… plus an interview with Axel Klimek, CEO, ISIS Academy, and other updates from around the AtKisson Group
This issue of WaveFront is a little different. First, my intro will be very short, because I want you to read the interview with Axel Klimek, CEO of the ISIS Academy, which starts below. Axel, in addition to being my good friend and business partner, has a wonderful perspective on sustainability and change resulting from many years of working first as a psychologist, and then as a top management consultant. What’s the secret to good sustainability work? Listen …
For my own summer reflections on sustainability and the absurdity of trying to change the world — but the necessity of continuing to do so anyway — please click over to my personal blog, here.
Finally, be sure to read through the rest of this newsletter, which includes news and updates from AtKisson Group colleagues around the world (gathered by Michael O’Brien, who runs FWRGroup, our Affiliate in Brisbane, Australia). This is really an extraordinary network of people, and I think you’ll really be inspired by their dedication to sustainability, and the intelligence with which they go about this unusual business of trying to change the world.
There’s also a little fun thing at the end: a free MP3 download, one my songs from the middle 1990s, called “Trying to be Happy in a Crazy World.”
Enjoy … and enjoy the summer (or if you happen to be Down Under with Michael, the winter) ..
Axel Klimek: “Sustainability is a natural process …”
Axel Klimek is the co-founder and managing director of the ISIS Academy GmbH (www.ISISAcademy.com). For many years he has been working as a senior management consultant and coach with high-level experience in Europe, Asia, and Africa, helping leaders, organizations and development programs manage complex change processes and improve performance. His clients have included the African Union Commission, Canon Europe, Ernst & Young, GTZ, Lufthansa, Unilever and T-Systems. Axel was interviewed for web publication earlier this year by Francesca Migliorini.
FM: Axel, could you tell us in your opinion what is the core of sustainability? What makes a company sustainable?
AK: Every human being and also every organisation is driven to sustain itself — which means living a long time. Only ill and malfunctioning systems don’t focus on that. So why do we make such a fuss over sustainability, when in reality it is such a natural process?
You have to look for the answer on a different level. In order to sustain what we have now, we make compromises. For example, in order to sustain my feeling good in a specific moment, I might smoke a cigarette, drink too much wine or eat junk food. I do something now without taking future consequences or side effects into account.
This is also true for companies and even societies. In order to be able to sustain the current status quo, resources oftentimes get exploited, unhealthy working conditions are created, poverty and violence are accepted.
Isn’t it absurd to see that the core of unsustainability lies in the aspiration to sustain what we have now? The real problem is that we often build our desire to sustain what we have now on the backs of others, or with loans from the future, which the next generations will have to pay back.
So the challenge we human beings are facing now is to create an intelligent way of living that embraces our wish to sustain our quality of life, but that that also takes into account everybody else’s need for a sustainable quality of life. And not just for this generation, but also future ones. It is a complicated question, and In order to create an intelligent answer, we need to look very deeply into a wide range of issues.
We actually need to come up with answers to two different questions:
1) What does a sustainable present and future look like?
2) How do we induce the mental and behavioral change that creates a sustainable present and future?
FM: You partnered up with Alan AtKisson to establish ISIS Academy as a new, separate company. That’s a pretty big step to take. What motivated you to do that?
AK: Alan is one of the best known experts in the field of sustainability and sustainable change. A couple of years ago he invited me to co-facilitate the first Master Class for Sustainable Change Agentry. The participant feedback and also our own evaluation of that Master Class was extremely positive. We realized that if we brought our talents together, we could create something that would really benefit change agents, leaders, managers and consultants in charge of sustainability projects.
In the last few years I have seen so many great sustainability experts and champions getting frustrated because they saw that the necessary changes were not happening as fast as needed. Many predictions from the 1970s about the limits to growth were proven to be true; nevertheless human beings continued to act as if they were not.
When it comes to human change, people running change projects still tend to be trapped in an old paradigm built on “Cogito Ergo Sum (I think so I am)”. They believe that rational logic will lead to human change.
But change on the level of individual behaviour, mental models, and organizational culture is a science in itself. In order to create a sustainable future we need to marry the knowledge of compelling sustainability targets with the deep understanding of human change.
