How to become a sustainable leader

How to become a sustainable leader

Corporate sustainability has been at the forefront of people’s attention over the past few years. More and more leaders are stepping up to guide their teams to achieve sustainable objectives.

For this article, we attended a discussion led by Prof. Olivier Delbard, member of the SustBusy Research Chair on business and sustainability at ESCP. In addition to his teaching and research, Olivier helps companies to integrate the long-term into short-term decisions and to contribute to solving the environmental and social challenges that we face.

Prof. Delbard has over 25 years of experience in sustainability and is the author of the recently-published book The Corporate Social Responsibility Agenda.

Get information from the outside world

Sustainability is a deep and complex topic. Unless you are a sustainability expert, you should start by acknowledging that you’re far from knowing everything about the subject. “Environmental issues are not in the companies’ daily agendas. You need to get those competencies from the outside world,” says Prof. Delbard.

Reaching out to people outside of your organisation will help you to stay informed on the best socially sustainable practices. Some NGOs are full of experts ready to work with companies.

Also, read about sustainability as often as you can to nourish your vision of the future and to make sure that you raise relevant topics with the sustainability experts when you meet them.

Build a clear vision of your sustainable organisation

Once you are well-informed on the topic of sustainability, define a vision for your organisation.

This vision should serve both the company’s interests and the planet’s interests.

Today, most companies are still seeing corporate social responsibility as a legal obligation or a PR tool. The vision you define needs to be strong enough to aim further than compliance. “The change will come from those who go beyond compliance,” states Olivier Delbard.

When thinking about Key Performance Indicators, go beyond growth. “Exponential growth is not compatible with sustainability”, says Olivier. Instead, sustainable organisations put more emphasis on degrowth – where social and ecological well-being take priority over corporate profits.

Get your team involved

No matter the size of your organisation, you will need to engage all of the stakeholders if you truly want to succeed in your sustainability conversion.

First and foremost, share your vision with your employees and encourage them to contribute to the sustainability goals of your organisation. Most employees react positively to changes that make their work more meaningful. The positive impact of being more sustainable will increase the motivation, creativity, innovation, productivity, and sense of belonging of your team members.

On top of helping you to work towards your sustainable vision and increase the motivation of your team, this will also make your company more attractive to new recruits. “The newer generations want to work in socially responsible companies,” says Olivier. This will help you to attract new talents to your team.

Don’t forecast, backcast.

Forget the 10-year strategic plan based on the current trajectory of your organisation. Forecasting is far from ideal in our changing world. The evolution of the past 10 years won’t tell you enough about the 10 years to come. Also, forecasting stops you from thinking outside the box, limiting you to your current possibilities.

Instead, Olivier recommends backcasting, which is defining a desirable future and then working backwards. To do this, ask yourself the following questions:

– What would the most sustainable company in my industry look like in an ideal world?

– What kind of world would we like to operate in, in 10 or 20 years?

“Then, simply backcast to make it possible”, says Olivier. It’s a totally different mindset. It will keep you open to new possibilities.

Ready to make the world a more sustainable place?

Companies need strong leaders to transition to a more sustainable future. If you want to succeed in your mission, get professional help from outside of your organisation. Build a vision that is clear, ambitious, and easy to understand. Involve your team as much as possible.

Once sustainability is embedded in the strategy of your company, both your company and the outside world will benefit in the long term, while at the same time attracting the best new talents.

For more information on Sustainability topics, please read our new blog The Choice .

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