Driving sustainability and social change: a talk with Moussa Mchangama and Frederik Larsen from InFuturum

For the past months we have worked immersively with
Moussa Mchangama and Frederik Larsen from the agency InFuturum on how to integrate sustainability in our core business and how to navigate in a complex brew of societal, environmental, commercial, and technological challenges that we face here in 2021. It has been quite a consciousness-raising ride! Finding your DNA - even as a small business - can be a bumpy and challenging experience. And one of our first learnings in this process is: You need help from people outside. People who point out your blind spots, challenge your assumptions and in the end make you stand stronger as a holistic business.

So, we are very happy to share a talk we had with Moussa and Frederik:

For the past decades we have witnessed a fundamental change in the way businesses operate in society. In your view what are the key shifts in this development? 

One of the changes we have seen is the increased integration of public and private spheres. The dismantling of welfare systems in many areas has led private companies and organizations to step in, and people are becoming more and more reliant on private options. On the one hand, this change means that a larger portion of society is involved in solving problems and creating change, on the other it means that change is now very dependent on commercial interests. For companies, it means their role and responsibility have widened, and they are increasingly judged on how they engage with issues such as the climate crisis, racism or equality. We are also seeing a greater seperation between the face of companies (how they communicate, what products they launch etc) and their activities in the financial market, especially in larger companies. The focus on shareholder interests means that companies are not setting long-term goals or investing in innovation. So, if we want to see real engagement in societal change, we have to demand more transparency and accountability, and ensure that economic profit creates wider benefits. In sum, we need to renegotiate the economic foundation businesses operate from and create a language, a mindset and a way for much broader perceptions of what true value really is – besides, and opposed, to the economic value.  

We have spoken before about “disruption”. The common understanding of disruption is that it relates to technological advances. You have talked a lot about cultural disruption. Could you elaborate on that?

Technological or economic disruption has become synonyms with fast possibilities of making profit. We don’t believe in that approach to systematic change. We need to maintain that we are humans and that human culture is deeply rooted in the development of the global world and therefore, we need to further examine, critise and facilitate cultural change in order to truly change the context businesses operate within. The big social conversations around equality, injustice, racism, sexism and so on are not just clashes between generations or political opinions; they are a possibility for us to negotiate fundamental systemic change and power relations in a global context that will be of importance to us all. 

You help brands to succeed with a circular economy transition. Why is this transition important and how do you get started in the first place? 

Done right, circular economy can be a great tool in creating a more sustainable society. Many brands think of circular economy as essentially using recycled materials, but really a circular economy is about extending the lifespan of products, to extract as much economic value as possible with as little environmental impact as possible and to operate within a much broader ecosystem of businesses, stakeholders, consumers and partners. Having worked with circular practices for more than 10 years (Frederik got his PhD studying business practices in second-hand markets) we approach it at a very fundamental level: are brands looking to create change, or just to use a new concept to continue business-as-usual? And that question is the first step. From there we begin by helping companies understand their impact and create new business models. We just released a set of videos together with the Danish Design Center presenting our approach to creating circular businesses. We hope they will inspire more brands to start the transition.

We are true fans on how Patagonia drives their business - who do you think makes a powerful impact as business today? Let it be start-ups or big corporations.  

Luckily there are many companies who are trying to create change. But generally, we are not fans of highlighting singular businesses in this way; very few businesses – including our own, even though we work hard on it – operate holistically all the way through all operations. What we can say is that our interest is usually directed towards businesses who operate with a change first, product second-mindset. It’s a leap from conventional business practices and it takes commitment and courage to challenge conventionality, as necessary as it is. But usually, if there’s big profit involved, we need to look critically on who benefits and where the change is really happening; the material level, the product level or the systemic level? Many companies who are doing good work focus less on branding.

You made us read a lot by the american author and philosopher Donna Haraway (that was great by the way!). Do you want to share other sources of inspiration within the field of socio-environmentalism? 

Absolutely! It is our firm belief that creating change requires new ways of thinking. New technology, climate goals and diversity policies can be great tools, but creating a socially just, environmentally sustainable society requires a fundamental rekindling of the relationship between human and nonhuman beings on this planet. It requires humility that will help us understand that we are profoundly dependent on all the nonhuman beings, and a respect for the local wisdom that will help us do that. Over that last years we have been reading Harraway, Audre Lorde, Kathryn Yussoff and Anna Tsing. Next on the list is a collection of essays edited by Ayana Elisabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson entitled ‘All We Can Save’. We actively use philosophy, poetry, political theory, queer theory and critical thinking in our work as a foundation for the processes we create for corporate clients – not that they always know it. 

Picture is taken by Mathilde Schmidt.