- André Hoffmann, from the family behind Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, has been pushing for environmental sustainability in business for a quarter of a century now.
- Throughout a career that has also seen him serve as vice president of WWF, Hoffmann says he’s been bothered by the business-as-usual principle of making money first and thinking about nature afterward.
- “If you destroy nature to make a profit then you are creating the problem that you then try to solve with philanthropy,” he says. “So, you need to be much better at sensibly making money rather than making money at all costs.”
- In an interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler, Hoffmann talks about the growing realization of nature’s importance, the responsibility of companies to society beyond shareholders, and the need to transform the current, fragile economic system.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic went global just over a year ago, there had been a notable shift in messaging from some of the world’s largest companies around their responsibility beyond profit maximization. A growing number of firms were making commitments to reduce emissions, diversify their leadership, and eliminate environmental degradation and human rights abuses from their supply chains. The pandemic, however, seems to have accelerated uptake among business leaders of the idea that healthy and productive ecosystems underpin the health of our economy.
André Hoffmann, a Swiss businessman, environmentalist and philanthropist who for years has made a case for nature in his business circles, says the idea of the indispensability of nature may have finally reached an inflection point.
“Thirty years ago, the fact that our consumption patterns were endangering nature and, by extension, our human system, was always discounted rather quickly,” Hoffmann told Mongabay during a recent interview. “But today the realization that nature is indispensable to life on Earth and that we will not survive very long if a natural system becomes dysfunctional, has become mainstream.
“This is particularly stark in these pandemic times where we’ve realized that zoonotic disease is a real danger: it is very possible that if you treat nature as an expendable force, you will find yourself having to deal with the consequences. Zoonosis, the transfer of diseases from animals to humans, is a real consequence of the overexploitation of natural resources.”
As the son of ornithologist, conservationist and philanthropist Luc Hoffmann, André Hoffmann got an introduction to nature at a very early age, spending the first 14 years of his life living in the wetlands of Camargue in the south of France, near where his father conducted research. Hoffmann would go on to get a business degree at INSEAD and join the family business as a board member of the pharmaceutical giant Roche, which was founded by his grandfather in 1896. Since then, Hoffmann has worked in numerous leadership roles at companies and NGOs, including serving as the vice president of WWF from 2007 to 2017. Since 2010, Hoffmann has run the MAVA Foundation, which has put more than 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) into nature conservation.
Hoffmann says his love of nature and belief in the need for sustainability has deeply influenced his business pursuits as well as his thinking around philanthropy.
“When I was elected to the board of our family company, which is now 25 years ago, my first question to the boardroom was something along the lines of, ‘What do we do for nature? What’s our relationship with nature?’ I was always told the same thing, not only in our family company, but also in other companies where I eventually participated. ‘Let us make money first, once we have the money, we will invest it into protecting nature. In other words, we can compensate for our corporate misdeeds with philanthropic compensation.’”
He says this idea of philanthropy as a mechanism to “offset” the harms caused by one’s business activities has always bothered him.
“Among my peer group of board directors and non-executive directors of big companies, the sentiment has often been … You make money and then you give it back via taxes and philanthropy to deal with externalities,” he said. “If you destroy nature to make a profit then you are creating the problem that you then try to solve with philanthropy. So, you need to be much better at sensibly making money rather than making money at all costs.”
Hoffmann says companies today face much greater pressure from customers, employees and investors to do more than just make money.
“A big institution, like Unilever or Nestlé cannot exist just to satisfy shareholders. It also has a mission to fulfill toward the community. It has to be a net contributor to society,” he said. “This is increasingly difficult to ignore. Especially if you add that there’s an absolute uncompromising attitude of the young generation.”
Hoffmann says the pandemic has helped bring the bigger issues into focus for business leaders.
“The pandemic shows very clearly that our current system is not strong enough. It’s not resilient enough,” he said. “By concentrating on short-term satisfaction and short-term profit maximization, we have neglected the consequences of what we are doing.
“The system is so fragile that a small virus was able to bring humanity down for more than a year now, that should be a warning signal. The long-term consequences of this should be to recognize that the model we have built, which is based on complete domination of nature, is not workable.”
Hoffmann spoke about sustainability, resilience, and the need for systems transformation during a conversation with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
An interview with André Hoffmann
Your father Luc Hoffmann was a prominent conservationist, who co-founded the World Wildlife Fund, among other institutions. What was your childhood like in so far as your introduction to conservation and relationship to nature?
