“Believe in yourself and your potential to impact. Believe in causes greater than yourself. Be passionate about all that you do. In many ways, be the change you want to see.”
Lin Lerpold describes herself as an annoying customer who always asks retailers about product production before buying anything. She was named one of Swedens most influential in the category Social Change Makers by Sustainability Sweden two years in a row. We got the chance to talk to her about where her drive comes from, what she sees as the biggest obstacle for the future of our planet and what she does to reduce her own ecological footprint.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your story?
I am adopted from Korea to Norwegian parents, have lived and studied in Norway, USA, Belgium, Italy, and France. I also worked in Nigeria and Vietnam before I did my PhD at the Stockholm School of Economics and have since then conducted field research in India, Indonesia, China and South Africa. You could say I have a fairly international background which obviously have fueled my interest in international research questions. My research has always been focused on social sustainability issues such as microfinance and poverty alleviation and human rights in global supply chains. Currently I am especially interested in global governance questions and the integration of immigrants in to the Swedish labor market.
How did your interest in sustainability, especially corporate social responsibility (CSR), start?
In many ways I believe the circumstances around being adopted from, at the time, one of the world’s poorest nations has colored my research interests. Poverty and human rights are interconnected and among our greatest challenges in an ever-growing global population and more constrained planetary boundaries. More recently it has been accepted that businesses have an enormous responsibility in engaging and promoting sustainable development. I do believe that companies can be a source of solutions to our challenges and through their CSR initiatives, not least of all through increasingly engaging with Agenda 2030, have an important role to play.
In 2016, 2017 and 2018 you were ranked as one of the most influential in Sustainability Sweden (Aktuell Hållbarhet, Hållbarhetsmäktiga) and in both 2017 and 2018 you were named as one of the most influential women in Swedish business in the category Social Change Makers (Veckans Affärer). What has been your biggest accomplishment in your career?
It is very nice to see that my efforts have been recognized, although I know many people that are more deserving but less visible that are doing amazing things to make our world a better place. I think my biggest accomplishment is when I through teaching have been able to transform mindsets in a way that is truly genuine. When a student starts seeing the world and its challenges and understands that s(he) can be a part of changing it to the better. In a sense, when in those rare situations, I have been able to empower students beyond what is normally taught at business schools to find purpose in using their skills and knowledge to tackle some of our greatest challenges.
From your point of view, what is mankind’s biggest struggle in the areas you are working within?
I think our greatest challenge lays in the realm of changing our mindsets from bigger and more in our relationship to success and welfare. This concerns individuals and their social-psychological need to consume ever more products or services to feel good about themselves, to companies ever needing to grow and scale up to be successful and policymakers locked into neoliberal market economies where GDP growth is deemed the most significant sign of increased welfare. Our individual relationship to material artifacts is socio-psychologically interwoven with our unsustainable consumption and our economies are forever concerned with expanding even though our planetary boundaries are finite. We need to transform our economies and systems in a way that allows for the maintenance of welfare in the rich world but increases the welfare of the global poor, without further harming our planet.
You have been working with sustainability, CSR and human rights for many years. What drives you to create and make the change you are doing?
I have always believed in doing things that I am passionate about, otherwise I quickly lose interest. I have been working in the field for the past 20 years but in the past decade I have experienced intensified focus on sustainability from all walks of life. Students demand more knowledge on sustainability, companies come to us for support and advice, policymakers are increasingly concerned with climate change. The UN Agenda 2030 goals have helped give us a language on sustainability beyond only environmental concerns. The increased interest in the field has validated my own passion along with the positive developments around sustainability has spurred me on to continue trying to impact change.
What is your best tip to start and sustain a sustainable business?
The most important is to have committed leadership with a long-term perspective. Sustainability must be integrated into all aspects of a business, from the design of a product or service to the production and delivery. This can only be done if the leadership is committed and sets a sustainability vision throughout the value chain and beyond. In the same way as costs and revenues are considered throughout the activities of a business, sustainability must be interwoven into the DNA of all company activities.
You have said that we need to change how we live. What have you done to minimize your ecological footprint and change the way you consume?
I always consider different travel options to fly as little as possible. I don’t have a car since I live in the city and can travel by public transportation as well as carpooling when I absolutely need a car. I actively recycle, always carry a reusable bag for groceries, I eat less meat and try to purchase fewer items with a longer life use. Not least of all, I make myself into an annoying customer as I always ask retailers for information on how and under which conditions their products are produced.
From January 2015 to December 2017 you were Executive Director of Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets (Misum), which you also founded, at Stockholm School of Economics. During your time as an executive director you supported the establishment of sustainability as one of four key strategic areas at the school, and now every student needs to pass a course in sustainability to get a diploma. Why do you think that it is important to teach and study sustainability in every subject?
Many of our students are future leaders in society. Throughout their careers, they often go on to powerful positions in businesses, in Swedish regulatory or policy making bodies, and in important international organizations such as the European Parliament, the World Bank or the United Nations. Understanding sustainability from their basic education as well as bringing that knowledge with them into their future careers is incredibly important to be able to address the challenges we face.
If you could give your teenage self some advice, what would it be?
Believe in yourself and your potential to impact. Believe in causes greater than yourself. Be passionate about all that you do. In many ways, be the change you want to see.