In Sustainability, “Everybody’s Responsibility” = “Nobody’s Responsibility”
As regular readers, will know, as well as my day job as sustainability consultant/pontificator, I have another day job which fits round it of local councillor. A subset of that job is, unsurprisingly perhaps, Opposition Spokesman on Sustainability Issues.
Now, while I keep this blog free of partisan party political stuff, it is fair to say that when my party lost control of the Council back in 2011, Sustainability has dropped from a first tier priority down to the third tier of “other things we should really do”. But in the last few months, it has suddenly bubbled back to the second tier, much to my delight – I finally have something to scrutinise.
While the new initiative is quite good, the thing that bothers me is that the responsibility for it is really unclear. Two of the ten Cabinet members have formal responsibility for climate change, but the new initiative was led in the press by a third, and a fourth member presented the report on the new initiative.
When challenged as to who was ‘it’, the answer was the same one we hear across many organisations. “We are trying to make sustainability everybody’s responsibility.” That line always reminds me of the old story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody…
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.
As I have argued many times, professionally and politically, somebody has to show responsibility from a leadership point of view. Somebody has to be driving that change, somebody has to stand up and defend progress (or lack of it), somebody has to be the ‘face’ of sustainability.
With my clients, I always recommend:
- There must be clear and visible leadership at both an executive and an operational level;
- Responsibility for sustainability in key middle management positions should not be left to chance – sustainability KPIs should be translated for those job roles and embedded into personal objectives;
- Once those formal roles are set, “everybody’s responsibility” can be delivered through peer networks and employee engagement – but you should have no doubts that it is unlikely to deliver more than reasonable incremental change.