In 30 years of professional life, both Alan and I have had the chance to develop some knowledge and experience in the dynamics of human change, with a focus on sustainable development. We feel it is our obligation to offer what we’ve learned to those leaders, decision makers, and change agents who are trying to come up with compelling answers to the demanding problems we humans are facing, and working to make those answers a reality.
FM: In a profit-oriented economy, how can sustainability win? Does sustainability create better economic prospects for companies?
AK: I would not want us to use the idea of winning here. We would immediately create a mindset that builds on division.
The basic idea driving almost every company and every entrepreneur is aligned to the concept of sustainability. Companies and entrepreneurs are offering services or producing goods in order to serve customers’ wishes and needs. They want to serve those customers for a long time. When CEOs and entrepreneurs keep that fundamental understanding in mind, when they have a long-term focus and truly take all the different interdependencies into account, then they will think and act in a sustainable way.
On the other hand your question reflects a lot of the current reality. Many companies only seem to be focusing on short-term interests, or mainly on the financial aspects of entrepreneurship. If the focus of decision-making is built on a neo-Darwinist approach, the idea that only the fittest and best survives, than that creates an organisational culture where the companies’ interest are placed higher than the interests of the whole.
FM: You have a background as psychotherapist and in 1999 you wrote a book called “Liebe und werde der du bist (Love and become who you are)”. How do you find a bridge between this part of your life and your work with companies and sustainability?
AK: The bridge is very easy for me. As a psychotherapist and as a management consultant I work with change. My focus as a psychotherapist was not clinical; I was more focused on the so-called “human potential movement.” The aim behind that approach was to help human beings use their full potentials. This is very close to the modern concept of coaching, which is wide-spread today. So I can say that I have been coaching people for more than 30 years, since a long time before the idea of coaching became a standard in the management field.
If you look at the reality within an organisation, you can easily see how people’s potential is not used efficiently. Simply ask employees about their performance, collaboration, managers’ communication skills, about the company’s meeting culture, how they deal with conflicts and face changes, or about difficult leadership challenges. There is so much room for development.
Speaking about my book: When I am talking about love, I am not referring to the feeling of romantic love that happens between two people. Love in this context is more the ability to embrace what is, and the power to unite. I have worked a lot with conflict resolution in my professional life. A good conflict resolution process always runs through two stages. In the beginning both sides are convinced that they are right and the other party is wrong – this may sound a little oversimplifed, but I have never come across a conflict where the parties started off by taking responsibility for their own behaviour or their own perception.
So the first quality of love is to build the capacity to open up for the other side’s arguments, reasons and needs – to embrace them as a reality. If both sides allow the other’s perspective to exist as one true part of reality, then an important shift might happen, often unexpectedly. A new idea or solution emerges that transforms both positions into a new option. Before this can happen though, it is necessary to do some work, to make a shift. That shift, which suddenly emerges beyond the positions of the conflicting parties, is the second quality of love.
If you take a closer look at how we humans often treat other creatures, the planet, competitors, people with different worldviews, and sometimes even ourselves, you can get the impression that we are rather living according to a concept of war instead of love. Sustainability shares a similar understanding and goal as the definition of love I’m using here – living as part of the world, in respect with other (human) beings and nature, to allow the best possible options for all to emerge.
FM: Was there an event in your life which made you shift career path from psychotherapy to business consultancy?
AK: Not an event as such. One strong motivator was curiosity. I had the impression, as I gained some understanding and expertise on how individuals change, that change is not at all easy or trivial. I wanted to understand whether change in complex human systems follows similar “laws” as individual change.
FM: So does it follow similar laws or not? How do you use this understanding in your profession as sustainability consultant?
AK: For me there is no fundamental difference. If you look at individuals or organisations through the focus of systems thinking, you can see many similarities. There are parts, and dynamics between the parts. There are obvious issues, and there are hidden patterns. Individual and organisational change can only be successful if:
1. the benefits to the system of staying the same (that is, the advantages of not changing) are understood and addressed
2. an intrinsic motivation to change builds up — a drive to shift
3. a smart way to deal with the forces of resistance is found, and
4. support systems are established for the system, so that change can continue, even if the system wants to give up
FM: Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” So how do you practice sustainability in your everyday life?
