When building up networks of sustainability leaders and innovators, it often takes the progressive action of a single individual to catalyze real change. These individuals are Sustainability Ambassadors, and they have the capacity and the drive to inspire change at any level of an organization – from the new talent to the visionary executive.
ABOUT Dr Lu Jianzhong
Dr. Lu Jianzhong specializes in corporate affairs, strategic communications, crisis communications, business development, corporate social responsibility and sustainable business strategies.
Before joining Brunswick in 2015, Dr. Lu was previously Group Executive Vice President (China) of RGE, an international resource development company, as well as Chairman of the Board of its downstream pulp and paper subsidiary, Asia Symbol (Shandong) Ltd. Prior to RGE, he was Acting President of BHP Billiton (China) and before that BHP Vice President of Corporate Affairs in charge of corporate affairs strategy and sustainable business leadership in China. He was also responsible for BHP’s Mainland China uranium business.
He has served as a project consultant to the United Nations and UNCTAD trade efficiency program and is the founder of the CSR Thought Laboratory in Shanghai dedicated to leading CSR and Sustainable Business practices. Dr. Lu is also a guest professor at Tianjing Nan Kai University and has served multiple noteworthy institutions in roles focused on sustainable business strategies
For more stories like Dr. Lu’s, and to learn how to foster similar leaders in your own company, check out our Building a Sustainability Ambassador Network Report.
About Sustainability Ambassador Series
Sustainability Ambassadors is a video series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organization into action: to identify those with the potential to rise and think outside the box, and build a collaborate community of such people that can help your organization forge new paths of longevity and evolve into something powerful.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep up with series, and follow us on social media to receive the latest updates on articles, videos, and more.
For more insights on Sustainability Ambassadors, and to learn how to foster champions who can take your organization beyond business as usual, check out our Building a Sustainability Ambassador Network Report.
- June 17 – Chitra Hepburn, Senior Strategy Executive, ESG, Sustainability and CSR
- June 24 – Dr. Lu Jianzhong, Partner at Brunswick Group
- July 1 – Sandra Durrant, Director of Responsible Sourcing at Target
- July 8 – Sharon Xiao, APAC Sustainabilty Manager at UPM
- July 15 – Michelle Garnaut, M on The Bund
- July 22 – Yue Cao, Seeking Opportunity in Sustainability
- July 29 – Nitin Dani, Director at Green Initiatives
- August 12 – Raymond Fang, Sustainability Director at APP
- August 26 – Echo Bao, Strategic & Sustainability Program at DSM
- September 2 – Patrick Riley, VP of Global Accounts at Interface
- September 9 – Roy Zhang, Asia Director of Sustainability and CSR at UTC
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
RICH: Good afternoon everyone. Today I am here with Dr. Lu, the amazing Dr. Lu, and we are talking about sustainability in China, developing a career, mentoring the youth, but also how you get yourself through a bad day in sustainability. So thank you Dr. Lu. We are very much looing forward to it and we hope you will enjoy this next episode.
RICH: Alright Dr. Lu, thank you very much for the time you are taking to meet with us.
LU: It’s nice to see you again Richard.
RICH: Always, it’s been forever. We tend to get busy and go down for a while, right? Do me a favor. Give me your background. Like your personal background. Like your 32nd introduction about yourself to date.
LU: OK Great. I started working with United Nations back in 1992 as a diplomat for UN installing e-trade platform globally including China. Then I joined BHP Bulletin as the allied communication strategy manager. I had the opportunity to be a part of the integration after the merger.
Then I joined RGE working managing the main operation where I found a lot of challenges in environmental impact, social impact, in a community impact. Which was a great experience for me to dive into the depths of sustainability.
I now join Brunswick Group as a Senior Advisor to help corporations to think about their sustainability strategy.
RICH: What got you into this? How did you…what is your trajectory from starting point to now on sustainability?
LU: It’s a long journey for me and I must say sustainability started from the environmental focus which is a grain, but gradually it get into sustainable business. Then it becomes really a center of what is the business road in the society and how do it play a roll. When I join BHP Bulletin Company, it’s operate with so many challenges and the mining side, the safety, it’s very critical issue and also digging a hole in our earth.
You have that environmental impact and operating it. You also have an environmental impact, maintaining it. Growing a community around the mining operational side, it has a social impact. So I get a lot of the experiences outside working with our operational teams. I’ve seen a lot of good practices, but also learning from that how people dealt with sustainability issues.
RICH: Just a question, obviously I won’t ask you to speak for BHP, but from the mining industry, the extraction industry, do you think these industries are….have a long life to them? We are seeing that coal is already being a lot of pressure. Do you feel that even with the best practices, are the they enough and do you feel the industry actually understands the challenge that they actually, like their roll? Do you think they accept that responsibility?
