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Leading Sustainability: Look to the Future, Make Bold Choices and Don’t Go It Alone

This blog is provided by Trista Bridges and Donald Eubank, co-founders of Read-the-Air and authors of a new book, “Leading Sustainability: The Path to Sustainable Business and How the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) Changed Everything.”  It is a companion to their interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Leading Sustainability: The Path to Sustainable Business and SDGs that aired on Tuesday, January 5th, 2021.  This article shares practical steps from their book to advance your business efforts to put sustainability at the core of your strategy.

 

The business world is at a fundamental crossroads. The age of the stakeholder is rapidly superseding that of the shareholder. More than just a buzzword, the idea of the stakeholder recognizes that companies have always existed as an inseparable part of the communities and business networks in which they operate, however vast and physically distant.

Contrary to what the shareholder model often implied, good business decisions have never really been driven purely by profit motives. It is becoming increasingly obvious that what is good for society—and thus, by definition, for the environment—is good for business.  This new embrace of responsibility does not preclude the design of efficient, lucrative business models. In fact, when done properly, precisely the opposite is true: socially responsible and sustainable business decision-making opens up brand new, exciting, profitable—and, in all its meanings, sustainable—revenue streams.

Today’s reckoning is not purely an altruistic choice made by businesses; new demands from various civil society organizations and the consensus-driven initiatives of the United Nations have been shepherding along the changes required to make business operations sustainable for years. With the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the implementation of the Paris Agreement, these constituencies have outlined new expectations for not only how governments function, but also how businesses must function in a sustainable society.

The SDGs—more than 50 years in the making—provide a comprehensive framework for understanding all aspects of social, political, and business actions. They are powerful statements of human ambition for a fair, just and sustainable society. Many in the business and investing world today are calling them “A gift”, as the SDGs can provide us with a broader definition of sustainability and a framework to quickly and effectively guide businesses’ efforts to align their operations with the meaningful goals that society desires.

The successful businesses of tomorrow will be the ones that fully embrace sustainability today.

Almost two years ago, we set out to find and catalogue the practical steps that companies today must take to create the new sustainable business models they will need to survive in the year 2030. We interviewed more than 100 business leaders, investors, policy makers, NPOs, researchers and other changemakers, and researched a broad range of companies from across the world, of varying sizes and across multiple industries, that were taking practical steps to improve business practices and become more sustainable. Here’s some of the main takeaways that were collected for our new book “Leading Sustainably—The Path to Sustainable Business and How the SDGs Changed Everything.”

Our takeaways

  • Look to the future of your business—to achieve the best tomorrow, prepare today for the worst.
  • Make changes to your strategies based on the big picture, not on the small problems (unless they are warning you about dangers arising in the big picture).
  • The past created the world we live in today—its environmental crises and social unrest—but it also has been building the platform and the thinking that’s needed to move past these crises. That is, the SDGs, the Paris Agreement and a business world more focused on becoming sustainable for the long run.
  • The business case is already there—the whole business environment is pushing for more sustainable models, from consumers to investors, employees to competitors. Catch up, keep the pace, set the speed or get pushed out of the way.  And watch out, because a whole new generation of “mission-driven” companies have a head start already, having established themselves as fully aligned with society from the get-go. They are laser-focused on bringing fully sustainable innovations and business models to sectors that have struggled to do so on their own, and they are achieving remarkable societal and financial impact.
  • Don’t get confused by the Alphabet soup of methodologies for measuring and managing impact—choose what looks best for you, try them out, see if they fit, and whether do or don’t, adjust, retry, expand, until you figure out what works for your company. Get started today.
  • Capital managers, and even retail investors, believe that sustainability is the way forward, and they are going to talk to you about it. If you are aligned with them, they will provide you capital at a reasonable rate—if not, you will pay more or even be left empty-handed.
  • Be systematic. Understand the steps that you as a business have to proceed through to achieve a sustainable business model. Apply smart managerial and leadership strategies to move through these steps. Make bold decisions. Engage the whole organization. Communicate your directives and the reasons. Build an “A team”. Pursue a multi-stakeholder approach. Be flexible, make assessments and adjust. Work with your customers. Consider outside acquisitions. And leverage the SDGs.
  • You can’t do this alone. Bring your industry along for success and to ensure a fair playing field. Reach out to your industry associations, but also look to new partners, whether from civil society, international organizations, or cross industry. If a few key industries do this right—health and wellness, insurance, fashion, real estate, and tourism—we’ll all be in a better, more sustainable, place.