AK: There is a short American-Indian story that illustrates my own path.
A young boy complained to his granddad, the chief of their tribe: “Granddad, some of my friends are sometimes very friendly and nice to me, and at other times they say horrible words or refuse to play with me.” This made the boy very sad and irritated, and he wanted to know why his friends behaved like that. The chief replied: “My son, within us live two wolves. One is black and one is white. The black one is selfish and full of bad feelings. The white one is loving and caring. These two wolves are constantly fighting to win.” The little boy thought thoroughly for some time and then asked, “Granddad, which one of them will win?” “The one you feed,” answered the old man with a deep smile.
I can find both “wolves” in me. Sometimes I feel that I am living pretty sustainably, because I have installed solar panels for energy and heating on the roof, or because I buy organic food and live on a vegetarian diet. On the other hand, there are still too many compromises I make.
Personally, I believe that one of the biggest things that gets in the way of more sustainable living is dogmatism. We live in a time of huge human transformation, where we can only guess how the future will look like and what is going to be appropriate and what is not. So I try to feed the white wolf as much as possible, knowing that the black one is there too.
FM: What are the biggest challenges for an organisation, which tries to become sustainable? Is it doable overnight, or does it take a long time? Is it just a matter of a new business plan, or does it require something else?
AK: Sustainability is not a certificate, which a company gets as a result of some actions. Sustainability is an understanding and a frame of reference, which arises if we look at reality as it is. Everything we do has an effect. We can’t behave like a 5-year-old kid and hope that a bad behaviour will not be noticed or at least not punished. If we face reality as grown-ups, there is no reason to live unsustainably.
It is hard for me to imagine a sane, intelligent manager telling me, that for him it is ok to (1) use child labour, (2) create working conditions that cause health problems and death among their workers, (3) put toxic waste unfiltered into the air etc. There are managers who do these things, but I would not call them sane and mature people.
Once we have understood the general dynamics and logic of sustainability and decided to use them as a frame for business, there still is a lot to do. Many actions in our daily life might not have a direct harmful effect. My car’s CO2 emissions alone do not have a direct influence on polar caps melting. But if we put billions of cars together, this contributes to global warming.
The big challenge for an organisation is to integrate several kinds reasoning, some of which might not appear directly connected to its core business, but which will ultimately influence its overall market. Leaders and managers need to be trained to see that bigger picture and take it into account when making decisions. Besides, finding sustainable behaviours within this greater complexity could be the source for new creative ideas and innovations.
FM: Actually, since you spoke about it, would not it be good to have a certificate that attests to the level of sustainable choices a company is undertaking?
AK: Yes, I agree. It would be helpful. Actually, that is one of the services we provide, at least in the form of an internal assessment given to companies. But making change is something else.
FM: Some managers believe their mission is to create value for some people, for some time, in some places, not everyone everywhere and forever. They believe, for example, that a multinational company — by creating jobs in an area of the world — will definitely make some happy and others unhappy, therefore it’s impossible for everybody to win. How do you convince those managers that we can all benefit from sustainable choices?
AK: Sorry, but I don’t want to convince them. There are so many managers and leaders around who are already convinced. They feel the need for a big change, but don’t have the time, the resources or the knowledge for designing and running an effective change process. I would like to concentrate on helping them first.
We all know how difficult it is to change even when you are convinced about its importance. Trying to convince somebody who doesn’t even see the need for greater sustainability is impossible. On the other hand, social research has shown that if you get about 15% of the population starting to do something new, then many of the rest will follow.
FM: Is it possible from an economic point of view to counter the higher costs of making sustainable choices with direct/indirect benefits (more efficiency, waste reduction, etc.)? Could you offer any examples?
AK: This is a tricky subject. There are some indicators of sustainability where you can easily measure the return on investment. It is pretty easy to reduce the energy consumption by investing in efficiency. In this case, it is a simple matter to calculate how long it takes to make money on your investment.
It is more complicated if the relation between things is not singular. Professional investors use complex sustainability indices to calculate possible risks. If a company’s supplier has poor labour or environmental standards for example, than the risk of future reputation damage might be too high to justify an investment in that company. Yet it is hard to put this into clear measurable data.
