Sustainability has been on the business agenda for a good couple of decades now because it makes for better commerce. Michael H. Posner of the NYU Stern School of Business, says “CEOs are recognizing that they need to incorporate broader principles of sustainability in their everyday business decisions. This is not simply a matter of doing the right thing, it’s smart business.”
Interestingly, twenty years is long enough for those at the heart of business sustainability to see trends emerging and discovering why the leaders in the field are succeeding and the direction leadership training needs to take for those who want to catch up.
In his new book, ‘The future of business leadership’ David Grayson picks out five key components of sustainability that leaders need to focus on if their organisations are going to succeed, long term:
- Your Purpose: This is not some vague mission statement. You need an authentic and inspiring explanation of why your organisation exists, and how it creates value for society and, if you’re running a commercial business, for itself.
- Your comprehensive plan: To be comprehensive, your sustainability plan needs to include every aspect of your organisation. But it must now go further. It needs also to cover every part of your supply chain and, on the other side of the fence, your distributors and customers as well.
- Your culture: It’s become increasingly apparent that a sustainable culture puts innovation at its heart. Indeed, businesses like Nike have gone so far as to consider innovation and sustainability as practically one-and-the-same. And this innovation culture must nurture:
- Engaged and empowered employees who really can contribute
- An open and transparent approach to sustainability
- A clear, responsible, ethical approach to everything you do
- Your people: To succeed at sustainability as an organisation, your people need to have the right mind-set (so they genuinely care about behaving sustainably – at least when they’re at work). Equally important, though, they need the necessary skillsets, so they can identify and develop appropriate innovations. In short: sustainability should be part of management training.
- Advocacy: This is not just a fancy word for lobbying. When it comes to sustainability, it’s about speaking out for social justice. This might be to promote environmental protection or human rights, or highlighting political corruption, incompetence or gerrymandering. So, unlike lobbying for a short-term tax break, or a short-term fix on regulation, this form of advocacy takes a long term view. It’s about recognising and supporting the long term interests of society, because these are inevitably in the long-term interests of organisations that want to be thriving in that society.
And if you want your organisation to thrive, long term, these five issues should be your focus.