ESCP welcomes the most recent & exciting addition to its initiative The STAR Centre: Sustainability Transformation & Applied Research

The idea for the center was born in 2022 when ESCP Berlin Corporate Sustainability Chair and Professor Dr. Florian Lüdeke-Freund and Director of the Business Solutions, Custom Programmes & Career Development Jan Ehlers found themselves wishing for a new platform through which they could enable and accelerate sustainability transformation together with purpose-driven organizations.

Meant as a space for connecting, inspiring, and nurturing of the present and future captains of change championing ecologically sustainable and socially responsible business practices, the ESCP STAR centre’s promise did not fail to capture the imagination of ESCP Foundation, resulting in a seed-funding to kick-start the center’s operations this spring.

Kick-off with a "STARbowl" event in June 2023

As an initial activity,  the center held its first ‘STARbowl’ this summer on the topic of  "How to Drive Sustainability Transformation Through ESG & Business Model Innovation". STARbowls are fishbowl discussions on cutting-edge sustainability transformation topics, hosted by ESCP STAR. The inaugural edition was led by the center's co-founders, with distinguished  guest speakers such as ESCP Chair for International Accounting as well as Professor of Financial and Sustainability Accounting and Reporting Dr. Martin Schmidt; Dr. Lothar Rieth, the Head of Sustainability at EnBW Energie; and Axel Kaiser, the Founder and CEO of Denttabs.


Naturally, the event kicked off with a presentation of the ESCP STAR center and its key pillars

  1. Sustainability-related research transfer that makes scientifically produced knowledge more accessible to practitioners and therefore more effective in change-making; 
  2. Innovative educational formats that are designed to be more flexible and agile, responding to the particular and ever-changing needs of practitioners-to-be and those working in the field already; 
  3. Community building and engagement where purpose-driven individuals and organizations come together to connect, brainstorm, and share best practices. 

Following the ESCP STAR center presentation, a fishbowl discussion covering various topics ensued, highlighting that sustainability goes beyond mere practice - it resonates within us and should be integrated into our hearts whatever we do, run our companies or teach the next generation. Businesses and management practices must become “enkelfähig”, meaning future-proof for our grandchildren, requiring us to embed sustainability into the very core of organizations, into their business models, for long-term success and survival (pun intended).

At first, in search of a common ground and ensuring that everyone involved played the same language game, definitions and key concepts around sustainability, compliance and reporting were clarified. To set the context for the regulatory environment under which European companies operate, several initiatives were named, such as European Green Deal, Sustainable Products Initiative, Supply Chains Responsibility, Circular Economy Action Plan, and EU Taxonomy. Next, benefits of good reporting were highlighted (running lower systematic risks, pleasing increasingly more sustainability-savvy investors, and increasing firm value).

The next discussion period was facilitated by Dr. Lothar Rieth of EnBW Energie, who shared a thought-provoking story of their own sustainable transformation in the energy sector, and was dedicated to questions in and around ESGs: 1. What differentiates ESG from sustainability? 2. What needs to be transformed? Economic systems, businesses, or societies? 3.  How are sustainable and digital transformations interrelated and what makes them radically different? Overall, participants in the discussion agreed that the key to sustainable transformation is the interplay between intrinsic motivations and economic incentives. Ideally, the two should be aligned, reinforcing each other. However, as the status quo in the socio-political context still struggles to define economic incentives behind sustainable business operations, companies can and should begin to question themselves where and how sustainability makes a difference. 

What differentiates ESG from sustainability? What needs to be transformed? Economic systems, businesses, or societies? How are sustainable and digital transformations interrelated and what makes them radically different?

The final portion of the talk was led by the Founder and CEO of Denttabs Axel Kaiser, who made a bold statement that the 'what' and the 'why' questions around the sustainable business transformation have already been established and that organizations should start focussing on the 'how'. As a way of concluding, it was established that while the majority of organizations are still not purpose-driven, but rather are simply forced to adopt more sustainable business practices due to a more stringent regulatory context, activities of their competitors, and the risk strategy defined by investors interested in long-term targets, ESG can most definitely provide a fruitful ground for organization's strategy setting, including definition and pursuit of new KPIs that are environmentally and socially-driven and future-aware. Considering societal changes stemming from environmental and social movements, organizations should become increasingly aware of the importance of their reputation in the eyes of political stakeholders, as well as current and future customers. 

Upcoming events

Stay tuned for ESCP STAR’s official launch event, further STARbowls, and more exciting initiatives as we continue to drive sustainability transformation and create a brighter future together!