Green Place Symposium: An inspirational launch
20 April 2011 -

The Green Place Symposium, a series of intimate CSR oriented gatherings, was successfully launched on April 15, 2011. The first Symposium was a discussion on the role of leadership buy-in to successfully embed CSR into a company. Top managers discussed how they get their stakeholders on board to embed CSR into their company. They talked about who the key players are in their organization that need to be on board and what difficulties they have encountered.

The speakers included the heads of sustainability at Akzo Nobel and Philips, André Veneman and Henk de Bruin, the Managing Director of engineering firm Witteveen +Bos, Henk Nieboer, and TNT Group CEO Peter Bakker.

Peter Bakker kicked off the discussion by telling us the potential of corporations as forces for good, “If you look at all the organisational forms that humans have invented, companies are the most powerful transformational forms of people working together. Better than NGOs, better than governments, better than any other type of organisation, so if you can tweak a company to do good for the world, you get such a powerful change going.”

All speakers agreed that the closer you bring CSR to your core business, values and strategy, the more successful it will be in involving all your stakeholders. Philips explained how product development and green innovation played a central role in involving all stakeholders in CSR. Akzo Nobel and TNT began by defining their license to operate and all agreed that it starts with strong leadership at the top. Many of the speakers and the audience members agreed, however, that Supervisory Boards were usually very conservative when it comes to CSR and tended to slow down the process of embedding it into the company. Regardless, in over 50% of the companies represented, non-financial performance was tied to top management remuneration. Some even included these indicators in the overall employee remuneration systems.

Peter Bakker stated that prior to launching TNT’s CSR partnership with the World Food Program, he began by “looking at what assets, what skills TNT had and how they could apply these.” Along those lines, André Veneman said that Akzo Nobel began with “defining values across all Akzo Nobel companies, defining their license to operate and later creating higher economic value for a lower economic footprint.”

Henk De Bruin of Philips agreed it is important to get the commitment of the CEO. “But to really embed it [CSR] in your organisation, the trick of the book is bottom up and ultimately it does help to increase the top and the bottom line of the company.” Henk Nieboer of Witteveen +Bos agreed but reported difficulties in rolling out CSR throughout the company. Wittenveen & Bos professionals were heavily involved in creating environmentally and socially cohesive projects through spatial planning, but were not yet applying the CSR concept to their own lives.

At the end of the symposium the first Green Owl Award was presented by Robert-Jan van Ogtrop, a Dutch former CEO turned social entrepreneur and impact investor. Robert-Jan has been working with top level management of large corporations in an unconventional way: organizing retreats in the middle of nature in the heart of Africa. The week-long excursions in game reserves in Africa are life changing moments for many executives as they are in an awe-inspiring environment in which they are forced to confront their values and relationship with nature and self.