Sustainability in a Leadership Vacuum
I wrote my second book, The Green Executive, to fill a clear gap in the market. Sustainability was fast moving from an incremental/ISO14001/managerial level up to the step change/strategy/leadership level. I was being asked to engage at the boardroom level, but there were no models for doing so, so I had to create my own.
But what happens if you are in a leadership vacuum, or if leaders decided to scale back their commitment? [Yes, I’m thinking of you, Mr Sunak]. What can you do?
First of all, don’t get despondent and take your foot off the gas. Keep going as you were before. But you will need to start working out how to get that top level buy-in as big step changes won’t happen without it. Here are some ideas:
- Make sure that your Sustainability programme is aligned with the business case for Sustainability for your organisation. I saw a quote recently along the lines of “We told our customer we were meeting our Sustainability goals by planting trees; our customer told us that wasn’t enough.” If your Sustainability programme is (or isn’t) keeping your customer happy (assuming that is the key business driver for Sustainability), you have a great story to tell the leadership.
- Put away the Powerpoint and involve your leadership in Sustainability activity. This could be anything from getting them to take part in an employee pond-digging exercise through to co-creating your Sustainability strategy in a leadership workshop (a key step in producing an effective Sustainability Strategy). Interface’s fabled Mission Zero programme began when the boss, the late Ray Anderson was ‘volunteered’ to give a presentation on the business’s environmental efforts. Immersion in Sustainability activity will gain much more emotional buy-in than any briefing will.
- Emphasise what your competitors are doing. Sir Stuart Rose launched Marks & Spencer’s Plan A programme after being invited to a corporate viewing of An Inconvenient Truth and realised that Sustainability was key to maintaining the chain’s position as a trusted brand on the highstreet. Steve Jobs started taking Sustainability seriously at Apple when Greenpeace ranked them towards the bottom of their league table of electronics companies. No leader likes to be in the relegation zone.
The examples above show that you can ‘manage upwards’ to get leadership buy-in. The key is finding what buttons to press and being bold about pressing them. For more, check out our next Green Academy webinar on Sustainability Leadership on 1 November.