Looking at many of the big sustainability leaders like InterfaceFLOR, Marks & Spencer and Body Shop, it is clear that their success, initially at least, was down to the passion of their leaders - Ray Anderson, Sir Stuart Rose and Anita Roddick. But impressively, those values have outlasted their founders - literally in the case of Anderson and Roddick who are sadly no longer with us.
On the other hand I have seen numerous organisations where a change in leadership, either at the very top or at the top of the sustainability function, has lead to efforts withering on the vine. Passion becomes lip service, as projects are completed ambitious replacements fail to appear, and the organisation seems content to rest on the laurels of past victories.
The ultimate aim of any sustainability leader should be for their programme to outlast their tenure. Interface's Mission Zero, Marks & Spencer's Plan A and Body Shop's founding values are all so deeply embedded into the organisation that they are no longer about those charismatic leaders, but are embedded deeply into the culture and structure of each organisation. Damaging that reputation would be seen as an act of vandalism.
Delivering such an embedded culture for sustainability is no easy task. Most importantly, it requires a lack of ego from the leader - letting go of the programme, so everyone can take ownership and designing it so it can flourish without that individual involved. Aligning responsibility with authority reinforces culture with reporting structure, adding resilience. And of course it is imperative that the succession strategy ensures that the next generation of leaders understand and appreciate the importance of sustainability to the brand.
Would your programme survive without you?