Institute of the Weltethos Foundation
at the University of Tübingen

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Joint research with the Club of Rome

On April 4, 2022, our Global Ethic Research Group Finance and Economics and members of the Club of Rome came together for a meeting at the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt (FHWS). Besides our own 10th anniversary, two other anniversaries accompanied the meeting: the 50th anniversary of the Club of Rome with “Limits to Growth” and the 25th anniversary of the so-called “Frankfurt-Hohenheim Guidelines” (FHL) for assessing sustainability. Focus of the meeting: discussion of options for joint research work. After a review of goals already achieved by both organizations, research and implementation gaps were identified that need to be closed against the background of pressing ecological challenges.

The three pillars of the Frankfurt-Hohenheim Guidelines Socioeconomics, environmental and cultural sustainability have inspired researchers and practitioners alike over the past decades: more than ever, they serve – also internationally – as a framework for designing sustainable and future-proof companies. In this regard, the assessment of the sustainability performance of companies and states worldwide is based on the joint work of the former Ethical-Ecological Rating Research Group, which developed the guidelines and has been based with us at the Global Ethic Institute since 2018. For example, the assessment of a company’s sustainability by Institutional Shareholder Services, which is majority-owned by Deutsche Börse AG, is based on the ethical-ecological rating system of the aforementioned guide – this is used to assign ESG ratings (classification of a company’s creditworthiness) to over 8,000 listed companies worldwide. Two of the three pillars in particular are evaluated. The third pillar – cultural compatibility – was put into practice by Dr. Nnoli-Edozien as part of the SevenPillars Sustainability Approach and successfully implemented for three of Africa’s largest listed companies.

At the meeting, it became clear that three key issues need to be the focus of future research and practical change in this context: Among the issues to be investigated are:

how the financial system can be restored to a primarily servant character instead of being misunderstood as a super-system for any decision-making,
how the determination of the value of capital, including financial capital, can holistically map planetary boundaries and humanity in order to make business conduct that is beneficial to humanity visible and investable
and how cultural compatibility can be implemented and verified in international business practice to ensure sustainability and resilience in a world of high co-dependency on a permanent basis.
Both institutions – the Finance and Economics Research Group at the Global Ethic Institute and the Club of Rome – have decided to work together on these topics in the future. Dr. Ndidi Nnoli-Edozien, member of the Club of Rome Executive Committée and Chairwoman of the Global Ethic Research Group during her on-site visit to Würzburg at the FHWS: “Collaborative thinking is a crucial tool for building a new sustainable business approach. The far-reaching importance of the third FHL pillar – culture – is not yet clear enough to many companies in developing future-proof scenarios and securing their `social license to operate’.” She illustrated her remarks with the current example of war and peace, stating that the value of peace becomes particularly visible when it seems lost or war prevails. As long as peace is visible, it is often undervalued and relegated to the background, even though it represents an indispensable basis for successful business and a humane life.

The Würzburg business ethicist Prof. Dr. Harald Bolsinger (host of the conference and board member of the Finance and Economics Research Group at the Global Ethic Institute) added: “One of the most important insights of our time is the unconditional consideration of the global interconnection of all social, economic, technological, ecological, cultural and spiritual sub-areas in which human beings are placed. In all decisions – also and especially in companies!” The world and the companies operating in it must therefore be understood, analyzed and managed as interacting networks. “Anyone who ignores this embeddedness with all its facets will no longer be successful in the long term!”

The Dean of the Faculty, Professor Dr. Axel Bialek about the conference: “Once again, the Faculty of Business and Economics acted as a platform for high-caliber international guests to jointly engage in discourse on pressing issues of our time!” The two-day conference as a mixture of face-to-face meetings and digital exchange depicts the strength of international cooperation at FHWS, “so that joint results can be developed even without compelling air travel.”