Can we put aside our fascination with Socks to become more sustainable in business?
The call and offer were a regular one – a content marketing company had just analysed my website and found it below par. They could guarantee to deliver millions of leads and 1st place globally in SEO content – watch out the Cambridge Inst. for Sustainability Leadership!. The marketing hook this time was a series of free searches to identify keywords. As wet dark autumn afternoons working from home in the UK can be slow affairs, I decided to take up the offer.
The caller then started feeding back the monthly activity level in the UK arising from a specific keywords that I was interested in. I was surprised by the overall interest levels from keywords associated with ‘Business and Sustainability’ so on my last keyword search I decided to set a baseline comparison keyword to compare previous results against. An earlier online distraction looking for stocking fillers for the family may have influenced my choice.
Keyword Search comparison – results are average monthly
inquiries made to Google
Sustainability in business
Why is sustainability important in business
Socks and sandals
How to improve business sustainability
Role of sustainability in business
Socks for dogs
Business sustainability plan
Benefits of sustainability
Vegan thermal socks
We’ve all have moments in our life when it seems that the
world’s priorities don’t line up with our own.
In this case is was comparing the greater interest in ‘socks for dogs’
and surprisingly ‘socks and sandals’ (the latter a candidate for the return of capital
punishment for social crimes) than the level of UK internet interest in how
sustainability benefits organisations and business activities despite the
strong evidence emerging globally.
There is a visible upturn in business community interest into environmental stewardship affairs and the consequences of poor environmental management practices in areas such as single use plastics, energy management and recycling. However in order to extract the greatest value from organisational initiatives, there has to be senior management commitment to greater business sustainability and a clear understanding of their role in leading the business towards greater sustainability as well as in promoting strategic change when sustainability opportunities, issues and risks arise.
To achieve this, the surest route is through the exploration,
and adoption of strategic sustainability business models within the business owners,
leaders professionals. Executive level decision-makers
still lags far behind that of the wider environmental manager community in their
understanding of future intangible risks associated with sustainability.
Professional development training and coaching can help break down these knowledge barriers, and allow an opportunity for more detailed examination of what opportunities exist and how the integration of a sustainability business model or strategic plan could fit your ‘future fit’ organisational culture. The other great benefit is that it can allow time and an opportunity for senior managers to understand, reflect on and retain a stronger position when reviewing new initiatives arising within the marketplace – or within the minds of more junior colleagues who now hold an alternative worldview on business’s interaction with society.
Key message: Consider your future sustainability and leadership developmental needs in a key area of future business practice, and can Leading Green help you achieve this?.
On the socks front – am I a bad parent for even considering
socks as a present, and is it wrong to feel that I have now at last discovered a
Christmas gift for my eco-conscious, vegan and feminist elder daughter – and the
If businesses continued to hold faith in traditional business
models and management approaches, then it would be unlikely that so many of
them and all business schools would be exploring more sustainable alternatives
as the way forward. The rise of
Sustainability up the Boardroom agenda reflects its close linkage to risk,
governance and strategy agendas. This
has driven increased executive interest in their development, understanding and
ability to lead within a sustainability agenda.
There are 5 good reasons why many business owners and managers are driving more strategic sustainability approaches in their businesses:
Because their current competitors are thinking
Because their clients and customers want them to
Because their next significant marketplace
competitor is already doing it
Because it makes business sense and is the right
move to make
Because they realise their cash flow, profit and
future growth will suffer if they don’t!
For many organizations today, sustainability is the
business. Their founders and leaders have deliberately
positioned themselves within a blind spot within their competitor’s market
insight or have deliberately set out to appeal to consumers who value ethical
and socially responsible products (i.e. Unilever’s domestic cleaning products) and
services (renewable energy suppliers), or who wish to associate with
organisations that mitigate issues of environmental or social concern they are
alert to (i.e. Patagonia’s recycled sea plastic clothing range). In all cases, these organisations possess a
strategic business model that:
Reflect a societal concern within the consciousness of consumers
Delivers a competitive edge over existing incumbent rivals within their market sectors
Stimulate a ‘relationship’ between the business and customers
Drive innovation within existing products and stimulate the development of new longer-term replacements
Increase the motivation and ‘feel good’ engagement with their employer amongst staff; and
disrupt market share.
All organisations ultimately derive their economic activity
from the exploitation of the natural environment and its resources. It is apparent to most organisational leadership
groups by now that climate change and future global resource constraints will
place limitations on future economic growth rates within some sectors, whilst
the exploitation of sustainable resources, such as renewable energy and
hydrogen, holds out the possibility of freeing up others. The strategic sustainability challenge that
many early adopters are addressing is how to replace or secure continued access
to the valuable, rare, difficult to imitate or non-substitutable resources they
These are some of the forward-thinking leadership challenges
that have elevated sustainability from the operational risk domain of QHSE and
organisational green teams green and upwards into the Business Planning and
Enterprise Risk Management domain of the C-suite.
Bridging the Leadership gap
Business owners or executives, with the support of their own
management teams, are the people best placed to bring about organisational
sustainability changes within their organisations. These individuals and teams are the ones who
most clearly understand the existing business, the challenges it faces and to
undertake the analysis of issues and scenarios.
They are also the people best placed to lead any change programme for
sustainability. Consultancies, such as
Leading Green, have the capacity to advise and support, but from experience as
a corporate executive in industry and government, they lack the networks and
insights required to overcome internal blocks.
Key Sustainability Leadership Functions Leading Green Training Courses
Stepping up into a Sustainability Leadership mindset?
