Anders Källström is the founder and working chairman of Sustainability Circles. We met him one summer day to find out more about how he views his and Sustainability Circles' role.
Born: 1958 in Gothenburg
Education: Doctor of Economics
Family: Wife and three adult children
Career: SKF, School of Business, Västsvenska Handelskammaren, Rederi AB Transatlantic, Sustainability Circle
Interests: Painfully many, but I answer culture.
In 2010, you were asked to start the Sustainability Circle. Why did you say yes?
I have been interested in business, academia and politics throughout my adult life. There are few roles in the interface between these three interests, but that is exactly where the Sustainabilty Circle acts. I am also convinced that this is where we find a lot of potential, if we want to create a good future. And, of course, I want that, not least in my role as a father.
It sounds nice, but I guess the borderland between business, academia and politics means a lot of difficulties.
That's how it is. Everyone understands, at best, themselves and their own challenges but practically always underestimates what it is like in the other parts of society. The task of business is to make a profit. In theory, the long-term gain is the goal, but in practice, short-term gains are all too often prioritized. Almost everyone regrets this, even in the business world, but they often do not succeed in counteracting it. And, if it is a crisis, well then it is the fight against the crisis that counts.
The academy is dedicated to finding new knowledge. Whether this knowledge is useful or not is not always so important. If something is true, it is the academy's task to find out. The business community is tired of academic knowledge that is not perceived to be of concrete benefit. That is why business and academia do not always meet, even if they want to.
For the public administrations, it is the business that is at the center, not the profit. This means that employees in the public sector can be somewhat more long-term and far-sighted than their colleagues in the business world, but they must of course still focus on knowledge that ultimately benefits. Politicians are primarily interested in their own power, which to begin with requires that you as a politician be re-elected every four years. This makes politicians very interested in rhetoric. Politics is something of a beast in this context.
You talked above about "a good future". How do you define one?
No one manages alone. We must all use both society and nature to survive. That is why we must not consume them. Consuming what you have to consume is, of course, a collective suicide. A good future means that we, children and grandchildren can continue to use society and nature. About that.
And, what are the threats to it?
The threats are many and significantly more than the media at the moment can portray. The threats to nature are, of course, the climate, the extinction of plants and animals, the lack of raw materials such as fresh water, toxins in the cycle and so on. The threats to society are many, varying from one time to another and from one place to another. In addition, these threats are politically controversial. Two different parties will give quite different answers.
Are you a pessimist?
No, I'm optimistic. The world has never been better. A summary measure of this is life expectancy. A world citizen today turns 72 years old. That's what we became in Sweden in 1958. We only get that old if most things work. All indications are that life expectancy will increase further, indicating that most things will continue to improve. The problem is that human socio-economic success goes beyond nature. The world is growing, but the Earth cannot do that, so to speak.
The question remains; then you are a pessimist, right?
I have enjoyed asking researchers at several of the country's technical colleges if you should be a technology optimist. The answer has always been yes. It is the production and its products that cause the problems. Therefore, it is the engineers who can solve them. But, it only works if economists help finance the solutions and they only do so if the market wants to buy. That is why we must have the whole of society with us… There are theoretical solutions to basically all problems. Now it is important to go from theory to practice and to do it as quickly as possible.
Why then are so many pessimists?
This is how our primitive brain works. When the Stone Age man went out into the woods, he looked for saber-toothed tigers, not for green trees and blue skies. It becomes easy for the pessimist to be perceived as more serious than the optimist. But, we now live by a different logic. Unlike Stone Age people, we are not victims of circumstances. We have the technology required to influence the future. That is why we need engineers rather than pessimists.