Our society is used to measuring everything in money. The whole GDP is based on that. Many aspects of sustainability instead go beyond money. How can you monetize the extinction of, let’s say, the polar bear in its natural environment? How do you want to measure the unfair treatment of women to access good jobs within certain industries and/or regions? How do you take into account, with numbers, that some people need to walk greater distances to get drinking water, because a certain industry has used most of the surface water in a region for industrial purposes? How do you judge if a job creates meaning? Is happiness and well-being a good measure, and how do you measure it?
FM: Speaking about the ISIS Academy, how do you create awareness of sustainability issues for the general public and your corporate clients? Do you have any social platform where people can get news from?
AK: Alan is a talented communicator who is invited to many events as a keynote speaker. This is very important to make the ISIS Academy known. For myself, I have noticed that what is most helpful is to talk directly to decision makers. So I try to schedule as many meetings with those people in as possible.
But we are not missionaries or activists who put on their banners for a better and greener world. We are, in our hearts, change agents who can help others to reach their targets. First we need to listen to our clients. We need to make sure that we understand the way in which our ISIS approach will be most valuable for them. Then we can offer either training programs or strategic consultancy services.
The most important first step is listening.
Updates from our Global Network
More and more in the sustainability world, we hear the word “collaboration” — and this new, or perhaps renewed, focus on collaboration is also a recurring them in the initiatives being undertaken globally by AtKisson Group Affiliates and Associates.
Here’s a global roundup …
Roberta Fernandez, Leslie Laney, ISIS Academy USA
The key focus of ISIS Academy USA is sustainability education, framed around the AtKisson ISIS toolkit (Compass, Pyramid, Amoeba & Stratesphere). In the true spirit of collaboration, ISIS Academy USA has been establishing a number of strategic partnerships to facilitate delivery of these sustainability education programs.
Working with the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and the University of Florida (Gainesville) TREEO center, the ISIS methodology is now being introduced to current and future leaders in business. Further, Roberta and her team are also building strategic partnerships with a leading provider of MBA programs, ensuring that the “top shelf” of business practitioners in the the US are introduced to systems thinking and sustainability frameworks as a key objective of business in the 21st Century.
Long time Affiliate Robert Steele has been working in both philanthropic and commercial endeavours, helping to advance sustainability in the SE Asia region. Robert’s list of projects using the Compass or other ISIS Accelerator tools since March 2011 is nothing short of impressive in its depth and scope of influence, including the following highlights.
March 2011: Robert facilitated two 3-day Sustainability and Project Development workshops for the Singapore National Environment Agency’s (NEA) Youth Environmental Envoy Programme (YEEP), which is in its 7th year. Students were exposed to the whole slate of Accelerator tools through out this workshop. Currently over 430 YEEs have gone through this training.
Also in March 2011: in conjunction with the Asia-Pacific Compass Education team (all volunteers education experts from international schools and NGOs), Robert’s team successfully ran the 4th ‘Becoming a Compass School’ workshop for Asia Pacific, hosted by Phuket International Academy Day School, with 19 participants coming from NGOs, international schools, universities and the private sector from China, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
March/April 2011: UNESCO organised a National ESD workshop for Philippines (70 teachers, teacher educators, and administrators). Robert facilitated workshops on integrating both environmental literacy (UNESCO terms Env. protection) and climate change into formal school curriculum. Introduced and used the Compass to facilitate this process.
April 2011: Systainabillity facilitated a 1-day “Compass for Teaching and Learning” workshop, for 32 teachers from the New International School of Thailand (NIST) in Bangkok, with a very positive response, and the result of those teachers now having the skills and knowledge to embed sustainability and systems into their own curriculum for their students.
May 2011: Robert provided a “Training and Action Planning ISIS Accelerator Workshop” with the Auburn University Office of Sustainability, conducting a 3-day Accelerator workshop for 24 university stakeholders to develop ideas and strategies for accelerating the integration of ‘sustainability’ into campus life, teaching and curriculum, and administrative decision making. (Alan AtKisson made a surprise guest appearance by Skype.)
June 2011: Systainability facilitated the UNEP-Tongji University Asia Pacific Leadership Programme on Environment and Sustainable Development. Highlights included providing training in “Systems Thinking for Leaders”, framed around the ISIS methodology, and also a “Pyramid Lite” training session for the 25 participating leaders from Asia Pacific Region, with positive outcomes and enthusiastic participants.
