Is the role of business in society just another way to describe CSR? That was the question posed by the moderator, Shahar Silbershatz, at the start of this debate that brought together corporate communicators, marketers, academics and CSR executives in Copenhagen. He used the recent SAP commercial as an indication that large companies are beginning to understand that the public today expects more from them: to solve societal problems not just as part of their social responsibility, but as part of the very definition of how they create value.

The event’s host, Copenhagen Business School’s new Dean of Education Gregor Halff, then spoke about the issue that while business is often part of solving big societal problems – it is many times part of creating them. He challenged the audience to think whether business schools today truly educate tomorrow’s leaders in a way that equips them to solving such problems in a future business landscape that’s changing so rapidly. He was followed by Michael Rasmussen, formerly CMO for 17 years at Velux – the Danish roof windows and skylights manufacturer. Michael spoke about the importance of purpose driving business, as it’s not just expectations that are changing – it’s the consumers’ actual perception of value that is completely transforming.

Ulrich Bang, Vice President at TryghedsGruppen (one of the largest Scandinavian insurance providers), then added an interesting perspective: as a co-operative owned by its policyholders, his company’s role is to “provide safety” in the wider sense – both by selling insurance policies but also by increasing the sense of safety for individuals and communities through its foundation activities. Mirella Vitale, Senior Vice President for Group Marketing and Communications at Rockwool Group – the world's second largest maker of insulation materials – rounded up by agreeing that a true purpose-driven company makes sure that the business it does is also good for the world, but she also posed a provocative question: while the public expects more and more from businesses, how many people actually check a company’s sustainability profile when buying its products?

The ensuing debate touched on these and other issues with several contradictory perspectives being raised, and also important conclusions agreed on – for example that a company does not always need to be a “higher purpose”; it’s a perfectly valid purpose to produce a product that solves people’s problems and creates wealth for those who took the risk in making it. The panel also agreed that while Boards and CEOs are responsible for shaping their companies’ role in society, no other department is better placed than Corporate Communications to support and advise them on this front.

Those who were not able to join us or would like to recap on the discussion can watch the live streaming here.

Many thanks to Copenhagen Business School for hosting this important debate, and to Caliber for assisting in organization and facilitation. See you in August for the next regional event in Denmark!