“The challenges faced by society are so paramount that if the private sector continues on a business-as-usual trajectory, intrusive government intervention will be needed,” said Prof Jean-Pierre Danthine in his opening address to the second annual summit of E4S.
“In order to avoid this, the only solution are public–private partnerships, where government and business meet halfway,” he explained. “Academia and institutions like E4S are here to act as intermediaries.”
E4S – the Enterprise for Society Center, a collaboration between three leading academic institutions: EPFL, IMD, and UNIL-HEC – held its summit in Lausanne to discuss key aspects of the transition to a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive economy.
The 2021 Summit was the first opportunity to gather the E4S stakeholders in person, bringing together over 40 business leaders and 200 participants from academia, business, NGOs and Government.
The E4S Center, which promotes dialogue between researchers, educators, policymakers and practitioners, invited representatives from academia, business, and government in four panel discussions on sustainable mobility and logistics, sustainable finance, corporate purpose and activism, and the interface between government, business, and academia.
The mobility panel, moderated by Julia Binder, Professor at IMD, discussed promising solutions for the transition of the transport sector, driven by digital and circular business models. “The technological solutions for sustainable logistics either already exist or will exist in the next decade,” underlined Roberto Cirillo, CEO of Swiss Post, whose company delivered 182.7 million parcels in 2020. For example, Swiss Post has invested heavily in electric vehicles – 6,000 of its 10,000-vehicle fleet – as well as circular economy services and carbon-neutral buildings.
Dominic Rohner, professor at HEC Lausanne and member of the E4S platform, “Evidence-based environmental policy”, acknowledged the power of research to tackle major issues, while conceding that “researchers sometimes work from an ivory tower and can be disconnected from the real world. We come with complex answers that are impossible to communicate. What society needs are implementable and understandable solutions”, he concluded.
In the panel discussion on sustainable finance, Patrick Odier, Senior Managing Partner at Lombard Odier, underscored that innovations in fintech can effectively measure impact and improve liquidity for sustainable solutions.
In the conversation between Mirjam Staub-Bisang, Country Manager of BlackRock Switzerland, and Paul Bulcke, Chair of Nestlé, the necessity of organizational stewardship and engagement in times of ambiguity and activism became evident. “We cannot just claim the future we want, we have to create it, emphasized Paul Bulcke.
Across all panels, there was unanimous accord that – regardless of the industry – any transition must be systemic. “That’s something that our campuses already allow us to do” reminded Frédéric Herman, Rector of the University of Lausanne. “People move, eat, play, work on campus. So, we have a wonderful test lab for solutions here.”
The role of companies in such solution-design was emphasized by Jean-François Manzoni, President of IMD: “We must recognize the role of the private sector, which is often pointed as the culprit, while it has alleviated millions of people out of poverty, created value, and brought massive increase in life expectancy”, Manzoni underlined in his dialogue with the Presidents of EPFL, UNIL and the Canton of Vaud.
Also, all the panelists offered warnings on techno-centrism. “The problem is not technological. We need to also rethink the system and the regulatory framework,” according to Cirillo.
That is the magic of an initiative like E4S. “It puts people around the table who have completely different ways of thinking, and it provides them with a space for dialog,” concluded Vetterli at the summit.
Dominik Breitinger, Head of Innovation & Partnerships, E4S