How to grow your business sustainably – interview with CEO of Xynteo, Osvald Bjelland

How to grow your business sustainably – interview with CEO of Xynteo, Osvald Bjelland


In today’s episode of Hållbarhetssnack
I’m going to talk to the CEO of Xynteo Ossvald Bjelland. We’re going to discuss
how corporations can adjust their growth model to more sustainable one and Ossvald is going to share some of his thoughts on why sustainable growth is the only
way forward Welcome to the show Oswald! Thank you
very much. You’re the CEO and founder of Xynteo.
First of all could you briefly explain to me what is it that you do at Xynteo?
So we worked with large global companies to help them grow differently
and that’s our mission. Okay and why did you start Xynteo? So I felt at the
time that the world needed a new idea and I felt that the traditional
sustainability approach at that time had a lot to offer but basically when I
looked at the world at that time and I have a specific experience in India
where I was asked to give a speech to the Tata group and after I talked about
sustainability one of these bigger than life figures came up to me and said
Ossvald how can you talk so much about sustainability when people don’t have
milk on the table so basically I realized and I realized also perhaps
before that it’s not only about sustainability in a narrow sense but we
actually to reinvent our growth model so people in India and elsewhere can get
what I need to live with dignity and to live in better ways. So basically your
company helps companies reinvent their growth model into a more sustainable one.
Yeah so the challenge for more or less every company today and for society at
large is that our growth model even though it has served us extremely well
in the last many decades we have at least three problems the one is the
conflict between human and nature the second is a conflict between the few and
the many and the third is the intergenerational short and long term
what do we leave when we leave this to those who come
after us what does that look like so those are the three challenges that
every company is facing and all of us and we try to work on very practical
activities to solve some of those towards that mission. Could you give me
some examples of companies that you’ve worked with in the past? All of us have
some kind of emotional connection to who we work with and what we work on and we
also have a long-term view so more or less all the clients we work with we
were working over the long term companies we worked with Unilever on
plastic we worked with Scania on biofuel we work with the science in Hyderabad on
distributed healthcare we worked with Shell on the energy transition etc
so these are the kind of companies we work we work with MasterCard on
Financial Inclusion Big corporations. When did you
start the company? In 2001. Okay I’m interested in knowing if you noticed
shift amongst business leaders attitude towards sustainability I mean in recent
years sustainability has gained a lot of attention both in the media amongst
investors and nowadays almost all the companies have a sustainability manager.
Have you noticed the shift? Yes so clearly in 2001 there were still an
enormous debate is climate science really trustworthy is climate change
actually happening I remember at the time I had I hired a chief scientist who
a Princeton professor who helped us having that debate around the science
and helping companies to understand that I think this is more or less all at
least in western quoted advanced companies is no debate anymore.
It’s a massive shift. But do you feel this this might be a difficult question to
answer but do you feel like this increased interest in sustainability
comes from genuine desire to actually make the world a better place?
Yeah so that’s a that’s a very interesting question because you see
like global business and government and more or less more less or large
institutions have a trust problem today but personally I meet many fantastic
leaders in business who are deeply concerned and who do practical things to
address the climate problems and also to work on the inclusion and basically
advance the societies in which they operate. So my answer to your question is
I think it is very very genuine among many but of course in more or less all
industries you find those enlightened leaders and you find also the others. For
sure yeah so we’re talking about sustainable growth could you as the CEO
of a company that works with companies trying to achieve a sustainable growth
pitch this to me. What exactly is sustainable growth and why is it
important? Yeah so for us there are like three or four elements there first of
all we need to realize that if you run the business times are changing
so for example when I worked as a young man in the U.S. in the 1980s total
quality management was like the key word and because of the Japanese
industry car industry code competing the European and the American industry and
today of course there are totally different questions and sustainability
at the core of more or less every company so that’s like one starting
point that when we talk about what we do the second is okay what can be done what
do we do to help with this?