André Hoffmann: My father left his hometown of Basel in Switzerland to go to Camargue, which is a wide area in the South of France, where he continued the studies that brought him there to start with, which was studying bird migration. In particular, his favorite subject was a seagull that migrates between Siberia and Africa and stops in the Camargue. I like to think of him trying to follow the birds, and that’s why he eventually emerged in the Camargue.
I got there when I was about three weeks old and stayed until I was 14. My relationship to nature was not only that it was my father’s job, but it was also that we grew up in a wetland, very close to where his heart and his feelings were. That certainly influenced me and my sisters because we lived in the country. We lived literally in the nature reserve and that had an impact on us.
Because of his activity and in particular, the fact that he was always very keen to promote the idea of conservation and importance of nature, the house was always full of people who came from a lot of different parts of the world, interested in similar topics. That’s one of the reasons why I was early on confronted by a number of these conversations about nature versus humanity, biodiversity, et cetera, at the time when it was not a sort of mainstream topic.
You’ve been involved in philanthropy, conservation and sustainability in a professional capacity since at least the 1990s. What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen during that time? Both in terms of the conservation space and philanthropy.
André Hoffmann: Thirty years ago, the fact that our consumption patterns were endangering nature and, by extension, our human system, was always discounted rather quickly by somebody who just likes nice things. The sentiment was: “We protect nature because it’s beautiful. We protect nature because birds are an interesting thing to study.” That sort of thing is true, of course. But today the realization that nature is indispensable to life on Earth and that we will not survive very long if a natural system becomes dysfunctional, has become mainstream. A lot of people talk about this.
I often quote the same analogy: When I was elected to the board of our family company, which is now 25 years ago, my first question to the boardroom was something along the lines of, “What do we do for nature? What’s our relationship with nature?” I was always told the same thing, not only in our family company, but also in other companies where I eventually participated. “Let us make money first, once we have the money, we will invest it into protecting nature. In other words, we can compensate for our corporate misdeeds with philanthropic compensation.”
Basically, as in a lot of boardrooms, nature was not considered part of everyday life. Nature was in Africa, nature was in the Camargue, nature was in Latin America. It was not in Basel in the headquarters of the company or London or in New York.
That sort of attitude of having humanity as a standalone and nature alongside it, I think that has changed. Today we see much more of an interrelationship between the two. This is particularly stark in these pandemic times where we’ve realized that zoonotic disease is a real danger: it is very possible that if you treat nature as an expendable force, you will find yourself having to deal with the consequences. Zoonosis, the transfer of diseases from animals to humans, is a real consequence of the overexploitation of natural resources.
If you touch on the topic of philanthropy, that is something which has always challenged me. Not that you say “It’s fine to make money by raping nature, by destroying systems, as long as you have a margin.” But then once you have that profit, you give part of it back to philanthropy to reacquire a certain conscience, or perhaps even sleep better at night. I think that it’s absurd. If you destroy nature to make a profit then you are creating the problem that you then try to solve with philanthropy. So, you need to be much better at sensibly making money rather than making money at all costs. Indra Nooyi, who used to be the CEO of Pepsi Cola had this wonderful saying, “It’s not how you spend the money that matters, it’s how you make it.” That for me is a very important statement.
You’ve long advocated for more sustainable models of capitalism, so is the recent increase in climate commitments from companies moving in the direction that you envision, and what do you think is driving that trend?
André Hoffmann: First, I have to say that the fact that I was born into a family owning a big business while, at the same time, also born to a father who was already very tuned in to conservation issues, certainly played a role in all this. Among my peer group of board directors and non-executive directors of big companies, the sentiment has often been of Friedman economics and the Chicago School of Economics that “Businesses are there to make money.” You make money and then you give it back via taxes and philanthropy to deal with externalities.
All that sort of continuum is something that I’ve been asked to comment on from time to time. Today I can see that big business, but also the small ones, are starting to realize that you have to look at this more holistically, beyond a collection of disparate issues. One of the main reasons, and I think that’s been even more important during the pandemic, is this combination of pressure on corporates.
Today customers are asking you, “Can you please make sure that you provide me with the product which has a low impact on social, humans, and natural systems.” Employees are telling us, “We don’t want to work for a company which only strives to make money. We want to work for a company which has a purpose that we can stand by, a mission that we can support.” Especially the younger generation today is very keen to talk about minimal impact, and the stakeholder economy, not the owner economy.
