Do you have what it takes to be a sustainability leader?

by Shannon Houde

Today’s business school graduates are tomorrow’s leaders, but do they have the skills necessary to lead our society toward a more sustainable future? The Sky Future Leaders survey details the numerous ways that tomorrow’s business leaders identify themselves as the first ‘sustainable generation’. The survey of 750 corporate graduate trainees, high potential middle-managers and MBA students found that a large portion of these current and future business leaders believe in the importance of incorporating sustainability in business practices as well as in their own careers. For example, 96% of respondents plan on being involved with sustainability in their careers, and 79% of cited the vision and values of a company as an important factor when looking at potential employers.

Despite respondents’ expressed interest and support for sustainability, as the Guardian points out, many appear to lack a conceptual understanding of the complexities of sustainability.  While most associate sustainability with common environmental actions like recycling and cutting carbon footprints, their grasp of economic and social sustainability concepts appears more limited.

The task of embedding sustainability into all areas of a business’ operations will require leaders with more than just knowledge and awareness of sustainability issues. To be the world’s first “sustainable generation”, future business leaders must also:


Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign up

1. Understand the sustainability landscape.

Knowing the sustainability landscape means understanding how environmental, social and economic sustainability issues relate to your business sector, services, products, and supply chains. You should also be aware of your competitors and their sustainability agendas and strategies.  A true understanding of the landscape makes it possible for managers to successfully link their business strategy with their sustainability strategy.

2. Collaborate.

Collaboration is about finding ways to work across teams, share knowledge and build collective solutions.  This is important in sustainability because no one organisation sits alone in this agenda.  The public, private, and NGO sectors must work collectively to find ways to link policy to practice.  Sharing ideas and knowledge may seem risky in a competitive business environment, but when it comes to sustainability, companies cannot afford to act alone.  Broad, collective action is the only way that the bigger agenda of sustainable futures will move forward.

3. Innovate.

In order to remain competitive in today’s fast-changing marketplace, innovation is the only option.  Sustainability is about staying ahead of the future needs of consumers, employees, and shareholders while minimizing social and environmental impacts.  Creating a better future requires leaders to “shake it up”, to question the status quo, to think outside of the box.  Sustainability is a relatively new and fast-growing function of business, which presents companies with a huge opportunity to lead the way in corporate innovation.

4. Engage stakeholders.

Sustainability leaders will only succeed if they engage others.  Engagement is about listening – listening to stakeholders, to senior executives, to the markets, to partners.  Effective leaders can only truly engage once they understand the needs of its key stakeholders.  Then it is about prioritising their issues, addressing them transparently, and reporting back to the stakeholders the results of the progress and on-going challenges.

If you’re meeting these four key requirements, you may be on the fast track to becoming a sustainability leader.  If you work with a sustainability leader, determine if he or she is exercising these key skills.  If not, encourage change!

This article originally appeared on Acre


You may also like...

Why ESG is Crucial to Your Talent Agenda

In 2019, Alan Jope did something that few chief executives do. Standing in front of a crowd of journalists, the boss of Unilever—the company behind Marmite, Magnums and Dove—announced the company was no longer interested in brands within its portfolio that failed to have some kind of a positive impact on either planet or society. Profits were no longer enough. In fact, he’d go so far as to sell off brands that didn’t do good. DON’T MISS OUTON MORE FREE

By Shannon Houde
What the Growing Corporate Sustainability Movement Means for Recruiting Top Talent

It wasn’t that long ago that corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability teams were shoved in back offices, miles from the core operations of a business. Even worse, responsibility for corporate sustainability would sometimes be awkwardly shoved onto an existing role with little care or attention from senior leadership. Now, the picture looks very different. A perfect storm of climate change, COVID, and conscious consumerism has forced all businesses across every sector to reevaluate their actions on social and environmental issues. One survey of

By Shannon Houde
Book Launch! Good Work: How to Build a Career that makes a Difference in the World

Joel Makower interviews Good Work author, Shannon Houde, about the evolving impact economy and how to shape a career that makes a difference. DON’T MISS OUTON MORE FREE TIPS Sign Up For Our Newsletter Sign up

By Shannon Houde
10 biggest sustainability & social impact trends going into 2021

In so many ways 2020 was a seismic year for sustainability and social impact. From a global pandemic, to raging wildfires, and the changing face of both work and wellbeing, the last 12 months will have a legacy that lasts far beyond Covid-19. Here are 10 trends that came out of 2020 that all sustainability / CSR professionals need to know about.   DON’T MISS OUTON MORE FREE TIPS Sign Up For Our Newsletter Sign up The threat of climate change

By Shannon Houde


Book a 30-minute trial session with Shannon