Creating Nodes to Evolve a Planetary Mindset – an interview with Prof. Dr. habil. Christine Vallaster and Mag.a Cornelia Huis

“We believe in the idea of common goods, and an open source integral carbon accounting system would definitely be one. The fact, that it should be the outcome of an Open Innovation process makes it even more exciting,” says Mag.a Cornelia Huis, who engages as researcher in the Department of Marketing & Relationship Management at the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences.

“Co-creative crowd-development with students and companies – small and big – from all over the world is an excellent opportunity to link up, to understand what problems exist in other parts of the world and how we can work together to solve them,” continues Prof. Dr. habil. Christine Vallaster, who engages as Senior Lecturer and Head of Marketing, Relationship Management and Business Management at the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences.

We speak about the Open Climate Collabathon, for which Prof. Dr. habil. Christine Vallaster and Mag.a Cornelia Huis create a Node at the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences with their course “Business Informatics and Digital Transformation” to enable their students to form teams with worldwide Collabathon participants and work on specific climate action prompts.

The Open Climate Collabathon is a new form of event based on a principle of radical collaboration and crowd-development, that calls on everyone to contribute in the development of an open source and collectively owned global climate accounting system, platform and portal.

Sebastian Klemm: How do our children survive the 21st century?

Christine Vallaster: How our children survive the 21st century depends a lot on the luck at birth: where were they born. When I look at our circle of latitude – i.e. Central Europe – my children, for example, currently have every opportunity to live their lives according to their own ideas. Whether this will change in the next 20 years: Yes, I think so.

Also, in Germany and Austria climatic conditions are changing; especially in times of crisis, e.g. Covid-19, weaknesses in our societal and economic system become apparent and the bounded-resource issue is also very present, although we in Central Europe have a good waste management system. This means that children in these latitudes will be – even more than us – busy solving these social issues in order to economically thrive.

Cornelia Huis: I don’t have any children myself, so I can’t relate to that, in a way like parents do. But I may have another scope, as I have all young human beings in mind, when speaking of “our children”. My first thought was, that I would want to change the term “survive” as I hope that existing in this world is not a question on how to survive, but on how to live a happy and fulfilled life under the given circumstances – whatever they might be like.

On the other hand, we have a lot of children all around the world, who are struggling to survive – in war zones, refugee camps, structurally weak regions – even in western cities, just to name some. So, I guess it is time that responsibility is taken by governments, companies, societies, and private persons, so being on this planet is not a question of surviving, but thriving.

Sebastian Klemm: Backcasting: We are now in the year 2040 where we nurture intragenerationally just societies while respecting the planetary boundaries with our climate-neutral lifestyles.What happened: Which mindshifts and actions brought us here in your point of view?

Christine Vallaster: In the year 2040, lobbying as a business will be restricted and politicians will be obliged to make their decisions based on the findings of science. In addition, business schools have turned away from their classical economic thinking, they have developed their business & teaching curricula in an interdisciplinary way, and the “new economy” – i.e. to work profit-oriented and at the same time create social-ecological value – is mainstream. The now prevalent economic system – short-term, profit-oriented and highly competitive – is being burdened to carry the real costs i.e. next to production costs, the costs of environmental damage, and thus this type of economy is no longer competitive.

Cornelia Huis: When we have achieved that, we have replaced the principle of competition with a principle of cooperation. Benefit-maximizing, egoistic behavior may bring us short successes – e.g. elbow technique in the workplace to get competitors out of the way. However, especially in our networked and increasingly complex world, we notice that we are dependent on others. I think that’s actually pretty ironic, because that was obvious, especially in smaller, pre-industrial communities, where surviving automatically meant depending on others. Then there was something we might call “steady progress” in many fields as technology, healthcare, production, education, which went hand in hand with individualization which is connected to independence on a personal level, and which was good for a time. To realize, that you can follow your own dreams, hold your own truths and act autonomous from what your family, teachers, religious group, or community may expect from you – at least in western countries.

