The purpose of this program was to learn about the practices and innovation used in a progressive Scandinavian business climate that emphasize sustainability. This program aimed to address the common misconceptions about how sustainability is just an additional cost to business operations. The companies that were visited emphasized that sustainability is a great opportunity for additional revenue streams, cost savings, and innovation.
The program gave me the opportunity to understand how much of a bubble we live in in the United States. Being an economic world power has a tendency to have everything be accomodated to us. One aspect of my experience in Scandinavian countries that gave me this inclination is that fact that everyone in these countries speaks their native language in addition to english. This is a common trend around the world except for the United States, and makes traveling abroad for many citizens more difficult. This has a tendency to close us off from the rest of the world and makes us appear closed-minded.
In addition to language barriers, Scandinavian countries believe in the idea of “the collective”, which I found incredibly fascinating. The collective puts emphasis on sharing and doing what is collectively best for the nation’s well-being. The main way that this is expressed in Scandinavian countries is through governmental structure. Their governments, while not all so directly, encapsulate socialist ideals. While historically socialism has a bad reputation, it works very effectively in these countries. The downfall is a higher standard of living, but the advantages definitely outweigh this. Because of this, these countries make the simplest of jobs more attractive, such as being a waiter/waitress. These jobs are paid liveable wages, and it is not a social norm in these countries to tip because of this, making dining cheaper for patrons. Additionally, there is a high emphasis on using taxes for public infrastructure. Public transit is used all the time, and bike lanes are incorporated into the roads, which makes that option more attractive in terms of accessibility. These options in transit also emphasize these countries high regard for the environment. Many of the citizens who reside in these countries take these modes of transit in order to actively reduce carbon emissions, which not only benefits their immediate environment, but also the environment for the rest of the world.
One experience I had while abroad that taught me about the challenges surrounding people globally to commit to their “collective” was a company visit at a think-tank. A think-tank is a a research institute/center and organization that performs research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture. Part of a think-tank’s responsibility is developing strategy for change management. Change management is term for all approaches to prepare and support individuals, teams, and organizations in making organizational change. The primary reason why a transition to a more “collective” mindset is that people are naturally resistant to change. Additionally, problems that affect entire communities are usually large-scale and overwhelm people with how to address it. Our lecturer at the visit pointed out a great way to start addressing these issues is to “make the problem bigger”. What he meant by this was that people often focus on specific components first, rather than the big picture. Starting broad and then focusing in can sometimes provide some solutions you are looking for.
The program also led to a change in how I will approach advocating sustainability to businesses. It is unfortunate, but when sustainable investments are proposed to companies, they do not care much about the environmental impact that can make. The primary premise of a business is to maximize shareholder value. Therefore, you have to propose these investments in a way that coincides with their primary goal. The main way that I see sustainability profiting businesses is through innovation. Creating products to be more environmentally friendly brings new technology that makes a company more competitive compared to the other competition. Additionally, a growing amount of consumers care about how their buying habits impact the environment, so you target a new niche of customers. Sustainability also can have a tendency to cut operating costs and make processes more efficient, which also makes businesses more profitable and competitive in terms of production. Finally, although we are far off of this as a society, the implementation of pollution taxes will become a factor that businesses will need to take into account. These taxes will be steep, so taking the necessary action as a company to make sure they do not overstep their limit will eventually be essential.
Finally, company visits embedded the idea that I want to work for a company that works to improve the lives of people and give back to those who make the company what they are. Companies who focus on providing societal benefits are more profitable and create stronger customer relationships by creating a sense of belonging for the customer. In some parts of the world, governments do not wish to take the threat of our environment’s condition seriously. The environment is one of very few aspects in which every nation must do its part to help alleviate the damage that we have done. Although some governments refuse to do so, some businesses have started to figure it out, and are becoming a platform for this change. Hopefully their contributions will help to pressure these non-compliant governments into making change. Businesses that focus of giving back to their environment and people hold a special power that would be interesting to invest myself in one day.
Investing in this program provided an invaluable experience that reinforced some goals that I had already, but also created new ones. The program confirmed my effort to graduate in with a minor in business sustainability and to source out career opportunities that use sustainability as a platform for innovation. However, one new goal of mine is to one day live in one of these Scandinavian countries. The idea of “the collective” taught me that the way I live my life can impact the opportunities for others is fascinating and a culture I aspire to be a part of. Most importantly, this program taught me that I want to work with an interest that I love. A career compensates for so much of your life, and it should not be wasted on something that you are just getting by with. I loved every aspect of this program and it is an experience I will never forget.