Business & Sustainability – The management of
Sustainability issues are not significantly different from
many of the day to day issues that business leaders face. They impact just as readily on long-term cashflow,
profitability, growth, procurement, management, competitiveness and regulation
as much as any more traditional management issue. What sets sustainability leadership and
management practices apart is a greater focus on governance, the long-term
strategic needs of the business and a watching brief over many more intangible
risks than are usually overseen through financial risk management. Those e s that can rapidly engulf a business
and its management team.
The management of intangible risks has as its central focus issues of leadership and behavioural risk. Often derided as ‘soft’ risks, these can have brutal consequences for a business in terms short sightedness as to product life cycle (cradle to grave product type), managerial incompetence in the face of change, s ‘group think’ or ivory tower mind-set and arrogance on the part of management, ethical misjudgement, inability to integrate management, mismanagement of reputation risks, mismanagement of value conflict, poor public relations, ineffective corporate governance, and so on.
Case Study: H&M Conscious Collection derided in the press for greenwashing and for not giving the consumer precise information about why these clothes were labelled as sustainable. The furore attracted unwanted regulatory interest . The lesson to be learnt – consumers are more environmentally and sustainably conscious than ever and companies should think twice before making greenwash marketing claims.
In leadership terms, we can be clear that if a sustainability issue becomes material to business success or survival, then only the foolish would ignore it as an issue. What is material will depend on the wider mindset of the leadership team to risk management, the specifics of the industry sector and the degree of dependency in specific supply chains or service providers. The lesson to be learnt is that sustainability and its management must link to and align directly with how the business operates, its expenditure and material flows, its governance and strategic planning processes, and importantly how the leadership team and organisation views its mission and desired approach to business and its customer base.
To continue viewing sustainability as an ‘add-on’ or cost to
the business, keeping it separate from core business decision making and
long-term business planning remains a common mistake amongst many business
owners and managers. Limiting the scope
of sustainability management to marketing, branding and the management of
direct environmental impacts can eventually be a costly mistake.
Sustainability and Responsible Management
Sustainability has developed close links with leadership
theories promoted by many leading Business Schools regarding responsible
management, transformational and ethical leadership practices and Governance within
Boardrooms and senior leadership teams.
It is rapidly shaking off the old misconception of a ‘doing good, but
not core to the business’ managerial activity.
Environmental Management Systems (such as ISO14001) have over the last
three decades provided organisations with a solid administrative base from
which middle and lower tier managers can control bio-physical risks, waste
management and act as a policy platform for other localised or industry
specific issues, but has continued to struggle through lack of leader
engagement to become a strategic tool in business. Hence the revision of the ISO14001 standard
in 2015 to place a greater emphasis on the visible (auditable) commitment to and
engagement with the system by the organisation’s leadership team.
How Inspirational Leaders Bridge the Gap Between Sustainability
I have worked with several visionary business and sustainability
leaders — people who inspire and set the culture within their organisations,
permanently changing how they conducted themselves professionally. They have all had several things in common.
First, they don’t hide out in the management suite – they walk
the floors, engaging with employees across all functions talking about their
aspirations, vision for the organisation and what they are working to
achieve. They also use these floor walks
to gain business & sustainability insights.
Dropping in on teams they repeatedly ask penetrating questions regarding
current issues, behaviours, scenarios and encourage open feedback by encouraging
staff to tell them about what they are concerned with, the practical issues and
realities of life on the shop floor, the perceptions of front line staff on their
client future needs and wants, and critically how engaged with the business the
staff and the organisation’s repeat purchase customers are!
Secondly, they work internally across the business’s boundaries
and reporting lines, helping themselves (and the teams they lead) build up a
wider business mindset of organisational activities and issues. This helps them maximise information flows
and to determine options. They also encourage
their teams to follow a similar open-door approach and to working in collaboration
with other teams – a rare attribute in some organisations where internal discord
and intra-executive competition stifle productivity.
A third skill is an inherent understanding of systems
thinking, the ability to simplify and integrate different systems, and a
curiosity that extends further than just understanding business systems and
processes into innovation and problem solving.
Inspirational leaders have the gift to mentally and linguistically breakdown
issues in their strategic communication skills and actively encouraging:
Cross-silo working and the linking of internal operational activities to deliver mutually beneficial goals;
Challenging and examining individual function and corporate objectives to determine inter-relationships and the potential for unintended consequences; and
delivering business outcomes (including sustainable cash flow) in a way that supports the characteristics of a sustainable organisation.
Fourthly, they create strong teams that foster a wider sense
of corporate engagement, intellectual curiosity, and cross-functional
collaboration than colleagues that focus exclusively on their core
administrative, professional, technical or business support roles.
Finally, transformational business and sustainability leaders
and take accountability and responsibility for their duties. They actively lead their managerial
portfolios and direct them back into the organisation’s primary purpose or
There is now a proven body of research that identifies
clearly that Businesses with strong environmental and social sustainability
leadership approaches commanding greater customer brand loyalty and higher
stock valuations. This is of credit to
the individual executives and managers who have brought about these changes in
organisational culture over the last decade.
One of the most interesting recent trends has been the movement in many Boardrooms to actively engage sustainability risk management approaches as a means of testing the strength in Corporate Business Plans and strategic programmes. Increasingly many are integrating Sustainability and Responsible Management practices with their existing Governance, Enterprise Risk Management and Economic Sustainability activities – as all share a common focus on business longevity. The objective being to provide a clearer boardroom picture on the tangible and intangible factors influencing cash flow, profit, strategic growth, risk and to map emergent trends in organisational culture, consumer and stakeholder relationships.
