Have you got what it takes to be a sustainable leader?
And what does it take anyway?
As the Economist put it in their CSR supplement “it is the interaction between a company’s principles and its commercial confidence that shape the kind of business it will be”.
Click on Glance (below) for 6 top tips from leading sustainability thinker Mark Wade and on the report Thinking Tank – Sustainable Leadership to see what was said..
The subject for this week’s Thinking Tank discussion Is Local or Global? Where would you start to make the world a better place?
When I worked in multinationals and international development, I was all for global solutions. The more time I spend at a microcommunity level the more I wonder if it isn’t just the same – so we may as well do something where we find ourselves. You may feel though that big initiatives like global warming need a top-down approach.
This Thursday, online, at 4pm GMT. Be local, be global, enlighten and be enlightened. Stretch your mind with people you might never otherwise meet. And if you can’t make the live event, why not twitter now using #tanklocal and we can feed in your comments
We structured our debate a little differently this time, asking participants to have a conversation with Planet Earth. This approach gave a different flavour to the debate – making it a bit more immediate and touching.
Here is some of what was said:
Q: Please share your reasons for joining today’s debate
- I am here because I have a sense that COP really repeates the ways of working that are not working anyway. I feel that what it suggests is that the moral right to act lies outside the structures we have created. maybe its lies with each of us as individuals.
- Nothing has been happening since COP either
Q: EARTH: I was interested to see what happened in Copenhagen. How do you think I should be feeling now. Please explain your answer.
- I sense some of the groups (350 for example) are re-grouping.
- Something has changed, but I don’t know what yet
- Maybe it’s up to us then if they (the foremost leaders) are not up for / up to the job
Q: EARTH: Despite the big talks, I believe there are some things that are hopeful on a more human scale. Can you tell me any good news from your point of view?
- I see more & more people interested in community
- Regardless of the debates on climate change being “true” or not, we are abusing the earth and could do with a rethink
- I feel that we are beginning to accept that its up to us, and just to us, not institutions, not someone else, just me & you
- I feel more optimistic whenever I hear of people believing in the future and working for it, instead of shrugging and looking the other way
- I do not think this is about big action only… it is about us 7 bln people doing all some small different things… the multiplier effect is real big
- There is a movement called ARK (acts of random kindness) in Ireland – its a business as well. It have 3000+ fans on Facebook & it talks about giving profits to good causes, fans are asked to ‘do acts of random kindness’
Q: EARTH: Where do YOU fit in all this? Are you one of the good guys or one of the bad guys?
- When living in Western Europe, it is difficult not to feel as a bad guy, unless you go and live in a hut in the forest
- I do believe we are responsible and that we can solve this. But I don’t devote everything to saving you Earth
- I feel different just for declaring that I’m a “bad guy”. Maybe that is the beginning of me changing my mind
Q: EARTH: If I’m to get through the next 100 years in one piece, what are the most important things that need to happen?
- Education – changing education
- Reconnecting – people with people, people with nature, insides with outsides
- Accepting that enough is plenty, letting go of ‘endless growth as a model’, coming to realise what living on a planet means & that as humans we are part of, rather than masters of, a living system
- Tell the pope that the pill is a good idea
- different growth .. if we start valuing more the capacity to have time then eg then pure consumption..the whole economy will be triggered differently.. a different kind of clean currency?
- different growth or way of looking at progress.. more about efficiency with respect to resources, more about rewarding and striving for values which are less money but more related to human values, beauty etc
- The Green Schools movement is really encouraging – maybe we need a new model
There were clearly two camps in November’s Thinking Tank and many statements split the vote.
Some overlap though on the issues and the challenges – and the wordcloud below shows the importance of changing people’s minds through costs / taxation, making sustainability affordable and increasing impact of information via clear labelling.
The following two statements got the highest level of support:
- Its easier to agree that “something should be done” than on what that something is or who should do it
- It is a moment for inspiring leadership. If whole countries cannot get their act together then at least transition towns can lead the way. Then counties? States?
Maybe then the issue is not so much to agree on the technicalities (definition, scope etc) but to gather support for the concept. After all many broad ideas such as love, good citizenship, decency are not easily pinned down — but widely accepted and worth pursuing nonetheless.
30% of participants classified themselves as “mostly sustainable” or “activists”. The majority self-classified as “I try to do my bit”.
Participants identified a set of conditions for effective action on sustainability
1. Clear up the confusion
- I think the apathy is partly because people are unsure about what they should do
- labelling that makes impact clear, tax to increase the cost of things that use up resources, and increasing general awareness
2. Improve the offer
- make sustainable products look and feel like other products, same quality/same price/same comfort
- Another seems to be to make it easier, more convenient, more fitting into normal life either at no cost or the same cost ( rather than charging extra)
There is recognition by some of this unrealistic position given current economic models. Non-sustainable products are artificially cheap as the true costs are not passed on to the consumer. Therefore penalties may be required to level the playing field.
3. Improve the motivation
- better to motivate people and reward them for their good behaviour instead of punishing them
The following comments split the group and may point to potential difficulties for getting sustainability across to the population as a whole.
1. Communicating sustainability
- Most people just don’t think about tomorrow
- It’s not that people don’t think about tomorrow, just that we are busy getting through today
- It’s just common sense. It’s the non-sustainable approach that has been imposed on us.
- My kids respond best to the “Hole in the Sky” concept (their language not mine). They can see the sky. A hole would be scary. Easy to say to each other “don’t do that or you’ll make the hole in the sky bigger”
2. The business of sustainability
- Sustainability is big business for many, many consultants and advisers
- Overcomplicated, elitist greenies making it too hard to understand
3. The economics of sustainability
- At the moment, behaving unsustainably is “free at the point of purchase”. We could change that with a “damage tax”
- Develop an i-phone app that keeps track of my ecofootprint, rewards me when I reduce it, makes cool suggestions etc
If you would like to see a full list of statements please email me
In this lively debate featuring participants from the World Bank, Insead, green organisations and business, joined together to identify their shared views on sustainability. The debate centred around turning sustainability into something for everyone.
The issue is described as boring, complex and confusing rather than inspiring or motivating. There are lots of words around the need for a change of approach.
The following two statements got the highest level of support:
- I think the issue is less that it is “boring” and more that it is “confusing” because it means so many different things to so many different people.
- The language is all too academic and easy to feel remote from… we need real down to earth stuff that people can get their head around and feel inspired to make the change
Based on this output, we will be building on the last debate in the November Thinking Tank—we hope you can join us to start to work out some ways forward on this challenge.
See the report The Thinking Tank Report Sustainability is Boring
1. Low levels of engagement in the issue across population as a whole
- It’s not just the perceived sacrifice, or injustice, – it’s the likelihood that 95% of the rest of the population won’t do it!
2. Too many issues wrapped up under one umbrella making it very difficult to communicate
- Sustainability is a BIG word and means many different things: environment, social wellbeing, social justice, etc
3. Even if the issues are communicated, the need to make changes, some of them uncomfortable, makes it unlikely
- It is maybe more difficult then boring.. fundamentally it is about changing way of doing things and that is never easy
- At an intellectual level we can understand Sustainable Development but at a personal level, if it involves hard choices, it is much more difficult
So there was general agreement about the scale of the problem… Now how do we move forward? The most popular suggestion was
- I’m all for picking a couple of key issues, making it simple, widely understood and causing change (think drink-driving and how that shifted its social acceptability