Also in June: for PowerSeraya , Singapore’s 2nd largest Electricity generating private sector power company, Robert conducted a 4-day workshop for their Renewable Energy Advocate Programme (REAP) with University students (28 students). The workshop used Compass and ISIS to assist them participants in developing project ideas and strategies for their implementation.
July 2011: In cooperation with our Indonesian Affiliate Trisakti University in Jakarta, Robert is teaching a 3 day short course for the Masters in Management in CSR (MM-CSR) students on CSR tools, with special focus on the ISIS Accelerator suite of tools, including ISIS, Compass, Pyramid, Amoeba and StrateSphere. This course is an ongoing permanent part of the MM-CSR curriculum now for the past three years. (Alan AtKisson made a surprise guest appearance by Skype here, too.)
François has been working with Afnor, France’s leading certification organization, on the implementation of ISO 26000 in certain industrial sectors. He’s also been working with AtKisson Associate Marie-Anaïs Berline and Alan AtKisson on developing a strategic partnership that will bring ISIS Academy trainings to the French market … more on this in the next issue!
Michael O’Brien, FWR Group, Australia
Michael O’Brien and the team at FWR Group were extremely lucky to come through unscathed by the major floods which struck Brisbane (and much of the state of Queensland) in early 2011. However, the process of rebuilding has increased our consideration and exploration of rebuilding more resilient, sustainable communities.
In March 2011, Michael was invited to facilitate the inaugural “Build It Back Green” workshop, initiated by Green Cross Australia in partnership with the Queensland Department of Environment & Resource Management (DERM), a long time Atkisson Group client.
Following up on the theme of rebuilding resilient communities in the flood aftermath, DERM again invited FWR Group to both prepare and facilitate a “sustainability hypothetical” held as part of the Brisbane Ideas festival (May 2011). The hypothetical brought together a panel of six recognised industry practitioners in sustainability, architecture, engineering, communities, and systems thinking, to consider the rebuilding of West End, an iconic inner-Brisbane community that was hard hit during the floods.
With the workshop synopsis prepared by FWR Group, and the workshop facilitated by FWR Group partner Luke Whistler, the panel was asked to explore options for rebuilding both resilience and community spirit in West End, focussing on the important interlinked issues of community based food initiatives, sustainable architecture, and systems thinking. With an audience of some 60 Brisbane residents, in a cafe setting, the discussion was enthusiastic, and the solutions proposed were many, painting a genuine picture of the possibilities for sustainable communities.
For the past 12 months, FWR Group has been very fortunate to be able to host industrial placement students from the University of Queensland Bachelor of Environmental Management (Sustainable Development). From March to July 2011, we had Jasmin Lightbody working with us, who was exceptional in her efforts. In partnership with the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) EnviroDevelopment (ED) Program, Jasmin authored an article looking at development industry experiences of sustainability.
Jasmin’s article was published in the June 2011 edition of the UDIA’s Urban Developer Magazine, with the dual benefits of real world practical experience for Jasmin, and national exposure for FWR Group, continuing our long existing collaborative role with the UDIA’s EnviroDevelopment Program.
With FWR Group having a long association with the UDIA ED Program through both prior and current projects, they have now gained certification as UDIA ED Professionals, and have been appinted to the ED Marketing and Communications Committee. EnviroDevelopment provides the Australian urban development sector with industry recognised accreditation across 6 themes of sustainability. Easily understood by both industry profesionals and home buyers/investors, ED is rapidly becoming a leading system for assessing and rating Australian developments. FWR Group is very happy to be building on ourt reputation and exposure in collaboration with the UDIA ED team.
With its initial roots in the training programs provided by Alan AtKisson and others since 1992, ISIS Academy has now been spun off and established as a separate business entity, ready to deliver world class education for sustainability change agentry. These classes are framed around the ISIS methodology developed by Alan AtKisson over the last 20 years, combined with Axel’s long experience in developing the personal and methodological competences a change agent needs in the demanding field of sustainable development.
