Is your Sustainability Programme hitting a ceiling?
This week I read an article on Medium.com entitled “Why I’m breaking up with sustainability” by Tara Holmes, which suggests that Corporate Sustainability programmes are plateauing. Holmes says:
…the word sustainability has devolved into a word that embodies a non-offensive, contradictory acknowledgement of the need to address the dire issues facing our rapidly changing climate without actually having to shift core business models…
…I bump into professional contacts of mine at various conferences and events in the sustainability space who say they feel disempowered in their role. They’ve “hit a ceiling” with executive leadership, they’ll tell me. Or they work in a silo in the facilities department or operations, or only have an intern for support. How can any single person in a massive organization have the opportunity to fundamentally shift the bottom line, particularly when that bottom line is triple-down, without the necessary backing and support?
I find this analysis depressing, a tad self-pitying and ultimately self-defeating. Enough exemplars have shown that massive leaps towards Sustainability can be made while making increased profit. The contradiction Holmes identifies is only in the mind – it’s not an ‘or’, but an ‘and’.
And, yes, one person will struggle to make a difference if they adopt the silo mentality of their organisation, but they need to turn that mindset around and see their role as facilitating others to make a difference instead (check out this edition of Ask Gareth). You don’t need a huge team, or a team at all, to do that.
In her conclusion Holmes proposes education, suggesting starting over, for which, as she points out earlier in the article, we have limited time. Personally, I think if your organisational Sustainability programme is stuck under a ceiling there’s a very simple formula to smash through to the next level:
- Get buy-in from key players using Green Jujitsu (in large part by involving them actively in the following steps);
- Set stretch targets within a reasonable timeframe (7-10 years typically);
- Use backcasting to work out what that future vision of the organisation would look like and a list of what you have to start doing now to get there;
- Help those key players do the things on your list which will have biggest impact, while identifying and eliminating barriers as you go along.
The first step is the most important. By involving key players, they have ‘skin in the game’ and you will start to see those ceilings disappear. The backcasting process itself is fun and really energises those involved. You’d be surprised how often meaningful engagement makes resistance to melt away like snow on a warm spring morning.