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Leading Voices in Global Sustainability

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Pär Larshans

Director of Sustainability - Ragn-Sells

10 Questions to Change The World

July 2022

How do you think climate change and the global sustainability agenda will
impact your industry over the next 3-5 years?

I believe that the increasing  need to change from today’s fossil fuels based economy to renewable alternatives will speed up the transformation, similar to how the need for more input of resources will lead to a need to develop new supply chains.

 

Future supply chains will gradually increase the dependency towards circular principles. So a future win in the next 5 years will be going renewable and fossil fuel free, whilst there is still a first mover advantage when it comes to the circular transformation.

What is one ‘sustainability hack’ you’d recommend to an organisation wanting
to transform into a more sustainable operation?

Procurement will need  to transform over the next 5 years, which is challenging but will lead to great possibilities. Big transformations means that each company will need to take responsibility both upstream and downstream when it comes to securing the need of raw materials.

A future win in the next 5 years will be going renewable and fossil fuel free, whilst there is still a first mover advantage when it comes to the circular transformation.

For example, battery production has been very linear, the producers of batteries will be the ones that also recirculates the same battery they did put on the market 10 years earlier.  The construction sector will be especially under pressure in the coming 5 years with raw material prices that are booming and limited supply.

 

The increased transparency and awareness about CO2 challenges in society will also reward the companies/societies that are compliant.  Therefore, sustainable and circular procurement is a key component If you want to become successful in your business. 

Why have you embraced sustainability in your professional career?

By the end of 1990, I understood the combination of using challenges in society as a driving force for my own company’s business development. It started with an ambition that society had to get a better work environment– back then we had a high turnover of managers, high cost for sick leaves and delivered poor service. The authorities had even asked for a fine for our bad work-environment scores.  I decided to implement new regulations and the result was very positive - no restaurant managers left the companies for 4 years in a row, dramatically reduced cost for sick leave and better customer service.  But what really made me understand the power of driving towards sustainability was the importance of sharing knowledge - I was even invited by the minister to participate in a press conference as a best practice example in Sweden. This was the starting point for me to develop the principles behind "the Victory formula".

What are some of the wins you have achieved in your career to date?

Sustainable and circular procurement is a key component If you want to become successful in your business.

In 2018 Ragn-Sells phosphorus solution became one of the examples for innovation and leadership for the UN Sustainable Development Goals and me and our CEO were invited to the UN in New York to present.  (Circular Economy)

In 2012 when I was honoured as entrepreneur of the year in Sweden and also the same year I was given the "Visa Vägen" award for my work to hire people with disabilities. (Business development and Social Sustainability). In 2009 I received the green award In London for the work my company had done to be transparent with our challenges with how much our products caused harm to the environment. (Environmental Sustainability)

What do you want to have achieved before you retire?

Drive the transformation so that circular material flows becomes the preferred choice, if the world is 17% circular by 2035 (when I might retire…) it would be a great win. Today it is 8,6% circular. CGR 2022 (circularity-gap.world)

What advice would you give for organisations looking to start or advance on their sustainability journey?

I have an engineering background and studied economics in university but ended up as director of human resources (HR) in a fast-food company. With that as a base I started with the social dimension of sustainability and understood the need to transform is based on the need to change your behaviour. In that capacity as director of HR I focused on educating the manager with the focus on increased self-awareness (The Human Element) developed.

The next step was to change the leaders' view on people, and the restaurant managers to start hiring people with disabilities to give them better opportunities. Next was the focus on the environmental perspective and I summarize these methods in something I call the Victory Formula. 

When I was headhunted to Ragn-Sells in 2015 I did bring this model with me and the effects Is spelled "thought leadership". 

 

My advice to anyone - get yourself an education, get a profession where you have detailed competence but use the trends in society and how to forecast the next steps to take your current business to become a leader in the next economy. Therefore, your best competence will be the ability to collaborate, because you cannot succeed by yourself, you can only win together.

Who do you go to for inspiration in this space?

I get my inspiration from society’s biggest challenges. I try to focus to understand what the trends are when it comes to what society is focusing on, it means that if I can find a way to develop a solution that will solve the problem that the society has and if it also brings value to my company is will support both parties - better business, better society and it will be good for the planet.

Therefore, your best competence will be the ability to collaborate, because you cannot succeed by yourself, you can only win together. 

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How do you offset your own footprint?

I have invested in solar cells producing electricity, a 100% electric car but I do not offset it because I invest all the time and money in innovations that will reduce CO2 emissions so much more. One example is the project in Estonia where we (Ragn-Sells) have invented a method that will use CO2 as an input and produce PCC (precipitated calcium carbonate) that will replace the need to mine huge amounts of limestone. The total positive CO2 that we can avoid and store in the project is 400 million tons of CO2e - or the equal of 8 times as much as Sweden as a nation emits per year! We have the potential to invest in these types of innovations, therefore we put all our money in investments that transform society, not offset our old behaviour.

What is your one ‘guilty / non-eco’ pleasure? (that you can’t live without)

I use airplanes for transport (too much) and sometimes it is important to meet people in person to make them transform. I also eat beef though I have reduced my beef consumption a lot.

If you had to choose one person, organisation or community to lead the world in sustainability, who would it be and why?

Professor Johan Rockström. We need leaders with systematic thinking and when he presented the concept behind the 9 planetary boundaries in 2009, I knew we needed more people like him. In the summer of 2021 the documentary "Breaking boundaries, the science of our planet" was broadcasted on Netflix with Sir David Attenborough as host and professor Rockström demonstrating that if circular material flows were the norm, we would prevent overshooting any of the planetary boundaries. See the documentary and you’ll see why I choose professor Rockström to be our leader.

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Are you our next Leading Voice?

If you have a story to tell, we want to tell it…

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"If working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it. In my lifetime I have witnessed a terrible decline. In yours you could - and should - see a wonderful recovery.”

 

-​ Sir David Attenborough