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Companies should focus on more than just the financial bottom line

Center for Sustainable Business Development and Policy

  • Established in 2021
  • Head of Center: Mads Bruun Ingstrup
  • Seek to involve other bottom lines than the economic when working with business development

By: Denise Abrahamsen

Center for Sustainable Business Development and Policy (CBE) is what Mads Bruun Ingstrup calls a ‘relevance centre’. 

‘Through our research, teaching and dissemination activities, we try to be relevant to a number of stakeholders and decision makers, such as politicians, the business community and citizens,’ explains Mads Bruun Ingstrup.

The aim is to create change. In this respect, the aim is not research per se, but research is the means to create change.

‘Change could be a change in citizens’ behaviour, for example,’ says Mads Bruun Ingstrup and goes on to explain that change can also be ‘a new behaviour or approach on the part of the business community or influence on existing legislation.’

Companies deliver much of the change that is needed

For Mads Bruun Ingstrup, it is important to keep in mind that companies have a responsibility when it comes to sustainable change in society.

‘Our unequivocal view is that there must be a development of the business industry. We know that companies are the dynamo in society and that companies deliver much of the change that is necessary to create a more sustainable society,’ says Mads Bruun Ingstrup. 

Companies are a key player in enabling us to tackle many of the challenges we are facing, illustrated by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

‘Therefore, we would also like to make sure that it is not only the financial side of the coin that should be focused on,’ he points out. 

Right now, there is a great deal of talk about economic growth, and the UN’s 8th SDG is even called ‘Decent work and economic growth’, but for CBE, finances should not be the only bottom line companies have in their sights. 

The social and green bottom lines are also important

‘In Denmark, we have shown to at least some extent that we can have economic development at the same time as we have a sustainable society,’ says Mads Bruun Ingstrup.

At CBE, they are aware that if we are to achieve the goals that are in our climate law, and which are also expressed in the SDGs, then we need to have a greater focus on more than the economy.

‘If we are to have a sustainable society, it is not enough to look at economic growth and then take the social and green aspects wherever it makes sense. No. We must give equal status to these three bottom lines in everything we do,’ he argues.

According to CBE, by making the three bottom lines equal, we are helping to ensure a sustainable future.

The importance of the SDGs for research and business collaboration

Sustainability must be understood in a broad sense, argues Mads Bruun Ingstrup. Sustainability is not only about climate and the environment, but also about equal rights for all and equal access to health for all citizens. Therefore, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals have also been incorporated into several of the centre’s research projects.

‘The point is that it’s a system of 17 goals, and it’s the linking of the goals that ensures sustainability. You can’t take any of them away, and that is also why we say that you should focus on all three bottom lines – and maybe you can point out that there are several bottom lines,’ he explains.

In a collaboration between CBE and Aarhus Vand (Aarhus Water), the SDGs are actively being used throughout the whole process. 

Aarhus Vand takes care of the wastewater in Aarhus Municipality and is currently in the process of establishing a new wastewater treatment plant.

‘The SDGs have determined how they have approached the task,’ explains Mads Bruun Ingstrup.

Postdoc Emma Perriton is attached to the project and is primarily looking at the role of organisations in solving climate challenges – specifically with a focus on the SDGs. 

The ReWater project is in a vision phase and should be completed in 2028, says Emma Perriton. As the project is in a vision phase, there are many things that have not yet been finally decided, but there are many ideas.

‘Aarhus Vand is innovative in the way they are working with sustainability, and they are very pro-SDGs,’ she says and elaborates that one of the things that caught the centre’s attention was not only an interest in what the project actually results in, but particularly how they are working with the SDGs. 

‘There are a lot of people who use the SDGs as part of their branding,’ says Emma Perriton, but elaborates that Aarhus Vand ‘have gone to great lengths to investigate which SDGs the project can contribute to, which Goals they focus on and which they do not.’

Everything is connected to the fact that the ReWater project will not just be a wastewater treatment plant, but a resource centre. One of the goals is to recycle the energy and surplus heat generated by the treatment plant. 

The hope is also for the treatment plant to be accessible to the public.

‘There’s also some learning involved in making it a resource centre that’s open to the public,’ says Perriton, noting that there has been talk of making it an attractive place for school classes to go on excursions.

The ambitions for the project have been many, Emma Perriton points out. In light of the SDGs, there is good reason to think big and alternatively. 

‘Whether the ambitions will be realised, however, depends on how heavily the financial bottom line will weigh in relation to the green and the social bottom lines,’ explains Emma Perriton, which leads back to Mads Bruun Ingstrup’s point that the three bottom lines must be given equal importance.

The importance of transparency 

For both CBE and Aarhus Vand, it is important that the SDGs are not an addition but are a foundation for what is happening.

‘The point is to focus on whether companies are using the SDGs purely for marketing or whether there is some substance behind it,’ Mads Bruun Ingstrup points out. 

In this way, research will once again be a crucial means of promoting change.

By opening the treatment plant to citizens, the plant will also become more tangible and accessible.

‘What you can see when wastewater treatment plants become transparent and open is that citizens get a sense of ownership but also an understanding that there are a number of residual products such as surplus heat and phosphorus that are suddenly brought into a cycle that can be used for other purposes afterwards. This means that citizens no longer see the products as waste but as part of something bigger that creates value,’ he explains.  

The project with Aarhus Vand is just one of CBE’s projects. The centre works with large, medium and small private and public companies.

Common to all the projects is that they focus on rethinking business promotion with the aim of making future business promotion initiatives more effective and sustainable. 

Mads Bruun Ingstrup
Mads Bruun Ingstrup

Mads Bruun Ingstrup is the Head of Center for Sustainable Business Development and Policy and is an Associate Professor at Department of Entrepreneurship and Relationship Management (SAMF). ©JonasFotografi

Emma Perriton

Emma Perriton is post.doc. at Department of Entrepreneurship and Relationship Management and Center for Sustainable Business Development and Policy. ©Kristoffer Juel Poulsen

Last Updated 27.01.2023