This willingness to embrace sustainability as a Boardroom
parameter, reflects a greater understanding that an organisation’s
profitability is now a key driver in its valuation. Previously the greater percentage of a
company’s ‘value’ was linked directly to its tangible assets (property, assets,
etc). Today in some of the larger
corporations less than 20% of share price value can be directly attributable to
financial performance and physical assets, the remaining 80% reflecting
intangible assets such as brand, customer base, future market risk,
intellectual capital and whether a business has a ‘future fit’ business model
aligned to responsible management & sustainable business practices.
This has encouraged many business leaders to adopt a more active and hands on role in the management of organisational sustainability practices, rather than just advocating responsibility down to their QHSE teams, increasingly business sustainability leaders and their Boardrooms are identifying why and when a sustainability issue needs to be addressed, and the functional and green team managers then respond in how the business should adapt.
As soon as I see this statement in CSR reports, on websites and in marketing statements, I immediately dig deeper and look for positive proof that the statement can be backed up. I am often disappointed!
This phrase is at risk of becoming a modern day cliché, and any CEO tempted to use it should ensure that they have satisfied themselves:- firstly that the organisation has put a bit more thought behind the phrase than just good PR, and secondly that they personally have an understanding of organisational reality at shop floor or operational level. In fact I often recommend to organisational leaders that they leave the safety and power-interactions in the C-suite and spend time regularly engaging with the workforce …… in listening mode!. Go out and listen to what they are saying, it can be tough but rewarding. Why? because it is common for less than 20% of a workforce to feel ‘engaged’ with the organisation and its existing leadership group.
Whilst it is without question important for employee’s to ‘hear’ a CEO express such a statement, it means nothing unless they ‘feel’ it in their employment or more importantly ‘know’ it in their interactions with their leaders and managers. That’s the true route to having an engaged workforce.
Sustainability means different things in different market sectors, but employee relationships are common to all businesses, and the way in which an employee feels they re ‘valued’ is not just a financial relationship. It can involve many tangible and intangible factors – the organisational culture, how the organisation aligns with their own beliefs and values, and the manner in which the business treats them and wider society – especially in the knowledge based or innovation driven employment sectors! This often determines whether the intangible factors of their goodwill, support, loyalty and ultimately presence are sustained or lost.
An active leadership approach to sustainability within organisations helps employees engage better with the organisation and to feel alignment with it. The best way to demonstrate ‘value’ (rather than state they are valued assets) is to explain directly how the work they are doing is appreciated and important to the business. Take time to research how their contribution fits into the larger picture, and by investing in their growth, engagement and satisfaction.
At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business training & consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy. 1
83% of UK citizens are worried about climate change – and it
now appears that Mrs May is also one of them!
69% of Americans are worried about climate change, and equally it appears that President Trump is now one of them!
In the month that Mrs May prepares to leave office, and in which Donald Trump ramps up his re-election campaign. It has come as a surprise to many of us that both have stated action on climate change and environmental action after several years of active political silence, climate change denial or the dismantling of environmental protection laws.
Could it be that they are now worried about their political legacies or is it a sudden burst of conviction after finally sitting down and reading the evidence of their own scientists?
On Monday, whilst extreme flooding in Washington, D.C.
flooded the White House basement (no joke intended), the ‘coal is good’ US President
spent 45 minutes delivered some “remarks on America’s environmental leadership”
and touting his efforts to preserve the US environment. Even taking personal credit for the emissions
reductions that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan delivered, whilst berating Obama’s
climate legacy, calling it “a relentless war on American energy.”
However, he still seems unable to utter the words “climate
change” which were omitted from the entire environmental address. Instead he set out his strategy for how he
might talk about the environment in the lead-up to 2020 – focusing only on how
he might talk about conservation, clean air and water, marine litter, and the
impacts of the red algal tide on Florida’s businesses that have originated from
a relaxation of US agricultural laws, leaky septic systems and fertilizer runoff
over the last few years!
Just days from leaving office, Mrs May also took time out to
leave her climate change legacy – legally committing to ending the UK’s
contribution to global warming by 2050. A
bold stroke if she also leaves no wriggle room for a get-out clause by her
successors. The announcement was also accompanied
by the complete lack of a detailed action plan, suggesting that the whole
initiative may have been last minute attempt to create a legacy achievement for
a PM forced out of office by her Brexit failure.
Like many people who have worked for most of their career in
the responsible leadership and environmental management professions, the
brazenness of these cynical gesture politics when politicians know their time
is up or are seeking re-election is sickening – and demonstrates their lack of leadership!
Core values are the fundamental beliefs that drive the behaviours of individuals – be they organisational leaders, public service workers or skilled professionals. Through these values organisations are shaped, and leadership roles either become simpler or a nightmare of day to day problems and issues.
Whilst many organisations keep a tightly controlled focus on
expenses, stock levels and even stationary! Few have bothered to cost or even understand
the value of the cultural DNA that resides within their organisations and how
it feeds directly into bottom line performance and growth.
I have seen and experienced this on several occasions during
corporate take overs – a previously successful organisation is sold by its original
founder or partners to a competitor. A
new suite of managers parachutes in and start to immediately organise processes
to reflect the new parent organisation’s systems. Whilst perfectly acceptable in principle,
these managers often make the mistake of failing to understand or appreciate
what made that firm ‘successful’ enough for their employer to purchase it. In fact, they often look upon this new asset
as a ‘failure’ that must be rescued, rapidly turned around and rebooted to a new
set of organisational instructions. The
organisation stumbles, the top talent walks and loses its intellectual capital,
and with them the contribution they made to the original’s cultural success
Core values help companies to determine if they are on the right path, fulfilling their goals, living by their expected behaviours and ultimately how they treat and interact with their employees, customers, society and the environment. Just as there are many types of leaders and employees, so there are many different examples of core values driving organisational engines.