A big institution, like Unilever or Nestle cannot exist just to satisfy shareholders. It also has a mission to fulfill towards the community. It has to be a net contributor to society. So, you have your employees and customers telling you that. And you’re increasingly having financial corporations telling you that. It’s very significant when the round table of business in the U.S. is saying, “We want you to demonstrate that you have a positive impact on the environment before we invest into you.” That didn’t exist in the past.
Business leaders are confronted with new pressure from customers, employees, and investors. This is increasingly difficult to ignore. Especially if you add that there’s an absolute uncompromising attitude of the young generation. They are walking in the streets and demanding real solutions.
The young generation knows the facts and is telling us: “We’re not going to accept this. You need to urgently do something.” So that’s more pressure for the politicians, of course, but it is also having an impact on business leaders.
Companies are integrating carbon and water into decision-making, but it seems that’s less of a case with biodiversity. What do you think it will take for companies to start to factor biodiversity into their thinking? Also, you touched on this already, but do you think that the pandemic has accelerated this movement?
André Hoffmann: Biodiversity is a tough one, of course. When you want to talk about the impact of business on humanity, or business on the climate, we need things that you can measure and put numbers to. It’s easy to do that with CO2, which has a measurable dimension. Telling companies, you have to reduce your CO2 output or greenhouse gas emissions is straightforward. So is the reason for action: If we fail to reduce emissions, we’re going to have runaway climate change, which we cannot deal with. On a policy level, we have mechanisms like the Paris Accord that set numbers to measure progress.
Biodiversity is much more complicated. The customers we were talking about before, and the general public, have more difficulty understanding the concept of biodiversity. The sentiment is: “If we lose a species of ants in the Amazon, how does that make a difference to my daily life?” We need to find a way to measure the impact that businesses are having on this dimension as well as the impact that biodiversity loss has on business.
I think the real issue we’re having is quite simply an accounting issue. For finance we have a 150-year-old accounting system, which is crystallized in the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). We don’t have the equivalent of nature, nor for impact. Private businesses’ entrepreneurial capacity, power, and generation of new ideas have been entirely targeted at increasing profit. These haven’t been targeted at understanding the impact of business on natural systems. That’s something we need to address.
We need sustainable accountability based on the capitals: natural capital, social capital, human capital, which combined together end up in the produced capital, which is the one we’re measuring. By measuring only the produced capital at the end of the process, we do not allow each of the other three capitals to be given proper value.
Now that still doesn’t answer your question about biodiversity. How do we make sure that biodiversity loss is seen as a cost and not just as a consequence? Maybe some of the tipping points we’re about to hit in terms of weakening of natural systems will have an impact. But I think, as you said, the pandemic shows very clearly that our current system is not strong enough. It’s not resilient enough. By concentrating on short-term satisfaction and short-term profit maximization, we have neglected the consequences of what we are doing.
In my capacity as a board director, one of my responsibilities is to steer the company, in the long-term, towards success. We need to make decisions that consider the impacts beyond the short-term.
Family businesses have an advantage in that case, because family businesses can think in the long term: They’re thinking trans-generationally by definition.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a lot of enthusiasm around the idea of ethnobotanical knowledge informing the development of pharmaceutical products. Given your work spanning both conservation and the pharmaceutical industry, do you have thoughts on the potential for nature-inspired medicine as a way to generate more economic value from healthy and productive ecosystems?
André Hoffmann: That’s a very important point. Maybe it’s a bit cynical to say, but I think to a certain extent, nature has to pay for its keep. The idea of saying only philanthropy can save nature: that we can create recurrent cash flows towards nature only through philanthropy, is a doomed model. That’s not going to work. The amount of money that philanthropy commits to the environment is a few billion, which is not going to be enough to solve the issue. We need to have a systemic change that is not only based on the realization of impact, but also the demonstration of the opportunity that nature provides.
We need to create recurrent, sustainable cash flows for nature. At the moment, we have two ways of doing that. The most frequent one is eco-tourism in a pristine environment. But if we hope that the rich Northern tourist is going to solve the problem through leisure travel where they are just taking pictures of elephants or orangutans, I think we’re misguided. Yes, it exists and it’s a model that functions. And it has helped a lot of places, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but it’s not enough. We need more than that.
The second stream of income, which seems to be all over the place at the moment, is this carbon sink idea. We are going to plant trees and restore ecosystems. We’re going to regenerate agriculture to capture the carbon that is changing the climate. That’s easy to measure. I can tell you that in a mangrove forest, I can capture so many tons of carbons per square meter. I can sell the rights of that ecosystem function to companies who are polluting. This is the polluter pays principle.