Axel Klimek, as head of ISIS Academy GmbH (Germany), has been working to establish a number of key partnerships, including a training in co-opearation with B.A.U.M. e.V. and HLP Connex in Frankfurt. B.A.U.M. e.V. is a leading sustainable business association in Germany with very prominent members like Lufthansa and others. HLP Connex on the other hand is management consultancy and training device with a great reputation in German companies.
Besides those great new co-opearations Axel and colleagues are exploring further ones in France, Germany and Turkey. These are still to be finally negotiated and hopefully at the next WaveFront we will be able to share more details on those.
CEMUS – Uppsala University (Sweden)
Our partners in Uppsala University in Sweden have been extremely busy in their education (for sustainability) endeavours. A new summer course has been implemented at the Centre for Environment and Development Studies, CEMUS (www.cemus.uu.se). Titled Urban Agriculture – Permaculture and Local Food Systems, this new International summer course is being given for the first time this year, with enrollments for approximately 40 students with different academic, professional and cultural backgrounds. The course takes systems thinking to a very practical/hands-on level, through lectures, workshops, excursions/study visits, design-projects etc.
As is the case with all other Cemus-courses, there are no “teachers” running the course, with all lectures instead to be given by invited guest lecturers. Several of the invited lecturers became so interested in the course that they started coming to other lectures and some even enrolled in the course! – Course syllabus and course info is available at http://www.uu.se/en/node697?kKod=1MV027&lasar=11%2F12&typ=1
CEMUS is a keen collaborator in sustainable development, facilitating shared learning and engagement between academia, community, civil society, business and the public. CEMUS hosted “Sustainability Month” in May 2011 in Uppsala. A month of activities and events focused on issues of sustainable development, culminating in the CEMUS conference held 23-25 May 2011 (see www.challeninginguncertainties.se – Conference videos and documentation will soon be posted to the website). More information on “Sustainability Month” can be found at www.sustainabilitycalendar.se.
Ongoing Course Development at CEMUS continues through to Septembter 2011, in collaboration with students, researchers, university staff and members of society. Key outcomes include greater knowledge and understanding of how to involve a large number of people in brainstorming activities around the types and form of education that responds to students’ increasing interest in sustainability, and what is needed to equip students with knowledge and experience to respond to current trends and events in the world.
(Note: Alan AtKisson is a Senior Fellow at CEMUS’s host institution, the Center for Sustainable Development, and a frequent lecturer at CEMUS courses.)
Alan AtKisson, AtKisson Europe, Stockholm and
AtKisson Sustainability, USA (www.AtKisson.com)
Alan has maintained his usual busy schedule of speaking and consulting, including keynote speeches at three major international conferences: Resilience 2011, The World Renewable Energy Congress 2011, and the UNEP/Wuppertal Institute “Unconference” on the Future of Sustainable Lifestyles and Entrepreneurship. He also gave the opening talk for the new Institute for the Study of Happiness, Economy, and Society, based in Tokyo (founded by AtKisson Group partner Junko Edahiro of e’s, Japan for Sustainability, and Change Agent, Inc.).
Alan is currently working with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development, on the development of a global program for SD promotion and capacity development which will be announced later this year. He and Senior Associates Hal Kane and Lee Hatcher have also been doing corporate work with a large US-based firm; and Alan (as well as Hal) continues to provide frequent advice and input to Levi Strauss on its global sustainability and social responsibility strategy.
And readers of his books (Believing Cassandra and The Sustainability Transformation) will know that every year Alan participates in the Balaton Group Meeting (www.balatongroup.org), where he serves as Co-President on a volunteer basis. The upcoming meeting in September 2011 in Hungary is the Group’s 30th, so that is also occupying his time.
… and there is a lot more going on, more than we could report! Please contact us if we can help you with sustainability consulting, training, research and communication.
Noted while riding the wave …
Seems like history
could be a practical joke
that ends with the planet
goin’ up in smoke
Slippin’ and sllidin’
it’s a banana-peel dance
Are we just the victims
of global circumstance?
Or are we …
Tryin’ to be happy in a crazy world …
- Alan AtKisson, from the musical album “Believing Cassandra,” 1999
For a free download of this song in MP3 format, please visit this link:
See you next month! Please write to us with any questions, ideas, etc.