Sustainability Leadership: How the Paradigm is Shifting To Triple Bottom Line


What is all this talk about sustainability leadership? Hasn’t the idea bubbled up in the last few decades?

With summer at its zenith, a group of young men decide to hit the beach for a refreshing soiree of surfing. One of them is a tad sensitive about his skin, so he saunters into the shop on the beach to purchase a suitable sunscreen. He picks one that seems alluring from the aisle and makes his way to the counter.

Just as he is about to brandish his credit card out of the wallet, his iPhone beeps softly, heralding an email notification. He checks his phone and realizes that the product that he is about to purchase comprises of hazardous chemical compounds that can lead to the decimation of marine life.

In fact, the very bottle can’t be recycled and will inevitably be disposed of at the beach, further creating an environmental menace. He learns that there is another store in close proximity promising more “sustainable” lines of products, and is a far better alternative.

We are living in a phase where sustainability is all about altering the perception of people. It is to motivate individuals into making investments in products which are safer for the environment and the person itself. It is about embarking on an exhaustive approach to create transparency for environmentally conscious individuals.

Back when industrialization was still in its infancy, hardly did we find any industrialists heeding an ear to facts centering on the survival of mankind, despite how ominous they may be. I often find myself wondering how I should define sustainability. One may accustom themselves to different views on the delineation; but, I rather choose the one inscribed by the United Nations Brundtland Commission, back in the year 1987.

According to the definition (centered on the ecosystem), Sustainability can best be defined as;

“Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainability: It Wasn’t such a Great Start…

If you live in the USA, or anywhere else for that matter, you must be quite aware of one of the biggest furniture markets the history had ever known; IKEA. A decade ago, IKEA realized the need of incorporating sustainability methodologies in their leadership program. The reason behind such an abrupt implementation was simple; they wanted to create more environmental-friendly products for their customers. So, they started conducting interviews with a wide range of population, and before they knew it, people from China to America swarmed in with their views. They all started out with an everyday problem that is likely faced by every other individual in today’s day and age. But, when the funnels were narrowed down, it was realized that businesses are not focusing on delivering products which promote or even raise voice for the health of our society.

Apparently, the concept of sustainability did not meet with a good start because there were many organizations before IKEA which took it upon themselves to conduct a sustainability analysis from the wider masses. However, half of their sustainable products were either found too ugly to be purchased or merely failed to meet the quality standards of other similar products across the market. Buying a sustainable product from the shelf of a supermarket store felt more like making a compromise. And hence, sustainability in businesses did not receive applaud it was due.

But why is it that a sustainable product which promises the longevity of humankind is becoming a social outcast? Well, a bit of pondering discloses the fact that there exists a gap in leadership.

Who is a Sustainable Leader?

A sustainable leader inspires individuals to take innovative steps in deploying risk management methodologies into their organizational practices. Their core responsibility is to create the significance of running a sustainable business and delegate information to employees, so they can better comprehend the importance of survival for the human race.

But is spreading information on what defines a successful sustainability leader enough? We need to dig a bit deeper in order to identify what makes a sustainable leader.

Interface.Inc is a leading carpet manufacturing business, run by Ray Anderson. 14 years back, Ray had an epiphany which made him realize that he needs to provide his customers with a product that does not wreak havoc on their health, and is rather conducive to their well-being. As a result, his business started seeing more sales revenue, and today, interface holds a great market share value. Apparently, by the year 2020, the company is touting to turn its product into a carbon emission-free solution with zero waste value.

Sustainability leaders can be identified easily within an organization; you need only have a keen eye to spot which of them are the brightest and the most skilled. Certain qualities can help you pinpoint a sustainable leader within an organization. Mayhap, you are looking to follow one or become one, here are some tell-tale signs of a sustainable leader.

  • If they talk about implementing principles and frameworks which back sustainability management in their business strategies, they are a keeper.
  • If they are keen on redesigning business models and deploying products and services, keeping in mind the betterment of the society, they are the ones.
  • If they are utilizing emerging software management tools at the expense of performing requirement analysis in areas such as life-cycle maintenance and choose to conduct sustainability reports on each prospect, they are the ones.

How is Sustainability Leadership Created?