Your leadership style and character are defined by your own
core values and the respect you have for other leaders that you have been
prepared to follow (parents, teachers, other business leaders and colleagues). They form the root of the core values you
have built up over time as a result of experience, nurture or nature. Over time you have developed an image of self
that is built by the repetition of behaving in a particular way.
For example, if you are always honest in your dealings with
others and always tell the truth, you internally identify with the values of an
‘honest person’ and externally are perceived as an ‘honest person’. If you tend towards the creative or
collaborative in your style of work, then you are likely to find the greatest
satisfaction in roles that suit those give an outlet for those core values ,
and will often feel happiest amongst others who value those traits in the
workplace. It’s as simple as that. And
yet, we collectively underestimate the importance of values in business and its
impact on organisational growth, development and ability to manage change.
I have read many mission statements that define a set of
values that the organisation would either like to aspire to or help give out an
image of how they would like to be perceived.
The truth is that the organisational and leadership values displayed
collectively as Value Statements or by individual leaders will often have a bigger
impact on the inner workplace environment than on the external views of customers
and stakeholders. Only when they are
demonstrated internally will they leak out into the outside world of the
customer or client. Whether they are written
down or hidden away internally within the psyche of the workforce they define
us and the organisations we work for, and ultimately form the foundation of a
company’s character and how it interacts with society and the environment.
Thus, it makes sense that if thou are willing to invest so
much in your life, work, progression or in the creation of your own business,
your values should be one of the most important things in your business life.
But what if you don’t feel you have core values? Or what if
you’ve never thought about setting them down for your organisation, your team, or
even for yourself?
It is often reassuring to hear from another colleague the
values that define them, it gives a greater depth to their character and when
these characteristics are authentically displayed, we automatically give credit
into their ‘trust account’. We often need to feel that a person or leader
is real for us to believe them, and all employees like to hear what they leader
is thinking, and to see those values acted on transparently. We then feed that information into our own
character and compare them with our core values, and if those behaviours align with
our own or inspire us to take action, then we are more likely to listen to and follow
that leader in the direction they are setting.
We have all encountered the faceless manager who repeats the
party line, adopts the values expected but rarely demonstrates them, and hence lacks
trust amongst the workforce!
That’s why I went on a recent self-development course. I wanted to reconsider and define my own
personal core values to solve some questions I had been repeatedly asking
myself as I contemplated updating my old website.
Does my company (Leading Green) truly reflect
the core values I value most?
Does my portfolio of training and consultancy services
reflect my passion for helping others in these core areas?
If my own core values are clear, will they help
attract clients of a similar mindset and attitude to business?
Getting such fundamental questions straight in my own head,
could only benefit my customers and their expectations from the services I am
seeking to offer them. It has led to the consideration of some new
training avenues and the dropping of some services from the portfolio as I have
reasoned that my passion in that area is not as great as it is for other
subjects – and I have associates to whom I can pass any inquiries onto in good
If you are running your own business, are part of a family
business where group ethics dictate direction and you wish to explore where
your values lie, or an organisational leader who has started to feel alienated
or detached from their organisation, then I would encourage you to do the
same. Once you know who you are and what
you stand for in an organisation, you stop trying to be who you are not. That
gives you the confidence to grow and expand your skill sets further or even
move onto an organisation that aligns better with your values.
Here are my Top 4 Core Values:
Leadership — Good leaders add value to organisations and stimulate wider employee engagement. Responsible leaders with a mindset that encompasses wider social and environmental parameters that influence business sustainability and growth have a wider perspective on how to prepare for future marketplace challenge. Successful leaders embrace self-development, the ability to reflect on past mistakes and want to set a business direction that encompasses their core values.
Responsibility & Accountability — You cannot be a leader of others if you do not own your actions, mistakes, and current life responsibilities. Understand what’s in your control, and fully own it within the organisation. Don’t like something? Seek to change it. But don’t just focus on the ‘now’ take responsibility for risks and opportunities that are just beginning to emerge in society, the environment and in the values of your employees and customers.
Effectiveness — Do the existing levels of organisational skills, talents, engagement and performance in your areas of responsibility & accountability; the quality with which tasks or processes are carried out; and the extent to which they ultimately contribute to higher business performance match up? Do you, your team and its operations fulfil the responsibilities and mandates they have been tasked with achieving.
Integrity – Your colleagues and employees place a high premium on integrity than any other trait, and research shows that leaders with integrity strengthen businesses. This places a premium on responsible leadership which has at its core: integrity, ethics and sustainability. Everyone is ‘pro-integrity,’ but it needs to be defined internally and ultimately translated into the expected & accepted moral principles and behaviours that others translate as ‘integrity’ – otherwise it is just an empty CSR phrase!
I started with an original list of 25 values, it was a struggle on the day to reduce them down to just 4 core values, but the effort has been worth it. Why 4 values? The list is just long enough to remind me of who I am and what I am passionate about.
So, leaders need to realize that their core values define their
words, actions, decisions and methodologies and ultimately the businesses they
run or an organisation’s true values and culture.
Take home message: Your business values must be in line with your core values if you are seeking to build a successful business and become a better leader to your employees.
Your first few days in a new job are always daunting, especially when you have been recruited to develop the existing culture towards greater sustainability by enacting a change in the organisation towards a business model that will be new, challenging and will need even the most obstructive manager to change pathways.
