Nette Kirkegaard – a short introduction
She studied to become an art critic but discovered she wanted to take part in the transformation from fossil fuel economy to sustainable growth. She has worked with sustainability as a driver for innovation and growth ever since.
For the past 15 years you have worked with sustainability from very different organisational platforms, any common denominators?
Yes, change and transformation. Working within the field of sustainability has placed me in an epicentre of constant change; whether the case was internal organisational change or the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy on a global scale. I know my way around change management, when to push and when to pull and also the different faces we all have to go through before we can embrace something new. In my experience, you must respect and understand the inherent resistance to change, in people as well as in systems, and work with them, not against them in order to achieve results.
Do you believe this experience is of any value to businesses and organisations today?
Yes, definitely. Globalisation, climate change, planetary boundaries and the revolution in computing and AI – to name a few – are radically changing the way we live and work and do business. Global systemic changes are underway and the the need to foresee and adapt to change is increasing in boards and executive management teams around the world. I’m convinced, that in a very near future profitable businesses are not the solid and strong ones but those founded on adaptability and agility.
Do you have a mission for this future of change?
I started my professional sustainability career in WWF Denmark. Here, I found a personal passion and a professional mission: To build a society and shape our future economy in order for 10 billion people or more to live prosperous and good lives sharing our planet’s natural resources with respect for its planetary boundaries. This is the biggest challenge of our time and this is what gets me out of my warm bed every morning.
But should we turn our backs to all the good stuff in life then?
I’m not a tree hugger. I believe the change and solutions at scale we need cannot rise out of philanthropy or moral imperatives. We don’t need less business, we need smarter business. We shouldn’t strive for less consumption, but for innovative, sustainable and circular consumption. We shouldn’t turn our backs to capitalism, but reshape it to create economic incentives that reward and escalate sustainable solutions and behaviours. Less is not more, smarter is.
You say we need change at a massive scale in order to coexist within the boundaries of our planet. Do you really believe we can turn it all around?
Yes, I do. I believe we are too smart and too intelligent to go under. As human beings we are where we are today because of our unique intelligence and inherent ability to adapt to change.
Do I hear the echo of Darwin?
You got me! Yes, I’m a convinced Darwinist, if there is such a term. I look for answers in the evolution and in natures’ ingenious designs and processes. Nature simply outsmarts us and we can learn a great deal from it.
I thought you said you weren’t a tree hugger? We face the enormous challenge of transforming our economy and society basically as we know it. Is it not naïve to think nature can help us take this on?
On the contrary, nature holds so many of the solutions we are looking for. For example, in nature you find no waste. Every animal and all material serve as nutrients for each other. When a leaf falls to the ground it becomes a nutrient for earthworms and enzymes and eventually it is transformed into life-giving soil. Many companies and governments are already looking to copy these sustainable life cycles, also known as the Cradle to Cradle philosophy, into their production and operations.
How do you apply this inspiration in nature in your work
As mentioned, I believe the winners of the future will be those who are agile and able to adapt to the changes in our social and economic environment. And nowhere are these competencies as present as in nature. For millions of years nature has survived despite radical and dramatic changes in living conditions. To me, nature is a powerful system of sustainable solutions and designs. Taking this with me into a discussion enables me to approach the challenges and questions from an outside-in-perspective which often proves to be valuable to my clients. They get the chance to take a look at themselves from the outside and recognise the system they are part of and depend upon to grow.
We do not need less business, we need smarter business. We should not strive for less consumption, but for innovative, sustainable consumption.
We should not turn our backs to capitalism, but reshape it to create economic incentives that reward and escalate sustainable solutions and behaviours. Less is not more, smarter is.