Posted by: Kaj Embren | August 25, 2010

Sustainable leadership — principles and instruments

It was 20 years ago that I first met Karl-Henrik Robert, founder of The Natural Step Foundation and we together found time to develop ideas and strategies for leadership within the area of sustainable development. It was a time of inspiration and knowledge seeking. For me it became a question of laying the foundation for increased understanding of the game rules and principles for long-term and systematic work towards sustainable social progress.

Today, 20 years on, I once again met Karl-Henrik, who, in my interview

Posted by: Kaj Embren | August 6, 2010

In the shadow of the oil spill 2

Since my last blog, I have received many e-mails asking me to translate the Swedish figures showing that bioenergy is bigger than the oil sector as an energy provider to Swedish society – which gives a positive signal to minimise the dependency on fossil fuel.
If you read the statistics below you will it all in spelt out in English!

As I write, more data is emerging from the IAE which spells out the economic case for ending fossil fuel subsidies since governments are seeking to cut their deficits. In developing countries, these subsidies amounted to $557bn (€464) in 2008, according to the IEA. By comparison, last year, governments worldwide provided a feeble $43-46bn (€32-€35bn) for the development of all renewable energy sources (including biofuels), according to a preliminary analysis published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance last week.

As l live close to the Baltic Sea, many of my discussion are connected to the situation in the Mexican Gulf area. Marine and coastal eco-systems (and local economies) are threatened from oil spills, and agricultural and urban pollution originating upstream around both the Baltic Sea and the Mexican Gulf. This year the Baltic has suffered from the biggest algal growth ever recorded – and, to make matters worse, over here it is a toxic species that predominates.

Similarly, huge quantities of nitrates are discharged yearly into the Mississippi – and then into The Gulf – some1,5 million tonnes, from fertilizer, urban runoff and sewage plants. When the algae decompose, oxygen in the water is reduced so significantly that little life can exist.
So, the expansion of (heavily subsidised) corn for ethanol or other crops for so-called “alternative” fuel can not be considered a sustainable solution, as their advocates (usually agribusiness interests) like to claim.

Why on earth are governments pumping tax-payers’ money into such foolish expansion of business-as-usual activities. It makes little sense – economically, environmentally or socially – particularly when you consider how much better such money could be spent in simultaneously addressing the inter-linked problems caused by conventional agriculture, energy and waste management industries. This is an issue that must be addressed by both local and national governments in the USA, Sweden and other parts of the world where similar problems arise. The solutions are known – they should be implemented now.

Sources: SVEBIO – Swedish Bioenergy association

Sources: SVEBIO – Swedish Bioenergy association

Posted by: Kaj Embren | July 26, 2010

In the shadow of the oil spill

Dear friends,

The future of the oil industry is under discussion. It is not only related to the fact that we can see a peak of the oil sources already in 2012 (US Military Defence survey). Environmental – social and economical issues are strongly linked to the discussion. With daily reports from the Mexican Gulf, China and the Nigeria delta most people now can see the price of the oil threats. It is a necessary issue for both political and businesses leaders to strengthen their efforts to solve the energy crises with long term sustainable energy sources. As Sweden was quickly in the forefront of future solutions and not dependent on fossil fuel, we can now see the result of what a society can do in a step by step approach. For the first time, bioenergy is bigger than the oil sector as an energy provider to Swedish society, which gives a positive signal to minimise the dependency on fossil fuel.

One sector that is behind but will be under discussion is of course the transport sector. One of the positives to emerge from the Swedish political week in Almedalen this summer was that many politicians were convinced that alternative transport fuel is on the way, despite sustainable bioenergy transportation figures still being under 6 per cent. As a society we have to act systematically with investors, innovators, businesses and politicians. Sweden may be an exception but has an opportunity to play a leading role.

If you have any problem understanding the numbers and text (text in Swedish) in the graph below please don’t hesitate to contact me.

With summer greetings from Stockholm

Kaj Embren

Ten years have passed since Global Compact, the UN initiative to bolster companies’ commitment to vital social issues, began. Since then, 7,000 companies in more than 135 countries have ratified Global Compact’s 10 principles. Between the 23rd and 25th of June, more than 1,000 CEOs, ministers, UN officials and leading NGOs will meet in New York with an agenda focusing on three crucial areas:

– Setting the Agenda

– Leading the Change

– Achieving Development

In the shadow of the discussion that business as usual is no longer the solution to the problems facing society, the message from New York could have a great significance. Both message and action are imperative.
Global Compact is needed to give a voice to the ever-increasing groups of companies that have understood that it is no longer a question of business as usual. Every day we read about governments and companies that mismanage money by using it on something other that what it was budgeted for. It is my hope that we get a powerful message from New York on the most crucial issues surrounding Climate Justice and Corruption.

