Sustainable Business In A Leadership Vacuum
I hosted two Green Academy webinars on Wednesday, the first on Getting Off to a Flying Start, aimed at beginners, and Making It Happen: From Strategy to Action, aimed at those wanting to move from bog standard environmental management to the cutting edge. Despite the disparity in subject matter, the issue of leadership arose in both. Some delegates were benefiting from very strong leadership, others thought their leadership was lacking.
The central thesis of my book The Green Executive is that you cannot manage your way to sustainability, it takes leadership. You just have to look at the sustainability programmes in InterfaceFLOR, Marks & Spencer and Wal-Mart to see that they were driven by determined charismatic leaders. The scale of change required cannot be delivered without high-level buy-in.
So what happens if you don’t have that leadership buy-in?
Well, first up it has to said that this is a massive challenge, but not insurmountable. But you can’t just roll up your sleeves, pick up your sense of injustice and start a war of attrition. Like a lone calvaryman charging a rank of cannons, your chances of success are minimal.
Instead you need to be smarter and use some green jujitsu – using your opponents strength against them.
First, put yourself in their shoes – what makes them tick – brand protection, cost savings, winning tenders, self image or something else?
Then work out the link between your putative sustainability programme and that priority. You may have to put some of your favourite ideas on the back burner for a while until you have made your case.
Then work out how to communicate that link effectively. Questions are one powerful tool eg what will energy price rises do to our competitiveness in the medium and long term? Another approach is tapping into the desire to keep up with the Joneses – did you hear that competitor X has invested in clean technology with is cutting their energy bills? A third is to get some momentum going without management buy in and then demonstrate how the results are profiting the business.
This may not deliver immediate results, so persistence, resilience and tact are required.
Be determined, play smart.