First of all it is about leadership
you can’t unlock change in a company unless the leaders wake up to a new
reality and see how to bring the company to relevance and then some very few
companies are able to take their own leadership to a new level to change
their organization and then change their industry so the one is leadership.
The second that we work on is to build coalitions that really can help
drive systems change. Like India 2022 is such a coalition. If you look in
Europe we have something called Europe delivers where we have engaged in a
number of Europe’s top top business leaders in seeing how you can drive
change in Europe and then the third in my pitch to you is that you need to do
very bespoke practical transformation and those are the three things that we
work on and of course this is supported by a fantastic team which is like
qualified deep expertise and we use catalytic tools to drive this change.
Isn’t it also like sustainability is literally the only way forward because
without a world we won’t have any business. So I think that’s a great
comment and I can’t imagine that a unsustainable business can last for very
long At least for three reasons one is that
the customers goes away second is that the financials will not work and the
third you will not get the great people to work for you. So this whole agenda
of sustainability or that future feed growth is something of survival
importance. So how can businesses align their strategy with the sustainable
development goals framework? Yes so that framework brought forward by the United
Nations says I believe helped many companies and many countries
like I just see for example one of the goals relates to the ocean and I see in
my country our prime minister Erna Solberg is now leading the
sustainable ocean economy alliance it’s a coalition of enormous importance going
forward. I think if you look at the company level a companies like many
great Swedish companies like IKEA, Volvo Scania but also like Unilever, MasterCard
and all many of these companies are very committed to help us meet those
sustainable development goals and it’s materializing very specific
objectives like for example Unilever has committed to cut our plastic with 50%. If
you look in IKEA they have committed to run all their warehouses on renewable
energy etc etcetera so the companies are doing very practical things to change
their business. But this must be a very complicated and complex process, what
have been some of the greatest challenges that you encountered when
you’ve been working with this companies trying to incorporate sustainability
into their business model? Yeah so of course this is a massive shift because
for many different reasons. First of all many of the problems we work on are
systemic in nature if you look at the plastic in supply chains if you look at
the the water system if you look at the energy system health care system so many
leaders and companies have have no training or a limited background in
analyzing systems and intervening into systems to unlock new growth and change
so that’s like a pretty profound challenge. The second is that of course
most people in organizations are trained and they are incentivized to optimize
the current model rather than transforming into a new model and that’s
the case in more or less every company that we work with. And then third is that
in some industries of course it is much more difficult than in others. If you are
let’s say you are the CEO of a steel company or a cement company and it’s not
self-evident how you transform them and make them more sustainable that’s a huge
challenge and it’s difficult so I think that we need also to be quite tolerant
in moving forward, that as long as people try hard and really honestly try to
transform we should chair them along the best we can.
Are you optimistic do you believe that this change is gonna happen? So I think
there is there are many challenges and and there were many problems to solve
but I am optimistic in small and bigger ways. I think that we will see lots
positive change even in the country which is a wonderful country like
America where you see the the overall leadership at the moment which is quite
discouraging you see an enormous amount of innovation at the city level and at
the company level. So people sometimes are much smarter than their leaders they
are just leading on and leaning forward and trying to drive the change we so
desperately need and is blindingly obvious the challenges we are up against
on television and science reports every day yes I think people pick up on this.
You briefly mentioned India 2022 what’s that? So India 2022 is an initiative that
we have established together with 11 companies where we try to address some
profound challenges in the country so Prime Minister Minister Modi has put up
a number of objectives for the country for 2022 and they celebrate a 75th
anniversary from the British independence from the British and we
work on four specific challenges one is the plastic, the second is sustainable
mining, its health care and it is the energy transition those are the four
areas that we worked with on these with these companies and it’s very practical
where we basically incubate projects that can lead to a significant
difference in the country. Why India? Well I find India as a fantastic country in
many ways but of course that’s not why we are there. We are there because you
have these major major challenges so if you are interested in air quality you
have to work on it in India. If you’re interested in solving the plastic
problem you should work on it in India If you’re interested in water challenges
they are in India they are not in Oslo etc etc so so that’s why we are
attracted and we have been invited to work for some of the amazing Indian
companies and we are very excited about the progress even though it is
complex and it is not easy but we are making progress yeah I wish you the best
and good luck with that and thank you very much for joining me today and
answering my questions! Thank you it’s a great pleasure to be here thank you so
much you

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