The easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, alongside continuous social pressure, has given rise to an increasing number of challenges to the level of sustainable leadership being seen across current businesses.
We are living in a world where the choices made by business leaders can have a direct impact on the longevity of the planet. They can either choose to focus purely on profit and disregard the impact this may have on the world in relation to pollution and waste, or they can transition to focussing on profit, revenue and results that are aligned to prolonged sustainability targets.
Sustainability-literate leaders are aware of emerging environmental and social trends, and the risks and opportunities they create for business. They understand and appreciate the need to look after our environment and to be seen to be doing so in order to appeal to the ever more environmentally conscious consumer. Ultimately, by doing so, they will see an increase in turnover, profits, and jobs.
What is Sustainable Leadership?
Sustainable leadership is all about adopting a responsible approach to the way a business is led, whilst stopping to think about the wider impact of the actions of a business on society and the world. Often it is referred to as PPP (people, planet, profit) or the “triple last line”.
When working on sustainability challenges, leaders need to be adaptive and creative in order to truly understand the nature of the problem and deliver innovative solutions.
Global society needs to identify and promote sustainable leaders in order to embed the principle of sustainable leadership until it becomes the norm and an integral part of every business strategy. However, for that to happen, boards and senior executives must have the expertise, insights, and information necessary to plan for a sustainable future over the long term, at the same time as overseeing performance.
Delivering Sustainable Leadership
There are several leaders who have fought for bold action in sustainability alongside expanding their business. These include Paul Polman (ex-Unilever CEO), Claus Aagaard from Mars, Jesper Brodin from IKEA, and Tim Cook from Apple, to name a few.
What has enabled these leaders to successfully take positive strides in combating the climate crisis whilst ensuring their companies are growing financially and steadily in the market?
First and foremost, their vision was to balance both the pressure of short-term goals and priorities along with long-term goals. They incorporated a new set of values centred on improving social and environmental issues across the world.
Secondly, they have promoted change through modification and developed creative solutions. They have demonstrated a willingness to experiment with some of these solutions, accepting that they won’t always work, but can be learned from in order to deliver an improved solution going forward.
Finally, they have a personal passion for sustainability. Their desire to live in a sustainable planet by taking a proactive approach to looking after the environment is something to be admired.
Delivering sustainability can require a monumental team effort that needs to be led from the top.
Several companies talk about sustainability, but often do not put their words into practice. We need leaders to have the courage and determination to practice what they preach in relation to sustainability.
As individuals, we can all make choices and take actions that make the planet a better place in the long term. Consumer pressure can help deliver the environmental change required by individuals only choosing to do business with those socially and environmentally conscious organisations. However, it will also take strong leaders within the business world driving sustainability that will ultimately result in a quicker path to a surviving planet.
As a species, human survival can’t be certain over the long term. The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated our vulnerability to the environment and a reliance on science to provide rapid solutions to prevent further destruction. However, medical solutions are powerless against the increasing natural disasters the planet is facing.
As such, creating a sustainability culture on a global basis is critical. To be truly successful, current and future leaders must identify and implement solutions that will deliver the sustainability of both the planet and their business.
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