Before we close, two points bear repeating: For success leverage the SDGs— recognize their power to help and guide the organization and your teams; and be systematic to align your business planning and operations with sustainability principles.

Plus, remember this final, key piece to getting it done: You must bridge the knowledge gap—provide your teams with as many opportunities as possible to learn what they need to know to make sustainability-driven business decisions.

 

See more details about the important lessons from companies—in a range of industries—on how to achieve sustainability in our new book “Leading Sustainably”, available now from Routledge and Amazon.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Authors

Trista Bridges is a strategy and marketing expert with extensive experience across various geographies and sectors including consumer products, financial services, technology, and healthcare.

Donald Eubank is an experienced manager who has worked across the IT, finance, and media industries in Asia.

They advise businesses on sustainability and are co-founders of Read the Air, a coalition of strategy and operations professionals, and co-authors of “Leading Sustainably—The Path to Sustainable Business and How the SDGs Changed Everything” (Routledge).

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Synergise – Developing 21st Century Leaders

Turning PointThis blog was written by Dr. Robin Lincoln Wood as a companion to the VoiceAmerica Interview between Chris Cooper and Maureen Metcalf on June 6, 2017 about Robin’s book, Synergise! 21st  Century Leadership.

“As the twenty-first century unfolds, a new scientific conception is emerging. It is a unified view that integrates, for the first time, life’s biological, cognitive, social, and economic dimensions. At the forefront of contemporary science, the universe is no longer seen as a machine composed of elementary building blocks. We have discovered that the material world, ultimately, is a network of inseparable patterns of relationships; that the planet as a whole is a living, self-regulating system.

… Evolution is no longer seen as a competitive struggle for existence, but rather a cooperative dance in which creativity and constant emergence of novelty are the driving forces. And with the new emphasis on complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation, a new science of qualities is slowly emerging.”

Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi

Right now we are at one of the major turning points for our species. The decisions we make going forward, especially in the next decade, will shape the future of homo sapiens and life on earth for many centuries, if not millennia, to come.

Our beautiful blue pearl of spaceship earth is host to 7.5 billion earthlings, in the midst of at least eight major transitions through Eras 2, 3 and 4, from agricultural through modern to regenerative civilisations. Our biggest challenge is neither technological nor scientific, but psychological, organisational and social.

How can 7.5 billion human beings be aligned in order to co-create thriveable futures, and ensure a viable biosphere for us all by 2050? We humans possess tremendous adaptive capacities, grounded in our having successfully transitioned through three major evolutionary eras.

We can build on our Era 1 ability to forge strong tribal bonds to ensure our local survival and thriving. These ethnocentric bonds and expressive talents are native to all of us, enabling us to take care of each other and the places we care for and hold sacred, while also exploring and connecting with nature and each other at a local level.

We can build on our Era 2 ability to manage cities, regions and nation states in more thriveable ways, respecting the rule of law and building intelligent infrastructures and systems fit for the future, based on enlightened entrepreneurship, conscious business sense and innovation. These civic-centric and enterprise-centric talents are increasingly evident around the world, from the developed nations to what were previously termed “developing countries”.

And we can build on our Era 3 ability to evolve our global systems embodied in our global treaties, corporations, markets and flows of people, goods, information and goodwill, so that our global systems also become a driver of a thriveable future for us all. These world-centric talents are now evident in nearly one billion global citizens, who are sufficiently educated and travelled that they can appreciate the glorious diversity of our species and other species.

As we enter Era 4, we now have the capacity to rapidly accelerate the evolution of our species, based on thriveable cultures, mindsets, principles and metrics. The forces and trends shaping our world and us are creating crises that demand a momentous leap from our previously lose-lose/win-lose “us versus them” mentality, to a co-creative, collaborative win/win/win approach.

This “triple win” is fundamental to aligning the interests and mindsets of all people on the planet, whatever kind of transition they are in and whatever their era: a win for each of us as individuals and for our communities, a win for the cities/towns/nations we live in, and a win for the planet as a whole. That is the whole point of synergistic innovation: co-creating triple wins.

