Sustainability Workshop with Dr Rodney Irwin

Background

On Friday 22nd April, the ‘LUMS at WBCSD’ student team was invited to attend a sustainability workshop ran by Dr Rodney Irwin, who is Managing Director of Redefining Value and Education at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Rodney has a substantial amount of experience in the field of Finance and he is a chartered accountant by profession; Rodney continues to use his wealth of knowledge to benefit the WBCSD cause, and promotes that member companies be progressive by including sustainability within their financial reports: doing so offers an additional dimension to reports, by prompting owners, managers and stakeholders to consider whether ‘value’ of a company is purely financial, or whether extrinsic benefits to society and the environment should act as an indicator of how truly valuable a company and its operations are. Furthermore, Rodney is a motivator and an educator: he has developed and delivered education programs designed for mid and senior finance staff, and is currently expanding the WBCSD education products for member companies.

wbcsd

LUMS at WBCSD with Dr Rodney Irwin

The Workshop

The workshop consisted of two parts: firstly, an exercise to determine what kind of personality type each participant had, using an assortment of coloured cards with characteristics printed on them. Secondly, an activity where we took part in a sustainability business simulation game.

Rodney derived the coloured card activity from theory on the Ned Hermann Brain Model, which divides the human brain into 4 categories which have specific characterisations. The coloured card game proceeds as follows: a selection of coloured cards (either red, blue, green or yellow) with characteristics or traits printed upon them was presented to each participant, for each person to select the 4 cards which they believed best represented themselves. The colour of the card represents a personality type: for example, the red cards had words on them suggesting the individual is highly emotive, and decisions they take may be purely based on the individuals’ emotional feelings rather than anything else such as statistics, or intuition, or order. Whichever colour of card appeared most frequent (or if equal, best represents the individual) was the individual’s personality type. Rodney inspired us to reflect on our own personality types and consider the effect our mindsets have on working with people with differing mindsets when in teams – it is likely differing colours clash, however for an effective team it may in fact be crucial to have someone with each personality type so that each function is fully fulfilled. This goes to show team work is best and open-minded collaboration results in success.

For the sustainability business simulation game, working in small groups we were given ownership of our own logistics company in the fictitious land of ‘Globeaus’. The aim of the game was to survive as a business and create the most value of our company, depending on how we as a team defined value. There were performance indicators, which were financial, societal and environmental ratings which we had to consider throughout the duration of the game – these scores would fluctuate with our decisions to certain events. In the game we as a company were presented with business opportunities and threats, each yielding their own result depending on how we reacted to them. We had opportunities to expand into new territories, invest in youth and our own work force, and develop eco-friendly fuel sources, while threats ranged from negotiating bribery of crooked officials to child labour accusations to deaths, directly due to our operations. The game highlighted to all who took part that there are many challenges that the modern day business must face, and decisions often have unintended consequences. Moreover, it also showed that to be a sustainable business, you do not necessarily have to sacrifice profits: it is possible to act responsibly as a company but also be competitive against your rivals and make continued financial gains.

Reflective Thoughts of the Team

Overall, the ‘LUMS at WBCSD’ student team felt the session was informative and insightful: we discovered that it is absolutely crucial that one considers their own way of thinking, and understands his or her competencies and limitations. Daphne Papaioannou was intrigued with how people in teams or groups may have different ways of thinking and communicating, while Miri Luft concluded that people of different types might have trouble working together, yet, on the other hand, having people with a different approach and thinking might be helpful in some situations in building sustainable businesses and in team work in general. It is possible that leadership or the company culture could dictate whether a mix of personalities would be a success or a failure.

In addition, we realized businesses face real challenges when it comes to sustainability. After debating between ourselves in our small groups during the sustainability game, we got a flavour of the clash of ethos that a company may experience among its leadership when deciding on future sustainability strategy. Yury Dmitryuk gained a valuable experience on how businesses have to make decisions in the real world, and believes businesses must consider all possible outcomes that their choices can lead to; meanwhile, Thea Nygaard now better understands that businesses have a tough task prioritising financial objectives versus sustainable objectives which would benefit society and the environment, particularly when profits are desired and expected from shareholders.

My Thoughts

I agree with the points that my fellow team members made – the coloured card game is a reminder to us all that our own way of thinking is not always how everyone else views the world. We also must consider that different people’s approaches are better in different circumstances, and we must not be too proud to argue our way when it is clear someone else’s is more effective. If in our teams we all seek the common goal of success, as team members we must come together as one, unite our strengths and move in the same direction.

With the sustainability game, I had fun a lot of fun, as running my own business is something I’d like to do in real life one day. It was intriguing to see the complexities of making seemingly simple decisions due to the Law of Unintended Consequences being at work. Though we finished the game with substantial profits, my team initially invested in a bad country for business and sustainability, hoping we’d realize excellent growth. One bad thing led to another, resulting in poor returns on investment and declining societal and environmental ratings. This shows companies need to be particularly careful where they invest their capital in order to keep their good reputations while also maintain healthy returns. This simulation game has given me an insight into problems business face with regards to sustainability and has perhaps made me a little less cynical of businesses and their efforts to become sustainable. This game could push business leaders to pursue sustainability a little bit more as it is clearly possible if you invest wisely and are kind to the planet and society you reap long term profits.

We, the ‘LUMS at WBCSD’ student team, would like to extend our gratitude to Dr Rodney Irwin for his time and delivery of the sustainability session, and for his hospitality while we were in Montreux. It has been truly inspiring to hear his expertise on sustainability and we are all now invigorated to make our own differences in the world.  

Lee Brennan

 

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