Lukas Törner in an interview about the tricky details of a successful application and presentation and his doctoral project.
EGP: Mr. Törner, your doctoral thesis has a long title: "How does standard software support transactions in companies in such a way that sustainability becomes measurable and controllable". Although this is already very explanatory, may I ask you to elaborate on this – what was your own motivation to research this topic?
LT: Actually, there is a short title as well: “The importance of sustainability software.” You need to be familiar with recent developments in corporate social responsibility. Corporate reporting has changed in the last decade moving towards including non-financial-data such as reporting gas emissions, protection against child labour and other topics material to the business model of a company. This is often referred to as GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) reporting according to the most popular standard. In recent European legislation, this reporting has become mandatory for the major firms on the capital markets. My thesis deals with software products used to manage and provide reports on these issues. As you can imagine, a major software market is developing as life cycle assessments become more standardised, GRI and integrated reports become popular and compliance with non-financial reporting guidlines becomes mandatory for suppliers.
This field used to be the responsibility of communication departments as this specific reporting was meant for marketing purposes in a greenwashing style. When research showed that it became a tool for employer branding, things began to shift. Today, more and more investors read this kind of report to include the information in their risk assessments. Thus, the topic shifted from the communications to the accounting department.
My personal motivation to address this area of sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility and environmental management focusses on efficiency. Digital transformation implies change for all corporate functions and thus also for the reporting function. The topic releases enormous leverage.
EGP: You are a doctoral student attached to the chair of Josef Wieland. What impact does that have on your research?
LT: Well, first of all, I certainly do not look at one particular software from an IT point of view. Instead, I treat standard software as an intersectoral governance type. I try to understand the market of this software rather than just one specific product. I would like to frame the transactions, which are mostly non-market-based. Relational economics is a powerful theory to employ in the analysis.
Professor Wieland’s chair proposed an interesting performance indicator in the field of corporate responsibility, so-called CSR quota, which is the direct link to my research. I compare the sustainability software I find with the academic approach of an input-based CSR evaluator.
EGP: What role did the LEIZ, where you are an academic staff member, have in obtaining your scholarship?
LT: I have been working as a staff member of LEIZ for one year now. The story of cooperation with LEIZ staff is even longer. During my Masters studies at Zeppelin University, I cooperated in several ways with LEIZ and this enabled me not only to attend classes from Prof. Wieland, Prof. Tanner, Dr Montecinos Baumann, Dr. Kordesch, Dr Marte but also be part of the team in a concrete research project with Dr Brand, Mrs Jandeisek and Mrs Wiesmüller. This engaging academic environment helped me design my proposal and provided valuable feedback. The company of another twelve or so fellow young academics associated with LEIZ offered an inspiring arena. Regarding the application process I am grateful to my supervisor Professor Wieland who supported and assessed me, and I would like to thank Sabine Wiesmüller for motivation and further feedback.
EGP: You received this scholarship from the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU). What are the requirements for such a scholarship?
LT: In its scholarship catalogue, the DBU states that it supports highly innovative, ambitious research with a focus on small and medium-sized firms as they have the special potential to change for environmental good. The topic and research approach must fit. Anyhow, I would like to believe that in the end there is also some luck involved. To tell you a small anecdote: after I presented my research in front of a committee at DBU, I had a look at the DBU’s annual report. It was only later that I realised there was a picture of front-end sustainability software programme on the cover. They could have chosen any picture, a singing bird, some polar bear. I took that as a good omen and hence I am very curious about the coming years.
EGP: What are your long-term goals in the context of your research content and your doctorate?
LT: My thesis can help understand better how easy or difficult it is to report sustainability issues within organisations. The better we grasp sustainability software, the better we can align the education and the training of accountants. We can regulate non-financial reporting in a more courageous manner and firms will contribute to a more sustainable society. From a firm’s perspective, CSR is first and foremost about cost. It costs money to mitigate externalities and seek shared value. Personally, I intend to work as a sustainability officer one day, perhaps work for a CSR rating agency or directly help to improve the software aspect of sustainability reporting systems.
The interview was conducted by Evelyn Countess Pachta, Leadership Excellence Institute Zeppelin |LEIZ
LEIZ Communication Management
Lukas Törner studied Environmental Studies and E-Business at Leuphana University Lüneburg. In 2008, he did his Masters Degree in General Management at Zeppelin University. For one and half years he has been deputy head of the Innovation Lab within the Bodensee Innovations Cluster at the Leadership Excellence Institute Zeppelin.