One of the first major environmental roles I took on was withina large Scotttish Power Utility with growing interests in England, the US and in the water utility sector. They had decided to recruit a new environmental team to support organisational and operational activities within thier Technology Division. The interview to say the least had been a strange experience, as for over an hour they asked few questions but talking directly at me listing issues they now recognised to be threats to the business. I nodded and looked wise, but was rarely asked how I would seek to handle them if employed. There was clearly no predetermined job description, role or even defined set of environmental accountabilities for the team they were seeking to recruit. There was no compelling company vision for the environment and we were unlikely to receive any further advice from the senior executive in charge of us. His instructions on our first day were simply ‘Go and do something Environmental!’
Well we certainly achieved that, with ScottishPower becoming the first UK utility to gain ISO 14001 subsequently in both Scotland and England, winning numerous CSR awards and developing a strategic approach to environmental impact assessment that is still a successful model 30 years later.
Yes, the first few days are incredibly stressful and daunting for the newly hired sustainability manager, especially when joining a business with little organisational maturity or leadership in that area, or with an undefined sense of what it is seeking to achieve through your employment – resource management, regulatory safeguarding, risk governance or a solid platform for future sustainable growth and value. You have the knowledge, but how are you going to get started applying your talents is the first order of the day.
So here are a few simple tips that I wish I had received back then to get me started as quickly as possible. You have the skills for the role, your mission within the first few weeks is to start integrating and embedding yourself in the organisation and within the awareness of its key players. Start to make friends and allies, ask questions and understand the mood within which strategic decisions are made, and what issues will be receptive targets for your audiences.
Week 1 – Show your face – Talk to everyone and Listen!
1 Learn the company’s language.
Talk to the organisations employees in a style and manner that resonates with them.
2 Get your hands dirty.
Spend your first few days in the office getting acquainted and being available to meet others. As soon as you can, get out into the field, factory, other locations and experience how the organisation is implementing its CSR and environmental policies. Is there a vision or mission statement – is it a living reality of just ‘greenwash’?
3 Meet with the crucial internal staff as soon as possible.
Arrange informal conversations with the key managers and staff whose support and influence will be critical in delivering any future initiative. These are best arranged within the first few weeks into the job.
Listen, listen, listen whilst gauging how positive or negative they are about how your role can improve business growth, values or risk management internally. Are these allies or blockers:
what ssues currently are of concern to them;
what will they be minded supporting;
what advice can they provide re threats and opportunities, market trends: etc.
Month 1 – Establish your personal credentials, start to prioritise your findings and develop your future strategies.
4 Don’t be critical of your predecessors
As a new leader or manager learns more about the way an organisation thinks, functions or behaves, there will inevitably be surprises. No matter how strong the urge to question previous policy, initiatives, etc resist the urge to say anything negative about the previous managers who have sought to implement environmental or sustainability systems. It will be some time before you identify who has done what, and who their internal friends, allies and supporters are. It is simpler just to be positive about the efforts you encounter (which will have been supported by others internally) as the critical building blocks for your own changes that will arise latter.
5 Know your own weaknesses before criticising the organisations.
Seek to identify where your strengths lie and where personal development, training or mentoring/coaching is still needed to enhance your effectiveness in the new role. At the interview you may have promised the earth, those impressions are what you were recruited on and now is the time to reinforce and build up your leadership traits, understanding and in particular – change management skills
6 Prioritise and align
Prioritise what you uncover in terms of tangible business benefit and value, rather than intangible environmental risk. In prioritising what needs to be done, be realistic about what is and isn’t achievable, and consider how they can align with the corporate plan (and its planning cycle) and seek advise on how to incorporate your future agendas into the planning cycle.
Who can you turn to for support— perhaps an internal mentor, other senior managers or even the chairman of the board? Don’t try to do it all on your own – that is a weakness!
90 Days in – Start setting out your personal vision and ideas for alignment, growth and value through sustainability
7 Build a diverse circle of advisers.
New leaders in any organisation need to surround themselves with a variety of viewpoints, ideas, and temperaments as they build up a mental template of how the cogs and wheels of the organisation turn – and at what speed. This is critical as your role will often require more in the way of advocacy instead of ‘power’.
Help develop ideas, strategies and approached through the use of these networks. Seeking to win thier support and patronage if matters have to be referred upwards to other executives, or brought into operational activities if beneficial changes can be enacted quickly by mutual agreement with other managers.
8 Have a Personal Vision
Seek to rapidly acquire a vision of what you want to happen, building this up from the solid foundation of ‘viewpoints, ideas, and temperaments’. You must own the vision and inspire others. Sustainability visions developed by committee tend towards aspirational and consensual, yours must be viewed and admired for being results orientated!
When building a visison, one tip is to start with the end in mind, by making the future direction of travel clearly outcome focussed – others can rapidly acquire a fully understanding, help guide strategic planning approaches and join in thier voices in nspiring & directing others in the organisations realignment towards greater sustainability.
Getting started is hard work, no wonder they say it takes an employee 3 years to understand how an organisation operates and thinks. Leading Green‘s coaching and mentoring services can provide essential support as you build up the confidence to start changing an organisation’s culture towards greater sustainability performance and social responsibility.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on this article and how the emotive language surrounding climate change and other environmental topics is being altered more and more within media reports.
In respect of the global IA climate change community, what struck me most was not the language we use in EIS or Environmental Reports but whether our own behaviours as a professional community has failed to alert others to the significance of what our words are conveying. If it takes a 16 year old Swedish student two years to activate the global population on the crisis we face regarding carbon emissions, then it is only fair that we hold up a mirror to our own activities and ask ourselves – ‘What have we been doing individually and collectively for the last 3 decades in comparison?’