With that we have a business. As long as it is well documented, we can do something about it. But if it works, which isn’t completely clear yet, it’ll only be a one-off because our businesses are not going to stop polluting at some point within the next couple of decades. Once CO2 emissions are brought back down to a certain level, we will not be able to continue to sell them rights to pollute.
So, we need a third dimension. What’s the third dimension? In the pharmaceutical business, we often hear that we are going to identify new molecules which only exist in the wild. Industrializing these molecules will allow us to create a cash flow back to the local community and to the governments where the molecules are found. Maybe this is possible, but current experience does not show that yet. shows the process doesn’t work that way so far.
I’ll give you an example. In the previous flu pandemic, H5N1, we found Tamiflu. The origin of that product was something called shikimic acid, and that shikimic acid originates in the star anise, which can be used in cooking as well. We realized rather quickly that if there was a pandemic developing, which thank God there wasn’t, but if there had been a pandemic developing, we would vastly exceed the capacity of production of that star anise.
One of the first jobs for the people who discovered this molecule–which wasn’t us, we were just selling it– was to synthesize it in a lab as quickly as possible. So, the origin was in nature, but the physical reality was that production was in factories, not in the forest environment.
Yes, there is a one-off cost for intellectual property, but after that, this is not a recurring cashflow that we were referring to before. Yes, there is an enormous treasure trove of new molecules in nature, and not only for pharmaceuticals, for lots of other things. The whole idea of nature mimicry, which we see in the number of nanotechnologies and other technologies, is a wonderful opportunity for discovery. But again, these are one-offs. I don’t think there’s a sufficient number of resources that help us to protect species in the broader sense.
What do you see as the key levers for driving systemic change towards a more sustainable relationship with nature?
André Hoffmann: I think the fact that we are seeing more and more of the consequences of neglecting nature is a driver. Again, going back to the pandemic, the fact that we’ve been able to demonstrate the lack of resilience of our system: The system is so fragile that a small virus was able to bring humanity down for more than a year now, that should be a warning signal. The long-term consequences of this should be to recognize that the model we have built, which is based on complete domination of nature, is not workable.
Nature is subtle and the balance of different influences is often changing. I like to describe nature as organized chaos, but when humans try to manipulate the system, it can knock things out of balance. I think that’s one of the reasons why we do have these zoonoses: pathogens present in the animal kingdom affect humanity because of our practices and behaviors. We treat nature as a dispensable resource when it isn’t. It’s something that has its balance and equilibrium, which needs to be respected.
Now how do we make sure that this doesn’t happen again? Well in businesses we say that the leaders’ main job is risk management and asset allocation: We need to decide where we’re going to allocate the resources we generate with our economic activities. We also need to make sure that we could protect ourselves against recurrent risks.
Now, the pandemic risk was obvious. We all knew about it. Covid is attempt number six or seven in recent years. We had chikungunya, we had dengue, we had Ebola, we had SARS-1, we had MERS. A lot of these diseases have been trying to “go global” the way SARS-2–which causes COVID-19–did. We just didn’t prepare ourselves for it.
So, going forward, the best way of creating a stable system is to address the complexity of the system. That’s because if we constantly concentrate on a narrow platform, when there’s a shock, we fall off the platform. We need to be able to have broad answers to all this. To have broad answers to all this, we need to come up with a way of dealing with the complexity of nature.
When I was at business school, people used to tell me, “Go for the low hanging fruit. Keep it simple stupid.” Today that’s no longer appropriate. We need to ensure that we deal with complexity. Complexity is good. It’s more difficult, but it’s good, and that’s how we will be able to find a certain amount of balance in the future of what we’re doing. We need to be able to deal with natural, social, and human resources more subtly. I insist on social and human as well. This is not just about the environment. It’s not just about the natural environment, it’s about the way we choose to work and live as a species. As long as we rely on the domination of certain parts of society by another part, we are creating this lack of balance.
The social justice issues championed by the Black Lives Matter movement are a typical example of that. As long as you have to rely on the domination of certain parts of society over another one, it’s not stable. At some stage, something will happen.
If I look at the way wealth was created in our part of the world, it was only based on an empire. You attacked neighbors, stole their money, and then subjected them until they rebelled, and then you collapsed. We have had these cycles.
