Sustainability Managers: turn your Sustainability Leadership mode ON!

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Sustainability Managers: turn your Sustainability Leadership mode ON!

In the corporate sustainability space, we might find roles: Leaders, who shape products, services, business models, and markets, and Managers, who deliver the expected outputs of their functions. The same person can perform both roles in different moments, given the context. Amid a global slowdown in productivity, low growth, inflation, tightening of global financial conditions, mounting inequalities, loss of biodiversity, and climate change crisis turning leadership mode ON is more critical than ever.

  1. How do technological innovation and intelligent wallet options reduce the transition costs of decarbonization required per year?
  2. How do re-enable and re-employ more than 100 million workers in stagnant or increasingly reduced occupations due to technological change, including the many millions likely to be displaced by energy transitions?
  3. How to support the most vulnerable segments of the population, for example, the poorest fifth of the world’s population, who struggle with access and affordability in housing, nutrition, water, energy, education, and financial capital?
  4. How to support smallholder farmers, who produce about one-third of the world’s food supply, to mitigate surging food prices and keep feeding humanity?

These are some of the challenges that we are facing as humanity and need cross-sectorial collaboration to be solved. No government, company or sector can solve these challenges alone. And companies will no build strategic win-win partnerships to make progress against these wicked problems through traditional management styles.  That’s why we need more leaders from businesses, who can take advantage of their innovation engines to go beyond the obvious as they identify specific domains where they can have the greatest impact. 

Tackle climate change is a priority in large corporations, but reducing inequalities is not considered a central priority of companies. As we face imminent existential social and environmental turning points, we are learning that denying the problem or the responsibility is the first step toward allowing problems to get worse. There is a persistent increase in inequality and the positive contagion effects of inclusion are indisputable and well documented: greater participation in the workforce, greater creativity, and better competitiveness. 

Leadership should not be other than responsible. However, we need to make it explicit: we need leaders that can acknowledge the social and environmental challenges and integrate the holistic view in their agendas. The ability of an authentic leadership mindset will innovate and should be used to change the border of what is possible and to help achieve what may seem unattainable.

Here are five 5 C’s for leaders to shape sustainability:

  1. Human-Centric: Drive the business towards addressing people’s needs and top stakeholders’ expectations. Human is not only for customers but also for future and potential customers, employees and future and potential employees, partners, shareholders, and suppliers. Consider unserved markets and how the business could make more profit by addressing climate adaptation and resiliency of vulnerable populations. 
  2. Climate-oriented: even if we achieve 1.5 or 2 C, there is an imminent impact on climate patterns,  water scarcity, extreme rains, and food supply issues will happen, so all problems need to be considered in addition to reducing CO2 emissions. Look for opportunities in the just transition space. 
  3. Consistent: Be consistent with purpose and business priorities. Ensure alignment in what bosses ask for and how this will be measured. Make sure that you are addressing a relevant risk or opportunity, so it will be easier for you to build the business case, get the buy-in and get ready to mobilize financial and non-financial resources along the journey. 
  4. Ecosystem collaboration: Find your peer leaders from diverse sectors and organizations and be ready to share leadership and collective efforts. Many of these challenges require a non-market strategy
  5. Cost-effective: This should not be another philanthropy, CSR, or community outreach program. Shift Your Mindset Today! This needs to be embedded into the business model. Leverage your leadership to drive the sustainable innovation required to make it possible. Ensure financial and non-financial benefits are relevant to your multiple internal stakeholders and external partners. 

More companies and CEOs will have to be deeply committed to contributing to a sustainable society through their tangible and intangible assets.  As in the case of the pandemic, they are addressing these challenges successfully will require multiple experiments, unprecedented speed on the scale of the success, and the broad participation of all actors, which can only happen through genuine leadership. So companies must be open and realistic about these and their role.  The younger generations will hold them accountable if companies do not get involved well and encourage authentic leadership.