LU: I do think so because mining or larger scale of resource in the industry, perhaps with the early industry sector who was challenged by sustainability issue because the nature of the operation that has so deep touch on the big issue. As I mentioned about digging a hole. On those bring people from all over the world working on a very remote isolated area where half those people work being safe. But also growing their family as well.
I think this sector understood better earlier than the others because that nature of operation. But having said that, with the transformation of our society and industry evolution the understanding of sustainability issues for mining has been always a journey to operate and get more relevance to societal progress. So that journey has never stopped. I think they are still developing, embracing and delivering good practices.
RICH: What are some of the key challenges you learned there? The industry itself pushes back. This isn’t just BHP this is also the paper and pulp industry as well. They push back. How do you navigate that? You are a sustainability ambassador because you are the leader, you are leading BHP and you’re leading RGE as well, how do you go to your leaders, to your direct line or to the people below the operation, and convince them to do more, to do better, to think beyond compliance? How do you do that?
LU: It’s not very evident to be honest. It’s quite challenging task because for most of the corporation and enterprises, they have business priorities and growing and developing the business is pretty much the core of those priorities. But at the same time, making a business sustainable is also part of the priority.
I think being a balancer ambassador of sustainability, my focus is trying to align that, business priority and social expectations. Because we always use this term, license to operate, which is a really the foundation for any corporation and companies to sustain and grow for longer term. Therefore, I think that’s the interest of the CEO or Senior Management Team as well. That’s also the interest of the employee as well. Because if an enterprise does not operate responsibly, that’s not operate in a sustainable manner, it will disappear very quickly.
Alignment is the key word I want to use. Align top down, bottom up and the goal of sustainable long-term growth, align with national priorities where you operate. Align employees interest and the vision of the company, but also the day-to-day operation delivered by the employees. That is very important.
RICH: Speaking of international interests, are there some issues or some interests in China that naturally lend themselves sustainability more so than say the United States or Western Europe?
LU: I think so You can look from the past of industrial evolution as different countries are in different stage of the journey, so they always have different priorities. For China, after 30 years of reform and now China get onto the phase of economically everything move very fast, but it carries also the consequences of social gaps. For example, and environmental impact, pollution the people has constantly complain about.
So I think for China, now the government and those in society, recognized sustainability is now the top priority for this country. Particularly after when China become second largest GDP in the world, what is our future? We can go sustainably. So definitely the environmental impact and social innovation to get our industry into a more sustainable manner and operating in a very socially responsible way at are the most important priorities.
RICH: Given at the national level alignments are happening, does that open up opportunities for leaders and for firm to then move forward with sustainability in a way that maybe 5 years ago wasn’t mission critical?
LU: Absolutely. Sustainability orientated mission for enterprises creates some new space through innovation and that could be new services, new products or new ways of collaboratively developing new values.
We have a lot of examples like that. For example, GE has been a leader in that space and 10 years ago GE had a very limited R&D department in China and now they are center of R&D is in China. The response to a very close to the market demand and they centralized their effort of R&D for innovation. Producing more I would say “green” or environmental friendly or energy efficiency driven products.
So definitely there is, but the challenge is how enterprises adapt to that new environment. Adjust to their strategy and leverage. This new context turning their challenges into opportunities.
RICH: What are the Chinese firms in this picture? Are they way behind, a little bit behind, or are they are growing ahead of the curve of the multinationals in China.
LU: It’s kind of a mix. It’s very interesting. I would say 10 years ago Chinese’s companies were pretty much behind the curve. I must say multinationals contribute a lot to China’s sustainability journey and progress. Chinese companies learned from them pretty quickly. Like develop economy pretty quickly and you have actually you have private companies, you have small/medium size companies. Of course, not all of them at the same pace of progression, but some of them are doing really well. Also the government put a lot of emphasis on that so advocate for sustainability.
I worked for the ________(12:00) where we have a lot of multinationals, but it opens up to the domestic companies as well to encourage the sharing of best products in sustainability. I have seen a lot of examples that Chinese companies are doing very well and some are catching up. But still there are quite a number of them I think they haven’t really understood. So it’s a mix situation, but the direction is pretty good.
CATALYSTS FOR CHANGE
RICH: What catalyzes those who’ve taken action? What’s their drive or is it because the “leaders” care or is it because the regulations are changing or is it because…what do you think catalyzes the leaders to take this on now?
LU: You point to two very important aspect in suitability. Definitely there is a driver in the regular trade space. You have the new environmental protection law. You have philanthropy law recently. Those new regulations and policies definitely play____(13:10) to push companies to operate responsibly. But, I must say sustainability including social responsibility it’s also very much connected with the leaders passion and vision.