What would you like to see more of in conservation? What do you think the biggest gaps are in the conservation field?
André Hoffmann: I think that we have relied too much on this notion of non-government organizations funded by philanthropy. If we want to rebalance the books, we need to be in a situation where we can protect nature, not because nature is beautiful, but also because there is a business interest for humanity to get on well with nature. So, you do not keep a pocket of the Amazon rainforest because you want to protect the forest, you do it because we all understand that if we lose it, we’ll have problems from climate change to disruption of rainfall that affect us all, no matter where we live.
I’m reminded of the speech that the head of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, gave. He said, “We are not safe unless everybody’s safe.” So, this idea that you can vaccinate a region and then the pandemic will be over. This idea is just fiction. The reality is that as long as there’s a pocket of infection somewhere, we will not get rid of it. The same thing applies to nature conservation. We do not conserve Africa or Southeast Asia for “the locals”, we do it for the world. Therefore, it’s this trade-off between the private good and the public good. The fisherman who fishes the last tuna in the Mediterranean is going to sell that tuna for a fortune. He’s going to get a bit richer temporarily, but we will all, including that fisherman, be poorer over the long run.
There is this collective ownership and this private realization. So, if you want to protect nature more efficiently, what needs to be done? We need to change our system. It’s not an idea of putting certain things out of reach. It’s the incentivization, the definition of success, and the way we work together which has to change. That’s why I insist on the social and on the human side, because we cannot protect nature without taking into account humanity.
If we wanted to transform conservation to become more effective and scalable, what do you think the key steps or actions would be to achieve that outcome?
André Hoffmann: I’m going back to this notion that we discussed before on accounting. I think it’s important to measure the impact we have on the world. The history of business in the industrial age of the past 150 years has been over the years simplified more and more towards trying to find a simple metric to measure success. That metric is short-term profit maximization, which a big corporation reports on every few months if it’s listed on a stock exchange. If they want to build for the long-term, it’s difficult to base that on an interval of just a few months.
The same thing applies to the way we measure success among each other. There’s a whole definition of success which will need to be adapted. As long as we see nature just as the resource to be turned into cash to bring instant satisfaction, we’re going to struggle with all these things. We need to account for our impacts on nature and people, along with our financial results.
You probably know that the MAVA Foundation, is going to stop in 2022. One of the reasons I thought it was a good idea to do that is because I think the idea that we need to protect species mainly by protecting habitats is a bit old hat. That is of course important, but there is much more to the story. My father was one of the founding members of WWF, which was created 62 years ago. The first campaign was “Save the Rhino in East Africa.” Well, 62 years later, guess what? We’re still trying to save the rhino in East Africa. We won a couple of battles, but the war is somewhere else.
The root cause of the pressure on habitats and species is a purely financial one. As long as it pays to commit wildlife crime, as a society we are condoning this attitude and we’re supporting it. So, the root causes are the short-term profit maximization obsession. Now, as we said earlier, businesses — even in the financial community — are starting to realize that purpose and stakeholder concern matter.
We need to build on that to be able to change our relationship to nature, but it’s not just a question of a couple of scientists identifying that there are species at risk and something needs to be done. It’s the relationship between humans and nature, which we need to address which get at the root causes of the problem.
Are your philanthropic efforts, through MAVA and other entities, taking aim at those gaps?
André Hoffmann: Yes, we do this in several ways. Ten years ago, we launched a new program called Sustainable Economy which is meant to address the systemic pressures on biodiversity. We helped create and take part in other collective action such as Finance for Biodiversity (F4B) and Partners for a New Economy, both of which address the root causes we discussed.
You feel warm and happy when you save one species. For instance, our foundation has supported work on the Przewalski’s horse over many years – we funded partners to breed them in captivity and reintroduce in Mongolia. For one species, it’s quite a huge and long-term program. It’s been a success so far. We are happy but the situation is very fragile as it could change overnight.
If we want to understand why these species are important, we need to understand why they are under pressure. They’re under pressure for all sorts of reasons. In Mongolia, there were reduced numbers of Przewalski’s horses because people ate them. Why? Because they were hungry. Why were they hungry? Because the system that backs them up did not work the way it should. This is common sense, but we need to do something about it. If we don’t address those underlying problems, we will be fixing the symptoms in perpetuity.
If the aim is sustainability, we cannot rely on people’s charity or philanthropy. Sustainable models have a sustainable financing model. If we can create a system where we can have recurrent cash flows, then we are more likely to be successful in the long-term than if we are just relying on a one-off payment from time to time.
