Department of Business Administration

Lund University School of Economics and Management

Sustainability challenges of today and the future

Published: 2017-12-12

During the latter part of November an international two-day conference was given on sustainability at the School of Economics and Management / LUSEM. SUBREA (SUstainable Business, Reporting and Assurance) as the conference and the newly formed network is called, was and is led by Susanne Arvidsson, researcher and Associate professor at the School.

Panel discussion and dialogue with the audience at the SUBREA conference following the session "Valuation of investments from a sustainability perspective". Moderator: Anita Lindberg, Senior ESG Analyst at Alfred Berg. Photo: Anna Löthman

The conference gathered sustainability experts from the business world and universities in Sweden as well as from USA, Belgium, England, the Netherlands and Denmark. Now the network will live on just as the important discussions about challenges and future needs in terms of sustainability in business, government and academia. Although pitfalls, trials and many challenges were focused in the lectures, a large number of new ideas, strategies and methods were also presented. The conference inspired and created new platforms.

The conference, held in English, was divided into 5 sessions on Sustainability reporting, Sustainability assurance, Valuation of investments from a sustainability perspective, Anti-corruption and Fair Taxation, Tax transparency and disclosure rules.

A number of experts presented how they work with sustainability at their companies and although many things are in common, each lecturer presented new approaches. For example Sofia Svingby, Vice President Corporate Responsibility at Atlas Copco, explained how they try to implement sustainability aspects of their existing business model during "How we integrate sustainability into our business model." That sustainability work is high priority in business and can not be left aside was made clear during the conference, or as Susanne Stormer, Vice President Corporate Sustainability at Novo Nordisk, put it:
”We have done it even more difficult to escape from!”

Corruption is everywhere!

During the session on anti-corruption, business managers but also a social anthropologist, an economist and the General Secretary at Sweden International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) presented their aspects on the theme. Corruption is becoming increasingly important in sustainability work. This includes international networks that promote fair trade, increased transparency between authorities and the private sector, and not least on regulations and laws.

"Corruption is everywhere!" said Professor of Social Anthropology, Steven Sampson, from Lund University, and described the problems. Lena Johansson from ICC presented a hopeful picture when she described tools for anti-corruption and guidelines.

Can taxes ever be fair?

One session was devoted to tax issues. There are highly relevant aspects to discuss since business is influenced by new tax rules and sustainable perspectives on, for example, investments. And the related transparency was investigated by both Hans Gribnau, professor in Tax law at Tilburg University and Tomas Algotsson from the Swedish Tax Agency.

The question if taxes ever can be fair was finally asked by Björn Nordgren, the Nordic Tax Director at GE. Björn stated that we must look at who judges taxes as justice or not and how we measure justice. Is it in dollars, percent or even in tax base? A dilemma can occur when norms are changing. May for example, a situation ever occur when all countries require taxes above the average, he asked.

Challenges ahead

Even though challenges and a variety of questions were raised, the conference had an air of solution orientation, positivism, knowledge and courage. The panel discussions following each session and the interaction with the audience put many new interesting issues under close scrutiny and they will now be part of the network's future discussions.

And how does Susanne Arvidsson herself summarize the SUBREA conference 2017?

"At the conference, 150 participants gathered, each one contributed in various ways creating high quality constructive discussions that identified future challenges in this important area. It has been hugely enriching to be able to organize the conference and to get acquainted with such fruitful discussions, characterized by dedication. I came close to countless worthwhile initiatives taken both within academia, in business and in various decision-making bodies. The conference received very good marks in the subsequent evaluation and 100% of the respondents want to attend the next SUBREA conference. Really gratifying! I have already begun to think about which themes we will focus on during the next SUBREA conference..."


Related articles by Susanne Arvidsson

Lessons from Sweden in sustainable business
The Conversation 11 December 2017

Hållbarhetsrapportering i de största bolagen
Tidningen Balans, #3, 2017

Anti-corruption: Who Cares? 
Sustainability Reporting and Accountability, 2017 (ed. Arvidsson)