Several years ago at the Coca-Cola Company offices in London we were met with skepticism when we explained that the problem of plastic waste in the oceans would turn into the “new global warming”. No one in the large business sector wanted to believe that the most versatile material invented by humanity would become the subject of such heavy criticism, let alone that they would have to face regulatory measures aimed against its use.
It is employees’ responsibility to take care of themselves. The responsibility of managers and HR professionals is to think about the work environment – the company culture and the organization of work, and what the environment needs to be like in order to make it possible for the employees to take care of themselves.
Resilient companies are capable of surviving crises and flourishing in a world of uncertainty. Every organization goes through its own “perfect storm”, which is a combination of events and circumstances that can bring a company to its knees. Today’s companies are like crystals – they are entirely transparent. The modern digital information platforms that we use do not allow companies to exert control over their image like they could in the past. We increasingly hear, see, feel and think about emerging threats and expected catastrophes, and before we are able to process them on a rational level, we are already facing their consequences. Naturally this dynamic is activating the fears of increasingly larger groups of people – they are worried about their health, their close ones, their safety, their environment and survival as a whole. These fears have a palpable impact on the social environment where businesses have to exist and invent ways to ensure their survival. The most successful companies are those that are already prepared for this new world. I believe that the modern world is neither more complex nor more frightening, but that we simply have more access to information than we did in the past. This is why the subject of how the conditions for success are changing is important to consider.
Are you for or against male-female quotas at the workplace? Why?
I am against them. Typically those who manage companies have an innate sense of what is important for their business. Solutions dictated by quotas do not follow experience, context or reason. Choosing who to hire is dictated by processes inside the company, which hardly correlate with quotas, making the entire exercise futile. Companies are living organisms and everything in them rearranges over time – entropy rules at any given moment. The theme about men and women at the workplace did not appear on the daily agenda by natural means, and the real added value of quotas is missed by many: what is the benefit to the people and the company? When we write or audit reports on corporate sustainability we usually run into issues on this theme.
Activists, politicians, lobbyists and media outlets continuously conflate air pollution with carbon emissions, as if the two are identical. Few are consciously aware of the fact that they are mistaken. Most simply don’t know any better. The end result is that a false understanding of the connection between the two has become widespread in society. This is a problem because it misleads people into supporting false political movements, programs and measures.
Renewable energy sources are taking an increasingly visible place in the global generation and consumption of energy. Many people believe in a “renewables revolution” and think that these sources can and will replace all other sources of energy in a short amount of time. Since I have the habit of commenting on this utopian idea often in other articles, it might seem like I am pessimistic when it comes to renewables, especially in regards to solar and wind. This is not true.
Last week I was invited to share my views on the future of mobility at a special event organized by Shell Bulgaria. I chose to share my prognosis on what could change in the way we transport ourselves before 2040 – I don’t believe in longer-term predictions because no one can realistically foresee what might happen that far out. In practical terms this means that the question at hand concerns commercial technologies that already exist because the transport sector is a relatively slow moving system – the average age of cars in Europe is 10-12 years, which means that the fleet of vehicles in 2030 will reflect the sales being made today.
I am increasingly coming across the message that we should reduce our carbon emissions by using less plastic. This is often touted as a win-win choice by eco-activists. They say that we can save sea creatures from plastic waste and save the planet from warming at the same time – decarbonization and circular economics put together for a brighter future on Earth!
…is reputation management. Sustainable corporate development only makes sense when company’s social engagements are reasoning its own conviction. Companies are often motivated by outside-based reasoning: popular media themes, pressure from certain groups or new regulations. Such an approach leads to blurring of lines between the company’s development and its responsibilities in terms of sustainability. In addition, companies notice that not all initiatives have real contribution to the strengthening of their business. Why is that so? The sort of activities only make sense when they are in line with the company’s principles. No universally-relevant aspects exist that require immediate, at-all-costs company action to be undertaken as solutions.
