Icebug is a member of such initiatives as Fair Wear Foundation, Climate Neutral Now, B-Corp, 1% for the Planet. It has set a target of halving its CO2 emissions by 2030 and already overcompensates its current climate footprint by 200%. Suston visits Icebug HQ to find out the key to responsible leadership in an interview with CEO David Eklund.
Icebug is a member of such initiatives as Fair Wear Foundation, Race to Zero, B-Corp, 1% for the Planet. It has set a target of halving its CO2 emissions by 2030 and already overcompensates its current climate footprint by 200%. How has a relatively young footwear brand achieved such ambitious social and environmental leadership milestones in such a short time?
Icebug was founded by my mother and me in 2001 with the simple mission to keep people from slipping. As a privately owned business – which we remain to this day – you have a lot of leeway to run the business as you see fit. But the fact is, shoes are a dirty business…
I think that everybody needs to find their own reasons to be activists, and my big awakening to the state of the planet was when the meaning of Earth Overshoot Day finally sunk in, followed by 2018 where Sweden had no rain all summer long.
With these realizations, I grew convinced that we – and Icebug – needed to be prepared to take more responsibility than was being asked of us.
So, while we may not have been the largest footwear brand out there, we decided to use collaborations and whatever amplifiers we had at our disposal to leverage our business to act as a changemaker for people and planet.
There are many ways to gain leverage in the world – which do you see as your greatest?
As a business leader, one has to ask what is the business for? What’s the purpose? The normal modus operandi is maximizing profit and eternal growth.
Now of course, we have to create value and stay profitable. But with Icebug, we are trying use our brand as a lever and our values as a fulcrum, leveraging our time in the most impactful way for the sustainable transformation needed.
Paradoxically, since we gave up growth targets, we have grown more than ever! This does mean more products, which is arguably the last thing the world needs. But as long as we produce useful footwear with the lowest negative impacts on planet and people, we are essentially hijacking market share from the many much worse options out there.
Sounds a bit like “changing the system from within”? Do you think that the change required can be achieved with the current paradigm, or do we need a more drastic approach?
Well, the system is what we have right now, and the system itself is maybe not inherently bad. Small perspective changes can go a long way. Take taxes for example.
Taxes can be seen as a super-boring cost that cuts out of a business’ hard-earned profits. But how about looking at this as value distribution to the community within which your business is a part and depends upon? As Marcus Aurelius says, ‘Did I do something for the common good? Then I also share the benefits.’
This same approach can be applied to all other “costs” to doing business – even so-called “externalities” like carbon taxes and others that nobody is currently asking you to pay for. We need to be willing to do more than our part.
I would also say that capitalism as a whole is not necessarily destructive. It does what we ask it to, and then does that thing exceedingly well. We’ve been asking for maximized shareholder profit above all else, and we’ve seen where that has gotten us. We’re at an ecological breaking point and are putting ourselves and everything around us at extreme risk. We’ve learnt that we’re actually on a small planet, where what we do matters. What if we can ask capitalism to create value while taking care of people and planet as well? This is what we are working with at Icebug, where we want nature to be our most important stakeholder, followed by our community, employees, suppliers and us owners.
This sounds like a good segue into Icebug’s recent addition into the B Corp ranks. As a privately owned company, you said earlier that Icebug is already capable of prioritizing people and planet. What purpose does B Corp membership serve?
B Corp is usually understood as a certification that helps for-profit companies validate social and environmental performance and entrench these commitments into their governance structure and documents. But as I said, we’ve already been committed to pursuing a broader stakeholder perspective. And in Sweden where we’re based, there is no business category for Benefit Corporations that would make this legally binding – which I find very odd.
But B Corp is so much more than this. It is also a set of tools, such as the B Impact Assessment and SDG Action Manager, which help us measure, manage and improve upon our impacts – essentially showing us our blind spots and helping to organize our efforts. Perhaps most importantly, B Corps is a 6,000+ strong business community and movement, and by joining we can help build momentum with other like-minded companies to be a force for good.
You’ve called your company a “deliberately developmental organization.” What does this mean?
As an entrepreneur, what really gets me excited is ideas and concepts and developing those. That’s why spending time with real “heady” topics, like how we can operate within planetary boundaries, is something I strive to bring into Icebug, step by step, one small win at a time.
But on another note, we’ve been intentional about working with our “inner development,” both individually and as a business. For example, at the business level, we’ve been working through an exciting – yet surprisingly challenging – program based on the concepts of “Inner Development Goals,” or IDGs. Briefly, the IDGs are meant to supplement the “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” acknowledging the fact that without inner development, the same people will continue to make the same mistakes. That’s why it’s not enough to just set targets, such as the SDGs, but that we actually need to develop our inner capacity in order to stand a chance of achieving these goals.
On a personal level, meanwhile, I’ve been struggling – without actually really understanding it – with my role as CEO, which I’ve interpretated as meaning I have to be the smartest person, come up with the best solutions, have a plan and know what would play out.
One good thing that came out of the pandemic was that it crushed any notion of Superman, teaching me how to embrace uncertainty and that it is OK to be vulnerable. I’m now much more relaxed and feel that I can express more gratitude and experience more joy in work. This spreads to others, and I think that I’ve become not just a better employer but a better husband and father as well.
Where do you see this development taking Icebug?
That remains to be seen! To use a cliché, we’re just getting started. Putting an end to business as usual when it’s a disaster. Finding ways to be a whole person and the same person that follows the same values at work. We have so many things the we have really benefitted from – and believe that they are too good not to share.