Typically for corporate social responsibility some of them is not conforming to law. It’s voluntarily you take that responsibility. So that depends a lot on leaders passion and vision. So some companies they are performing very well because they have a great leader. This not only seen in the Chinese’s companies, it’s also seen in the multinationals.
RICH: What’s your roll in that? You’re considered, I think you run one of the biggest ___ (14:10) groups on sustainability and CSR. How is this changed as culture sustainability changed personally for you and kind of the ecosystem? We now have many more Chinese are involved. It used to be very foreign led, but tell me about how you feel about that because you were one of the people who were catalyzing this. What were the messages that you felt really were taken forward, the earliest? What is it about this current generation that’s different from say previous generation?
LU: I think the current generation, particularly the young aged generation, they are very much sustainability oriented mindset. This kind of a mindset impact on their behavior, impact on their consumption, impact on their career desire and ambition as well.
So that is the difference between this generation and the elder generation. For my personal experiences, since I have experienced a lot of issues in regards to environmental impact and sustainable growth and I seen also the trends of integrating sustainability concept into companies long term growth strategy. When I start to share some peers, I had the positive each from them, which is really encouraging me to say whoa, everybody’s trying that but there isn’t yet a mature motive for us to stick to it.
So perhaps there is a need for us to share and create more effective way of doing that. Because at the end of the day you need to deliver financial values along side social values by doing such kind of thing. It’s not just about we want to be good and we are doing something good, it’s not enough.
It has to be something that you find the way how corporate place in the societal progress and then how you bring more people along with you together to create a environment that everybody feel that this is very important, this is necessary and we know how to encourage each other to do together.
So you have that social force to move this tide forward. That’s why I talk initially a couple of multinationals managers. We had the same vision. We had the need to share that to bring us up to next level. So we said look, lets formulate a small platform. We can do that. Sine then people just join in more and more and now become very large social network.
RICH: I guess at the engagement level, who’s the easiest or most exciting to work with? Is it the corporate leaders, the CEO’s that you obviously service or is it the young, the up and coming professionals who are full of inspiration but don’t necessarily have much traction?
LU: You are right. For me I think I was kind of motivated by this two ends. Working with the younger generation and middle tier managers you often get this very exciting environment that they share the same kind of passion with you. So you can share with them and they can feel that it’s useful and you see the result out of the practice.
On the other hand, it’s so important that if you can influence a CEO or top leaders and then when they come on board they integrate that into business strategy so the outcome brings a greater impact. So you have this two end and I think being an ambassador, this is a typical task. You have to align this two sides together. You have to have this very, very passionate skilled base, but also bring this senior management on board to drive the change and transformation.
ENGAGING SENIOR LEADERS
RICH: What’s the hardest part about engaging the senior leaders?
LU: You know economy is slowing down. As I said, we always face two aspects of this picture, financial values and social values. Economy slowing down means that budget is tight and people get more cost sensitive. So engaging senior management is more challenging now in this kind of economic context.
You really have to define the relevance of the what you are doing in the sustainability area. It is so important that you go through very, very thorough analysis and identification working with your key stake holders to provide an insight on..ok, this is very important that response to the social expectation and stakeholders concern. At the same time, the impact on business growth or enhancing our license to operate.
Once we have these two together, it make the task easier because you got the buying from both ends, external stakeholders and internal employees as well as the senior leadership. So ambassador is not just standing up talking the passion, bright future, it is also a catalyst for the change and to do that you need to equip to very, very decent skill of analytical, logical and you need to have very good business understanding.
RICH: What keeps you passionate and personally motivated? I mean this is a tough job. What keeps driving you?
LU: The thing that keeps driving me is you see the positive change. everybody want to live in a better life for better future. I think everybody has that mindset. But a better future can only be realized with the better change everyday.
So that’s how I’m so enthusiastic about it. Through this involvement with my social network working with corporate leadership team, my own practice embedded in managing the _____(21:36) or you influencing other leaders. I do see the positive change and therefore I am very happy.
I remember there is a very famous economist in China, Mr. _____(21:49) He’s very vocal about social good and social value for economy scholar. He said our value of life is to enjoy and feel about happiness, but the real and the true happy is to help others to be happy with you together. That’s something that drives me.
RICH: Do you every have a bad day?
LU: I do. I do have bad days. Nothing is really working and progressing. I hit a wall. I do.
RICH: How do you get through it?
LU: I say look, as I advise the younger generation, go, gaining small steps, being patient and go together. Always this kind of things to remember.
RICH: Thank you very much for your time. That was amazing. I really appreciate it.
LU: Thank you, Richard.