I was on a call a few months ago with the other partners in our business when a realisation of a need to focus on more purposeful leadership started in earnest for me. My colleague Dan Spira, Managing Partner of our North America business, shared a dream to be at the solar eclipse in the Antarctic later this year in November and I realised I knew someone who could potentially help turn that dream into a reality. I contacted Petrina Dabrowski and together with Dan Spira we have developed the ‘Arcadia Journey’ idea…
“Imagine if we could get a group of likeminded senior business leaders to join us on an expedition and sail into the Antarctic for 10 days, immersing ourselves in the topic of Sustainable Leadership while devising a plan to not just change ourselves but to influence a world of change in business. An ultimate goal of making business a force for good. How can we get the right people onto this expedition, in an unknown world of COVID-19 and brainstorm this kind of change?”
Around this time, by sheer coincidence, one of my clients and good friends Des O’Connor, CEO of Ardonagh Global Partners, a multibillion Insurance Conglomerate asked me how he could “Immerse himself in Sustainability” and enhance his already exciting and purposeful leadership style for the better. Stanley Nyoni, a colleague in our EMEA business, introduced the fact that Sustainability in retro-fit is expensive and we need influential leaders to lead the way forward. I contacted Gabriella Daroczi, a passionate vegan leader and marketing guru about her studies at The Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership and we discussed this movement to the future.
Who knows where “the journey” will take us but at least we are on our way
Businesses today face environmental and social challenges that threaten their potential to sustain growth. Building a resilient business is more and more dependent on being prepared for the impact of nonfinancial factors, including those related to environmental, social, and governance issues.
In today’s business landscape, it’s no longer sufficient for organisations to simply acknowledge global sustainability challenges set out in the Sustainable Development Goals – they’re expected to lead the way through them!
The Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership points out how businesses are perfectly placed to deliver sustainability ambitions. There are three driving forces behind rewiring our economy and a few examples below show how all of these forces have already shifted towards a sustainable future – and why sustainable leadership is not optional, but crucial for business.
In the area of social sustainability, a great example on how businesses can influence government decisions is the inspiring story of Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce. He took on Indiana’s Anti-LGBT Law by threatening to scale back his company’s investment in the state and announced plans to cancel all Salesforce programs that would require customers or employees to travel to Indiana. He also offered relocation packages to Salesforce employees in Indiana who wanted to transfer elsewhere. After a week of backlash, Indiana approved a revised version of the measure, this time explicitly banning businesses from refusing service because of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This is what social sustainability is about – overcoming the systematic conditions that undermine people’s capacity to meet their needs.
The world’s biggest asset manager BlackRock, worth $7 trillion, made climate change central to its investment strategy for 2021, giving a clear indication on the shift in their future investments. It is estimated that the sustainable investment (ESG) Market has more than doubled from 2012 to 2018, rising from $13.3 trillion to $30.7 trillion. By taking leadership, Blackrock help grow this market while solving some of society’s most intractable problems.
Having a CSR page on a company’s website is no longer sufficient. Leaders simply cannot expect to build a business with longevity and resilience if they don’t embed sustainability in everything they do. This is now a precondition for any successful company. If organisations do not move to a more responsible, sustainable, and equitable way of doing business, consequences will make the coronavirus pandemic look like a dress rehearsal.
Fortunately, we now have plenty of success stories on businesses with leaders who demonstrate a sustainability mindset. The benefits to these organisations include reduced costs, top talent attraction and retention, access to new markets and innovation acceleration. Ultimately, a sustainable business model drives improved business performance – and these are the kinds of companies that investors and consumers’ reward.
The book Green Giants: How Smart Companies Turn Sustainability Into Billion-Dollar Businesses lists nine different companies, such as Ikea, Natura, Tesla, and Unilever, all worth at least $1 billion, that prioritise sustainability and social responsibility. These are great examples of companies outperforming solely profit-oriented competitors while being motivated by idealistic goals.
Under Polman’s stewardship as CEO for 10 years, Unilever implemented its ambitious Sustainable Living Plan which aimed to double its growth, halve its environmental impact, and triple its social impact. The plan succeeded, with Unilever’s annual sales rising from $38 billion to more than $60 billion.
Businesses thrive when they serve all their stakeholders: citizens, employees, suppliers, partners, those who make up the extended value chain. When you make your business relevant to the needs of the communities and societies you serve, then everyone benefits, including shareholders.
Accountability for taking meaningful action must start at the top, we need authentic and caring leaders who truly believe in making this world a better place. Window-dressing or greenwashing will rightly be exposed for what it is, a PR stunt that does nothing to tackle the underlying issues. It can take 20 years to build a brand, but 5 minutes to destroy it!
Leaders of sustainable businesses have learned how to be an effective change agent, overcome barriers to change, obtain networking support and embed sustainability into their business plans.
Whilst sustainability leaders are equipped with knowledge around social and climate challenges, they also must develop key characteristics – such as innovative approach, systematic understanding, emotional intelligence, and values orientation – to be able to respond to these challenges.
In the public eye, large corporations are often viewed as being part of the climate and social problem. Successful sustainability leaders prove they are the force for good and their business is part of the solution, not the problem.
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Be empowered and take the lead in tackling sustainability challenges and ignite your response, by joining a once-in-a-lifetime transformational journey for sustainable leadership.