The Benefits of Consensus

What the world can learn from Sweden.

Sweden has performed a remarkable feat: the uncoupling of green house gas emissions from economic growth. According to the American magazine, The New Yorker, over the past 25 years Sweden has reduced its carbon emissions by about 23 percent, yet at the same time grown its economy more than 55 percent.

“We’ve had an interest in environmental questions for many years,” says Mats Holme, CEO of Belysningsbranschen, Sweden’s Lighting Association. Holme, in typical Swedish fashion, is quite modest about the success of his nation. Despite how Vikings are portrayed in the movies, it’s very difficult to get one to beat his chest and talk about victories.

Consensus works

But one thing Holme doesn’t hesitate to showcase is Sweden’s ability to get things done in the lighting industry.

“What’s special in Sweden is that competitors in the marketplace are good at cooperating. We compete in one area, yet we work together in another. There is no conflict when we come together on a question for the trade association. There is a real respect for competitors here.”

Making sure consensus management works is the role of Holme’s trade association. “It’s important I know the laws about competition so that I can propose the questions our organization will work on.”

And consensus only works when there is trust. If association members trust that Holme is acting in their best interests as a whole, then cooperation follows.

Striking the balance

One important case has been the creation of standards for how to communicate environmental information about products.

“Many Swedish customers, such as lighting consultants and large property owners, want detailed information, far more information than is provided in other countries,” says Holme.

It’s of course critical that customers know about potentially hazardous elements of a product, but disclosure can get out of hand. “Sometimes they may demand information that manufacturers may not even know, like the mixture of the aluminum in a component in a product,” says Holme.

So Holme’s association helps create standard ways to inform and present information, finding a balance where manufacturers may profitably produce yet buyers are also satisfied. “In other markets this would have been impossible.”

Smart, efficient, safe

Another showcase accomplishment of the association has been its ELRÄTT initiative, designed to help electricians sell solutions instead of just offering products.

“ELRÄTT is 700 companies strong, teaching 6,500 electricians to be smart, efficient, and safe,” says Holme. “It’s an organization committed to increasing the knowledge of electricians so that they sell good solutions to the end user.”

It also helps to increase trade association membership. If a manufacturer wants to be part of ELRÄTT, he is obligated to join the trade association.

ELRÄTT is innovative in that it can help sell manufacturers’ products while at the same time creating a better experience for consumers.  It’s a testimonial to the Swedes’ ability to build consensus. “There should be interest for this in other markets,” says Holme.

R&D’s defender

In addition to all the above, the lighting association is on the front lines in defending its members interests when it comes to legislation and regulation. “We try to make changes in regulations as smooth as possible for members, since these changes are usually expensive,” notes Holme.

The organization is active in lobbying for R&D-friendly regulations. “You need rules which will allow industry to develop new energy-saving technologies,” says Holme. “But regulations should not hinder R&D by making it too expensive.”


Author: Scott Diel