What does wellbeing at the workplace depend on? It is determined by us. We often want to create a sense of wellbeing at the workplace, but we don’t always have clarity on what we actually want to achieve.
The impact of various products on the environment is a theme that most modern people are well acquainted with – we are constantly bombarded with news about carbon emissions, air pollution, resource depletion and other similar topics. Human activity undoubtedly influences the environment in various ways, which leads to the question of which influence is the most important. The Cola-Cola Company asked themselves this question in the distant 1969, which led to the creation of the first life cycle assessment (LCA) in the world.
“The collapse of foreign investments is total” according to the chamber of commerce. Similar titles have been sweeping the media landscape like avalanches during the last days, but we encounter them on a yearly basis – we complain that there are no investments in our economy, especially in the heavy industry sector. Forget about the factories that assemble all sorts of things for a moment and try to remember when was the last time someone created an industrial complex for processing the raw materials we produce. I can only recall the “Astra bioplant” biodiesel refinery near Ruse, which was built with the help of subsidies, and the “AES Galabovo” power plant that replaced the two Kozloduy nuclear reactors that were shut down as a cost of entry into the EU (which we will be paying off for a long time to come). All of the remaining investments have been channeled into existing operations that survived after the 90’s.
I would like to start with a question that I wish I heard more often: “How can I know whether my business is sustainable?”. Unfortunately, I cannot do so, because I rarely ever hear it. Instead, I come across assured claims like: “My business is sustainable because we have initiatives for the reduction of energy usage and we make considerable donations to good NGOs”.
We often come to the following question together with our partners and clients: who should be engaged with the sustainable development of the company, in what department and what responsibilities should they have? In most cases in Bulgaria, the people who deal with sustainable business development are managers and experts in corporate communications. The increased number of employees who take on the roles of Corporate Social responsibility managers, specialists and sustainability managers/directors is notable.
We want our employees to be happy and we work hard to make it so. Yes, defining and managing happiness is mostly a personal matter, but what role do we as organization leaders have? We believe that our role is to create an environment in which emotions are not labeled. It seems to us that the accepted definition of professionalism is the ability to always stay positive and to never feel negative emotions or at least manage and suppress them well. Let’s be honest – these are the rules that, more or less, define relations in teams. The problem is that people can’t feel happy, wholesome and capable of managing themselves and their stress for long in such environments. This happens because we falsely believe that we control our emotions, whereas as the truth is that they control us.
Every domain of activity has its myths and sustainable development is no exception – it is actually permeated by them. Managing our attitude to these myths is the only way for humanity to progress in the long term. Here are some of the most common misconceptions in the public mind:
Over the last years a certain outlook has become trendy. It goes something like this: the application of universal policies, indicators and criteria for the sustainable development of companies and the decisions of their investors is a sure way to create long-term business success. At this point in time we have enough practical experience with this way of thinking so as to be able to gauge how true it is.
In reality we started to get cleaner air from the moment humanity discovered and began using electricity. The same can be said about outdoor air quality – the more solid fuel burning that takes place, the worse pollution tends to be. The most developed nations with the freest markets enjoy the cleanest air, which is a new development in history. The only exceptions are found in countries with a large proportion of diesel vehicles, which is the case in Europe. And here we come to the second myth on the subject – people believe that regulations keep the air clean. Not exactly – it was precisely the green politics of Europe that stopped the improvement of air quality because they led to the widespread use of diesel vehicles. This is nothing less than a reversal of the natural path of development that leads us from clean to dirtier fuels.
The question with which I associate Sirakov’s 1986 score in Mexico is “When will we be able to eat salad again?”. My mother is a chemical engineer, but she didn’t know. The answer was known only to a small circle of people and we weren’t among them. I associate our travels along the south Balkan line with people telling us to “Close the windows! We are getting close to the copper production combine.” I barely remember the visits to my relatives in Ruse, but there is one memory that will stay with me forever. A key question was always present in their daily conversations:
„Will we be able to breathe today?“