But what is maybe forgotten here is, that no one acts ever truly independent, as long he uses something that was produced by another – and might that simply be knowledge. And now I think it is time, that we bring these two things together – to act independent, but also integrated. To follow an individual goal, but with a bigger picture in mind, which goes beyond short-term, selfish benefit. Sounds like Utopia? I don’t think so! Especially when we speak of the children of the 21st century, I believe that they have already understood that something only feels good, when no one else in the world has to suffer for it, all human and non-human beings included. 

Sebastian Klemm: Which opportunities should we definitely seize today and in this generation to arrive at a fair participation in an indivisible world?

Christine Vallaster: This interview is conducted during the time of Covid-19. Covid-19 works among other things like a binocular that reveals weaknesses in our system. Despite all the tragedy for many individuals, we have to take the chance this crisis offers us: work on the weaknesses and improve them. In relation to our economic system in Central Europe, this could mean, for example, a stronger focus on circular, regional cycles, purchasing local products, local production – keyword: supply chain law.

Above all, consumers should ask themselves: What do I really need to live well? Maybe there is one or the other thing that is not really needed. What I know for sure is that we know exactly how such a societal transformation can succeed, we have all the theoretical models, all the knowledge and best cases that would be necessary for it – see also Rutger Bregman on taxes – so we could simply do it. But there are the elites and there is lobbying – big business here, altogether afraid to loose their power and influence.

Sebastian Klemm: Why did you decide to create a Collabathon Node at the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences for the “Open Climate Collabathon November Sprint” and thereby actively contribute to the development of the world’s first open source integral carbon accounting system?

Cornelia Huis: The simplest answer would be to say: To be in line with what has been said before.  Of course, we know that the best learning success comes from own experience. This means that we can possibly encourage students to cooperate and take responsibility, simply by telling them in class, or we can let them experience what it is like in this Open Climate Collabathon.

We believe in the idea of common goods, and an open source integral carbon accounting system would definitely be one. The fact, that it should be the outcome of an Open Innovation process makes it even more exciting. We don’t know yet, how the students will perceive that experience. Maybe they find it stressful, maybe it spurs them to top performance – most probably both. Anyway, it will also help us to learn, how to create an environment that supports individuals in working together on a very complex task. As an educational institution, we too, have to learn how to enable our students to have positive, collective learning experiences that are not about a grade or another gratuity on a personal level, but rather about drawing gratuities from a larger whole, if we want to convince them of the principle of cooperation. 

Click to view the Collabathon November 2020 Sprint Deck.

Sebastian Klemm: Amidst these challenging times of COVID-19, subsequent economic recession, depression and the structural issues of delivering economics differently & bailout the planet:

What opportunities do you see for students, startups, social entrepreneurs and companies to engage in co-creative crowd-developments like the Open Climate Collabathon with regards to the work of the future & the future of work?

Christine Vallaster: As I have already indicated above: COVID-19 gives us in Central Europe the chance to correct the weaknesses that became obvious. I think COVID-19 offers a lot of opportunities for start-ups, entrepreneurs and students to develop (technical) new business models. Here in Central Europe the support exists, from universities, incubators. And – most importantly, at the moment there is a lot of money in the system – provided the governments did not use the money elsewhere to support old business models.  Co-creative crowd-development with students and companies – small and big – from all over the world is an excellent opportunity to link up, to understand what problems exist in other parts of the world and how we can work together to solve them.

Sebastian Klemm: The Collabathon claims that we need an Open Climate Accounting System, since Global climate accounting – the process of recording climate actors and their actions in respect to the shared account of the planet’s climate state, occurs in diverse set of registry platforms that are individually centralized and collectively dispersed and unlinked.

With all the existing accounting systems in place (i.e. UN PRI, CDP Scores, GHG Standards), why do you think it is important to link all the existing protocols and enable an interoperable open climate accounting ecosystem?

