Sir Ian Cheshire on Sustainable Business Leadership
I had a fantastically green night out in London on Tuesday. After an impromptu diversion into a St Patrick’s, er, Month drinks reception at the Irish Embassy, my good friend Fiona Harvey, eminent Grauniad environment journo, took me to the extraordinarily posh Oxford and Cambridge Club on Pall Mall for dinner and, appropriately enough, an after-dinner talk.
The talk was ‘Sustainable Business Leadership’ by Sir Ian Cheshire, outgoing CEO of the Kingfisher Group (which owns B&Q). The knighthood was awarded for “services to business, sustainability, and the environment” and what Sir Ian said showed it was richly deserved – here are the quotes I scribbled down:
- I am attracted to business with a mission and a purpose.
- Don’t you want to work for a business which makes a difference?
- Sustainability is the engine for our business.
- Diversity in teams leads to a huge step forward; don’t pick people like you.
- You have to recognise which decisions matter and what doesn’t: 4 or 5 big calls will determine 80% of your impact.
- We live in a hyper-transparent world, you can’t pretend anymore.
- Do you want to be moderately less evil or net positive? The latter’s much more exciting.
- You’ve got to give people permission to try stuff.
- It takes an incredibly long time to explain sustainability to your business – I found it took at least 5 attempts.
- You’ve got to make your solutions relevant to the DNA of your business.
- You’ve got to translate sustainability for people. There’s no Russian word for sustainability, but Russians love their forests and their water quality.
- If you don’t understand the warp and weft of your business, sustainability will not work.
- Corporates create space for Governments to act.
- CEO questions can drive innovation.
- Our drive for FSC kitchens cost us £30m, but the perception of quality in the marketplace went up.
- Our biggest problem isn’t greenwash but greenhush. We don’t talk enough about what we are doing.
- Ultimately you need sustainability solutions which scale. Without scalability, we won’t get sustainability.
My advice for anyone trying to deliver sustainability in their organisation is to plunder that list for ideas.
Disclosure: The dinner was a private one, so I have run the quotes past Sir Ian to check he was OK with them going public.
Photo taken from snipview.com