Without climate justice between the developing and developed worlds, no long-term trust is created to lead us to a new climate agreement. Despite all the good examples of local initiatives, the one thing that lays the foundation for success — trust — must still be found among a strong leadership. The global efforts for sustainable development will then receive the support it needs today.

Kaj Embrén

PS Respect was set up together with The Body Shop’s founders Gordon and Anita Roddick ten years ago. We have so far contributed with the Business Leaders Initiative on Climate Change (BLICC) and the Business Leadership on Human Rights (BLIHR), as well as a number of business programmes in the climate field. Among the most successful implementation program is in practise by measuring greenhouse gas emissions (Svante). Read more at See the interview with Fred Dubee about the UN Global Compact at

The CDM system is a good tool to use and could also have a significant role to play in climate work if used on terms and conditions that benefited both developing and developed countries.

The lack of climate fairness between developed and developing countries poses a threat to compromises in any prospective international climate agreement. The situation of developing countries is clear to see in the daily reports of flooding, drought and conflicts, which all have their origin in climate change and the lack of resources.

A consensus between developed and developing countries is an absolute prerequisite in any sustainable climate agreement.

The fairness issues must come higher up on the agenda in the negotiations that deal with the day-to-day issues, such as fair resource allocation, corruption risks and bureaucratic red tape. There is only one model that will solve these problems, and that is cooperation and trust. Cooperation and trust must be worthwhile and must exist on both sides of the negotiating table.

But at the side of the negotiating table and the development of the CDM system things are happening on the market that have largely gone unnoticed and which politicians and companies should begin to show an interest in.

We know that the EU’s trading system for emission rights covers around 12,000 industrial plants that answer for approx. 50 per cent of the EU countries’ total emissions. These include energy intensive industries like power producers, cement factories, steel industries and paper pulp industries, etc. Here it is only natural that their own energy efficiency programmes and use of resources become a vital part of the work to reduce emissions, enabling them to take their climate responsibility.

The CDM plays a minor part in this work but is nevertheless a crucial part of the system of emission rights, particularly with regard to developing countries. Today there are close on 1,000 CDM projects in 50 or so developing countries. Only 23 of these are in Africa. We need innovative forces to find methods that would facilitate the relationship between the local markets of developing countries and the large companies in the developed world.

Several large industrial players do not, by the look of things, have many business relationships with developing countries judging by their suppliers. However, companies that do have a large number of sub-suppliers in developing countries, such as IKEA, H&M, Coca-Cola, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, ASDA, NIKE and Wal-Mart are not usually involved in developing CDM in the trading system.

But they have great knowledge of how to go about building relationships with local producers in developing countries. Many work with green supplier systems and sustainable development has been given priority in their marketing models for sustainable business. Increasing numbers of these multinational companies are demanding that their suppliers report their greenhouse gas emissions.

Cooperation between market players, in which the large emissions companies in the trading system learn from companies with many suppliers in developing countries, would:

1. Secure the quality at local level in developing countries
2. Reduce the risk of corruption and bureaucracy
3. Increase the interest in investing in climate projects also outside CDM in developing countries
4. Underpin sustainability work in developed as well as developing countries
5. Provide more quality CDM projects and thus increase trade
6. Generate market collaboration for more effective use of skills

This permits the utilisation of existing structures with good logistics, which would benefit many developing countries and increase the interest in an improved CDM system in which sustainable development is given improved status.

In this respect, the Business for Development – B4D developed by SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) can be a strong Swedish contribution to allocating resources to strengthen sustainable development in developing countries based on a win-win situation for both developing and developed countries. Furthermore, it would be a good Swedish contribution prior to the coming negotiations on a new internationally fair climate agreement.