Christine Vallaster: My impression is that many things happen on an individual and organizational level towards more responsibility, circular economy, green finance & investment, accounting. – but still very uncoordinated and selective. New business models are being developed, and there is an increasing majority of people who are aware of the climate and resource problems and act accordingly.

For a social transformation to work across borders, the findings must be linked – only then does a kind of grassroot movement happen. This development has to be additionally fostered from above (political level), through taxes, incentives, and bans – the entire spectrum. Since climate change is such a large and also unknown development / crisis, all measures that we have in store are needed.

Sebastian Klemm: Why is it important to design the governance mechanism for this Open Climate Accounting System as a digital public good?

Cornelia Huis: As far as I got it right, the initial idea is to build a climate accounting system, which is available – or open – worldwide. This is the strongest form of inclusion, and it is most probably the only way to go, because if it will work on country level or a voluntary basis, states might be rather unlikely to imply such a system. It also follows from this, that this counting system should not be kept running by a state or a government, but on the long run by a decentralized and autonomous organization, that bears planetary stakeholders in mind, and that functions purely target-orientated and independent.

An open system not only promotes belonging and unity, but also empowers people to get involved and actively drive the change they hope for. We believe that in some areas the future lies in the common goods anyway and we look forward to trying out new ways of organizing entities. Old structures and their boundaries may be questioned – you don’t have to abolish them right away, but neither do you have to emphasize them, where they should not be valid because they are simply not functional anymore.

Sebastian Klemm: In our interview Dr. Martin Wainstein, founder and lead researcher at the Yale University’s Open Innovation Lab, says: “Currently, intellectual and financial capital is still the primary means for corporate valuation, but more and more we will start realizing this falls short since new companies will showcase value growth and impact through collaboration, open source and a growing network effect from shared purpose. The challenge is to capture this and find creative ways to translate this into financial capital, albeit a more enlightened version of financial capital.”

How do today’s students, upcoming entrepreneurs and startups showcase value growth and impact through collaboration and shared purpose?

Christine Vallaster: I think that digitization enables increasing virtual collaboration and can play a large and positive role in the transformation of society: it has never been easier to connect with people on the other side of the world with the same values, work together and develop something together. In fact, there are a lot of things regarding Open Innovation & hackathons amongst universities / students ongoing – although I am not sure how many of the ideas produced are then actually being taken further for actual development. But in any case, I think it is the sensitization amongst all the people that counts – and who eventually bring new thoughts into an organization and use the momentum to facilitate change – which is hard if new-thinking clashes with old-thinking.

Sebastian Klemm: Is the collaborative capital of a company now of equal importance to its intellectual and financial capital? In how far has the ability of being able to add value by collaborating effectively with others become a new business imperative?

Cornelia Huis: First of all, I am not sure, if I feel comfortable using the term “capital” in this context. I guess it is meant as a form of expressing, that “value” is created by someone or held by someone (while someone can also be a group of people). Maybe it is a reference to Pierre Bourdieu and his forms of capital, which were meant to define the position of the owner in a society or class.

But I would rather see that we stop trying to fit a new idea of doing business into old business theories by using their terms. I would rather come up with new ones, to underline that there is this mind shift when doing business, and that it is about impact, responsibility and value, and that we have to come up with different measures as well – whatever they might be.

In the distinction made above I would include collaborative capital under intellectual capital, when speaking of the outcome of the process. If it should be something like an ability or “habitus” (Bourdieu again), I believe that it is a skill that people can use to cooperate, while it doesn’t matter in which situation or field of activity. If you want to break it down to company level, it will be most probably more important for innovation-driven companies. So, it is likely, that it depends a lot on the branch and market position of a venture. But I see many opportunities for social processes in general in Open Innovation approaches – not only on company level, but as a form of interacting and living together.