Whilst I am not advocating the use of such emotive language in our work or debates with society, perhaps our resolve to lead on climate change in our work, how we communicate or emphasis our views within the institutions we support, and how we could have placed greater emphasis on challenging substandard polies, plans and programmes needs greater consideration and to become part of a more general debate on professional leadership traits within our IA standards of conduct.
If we as IA professionals agree it is a global crisis, then surely the first steps for that community in general is for others to see that we are treating it as a ‘crisis’ in our work and words. I would value your insights, views and feedback?
The hard days of being a start-up or one-man business are long gone, your hard work and ambition has built the business into a successful local construction player with an expanding portfolio and an increasing wage bill!
The days of day-to-day on-site hands on management practice have receded, with a new tier of supporting managers and partners now sharing responsibility for the business. The downside – lack of fresh air and a growing list of business administration practices and new organisational problems as structures and responsibilities stretch and expand across the business. The purpose of some are clear – financial accounts, payrolls and asset logs form a distinct tangibl links to assets, employees and business practice and ultimately profits & loss accounts. However there are others whose purpose seem vague and confusing. You recognise that some of the more intangible ones are important, but it is easy to put them off as you are uncertain about how exactly they add to the bottom line of the business.
Amongst this growing intangible portfolio of ‘other stuff’ terms such as corporate social responsibility and sustainability seem to be regularly occurring issues. The days of adding a simple 1 page A4 ‘Environmental Policy statement’(usually cribbed from another source) into tenders are becoming a distant memory as clients no longer accept simple EHS assurances and now demand proof of commitment within invitations to tenders and on-site audits. The language within your trade journals and business networks has also started to change with new terms increasingly entering the dialogue such as ‘corporate social responsibility’, ‘responsible construction’, ‘climate change’ and ‘sustainability’ and you are beginning to consider more and more whether these are threats or opportunities:
What do they mean for your business?
Will they hit profits?
Are new hires required? and importantly
How do you respond in a manner that continues to build the business?
An introduction to Responsible
Furthermore, the concept and meaning of corporate social responsibility (CSR) within the construction sector and in particular amongst its SME businesses remains largely undefined, highly fragmented and wide open to interpretation. CSR can cover a myriad of meanings, issues and definitions that are both daunting and confusing to leadership groups within SME businesses – terms such as: stakeholder management, governance, corporate ethics, responsible sourcing, environment and sustainability, human resource management, supply chain sustainability, circular economy, discriminatory labour practices, equality and human rights, corruption and modern slavery – sound expensive to address and resource. Despite a lot of information out there, conflicting CSR messages to SMEs in the construction sector suggests that little practical organisational support has been directed towards helping SMEs map out and address CSR as a wider business tool or aid understanding how CSR practices can aid continued growth in a manner aligns with their often limited or yet to be developed resources.
The long list of issues above is slowly starting to coalesce and morph into what is now commonly termed ‘responsible management’ practices within the Construction company boardroom. A simpler handle that allows businesses to focus on key areas where they may be exposed to risk or deem opportunities to exist.
Responsible Management is the leadership approach that many
in the construction industry are using as the springboard to get them attuned
with the many ‘Responsible Construction’ programmes that sprung up over the
Responsible management requires that construction companies,
their suppliers, consultant and contractor support services take responsibility, and act to
make the construction sector more responsible in its business management
practices. Within individual SME
construction firms Responsible Management can
take a variety of forms and can be characterized as a business leadership
team that has seized the opportunity to differentiate itself from many of its
competitors by taking into consideration elements such as:
How to minimize any negative environmental, social and cultural impacts its activities can have on its clients and its local community;
Generating greater economic benefits from the business by improving retention and working conditions for staff, developing a brand as a good employee and local business;
Safeguarding natural and cultural heritage and protected species, and possessing the skilled staff to act responsibly on behalf of the business when issues are encountered on site;
Addressing diversity, access for physically challenged people or opportunities within the local community;
Responsible Management represents a mix between safe and responsible business activities during site preparation, construction, transportation to/from site, material usage, design and local community relationships. Whilst many construction companies still view these as potential obstructions to ‘time, cost and quality’, more established firms view these more in terms of brand, local reputation and employee benefits that they can use to grow their business while providing differentiation between themselves and other local competitors, help safeguard works from delays, additional costs and adverse PR and further contributing to the brand’ that has been built up over so many years.
Responsible Management in the construction sector should help underpin the core business strategy or specialisation by promoting a high quality service for future customers and clients – by respecting all the regulations regarding nature and HR management; safeguarding long term relationships through good communication with local authorities, which can pay back significantly in times of economic downturn or mishaps on site.
In the boardroom it involves:
being aware regarding main environmental regulations, laws;
implementing and raising awareness within the board, as well as amongst staff, regarding what responsible management implies in the business’s daily activity;
facing difficult tasks and problems by offering the right solutions for the staff and clients;
being informed of the available trainings measures and sector-specific educational trends;
being oriented to results optimization.
The next part of this blog will look at how the boardroom within a Construction SME can get started in starting to lay a preliminary foundation for responsible management within the business, and align its outcomes with other strategies to continue business growth and performance.
Increasingly SME companies within the construction sector are seeking to build in business strategies that, through choice or through client requirements, build in Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR). Leading Green can provide strategic and operational support to Boardrooms & senior leadership teams on topics such as Responsible Management, Sustainable Construction, Governance and CSR that are essential on BREEAM and LEED registered projects.