Stockholm 24th of Maj
Kaj Embren

Posted by: Kaj Embren | April 3, 2010

Leadership for Sustainable Development

We find ourselves in the midst of societal development in which companies, organisations and politicians are taking up new positions and responsibilities. In an era of globalisation, external influences are thus much greater. This was highlighted by Niklas Egels-Zandén in one of our earlier interviews and in his doctoral thesis where he took up the issue of social responsibility from a multinational perspective. Among other things he discusses the traditional Scandinavian model of trade union involvement as being especially useful when debating leadership in sustainable development.

In another of our interviews, Lindsey Parnell, CEO of Interface Europe, (see took up the significance of a sustainability perspective on the global market and the leading role that Interface has played in this since 1995; a unique position developed by a US-based company in which a strong business leader (Ray Anderson) has played a significant role.

Leading sustainable development is a complex task, but as Lindsey-Parnell points out in the interview, an absolute must for a CEO to understand and develop as it concerns finding the business benefits in an area that touches on 25-30 subject areas such as climate, human rights, diversity, manufacturer liability, the water issue, etc.

The MIT Sloan Management Review, which includes a survey conducted with 1,500 business leaders in large multinationals like GE, Unilever, Nike, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, shows that more that 70 per cent of the respondent companies have not developed a clear business concept for sustainable development. Everything still points to the companies’ commitment being equal to the legislation that puts demands on them.

In another survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers that covers 1,200 CEOs in medium-sized or large companies in 50 or so companies, including 30 Swedish, two out of three business leaders say that we will see an increase in consumer actions within the area of sustainability before a purchase decision is made. Ninety per cent of Swedish business leaders agree with this.

With a period of financial crisis still very much in the wings, the issue is not likely to diminish in importance, despite many not yet having taken a stance. But it is clear to see that something is happening on the market — and there are enough of us to learn from.

Kaj Embrén

One of the students that I met in Stockholm 2003 was Niklas Egels-Zandén. Today Niklas is a celebrated doctor, researcher and lecturer at the Department of Business Administration at the School of Business, Economics and Law at University of Gothenburg.

At the time – 2003 – Respect was deep involved in a Global discussion regarding Corporate Governance, Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility. Together with Tom Cannon in Respect’s London consultancy team we raised the issues of Corporate Governance at a seminar in London entitled Enterprising Europe – A New Model for Global Business. Other contributors at the seminar and to the book that was published after the seminar included Robert Monks, John Elkington and Simon Zadek. For me it had a special interest to link this discussion of a new model to the 1930th model, what we called the Saltsjöbadsandan, a consensus model based on the relations between government, businesses and the trade unions.

In London Tom Cannon had just chaired the New Vision for Business study initiated by Tony Blair in 2001. At that time Respect engaged Niklas to delve deeper into the subject and in 2003 he chaired an initiative together with the Second Swedish National Pension Fund. The report, Corporate Governance, Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility, was one of the first Swedish studies of a New Construct of Corporate Governance.

In late February 2010 Niklas presented a study as his doctoral dissertation that looked deeper into the subject. With a more global society he had been looking at the role of corporations in managing the interaction between various organisational functions and stakeholders at global and local levels. His focus has been on Swedish multinational companies and exploring the work of MNC in China and Africa. His study is important for the necessary dialogue that needs to continue, particularly when the focus is more on the MNC work in the supply chain. Hopefully, in the future we will see stronger Swedish values based on the Saltsjöbadsandan and welfare models when businesses act on the global market and in the supply chain. As Niklas said, it makes business sense in both economical and social terms.

Best regards

Kaj Embrén

You can order the book

1. Enterprising Europe – A new Model for Global Business from

2. Niklas Egels-Zandén- Managing Responsibilities – The formation of Swedish MNS´sfirm-society policies and practises from

3. Listen to the interview with Niklas Egels-Zandén (Swe)

Posted by: Kaj Embren | January 16, 2010

From inside Brazil

I am back in Sweden after three weeks in Brazil, which has become a frequent travel destination for me in the past ten years. Brazil is my third home country after the UK and Sweden and a visit always gives plenty of food for thought. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth but it is easy to feel frustrated at the lack of progress brought about by non-sustainable thinking in the decision-making process. Brazil was punching above its weight in 1963 when Charles de Gaulle called it an unserious country but recent developments have given new hope that the country and its 190 million citizens could soon stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s biggest economies, China, the US, India and Japan.

But it is a formidable challenge. Internationally, President Lula reinforced his position at the Copenhagen summit by supporting the REDD initiative, the first step to securing sources to preserve global interest in the Amazon region. 58 per cent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and deforestation. If it were not for deforestation, Brazil would rank only 18th in the list of world of carbon dioxide emitters. The 200 million tons of carbon dioxide released by burning rainforest each year puts Brazil among the top ten.

Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of sugar-based ethanol fuel. The Brazilian government plans to triple its annual export of ethanol from three billion to ten billion litres by 2015. However, due to the large question mark surrounding the ethanol issue, more opportunities will be linked to the second generation of biofuels, both from cellulose and biogas from waste. These are sources that Brazil could develop in a sustainable way.

Looking at other domestic areas, the challenges are even greater and are dependent on people’s participation. Also, the democracy is still young and the gap between rich and the poor will be a priority issue for years to come. As a Swede you see education, education and education as the way forward, but it is not enough.

The social agenda is far from settled. Corruption and the legal system destroy any ambitions on that front. Liberal attitudes towards drugs at the higher levels of society create a huge market for drug dealers in the favelas.

Rio de Janeiro and adjoining areas will come under scrutiny step by step on the road to the FIFA World Cup and Olympics. The combination of heavy rain and climate change means most of the favelas need to be moved away. Last year as I was passing Angra on my way to Paraty south of Rio de Janeiro I could see new favelas emerging all around the mountainside.

The ever-increasing number of favelas in the past ten years is one of the indicators of Brazil’s inability to set serious social targets. Brazil’s discourse of creating a sustainable society does not reflect in daily realities. Climate change will perhaps provide the impetus to begin clearing up in the favelas and give politicians reason to put this challenge onto to their agenda. When I left Rio last week it was announced that around 200 favelas would be removed in the next two years due to poor construction and the risk to life and land slides.

But I do not wish to focus on the challenges only. Coming back to my last blog, I wrote that one of the most important areas to fight climate change is to engage cities. This approach provides opportunities to bolster the agenda for climate and gives the Copenhagen accord a good nudge forward.

Brazil has a very interesting city, Curitiba, which could inspire other cities around the world. Curitiba has around two million inhabitants, a good sized city for me. When I first met Jaime Lerner (three times Mayor of Curitiba) I was very impressed. His view on smart sustainable planning and involving local people in the process has been a great success story. Curitiba has the highest recycling rate in the World, currently 70 per cent. In a twenty year period, car traffic fell by 30 per cent while the population tripled. Curitiba has built a large number of parks to control floods rather than use concrete canals, so many in fact that they use sheep to cut the grass as it is cheaper than lawnmowers. Curitiba’s average income per capita has gone from below the Brazilian average in the 1970s to 66 per cent above the Brazilian average.

The role of cities in the world will intensify to meet the coming economic, environmental and social challenges. Brazil is no exception.

When we look at the expansion of cities in Brazil it is clear to see the lack of planning for infrastructure, waste and social justice. Salvador is a beautiful city that is drowning in sewage. The governor spends fortunes advertising the town to tourists who have to be in the most breathtaking sites and smell the most horrific air. Sewage threatens people’s health and destroys the beautiful beaches.

As global citizens we should all get involved in finding solutions that will enhance Brazil’s position as one of the most beautiful places on earth. Support from the friends of Brazil in the shape of investment, knowledge and experience is there for the taking. It would create new market opportunities for many businesses, and, with the growth rate of 4-8 per cent as forecast by many economists, the years leading up to the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games could be golden years.

Based on my own experience, I have compiled a list of measures that will create market opportunities and provide solutions to the social agenda:

– Waste and water technology for cultivating and sustainable city developments as seen in Curitiba and the C40 network
– Sustainable forestry development
– The development of second generation of biofuels
– Energy distribution in cities
– Social and environmental campaigning with the focus on education along the lines of the Keep Sweden Clean Campaign
– Local government training to improve transparency and democracy, including gender equality programmes

Brazil also has a great deal to offer the international community. Commercial goods and services has the potential to keep Brazil shoulder to shoulder with leading world economies, but will not be sustainable until the social and environment agendas have been dealt with.

Stockholm, 16th January 2010

Kaj Embren

Posted by: Kaj Embren | December 21, 2009

Thoughts after Copenhagen – in the eye of 2010

So, now we know. Something went wrong in Copenhagen, but was it completely unexpected? I don’t think so. Many of us had hopes. One outcome is very clear; we are all on the Road again. I think we have a inherent problem in our political system in handling international issues that reflect on national political interests. This year we can also add The WTO’s Doha Round talks that failed. Both the WTO and Climate Change agreement have a huge impact for all of us.