I know MAVA is going to sunset next year, but how does MAVA value its investments in terms of the impact it has on biodiversity or the world?
André Hoffmann: There are two answers to that. Answer number one for the programs: We set some targets for each one of the programs we can measure that quite easily. For instance, if the goal is protecting turtle nesting sites and the number of eggs laid increases, that’s success. I’m not saying we’ve taken it away from the danger zone, but we’ve succeeded. That’s easy to measure.
Determining the fundamental impact or the total impact requires being more systematic. In particular, since we are closing next year — in 2022 — we are going to spend a bit of time over the last year with the foundation trying to figure out how we can demonstrate the impacts we’ve had.
The fact that there is no real accounting for impact makes it a bit difficult, but we will find some way of measuring success. For example, one of our biggest projects is the Tour du Valat in Camargue which I currently chair. We made our name 60 years ago when we started working to preserve and restore Mediterranean wetlands and promote sustainable use. Since we started this foundation, there are fewer wetlands in the Mediterranean than were before we started, but I’m pretty sure that there would be even less if we hadn’t been there. It’s a relative measure. It’s good to have big ideas and to do things that bring change, but we need to be realistic as well.
Once MAVA sunsets, will you be starting a new philanthropic foundation?
André Hoffmann: This is a very good question and one we get asked a lot. The short answer is no. Both my sisters and I are thinking very hard about our future activities. One thing is for sure, is that whatever we do next will not be the same thing as MAVA, because in that case, why would we stop?
I’m very proud of what MAVA has achieved. We have a strong community of conservation actors that has been created in West Africa, in the Mediterranean, in Switzerland, and in the Alpine Ark. We have a way of working that is empowering, and flexible. We’ve done a lot of good stuff with lots of outstanding people. There are so many committed members of that community that I’m sure that that will survive in one-way shape or form.
We haven’t done that to create a sort of empire. We’ve done that because we would like to allow different geographies to take their future into their hands and to do something about it. We’ve spent the last two years investing in organization development which in part is helping these different entities to become less dependent on our giving. I think that that part of the sunsetting has been done well. There are a couple of outstanding partners who would not be where they are today without MAVA, and who will continue to play a role in the future of the region after MAVA.
For me, I believe the next iteration will be more something that is based on a commercial undertaking rather than a philanthropic approach. We need to originate projects which are sustainable because they are financially sustainable. They’re not just dependent on our philanthropy.
The idea is not to create dependency. The idea is to empower parts of society to go on managing natural resources and finding nature-based solutions to development in a way which is sustainable. Sustainability is contradictory to philanthropic giving and there’s a whole new book to be written. There has to be a system that is in the interest of all participants rather than just satisfying the donor.
What would you say to young people who are distressed about the current trajectory of the planet?
André Hoffmann: What do I say to young people? Well, I think the last couple of sentences contain a little bit of my advice. Don’t think that because you’re right, you’re going to get funding. You need to think in a much more entrepreneurial way. If you can demonstrate the benefits to humanity of a well-functioning ecosystem, you’re much more likely to maintain that ecosystem functionally into the future. Sustainability is not just about natural resources; it’s also about financial sustainability.
Why should you protect the wetland? Because it helps you with the management of the water cycle, it absorbs floods, it helps purify water, and it helps store water. But if your only argument for maintaining it is because it offers a nice view from the pool, you’re going to have difficulty convincing people to protect it.
We need to slightly change the approach we have to nature. Nature is not a “nice to have”. It’s a “must-have.” Because it’s a must-have, we need to protect it.
My advice to young people is to be bold and entrepreneurial. Lead with compassion and empathy and learn how to manage complexity. The future will depend on our ability to form powerful collaborations and I feel young people are naturally more skilled at this than my generation.
Are you hopeful or what gives you hope about our ability to solve these problems?
André Hoffmann: The increased attention to stakeholder capitalism and long-term thinking gives me hope.
I went to business school where I was taught that “You are good if you make money. You are lousy if you don’t make money. If your salary increases every year, you’re great. If your salary does not increase, you lose, you’re not good.” We’ve convinced ourselves that material success is more important than anything else. These norms have been in place for decades, but I am now seeing a shift in this thinking. As a society we are changing our notion of what matters.
The view I hold that business should be a force for good is no longer a fringe opinion but is gaining momentum, and this gives me hope for the future.