Occidental Petroleum (Houston USA) has released plans disclosing the company’s intention to construct the world’s largest direct air capture facility in Texas oil. What makes this investment stand out to Leading Green is the fact that it will be in partnership with Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company backed by Bill Gates.
Unlike other forms of carbon capture technology for carbon storage which I have worked on in the UK, this claims to extract CO2 directly from the environment. The technology claims to capture CO2 from atmospheric air, converting it into a purified form for use or storage. It achieves this within a closed loop system, adding only water and energy, with the output taking the form of a concentrated stream of compressed CO₂ gas. This captured CO₂ offers a range of potential environmental & chemical opportunities from industrial CO2 use, urea yield boosting, beverage carbonation and food processing, the production of low-carbon liquid fuel, carbon storage with or without enhanced oil or gas recovery.
In this case Occidental Petroleum would use the captured carbon to help pump hard-to-reach oil out of one of Texas’ shale oil field. I am usually cautious when the words ‘shale gas’ and ‘carbon storage’ are concerned, but in the move towards climate change adaptation there has to be transition points along the graph between high carbon use – low carbon use and zero-carbon technologies. Industrial & societal transition to a low carbon economy cannot be achieved overnight.
In this case Occidental Petroleum & Carbon Engineering claim
that the plant once on stream will remove over 500,000 tons of carbon from the
atmosphere every year – this it is claimed will offset the drilling and
eventual burning of the shale oil that will be extracted — potentially bringing
the overall operation towards a zero carbon balance in emissions.
What is often ignored in climate adaptation strategies is the requirement not only to significantly cut emissions across various high CO2 sectors, but also to move towards zero/low carbon emissions where it is achievable in partnership with significant carbon capture to remove the CO2 that has (and will be still be) entering the atmosphere. Increased atmospheric carbon capture through natural or industrial chemical routes will be key to dropping, and dare I say, managing future global temperature rises.
So I wish this project well, as it takes us into new territory and a new way of thinking both about new energy technology but what needs to be achieved where industry and societies seek to continue to exploit fossil fuels and live within carbon-controlled economies. However, the goal across all components of human life must be negative carbon release.
The facility is due to be completed in 2023, and I hope that Occidental Petroleum, under its CSR or ESC policies places the environmental impact assessment statement on line for the global climate change community to examine (we expect a very comprehensive and waffle free section on climate change!). In truth, this technology is still in its early stages.
Here at Leading Green we hope it is a success and that it is commercially viable in meeting its zero carbon claims, but it does raise some interesting regulatory & land-use planning questions if the technology proves successful:
The willingness of civil councils to actively promote within land planning, zoning and other social regulatory policies the ‘political’ presumption in favour to develop carbon neutral technologies.
The technological ability and capacity of environmental regulators, environmental health officers and environmental consultancies to undertake and verify the mass balance carbon calculations that will form the beneficial claims of these plants.
The regulatory control to ensure net-zero or net positive C-capture within these plants’ over thier commercial life; and
Clarity on other carbon-demanding elements within the technology & plant, its components and feedstocks that back up the claims of carbon neutrality within such a plant’s mass balance if the technology achieves global expansion.
Climate Change transition can be hard to identify within the operational investment plans within some oil & gas giants.
At the IAIA 2019 conference in Brisbane last week, several authors delivered papers on current & future oil + gas investment projects and programmes that would be rolled out over the next decade. The local press was also reporting on new coal investment plans for Queensland, and within a 2-day Leadership in EIA training programme I led with Claire Gronow of Bristol University in Brisbane, several of the course’s experienced EIA participants were employees or IFC/Government officials with oversight of new fossil fuel projects coming through the investment chain.
Yes, they were all dealing diligently with any environmental & social risks arising on site, but it was hard to define any clear signs of climate change transition or adaptation within the corporate business strategies of their parent companies, or any corporate shift away from fossil fuel exploitation.
This concern has been backed up by analysis from Global Witness in April that identified close to $5 trillion of planned investment in exploration and extraction from new oil & gas fields. This the authors concluded is incompatible with reaching the world’s climate goals. The report also concluded that despite rhetoric to the contrary, the oil and gas sector’s future investment plans remain drastically incompatible with limiting climate change.
From recent experience, I concur with these unfortunate conclusions. If politicians and businesses are increasingly tempted to use the word ‘emergency’ in respect of climate change, there is an obligation on them to demonstrate thier own response and strategic action they are taking to address the ‘emergency’. As sustainability and IA professionals we are working hard to mitigate the unintended consequences of Man’s exploitation of cheap carbon-based energy and advocating for greater sustainability within business practices. Future climate change transition now requires more than advocacy, it demands action and a strategic shift in the mindset of Governments and Boardroom leaders. The solutions and advice are out there to be called upon, but action is an individual responsibility.
Leading Green is delighted to announce a new Sustainability in Action leadership course for Environmental Management, EHS and Sustainability professionals.
Obtaining Top Management Support (a new 1 day course)
22 – 25 January 2019
Getting across the board buy-in for sustainability in organisations can be difficult. Progressing strategic actions that create visibility for and awareness of sustainability, both inside and outside the organisation will require top management support. When seeking to change an organisation’s sustainability culture, their support – which must also require their participation and involvement, may be the most important success factor before you start!
Top management support is the critical success factor when progressing a business sustainability agenda.
This one day course sets out a strategic pathway that aims to supports you
self-assess the degree to which a sustainability framework is embedded across your organization, helping you understand your company’s progress, and
where to prioritize your efforts (1/2 day).
The second half of the day sets out a toolbox of tips and tactics to help win support, participation and involvement from the CEO and senior leadership team,to identify opportunities to support your CEO’s journeys to embed sustainability, and to increase the visibility of for sustainability initiatives within your organisation.
