. Who wants to work for a non-sustainable company? But it’s important in a way to influence political decisions, the public in general, the media, whatever. So they have a strong natural interest in being branded, in being positioned as sustainable companies who really want not just to be best in the world, but best for the world. 

Question: Why are some businesses reluctant to act?

Erik Rasmussen: They are reluctant because they feel wrongly that it could hurt their business, that it will spoil their market if sustainability gets to be a widespread trend, but they are very wrong. It’s a very short-sighted view. You are fighting a lost case and they are fighting a lost case. They have to understand, too, that the basic trend in society equals sustainability and you can’t argue against sustainability and fighting for solving climate change problems. But from a short-sighted view, they fear it could damage the business. They fear that their stakeholders would be scared and all these things. Very short-sighted, but they’ll learn, they will learn late and they’ll pay for being late movers, but they’ll learn, and I’m quite sure they have to understand too what is ahead.