Sustainable leaders are born out of necessity. Their job is to deploy robust strategies to cultivate a better & healthier environment for the future of humanity. When leaders evaluate the safety and security of their customers, they realize that sustainability of their stakeholders is, ultimately, the sustainability of their organization. While some business leaders identify critical sustainability skills by working in the trenches, others directly earn a degree by following a sustainability-focused academic program. Educated in the surveillance of some of the experts and by gaining first-hand knowledge, these individuals are professionally developed with exceptional competencies. They are capable enough to navigate their way around in all spheres of life; including social, environmental and economic scales.

What Can Organizations Do To Make Businesses More Sustainable?

If you are in the mood for a ski-fest, I used to have a personal favorite ski camp located at Whistler Blackcomb, Canada. However, the sight has closed now. After 30 years of successfully entertaining tourists from around the world, and even after a record-breaking winter snowfall in 2017, the organization was forced to shut the spot down as the glacier was losing too much ice.

Do you know that in 2016, Vanuatu shut down five Pacific islands due to the rising sea levels and alarming climate change?

The Island of Vanuatu, an economical vacation spot for the less fortunate, has also been entertaining the crowds for quite some time now. However, due to the coastal level sea-rise and island erosion, the company found itself in deep waters and were compelled to shut down their tourism spot, since they were apprehensive to risk the lives of their patrons and the credibility of their business.

But why are we conferring environment degradation and how does it all relate to sustainability leadership? Ever wondered why global warming has gotten social activists around the world biting their nails in apprehension? It’s because of the amount of pollution which we are dispersing off into the atmosphere. It is the real cause which is significantly damaging the very atmosphere in which we live. Our corporate leaders are failing to identify the root cause which is leaving a detrimental effect on the well-being of the society, and is damaging the future in its wake.

This reminds me of a famous statement delivered by the Chief Sustainability Officer, Steve Howards, at the Furniture Megastore (IKEA),

“We are building cities like never before, bringing people out of situations like never before, and changing the climate like never before. Sustainability has gone from nice to do, to a must do. It’s about right here, right now and for the rest of our working lives.”

How do Sustainable leaders deploy sustainability models within their organizational proceedings? Well, they do it by following a three-step process.

Step # 1:

In an organization which does not follow sustainability practices, the main challenge is to prepare the minds of the key stakeholders. These can be your employees, customers, partners & collaborators. To sell them on your word, a sustainable leader should be capable enough of creating a strong case and communicate why the organization needs change. Stakeholders will always throw a burgeoning amount of questions your way, but as a leader, you should be prepared to address them all in the most comprehensive manner. If their queries are effectively addressed, you mitigate the element of persuasion, both internally and externally.

Step # 2:

You have persuaded the crew, it is time to move forward with the deployment of initiatives. At this point, the sustainable leader should shoulder the responsibility of planning out a comprehensive strategy on the change program he wishes to array within the organization. This change will ultimately benefit the organization’s employees to achieve commercial targets by educating the wide masses on the benefits of using sustainable products. Commercial awareness shouldn’t be the only focus here; sustainable leaders should also focus on delivering staunch results.

Step # 3:

Once, the organization has successfully deployed robust strategies in fostering commercial awareness among larger audiences, it is high time that a sustainable leader focuses on how the product can stand out from the competition. This can be achieved by analyzing the long-term trends pertaining to what the market seeks within the circumference of sustainability. So, basically, by following the rule of embedding sustainability within the organization’s DNA, akin to HR, finance, marketing, production or any other relative department, a sustainable leadership should also strategize how the business will reposition and spot out new opportunities of growth in the long run.

Sustainability is All about Courage!

Not all leaders have what it takes to run a sustainable business. A sustainable business requires consistency, collaboration, and courage. It’s because sustainability is not all about changing the perception of an individual, but rather about changing the ideology of a whole generation. Such a shift requires courage and motivation. It requires a leader to be an empath to understand what the society is in need of, even when they are unable to realize it themselves. After all, what is a success if you aren’t capable of living and cherishing it in the long run?

Sustainable leadership exerts efforts to conserve resources. They focus on maximizing productivity with minimizing cost. Do you want a cost-effective solution which is resource conservative and works in coherence with maximizing productivity? Get TaskQue, give your business the change for betterment.