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Three Stages of Sustainability Leadership

There are three stages to implementing sustainability initiatives in an organization, each requiring different organizational capabilities and leadership skills, according to Christoph Lueneburger, who leads the Sustainability Practice at Egon Zehnder International GmbH, and Daniel Goleman, an author, psychologist and science journalist, in an article written for MIT Sloan Management Review.

Those three stages are:

–Phase 1: Making the case for change

The key challenge here is to make a clear and compelling case for change by collaborating and influencing others to gain buy-in from key stakeholders, they say.

The initial mandate for the sustainability leader may just be expressing the need to act.

–Phase 2: Translating vision into action

During this stage, the task is to translate high-level commitments into a comprehensive change program with clearly defined initiatives and targets, according to the authors. By the end of this phase, the organization will be tracking economic, environmental and social metrics over the business planning cycle.

At this point, the sustainability leader must develop a comprehensive program of targeted initiatives that can be tracked using clear metrics, and must take corrective action when performance falls short of expectations, while prioritizing efforts that generate the most value for the organization over the business planning cycle, they say. Here, commercial results are critical and leaders must understand how to turn sustainability into an advantage in the marketplace.

–Phase 3: Expanding Boundaries

At this stage, the sustainability leader must evaluate long-term sustainability trends, looking for new opportunities and developing strategies to reposition the organization to benefit from them, they say. The goal is to embed sustainability in the organization’s core business strategies like quality or financial control.

Typically, sustainability leaders will need to engage with external stakeholders such as competitors, NGOs and other organizations, and push for new practices that may be different than how the organization has conducted business in the past.

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4 thoughts on “Three Stages of Sustainability Leadership

  1. My experience suggests that there are multiple routes to implementing sustainability initiatives in organizations. Christophe and Daniel point to one of the “classic” routes that work for organizations that are more hierarchical in structure. In other types of organizational cultures, this approach may not make a lot of headway. Indeed, in some organizations, metrics, targets and goals are seen as stifling and sustainability changes get accomplished primarily through decentralized personal initiatives. Much work remains to be done to identify the cultural variables and requisite approaches that affect how sustainability becomes rooted in a wide variety of organizations.

  2. Sustainability is a most important for objective for all businesses, governments and communities; however, it must be a fully integrated approach, all legs must be equally incorportated; the responsible management of energy, soil, water and all natural resources, environmental, economics and agricultural and food and a fair quality of living for families and communities. And the acievement of these goals and core values must be incentive based and increnmental. And demonstrable individual responsibility is essntial.

  3. Related to the “multiple routes” comment above. I have also found that there are different levels of implementation and these multiple routes should al be employed. In order to make the change that becomes the core of your business, there have to be policy-level changes that are clearly back-stopped by upper management, then there also have to be many and continuous grass-roots level opportunities for education, implementation, reward, bragging rights (for action at home for example) etc. It is only when many levels are pursued simultaneously that an organization will begin a true mind-shift.

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