Sustainability leadership is more than a slogan
By Regina Hauser
The Natural Step Network
In the last two or three years, we’ve seen a proliferation of courses that include the words “Leadership for sustainability.” Universities, nonprofits and my organization, The Natural Step, offer courses with some variation of this title. Is leadership just a term chosen for marketing purposes? (Imagine a course entitled Sustainability for Followers.) How is leadership for sustainability any different than other leadership?
If you attend a course on leadership, you’ll find that many of the attendees do not currently hold traditional leadership positions in organizations. In fact, most leadership courses or texts posit that leadership is not determined by an organizational chart. Action determines leadership.
As the Business for Social Responsibility report points out, this is particularly important today. We live in a time of flux and disruption. Natural disasters, uncertain supply chains, risks and liabilities in the use of materials, safety in the food supply are real and threatening issues. Tenures of presidents, CEOs and directors are much shorter than they used to be. It’s important to create a culture that can respond to this new environment, in which everyone is encouraged to exercise leadership when the situation demands it.
With over 10 years of experience in Oregon, The Natural Step Network USA has observed a few common traits among organizations that have shown leadership in sustainability.
- Leadership for sustainability is organic throughout an organization. Owners or C-level leaders provide substantive support (time and money) for sustainable management. Leadership for actions and strategies come from anywhere in the organization once this support is established.
- Businesses that are credible leaders in sustainability have established criteria for success and assess action against these criteria. Vague statements of good intentions aren’t enough.
- Organizations are the sum of the people in them. As individuals come and go from a business, sustainability efforts can falter without the persistent efforts of individual leaders to maintain a culture of sustainability.
- There is no single path to sustainability. That said collaboration within industries and communities is becoming more and more common. Leadership requires the skills to collaborate effectively.
Regina Hauser is director of The Natural Step Network USA. For more information on TNS’ next leadership workshop on July 7, please visit http://tnsleadersseattlejul11.eventbrite.com/. Regina's last guest post for SBO examined the road to fossil fuel freedom.
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