Some time has passed since we hosted the 8th International Conference on Sustainability and Responsibility and the 5th Responsible Management Education Research Conference in Cologne. During the conference critical questions about the current state and concepts of Corporate Social Responsibility were raised: Is the Triple Bottom Line still valid? Has CSR solved any problems or do we need to move on to a new thinking of business and sustainability? The conference encouraged participants from diverse fields of expertise to start a new discussion on sustainability – and was a success.
The 8ICSR started with a pre-event at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce Cologne where Wayne Visser, holder of the Sustainable Transformation Chair at Antwerp Management School, presented his concept of Integrated Value. The first day kicked off with a keynote speech by Lize Booysen, Professor of Organizational Behavior and Leadership at the Graduate School of Leadership and Change at Antioch University, who called for action and stressed the importance of sustainable leadership. Throughout the day, expert panels, solution stages, interactive workshops were held to work on a new vision of CSR, sustainable management, and responsible leadership.
In the afternoon, John Elkington, founder of the Triple Bottom Line, and conference host René Schmidpeter held a discourse on their respective concepts. While Elkington, who revised his concept of the Triple Bottom Line earlier this year, explained that the original idea was misinterpreted and led to a trade-off thinking which did not result in effective CSR. It therefore needed to be adapted and transformed to current circumstances. René Schmidpeter argued that the Triple Bottom Line has to be re-interpreted. The old concept has to be changed to an inclusive sustainability concept based on the idea of ‘thinking the present from the future’ and by putting focus on impact first. Furthermore old trade-off thinking needs to be overcome. He said that it is time to challenge old school sustainability thinking on its philosophical base and to take on a new perspective which integrates profitability and sustainability to one holistic concept.
The first day closed with the Lifetime Achievement CSR Award which was awarded to Robert Eccles, Founding Chairman of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and one of the founders of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC). Eccles was honored by George Kell, Chairman of Arabesque and Founding Director of the UN Global Compact, for his work on integrated reporting.
On day two of the international conference, Edward Freeman, Elis and Signe Olsson Professor of Business Administration at University of Virginia’s Darden School and founder of Stakeholder Theory, gave a keynote speech and shared his thoughts to tackle societal issue by creating a ‘new story of business’. Moreover, Business representatives such as Timm Duffner, 'Social Activist' for Ben & Jerry's Germany and founder of HEYHO! granola roastery, and Malin Ripa, head of CR of the Volvo Group, talked about their company's methods of doing CSR. After various interactive sessions, art tours, public pitches, and networking opportunities, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Co-Chair of the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management and Honorary President of the Club of Rome, explained his ideas on why we need a ‘new enlightenment’ to achieve sustainability. After him, Kalpona Akter an activist for workers’ rights in the textile and clothing industry in Bangladesh and CEO of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), gave a touching speech getting standing ovations for her vibrant and powerful words calling for action.
After insightful speeches, interactive workshops, and intensive discussions the conference days were closed by two evening events. On Wednesday, the participants were invited to join a traditional night at the historic Cologne City Hall. Local traditions such as a carnival dance group and regional food, as well as a speech by mayor Henriette Reker were highlights of this evening. On Thursday, the closing event took place at the Zoo of Cologne with a delicious dinner, local beer, and music.
The two-day conference offered a platform for change-makers from all over the world, providing the opportunity to exchange and share ideas through various formats. Not only did the 8ICSR offer panels, presentations, and workshops, but also gave the stage to everyone who was seeking for collaboration opportunities to implement sustainable business models. Furthermore, the conference allowed students to integrate their views and ideas. Looking back, the conference achieved what we were aiming for: animated discussions, knowledge exchange, sharing of new ideas, critical reflections on the status quo, brainstorming on solutions for pressing topics, diverse participants and speakers, and an essential message to spread: we have to rethink our current way of doing CSR, because the CSR we have been doing in the past is not sufficient for the global challenges we are and will be facing.