Martin Stenmark

Lisen Schultz is on a mission to save the planet!

Lisen Schultz, a researcher in sustainable development, is in charge of the Executive Program in Resilience Thinking at Stockholm University, a course aimed at the Swedish business elite. Business leaders are lining up to take the course to learn more about how they can develop and grow their companies without depleting our planet’s resources. In her newly published book Course – 10 Lessons For a Sustainable Business Community, she explains the requirements for sustainable business and how important leadership will be going forward.

The idea of a CEO school was conceived in 2017 in response to the needs of the business community, which wanted more in-depth knowledge about sustainability and climate issues, preferably directly from researchers. Lisen realized early on that for a course like this to have a real impact, it had to target Sweden’s top business leaders, and so she customized the course accordingly.

The course has been very well received and the demand for places is now so high they’re having to turn away applicants. Star speakers such as Johan Rockström, and big names such as Jacob Wallenberg and Henrik Henriksson (then CEO of Scania) were among the first participants. The course has gone from strength to strength, even though it requires participants to set aside several entire days and pay a substantial course fee.

So what does Resilience Thinking involve? Resilience means the ability to survive a severe disruption or change. This ability exists in nature and in people, but since we live in an unpredictable world of constant change, we need to develop this ability in order to cope with change at a societal level and to build businesses.

“To achieve this, we need a holistic view of people and the environment, we need to see the world as complex and have an understanding of the challenge we currently face. In short, to stare the truth in the eye and have the ability to see how your business can contribute to the transition to sustainability. And we also need to be prepared to calibrate it, as the playing field is constantly changing,” points out Lisen Schultz.

Many large companies now have a sustainability manager, with a high level of sustainability knowledge but often lacking support from above and a mandate. It’s very important to be able to link sustainability to business activities, and this is where the course comes in.

“The leaders of today and tomorrow require genuine personal conviction. They need to show this is the way forward, and give all employees the opportunity to understand their role and be able to contribute. Sustainability cant stop at a beautiful vision – it must be measurable and in sync with the company’s other goals. It’s important to link sustainability work to the company’s identity, culture and history, so that employees and stakeholders can feel recognition, in order to get everyone on board in this transition.”

During the course, Lisen has met with business leaders representing companies whose combined turnover accounts for almost half of Sweden’s GDP. What has surprised her the most?

“There’s a deep commitment among the people who take the course. Participants don't want a polished version, they want the whole truth in depth. They want to hear and understand the gravity. And there’s a lot going on at these companies today, more than I actually thought, but many do a lot without telling the outside world, because they’re worried about being accused of greenwash. After the course, many people feel that they’ve gained a deeper perspective on the issue, and can both refine their work and communicate about it more clearly,” reports Lisen.

One of Lisen’s tips to businesses that want to transform and contribute to the climate transition is to set scientific goals, for example by using Science Based Targets or the UN’s global goals. This creates greater engagement in the organization and clarifies what the company needs to do going forward. Educating more or all employees on the fundamentals of sustainable development is also a good step.

Finally, we ask Lisen if she’s looking forward to the future?

“There’s never been so much climate-related activity and so many smart people involved in the issue as there are now, but on the other hand we’ve never been in a more perilous state either. So it’s hard to say how things will pan out for us humans, but for me hope is born out of action, and I’ll never give up on the future. It’s about joining forces to do everything in our power,” concludes Lisen Schultz.

If you want to listen to Lisen Schultz and learn more about resilience and sustainable business, she will be speaking at Nordic Sustainability Expo on May 18 alongside journalist Erica Treijs, the co-author of Course – 10 Lessons For a Sustainable Business Community.

Don't miss their lecture on the Svanen stage at 2 pm on Wednesday May 18.

Read more about the course at