President & Chief Executive Officer
DNV GL Group
There is an old proverb saying if you don’t change direction, you end up where you’re going. Considering the massive impacts ahead from challenges such as climate change, increasing inequality, water crises and food shortages – just to mention a few from a basket of really bad apples – “where we are going” right now does not look all that attractive. If you ask Remi Eriksen, newly appointed President and CEO of DNV GL, we need to change direction more than ever. The trouble is, though, change is hard and the problems we are trying to steer clear of are really more difficult than ever.
“Throughout history, we have always had challenges, but I think they are tougher and more complex now. For one thing they are global and we really don’t have global governance to match that. Also, they are too big and varied for one industry to solve alone. Climate change is especially complicated because the consequences show up in so many different ways. You don’t really feel them in one clear way everywhere. So we need to mobilize across industries and across borders to address them,” says Eriksen.
This is why change needs leadership. The classic leadership attributes of setting a purpose, articulating far-reaching and inspiring ambitions and mobilizing around a common goal are definitely in demand. However, we need an extra facet to them,
says Eriksen. Leadership needs to return to a more traditional concept; that of stewardship.
“I believe stewardship is as important today as it was 100 years ago. Whether you are running a business, a political party, a country or a farm, you should leave behind something that is better than what you inherited. Your charge is bigger than yourself and should always be your first priority,” he says.
At the time of this interview, it had only been three days since it was announced that Eriksen was to take over the position as President and CEO of DNV GL. “As a verifier, standard-setter and advisor for businesses worldwide on how to advance safety and sustainability in their operations, the company has a special responsibility to make a change of direction possible,” he says. “Especially since businesses are in many ways the entities best positioned to address some of the larger global sustainability challenges.
“Countries are not global, political parties are not global, but many businesses are. They can scale ideas, visions and technologies in multiple regions or globally, and this gives them a global reach and a global impact that many other actors don’t have,” says Eriksen.
He is essentially optimistic about businesses’ ability and willingness to change to more sustainable operations. Multiple pressures from employees, markets and investors will do a lot to convince the laggards to catch up. “However, it will not be easy, and not all businesses will adapt in time,” he says. “I think we are in a period, where the pressure for change is building. When that pressure is released, things will happen very quickly, and I believe we will see a lot of ‘casualties’ among businesses that don’t accept the challenges ahead,” he says.
However, those businesses that can and are willing to adapt can find new partners and collaborators in the new powerful change agents – cities, says Eriksen. According to his analysis, cities are in many ways better suited to address the challenges faced by societies. They are more agile than most nations and definitely more so than international agencies, and they have the opportunity to apply solutions that can have an immediate impact on particular problems, while still having a positive effect on the long-term problems such as climate change.
“In many parts of the world, people might not see problems such as climate change as the most imminent threat if they are struggling with water or food scarcity or local pollution. Cities can address many of these problems and do so in ways that also help to handle the long-term problems, if this is done wisely. I believe finding solutions for particular problems that also address the bigger challenges is the great opportunity in sustainability. It is the win-win initiatives that we have to become even better at spotting,” he says.
“Of course if this was easy, it would most probably already have been done. However, for a company like DNV GL that exists to solve problems, this is indeed a challenge we are taking on.
“We spend quite a lot of time considering how we can help companies, industries and governments to do things in a safer, smarter and greener way. And to be frank, it is these kinds of triple challenges that put an ear-to-ear smile on the faces of engineers,” concludes Eriksen.
SUSTAINABILITY TO THE FORE
The coming years will see a lot more companies moving sustainability from specialized departments and isolated reporting into the core of their business. This will be assisted by rapid technological developments, for example in resource utilization efficiency and cleaner energy, says Remi Eriksen.
“We envisage large-scale deployment of cleaner energy solutions on both the supply and demand sides in the coming years. This is just one of the factors that make me believe that more companies will move beyond words and statements and incorporate sustainability into their operations, their day-today decision-making and their investment considerations. Why? Because it is viable and really the only right thing to do,” says Eriksen.