Copenhagen has given us a political deal of sorts, but it is not sufficient to assure people that the political sector is taking Climate Change seriously. The political sector needs to rethink its own role in how to deal with Global issues. One of the problems could well be in the national system. We see how the national US policy is challenged by a strong lobbying sector that puts democracy at risk and doesn’t give Obama the right to deliver what he has promised his voters.

On the other side of the coin we have a system for strong decision-making based on totalitarian power. China can deliver, but to let the world outside China set the conditions in international deals is a new scenario that gives rise to great difficulties.

However,, I don’t wish to reflect more on the challenges that exist in the political sector. We can work in other constellations that will help the political sector to come on board through pressure from local level. Civil action networks and market-oriented solutions are what we now have to build our trust around. We already know that we are doing our utmost to find ways of fighting Climate Change. The technology is there and we can solve the financing issue. It’s the human behaviour factor that we have to look at.

It all boils down the leadership. The Road to Copenhagen conference in the City of Malmö with Mary Robinson, Margot Wallström och Gro Harlem Brundtland was full of inspiration and gave a good sense of leadership. Wise women with experience and a good portion of trust in their bag. They have an important mission in 2010. You can see the summary in a video from the conference –

I end these New Year thoughts with my 6 priorities for the year to come:

1. Women and also youth independent leadership groups should form an international pressure group to fight Climate Change and to open the perspectives in the political sector. Give the politicians a definition of words an actions related to trust, honesty, transparency, justice, participation, consensus and solidarity.

2. Mayors in cities can play a key role in supporting actions and exchanging knowledge and experience. Malmö and other cities in both developed and developing countries have a story to tell on how to be Climate Neutral.

3. In the short term, support technology that already exists and do not focus too much on CCS technology. Promote greater opportunity to rebuild Climate-neutral district energy systems in Eastern Europe, UK, China and US.

4. Full support to solar, wind and alternative fuels in the second generation of biofuels such as Methanol.

5. Sustainable Development and Supply Change – Support a new CDM sector with new actors that already are in the developing countries with advanced links to SMEs.

6. Preservation of the rainforest through international agreement with legal binding and penalty rules built on the experience of the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol with its widespread adoption and implementation has been hailed as an example of exceptional international co-operation.

Have a nice Christmas and Happy New Year!


PS If you would like to read my earlier blogs then translate with the Google translation software. It will be good enough to understand…

Posted by: Kaj Embren | December 17, 2009

Waiting time for a breakthrough in Copenhagen

Dear all,

Time is short. But, it is still a time for a crucial breakthrough in Copenhagen. The world leaders would not risk a new “WTO failure”. I am still a bit tired after our work in Malmö City the 8-9th of December. The ladies Margot Wallström, Mary Robinson and Gro Harlem Brundtland did a fantastic work as facilitators. 2 days hard work with people from all continents. Malmö City representatives encouraged the participants about their high ambitions to reduce GHG emission. And given proof of solutions that are possible. The key factor here is the political leadership and human beings behaving. Malmö have already enough technology solutions and the finance is not a big issue. And the participants now know that – a high ambition Climate Change strategy is good business for the citizens, business and the local government. If you would like to have a summery from the Malmö conference look at

So, if you plan for a trip tom Sweden in 2010, please do a stop over in Malmö to get inspiration for the work to come.

If you would like to follow up the work from Road to Copenhagen – visit – If you would like to see the final press conference with the three ladies in Copenhagen visit – Final press conference at Bella Centre with the official delivery available at

My professional work in Spero Executive Coach you can follow at the website – ( Swedish and sometime English) Just now you can listen to an interview with Mary Robinson on Leadership, Human Rights and Climate Change. You can also follow my blog in english from 2010 at

For professional and personal links and networking you can find me at Linkedln and Facebook.

And if you are interested to know more about the development in Respect and see the high topics on Climate Neutral Strategy and Practise you should not miss the opportunity to visit The company Gordon and Anita Roddick and my colleague Per-Uno Alm started in year 2000.

I would like to wish you all a very relaxing Christmas and a Happy New Year !

Kaj Embren

Margot Wallström, Mary Robinson, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Ilmar Repalu and Minna Gillberg in the Road to Copenhgagen conference in Malmö 8-9th of December

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