Collaboration as the key to a more sustainable future

Report lustrum (75th anniversary) theme day Sustainability: Designing the Future Today

March 29 2022

Making our society more sustainable requires a global sanctuary for change, where there is room for collective action, dialogue and a mindset to learn to understand each other and each other's languages. Nature itself is also increasingly being given a legal personality and with that a voice, as was evident during the first lustrum theme day of Nyenrode Business University. 

For Kasteel Nijenrode (Nijenrode castle), a period of 75 years is only a blink of an eye in its long history. However, for Nyenrode, housed on the estate of the castle, an existence of three-quarters of a century constitutes a momentous milestone and a memorable anniversary. A wonderful opportunity to join students and alumni during the first lustrum theme day in exploring the driving forces behind the realization of a sustainable future.

When Nyenrode was founded in 1946, the Netherlands faced the challenge of reconstruction. Now,  75 years later, we are once again confronted with a war in Europe and the world is still facing a pandemic and other major challenges such as climate change, a refugee crisis and social inequality.

Not answers, but questions

How can today's and tomorrow's leaders meet these challenges? Keynote speaker Danielle Zandee, Professor of Sustainable Organizational Development at Nyenrode, rather raises questions instead of formulating answers. Because the not knowing is exactly what creates the momentum for collaborative change: the structural and collective change that must lead to the solution of social problems. "If no one knows, we can figure it out together", Zandee states. The world is small, but the interdependencies are huge, as the current crises show us. "Yet the global village is still an abstract concept to many people," according to Zandee. We also still do not realize enough that we are not above nature, but that we coexist with other organisms, in a world larger than humanity. How can we use those insights and start building organizations that create sustainable value for all stakeholders? 

What has the COVID-19 crisis taught us?  

This urgency is even greater given the turbulent times we currently live in. But doesn't that also bring hope? For example, have we, as a human race, not demonstrated brilliant improvisational and adaptive skills in the face of disruption during the pandemic? Yes, but that is not the same as lasting change, Zandee says. "How can we translate and embed the lessons from the COVID-19 crisis into new ways of doing things? In all this chaos, do we even take time to reflect on how to build a society where justice, resilience and sustainability are the new normal?"

Visual Culture

Sustainable, collective change requires action, dialogue and mindset, Zandee says. We must learn to work together (in multi-stakeholder partnerships). We need to engage with one another and develop a new vocabulary and visual culture to create a new reality. Together. For example, a term like living child (rather than human child) can help teach humanity to see oneself as part of the cosmos, rather than as  the dominant species. And we also need to change our mindset: investing in relationships, learning to understand each other and each other's languages to build a sustainable future together.

Five guidelines

Zandee gives participants five guidelines for that collective assignment. Structural change is systemic (‘opt for small steps that can act as leverage for large-scale transformation’), polyphonic (‘only when every voice is allowed to be heard and differences are celebrated can we tear down existing structures and build new ones’), participatory (‘let everyone in the room participate’), anticipatory (‘look ahead and learn before you experience’) and reflexive (‘question the status quo and the organization's impact’). "Let's look at sustainability as a verb, as the fruit of our daring & caring efforts", Zandee concludes.        

Sustainability in practice

How do different sectors and types of companies deal with sustainability? To that end, five workshops offer depth where science and practice meet and give room for interaction between speakers and participants: sustainability in family businesses, integrated reporting, business & biodiversity, the sustainability challenges in healthcare and making Dutch homes more sustainable.

Click here for  a summary of the five workshops.

Working together

The wrap-up of the lustrum theme day is for keynote speaker Zandee. She argues for more wisdom among leaders and to make more use of people's knowledge and insights in the primary process. “Bridge that gap, work in a practical way and take small steps. Only when we work together we will be able to make the transformation to a more sustainable future a reality." 

The second online theme day 'Artificial Intelligence & Ethics' is scheduled on Monday, May 16. Several faculty members, including Ronald Jeurissen and Jan Veldsink, will provide you with more insight into the ethical dilemmas surrounding robotization and artificial intelligence (AI). Click here for more information and registration.

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