Sebastian Klemm: In your Interreg Central Europe Programme “CE Responsible” you investigate how sustainability and economic efficiency go together, what drives social entrepreneurs compared to traditional forprofit companies & how increased cooperation between these economic actors can work. What did you find out so far?

Cornelia Huis: In general, what distinguishes an entrepreneur from other types of founders or CEOs is that he or she questions existing rules and seeks to find new ways to implement business ideas. For social entrepreneurs, this means challenging the paradigm that the main purpose of a business is to maximize profits. The motivation for this type of entrepreneur is to generate profit AND to do good. Put simply, a social or ecological problem is the starting point, and the solution to this problem is turned into a business opportunity, an opportunity for change so to say. Here we have parallels to the Open Climate Collabathon.

Furthermore, the founders of social enterprises sometimes also go other ways in employee management. There are attempts to have employees divide their time independently and determine for themselves how much wages they would like to receive for it. New forms of employment and ownership are emerging, which may also be better suited to the needs of leaders and employees in the 21st century. There are movements, in which the company increasingly passes into the ownership of the employees over time (cooperative idea) and managing directors who do without managing director fees, maybe this is the next step.

The partners from nine EU countries involved in the CE_Responsible project have found that there are often no corresponding structures in central Europe that support these new ways of doing business. By that I mean something like a social limited company. Many of these new movements, especially in Austria, are organized as associations. Although they are allowed to generate profit through the market, they are limited to distribute that to their members.

On the other hand, the traditional limited liability company does not fit for many either. A stalemate where states are asked to find new legal forms to meet the demands of these new types of entrepreneurs. Also, we are investigating cooperation’s between social entrepreneurs and so called “for-profit companies”. One can assume that in view of the current challenges, not only social entrepreneurs want to drive change, but also profit-oriented companies. Personally, I even believe that also at least some profit-oriented entrepreneurs care about social and environmental issues and that they would like to align their business processes in the direction of more sustainability if they find a profitable way to do so. In Austria in particular, we have a distinctive SME landscape, often with family-run businesses, e.g. craftsmanship is upheld here, so one can say, that they are already not purely profit orientated or motivated.  The next step in the project will be for our team from the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences to set up collaborations between social entrepreneurs and for-profit companies.

One goal would be, that joint business ideas were implemented and the companies involved each other in their business processes so that it wasn’t just about donations or investments – the crux of the matter here is: beyond philanthropy. This means that the for-profits do not simply pass on donations in money to the social entrepreneurs but that they work together actively together to find new business opportunities. Companies that would like to be involved in this process, or are generally interested in the topic, are welcome to contact us at any time.

Sebastian Klemm: In my interview with Tiberius Brastaviceanu, who took the role of designing and organising the Collabathon’s digital environment, he says: “The Open Climate platform requires an economic paradigm shift. We need to design a system that goes beyond capitalism and socialism, one in which the organisation of production is not only optimized to maximize profits, but sustainable wellbeing. Perhaps that is a system in which the notion of profit doesn’t even make sense anymore.”

This can be linked to Roman R. Rüdiger’s article “Non-profit organization? Hopefully not!” where he states: “I am often asked, ‘Are you an NGO?’ Yes, we are. We are a charitable, non-governmental educational organization that is committed to fostering equitable education, teaching skills for the 21st century and innovation in schools. Does that make us a non-profit organization? No! At least, I really hope not. (…) We now live in times in which social prosperity and innovation are at least as important as economic growth. Today we need to look at how to qualify young people to meet the digital challenges of the 21st century, or how to solve global environmental problems.”

What is your perspective? How can we think, apply and measure profit differently to foster sustainable wellbeing for people and the planet globally?

Christine Vallaster: There are already many researchers out there who look into that, e.g. Kate Raworth with her doughnut economy or Maja Göppel or Ann Pettifor. Then there are many researchers who put their thought into how to measure profit differently on an organizational level. In our book Measuring and Controlling Sustainability: Spanning Theory and Practice we collected some of these ideas and showcased them. What I am trying to say: We have all the knowledge. It is all here. We just need to do it.

