Advisory Council Member - Jussi Herlin

Fostering a Better Tomorrow: Jussi Herlin’s perspective

Introducing the third Combient Pure Advisory Council member. Jussi Herlin is the Vice Chair of the Board at KONE and holds a number of other board positions in companies, industrial associations, and foundations. In this blog post, Jussi will share his insights about companies' pivotal role in driving sustainable transformation.

1. How would you describe the current discourse on climate change, especially when looking at the most significant challenges and opportunities? Moreover, which pressing issues do you believe require immediate attention in today's world?

The world is currently dealing with numerous pressing issues, including wars and geopolitical concerns that dominate the global agenda. Given the limited capacity for addressing many challenges simultaneously, climate change has taken a bit of a backseat despite years of active discussions. While climate change is often linked to its side effects, such as extreme weather phenomena, this critical issue must regain the spotlight in media coverage and discussions.

We also need to broaden our conversations beyond climate change to encompass issues like biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, all within the context of planetary boundaries, which are undoubtedly complex and challenging to address and measure. Fostering increased dialogue and understanding about our broader negative impacts on planetary systems is crucial for a sustainable future.

2.How do you see the companies' roles regarding these themes you just mentioned?

Companies have shown commendable commitment in recent years, and this commitment must continue to grow, and we must ramp up these efforts! While many companies emphasize climate change and sustainability, concrete actions must be highlighted. Companies should persist in their commitment and, concurrently, ensure their actions can withstand rigorous examination. The primary focus for companies should always revolve around what is genuinely relevant to their operations and also recognize what is not.

3. To create sustainable business value, what kind of transformation is required from companies in the short- and long-term?

Although regulatory challenges exist, companies can reorient their attention to the concrete environmental effects of their operations rather than solely concentrating on ESG risks. It's time to pivot from ESG-centric thinking to a commitment to achieving genuine impact. In business models, there is significant potential for innovation in charting the course for various materials and by-products to benefit companies, industries, and ecosystems.

Simply put, the circular economy concept revolves around reusing existing resources and minimizing reliance on virgin resources. This becomes particularly demanding when everything is expanding simultaneously. A common challenge is the limited awareness of the by-products and non-virgin resources available to companies, such as recycled steel. There is an increasing need to understand how specific non-virgin materials can play a part in a company’s value chain. Overall, the emphasis should shift from conventional ESG considerations and business risks to a more pronounced focus on impact.

4. As an advisory council member, what is the Combient network's value and role in fostering this transformation?

The Combient network is an ecosystem with numerous interdependencies among member companies. As an advisory council member, I see the value and role of the Combient network in driving this sustainable transformation as significant. It encompasses the entire industrial value chain within ecosystems and provides a platform for dialogue, collaboration, and the potential to shape convictions.

These characteristics position Combient Pure as an ideal test bed for visualising complex and multi-dimensional value networks. That's one aspect. Another important facet is that Combient effectively serves as a "voice of progressive Nordic industrial economies" with a substantial impact and represents the views of those with economic influence and resources.

5. Talking about multi-company collaboration as a driver of sustainable transformation, what is the most inspiring business case you have seen?

While our efforts to decarbonize our economy definitely need to speed up, there are several encouraging examples of companies pulling together to advance their industries while maintaining a level playing field.

One such example is the SteelZero initiative, where a non-profit galvanized (no pun intended) several large steel procurers from different industries to commit to purchasing green steel. Such pledges are a step in the right direction and need to be stringently followed up on.

6. Circular Economy: What strategies can companies implement to transition towards a circular economy model and promote resource efficiency?

I see that resource efficiency should not be driven separately because it should come as granted; companies have always tried to minimize their resource use, which is quite business as usual. However, what is required is a change in mindset to see what else is possible. For example, when we talk about steel, should the focus be on recycling or the durability of things? Ultimately, the circular economy will not be a miracle that saves us, but new strategies might.

7. Customer and investor influence: How do changing customer preferences and increasing investor scrutiny affect a company's sustainability strategy and practices?

Customer and investor influence significantly shapes a company's sustainability strategy. Yet, ESG ratings pose challenges by sometimes hiding underlying issues, prompting a necessary shift from ESG to a deeper focus on impact. This complex issue can mislead due to divergent interests, emphasizing the need to talk more about impact and less about ESG. Enhanced regulation could be a solution.

Understanding the evolving customer preferences is essential for shaping a company's sustainability strategy. These shifting preferences profoundly impact internal decision-making. Simultaneously, investors typically prioritize comprehensive returns evaluation. Moreover, a unified commitment to sustainability has become even more crucial for global progress. Capital often gravitates towards less regulated environments, highlighting businesses' need to align their strategies with sustainable practices. The global conversation is shifting towards sustainability, but it must be universal rather than isolated in specific regions, necessitating global cooperation.

8. Lastly, could you share an inspiring message or story for companies looking to accelerate their low-carbon transition?

Last week, I traveled to Kyiv, Ukraine, and met many locals seeking foreign investment in Ukraine. According to a senior government official, Ukraine could become the hub for Ukrainian green steel; they have vast iron ore resources, and the onshore wind conditions are favorable for scaling up wind power. Ambitions related to sustainability and a sustainable future can be found in unexpected places.

Introducing Jussi Herlin

Jussi Herlin works and learns at KONE Corporation – a global leader in People Flow solutions – as Vice Chair of the Board. He has served on the Board of Directors for 14 years, seven of which are in the present position. Previously, Jussi has held strategy and market intelligence positions at both KONE and Accenture. In addition to his responsibilities at KONE, he holds several Board positions in Finnish companies, foundations, and organizations such as EK - Confederation of Finnish Industries, Teknologiateollisuus - Technology Industries of Finland, and Tiina and Antti Herlin Foundation. Jussi's interests span across a wide range of fields, including artificial intelligence, urbanization, leadership, intersectional feminism, impactful business, and the behavioral sciences.

Stay tuned for more interesting conversations and insights in our ongoing blog series!

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