There is much in this new approach that will appeal only to those who are willing to embrace complexity with a degree of openness to new perspectives that might at first appear surprising and counter-intuitive. Yet at the same time, there are several frameworks designed to provide simplified interfaces to topics that are devilishly complex for the uninitiated. In particular, the following frameworks are designed to enable you to remember and work with those elements of the book that are “psychoactive” i.e. designed to activate your own potentials and capacities for action to be an agent of thriveable evolution:

· The Four Eras Model – showcases the key aspects of the past 100 000 years of human evolution, to highlight the strengths and talents we have developed as a species to adapt and innovate. The core message from the way in which we have evolved and are still evolving, is that our socio-cultural ability to learn, communicate and innovate is the key to our survival, and our thriveability, enabling us to lock-in certain features of our world to the permanent benefit of us all. Put another way, we are who we are today because of the 10 000 major innovations that have locked in over the past 100 000 years, and which make it possible for you to even read and understand these words and then go and do something beneficial based on the fresh insights you have gained;

· The Eight Transitions Model – offers insights into the current state of the 7.5 billion humans on our planet through the lens of the eight transitions our species is currently experiencing. Some of those transitions are simply linear progressions from one Era to another, while some transitions involve a leapfrogging from Era 2 to Era 4 or Era 1 to Era 3. All of these transitions can be made more thriveable through the application of appropriate methods and technologies, including socio-cultural and mindset shifting approaches;

· The Eight Capitals Model – explores the eight essential ingredients that need to be regenerated in order to have an abundant and thriving future for all life on earth. The mix of these ingredients will vary depending upon the life conditions and culture being experienced in the system-in-focus, and the nature of the socio-technical systems being applied. A way of measuring the potential for ThriveAbility in any human system at any scale is explained in the ThriveAbility Equation, providing a means by which the outcomes of different options and innovations can be measured, integrated into a single outcome variable known as “True Future Value”;

· The Six Pathways Model – maps the journey from our current degenerative, exclusive societies to a regenerative, inclusive world are illustrated with dozens of examples, known as “pockets of the future in the present”. The pathways are based on the eight capitals integrated with the natural evolutionary paths of the current major industries that power our planet and our lifestyles today. Some innovations are simply incremental extensions of current technologies; products and practices confined to a single pathway. The most powerful synergistic innovations manage to combine elements of all six pathways, leading to breakthroughs that make the impossible possible;

· The Six Ingredients of Synergistic Innovation Model – applying the “Six C’s” model to any human activity system we are engaged with provides a powerful framework that enables any participant/observer to identify synergy zones and opportunities, as well as zones of compromise and conflict. The goal of any thriveable systems designer is to help the system they are focusing on, to go into healthy “upstretch” mode rather than shifting back down to a “downshift”.

Despite an increasingly volatile and uncertain world, we can take comfort in the fact that, despite the chaotic, hyper-complex life conditions we are currently experiencing in our various transitions into Era 4, evolution is unfolding as it should. The trajectory of evolution is, in the end, toward a global synthesis of all forms of life in a harmonious whole.

Evolution is Driven by the Synergies of Diversification and Integration Creating More Complex and Conscious Wholes

As Daniel Wahl puts it:[ii]

“Modern evolutionary biology suggests that life evolves by a process of diversification and subsequent integration of diversity through collaboration. As the focus shifts from individuals and individual species as the unit of survival to the collective of life — its complex dynamic interactions and relationships — we begin to see that collaborative and symbiotic patterns and interactions are of more fundamental importance than competition as a driving force of evolution. Life’s key strategy to create conditions conducive to life is to optimize the system as a whole rather than maximizes only some parameters of the system for a few at the detriment of many.”

For those of us who seek to activate thriveable shifts in the people and systems we engage with on a daily basis, knowing this offers us a special reward – the knowledge that our lives have a purpose and meaning much higher than ourselves, and that we are called to be stewards of the greatest shift, the most momentous leap that humankind has ever made. I will leave you with these final eloquent words of Michelle Holliday to reflect upon as you being your own journey down this glorious path”

“The call of stewardship guides us toward continuous generativity – toward cultivating fertile ground and manifesting new possibilities for the future. To enable the system to take on a life of its own and to help it become truly, gloriously generative, the challenge of stewardship is to navigate a thoughtful mix of control, guidance and nurturing; to tend to both individual and collective; and to support the system’s wisdom, learning and enrichment, as well as its accomplishment of tasks and milestones. Along the way, the wise steward’s questions include:

What would bring the most life to this situation? What is the wisdom that is needed now? What seems to want to come to life here? How can I serve this unfolding, either by disturbing things, by planting a seed, by cultivating a freshly sprouted initiative, or by compassionately hospicing something that needs to die?

Throughout, stewardship embraces uncertainty and invites learning, innovation and play. It recognizes emergent collective wisdom, developing individual and shared disciplines to listen for the voice of the whole even as it honours the needs of the parts. Stewardship requires thoughtful crafting of structures and systems. It necessarily takes a holistic view – which in organizations means linking purpose with passion, brand with culture, and worker with customer and community. And it acknowledges that place, art and nature have a vital role to play in every sphere of our lives.”