Cornelia Huis: I believe that a first step, within the existing economy is that we have to calculate the cost of producing products and services differently. By this I mean that follow-up costs, for example resulting from increased CO2 emissions, must be included in the calculation.

Given today’s problems, it is counterintuitive that many products that are less harmful to the environment and communities are more expensive than products with higher social or environmental costs. Of course, I think that I know roughly where this is coming from, one factor of course is that nature has so far forgiven us a lot and that it was “okay” to exploit certain communities or countries, which comes from our history (slavery, colonialism, low-wage countries, … the cycle does not seem to be broken yet).

If the price of a commodity dictates how likely it is that it will be consumed, then we can regulate the price so that compensation payments for “real costs” are to be made. That would automatically reduce the profit of a company, which in a profit-maximizing, capitalist logic would most likely lead to companies producing differently, if that pays off for them. Such regulations might be a way to save the existing system, but they can also be just an intermediate step towards another one.

I want to emphasize that this was just an example and my intention is not, to degrade this to just a matter of pricing. Rather more we really need to be concerned about what kind of world we want to live in, and that this should be a public, inclusive discourse. Maybe we can also think of something like planetary rights – in addition to our human rights. It is time we move beyond anthropocentrism and arrive at a holistic worldview. I hope that we can find a way, where we do not have to ascribe a monetary value to nature in order to appreciate it.

Click to view the Sponsorship Deck for the Open Climate Collabathon.

Sebastian Klemm: Sponsorship for the Collabathon is organised through “company tiers” that shall back the operational costs of the Collabathon – like project management and marketing – and an “earth tier” to create an experimental “community fund” that uses decentralized governance to support community developments.

Governing these “Community funds” while bearing in mind the tragedy of the commons: Which token economics or other principles do you envision to drive open source bounties as a monetary reward for completing a task in the Collabathon’s crowd-development?

Cornelia Huis: Unless I am wrong, Hardin brought this idea of the Tragedy of the Commons into the discourse with his work of the same name from 1968, and he’s stubbornly present there ever since. While I would say, that he for sure found a catchy title for his piece, he is rather referring to freely accessible areas, instead of what is meant by a common – at least by a narrower definition of the term. In any case, his example lacks rules for dealing with shared use, which ultimately leads to overuse of the area (provided that one starts with actors who are entirely self-interested).

On the other hand, there are numerous counterexamples, put forward by e.g. Elinor Ostrom that show, how groups use common goods successfully. So, I would not bear a tragedy in mind here – at least none that cannot be avoided.

Because rules for dealing with a common have already been mentioned, I would like to go into them further. It has been found that commons work particularly well when there are (1) rules for dealing with them and (2) these are set up by the users themselves.

The question now is how one wants to see this in the context of the Open Climate Collabathon experiment. If the climate count system is the common good, then it doesn’t yet exist and then my considerations are irrelevant. I myself worked on a participatory project this year, where you could decide for yourself whether you would like to be paid. Since I get my income through the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences, I have decided to leave “my share” in the pot for those who have been under financial pressure, especially since COVID-19.

Perhaps, with such a movement as the Open Climate Collabathon it would be particularly useful to first ascertain the motives of those who take part. What motivates them to get involved? What is the added value for them? I don’t mean to say that working hours should be done free of charge – everyone feels differently. But if there is donation, why not decide together what to do with it? Maybe that could be voted on or there are different pots tied to different purposes – you see, at the end of the day I really don’t know, but I don’t think my individual opinion should play a role here either. I would find it great, if this could be the result of a joint process.

website: FH-Salzburg | contacts: Prof. Dr. habil. Christine Vallaster, Mag.a Cornelia Huis | twitter: #FHSalzburg | linkedin: FH Salzburg | youtube: FH Salzburg

further: Collabathon videos

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