The course focuses on your day-to-day activities and your organisations direction of travel. It follows an established pathway, used successfully within several Business Schools and international organisations. The course’s objective is to help you personally:
Advance your organisation further along the path from environmental management/EHS to sustainability
Self assess progress year on year
Introduce your sustainability agenda to senior management
Increased your corporate visibility
Align Sustainability with the Corporate Plan, and
Demonstrate value and win support.
The Courses will be held during the 22nd – 25th January 2019 in Birmingham (2 days); Sheffield (1 day) and Lincoln (1 day).
This 1 day course is designed to align with IEMA’s CPD requirements for environmental professionals, with elements of the course corresponding to requirements within IEMA’s Sustainability Skills Map.
For further information, delegate rates and details contact: Ross Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org or view the Training page.
Supporting Business Leaders implement Sustainability in Business
Ross Marshall has over 25 years experience of senior level Corporate Environmental Management & operational Sustainability within the Power, Water & Government Sectors. He is involved in the accreditation of environmental professionals for IEMA.
At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business training & consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.
While you may think that sustainability leaders rush like knights in shining armour from organisational crisis to crisis, or constantly correct flaws in operational culture, many seek to balance their ethical leadership skills and approaches with careful pragmatism and problem-solving skills in advance of issues becomming critical corporate concerns. The focus is always on the long-term leadership and business growth that sustainability can bring to the business, rather than the shorter term management of day-to-day risks.
This blog seeks to set out a few tips on how to think more like a sustainability leader in business building on your environmental management skills.
Whether you are new to the role and have never implemented a new operational policy, or even if you consider yourself a corporate CSR wizard. There are still a few brainstorming principles that you should with before any proposed initiative goes public. Taking the time to strategise will pay significant benefits as you eventually shape, form and ultimately deliver a sustainability solution. A solution that clearly communicates to the business, its sector or society what you are trying to achieve in terms of business sustainability.
1 Ask yourself: What is the purpose of the initiative and what will it achieve for others?
It may surprise you to learn that sustainability professionals are at their heart system thinkers and problem solvers, or if not solving a problem, then raising awareness of issues as opportunities for future change, advancement or beneficial re-alignment in the businesses. So the first place to start when laying the foundations for a future initiative is to give your proposed initiative a clear and simple business success objective. This way, later in the project, if you hit a roadblock, obstructions or find yourself confused by the direction it is taking, this objective can serve as your overarching target to help you shape the route to achievement or solution selection.
If you’re implementing a new process or policy, or seeking investment within the corporate planning cycle, your objective should be bold and inspiring to those that you want to influence or support you in making the initiative a reality, yet ultimately pragmatic. Be careful in making it so bold that it starts to detach itself from business reality or value. Sustainability initiatives in business should always be grounded in commercial reality or purpsoe, or possess a comprehensible logic path that inspires an alteration in overall business strategy. The expected organisational and business benefits of your initiative must be clear, set out succinctly and supportable.
2 Ask yourself: What already exists around me?
The next step, despite how excited you are to start implementing your initiative, is to make sure you have undertaken some local research and consultation. Go out and talk about the issue with operational contacts, managers and with those who hold the keys to implementing the solution. This provides an opportunity to gauge what skills, ideas, initiatives and future asset/maintenance investment plans are ongoing. Forming a network of future participants, supporters or the identification of future blockers, will help you evaluate what +ve or -ve issues will be raised or the assets that need to be/can be adapted to suit. When researching solutions, it provides a clearer idea of other technologies, approaches or concepts that those more familiar with operational management issues can buy into and support. Remember it is about achieving the final objective of business improvement, not whether your preferred solution is better than an alternative suggested by others. You may have the right idea but companies operate on subtle inter-personnel communications and influence pathways, and it is the internal political battles that deliver change and which you need to win to ensure the longevity of your initiative.
Take note of the suggestions, proposals and even offers of help, so that you can use these ideas when plotting out the structure of your initiative when you decide to really push the ‘go’ button.
3 Ask yourself: What business problems am I trying to solve?
This step involves asking yourself further questions to help create a clear leadership briefing paper or proposal for your initiative. It also helps you streamline the intent of your proposal. Yes, it must have a clear business sustainability element to it, but it must also have readily identifiable long or short-term business benefits when viewed from other perspectives. Unfortunately in business life – ‘because it is green!’ is sometimes not a good enough argument to initiate change! Below are the types of questions to ask yourself:
What is the problem I am trying to solve?
Here, you seek to identify both the long-term and short-term challenges that the business faces, and what you are trying to solve through your initiative. In the case of carbon emissions, the problem is not only the global impact of carbon, but locally the focus may be more strongly focussed within Procurement on the current cost of energy provision. In Planning – the long-term rise in energy costs, or in Marketing how energy use is to be reported in supply chain carbon calculators, or in the C-suite the organisations reliance on a 3rd party for a key production input, or competition for that resource in future production. Reflected through the worldviews of other colleagues, it still amounts to carbon emissions. The lesson to learn is how others associate or view the same issue!
Who will benefit from the Initiative?
When starting to plan out an initiative or sustainable change in operational culture, it is important to consider who your internal (and increasingly the external) audience is, and what their current or future needs will be. Having already engaged many internally on the issue you should have started to formulate ideas on how to shape the initiative for greatest success, what solutions will others buy into, or what objections still remain to be overcome, and how these can be turned around.
What would the business want the solution to look or feel like?
Instead of focusing on the aesthetics, process or ultimately maximising the sustainability of the solution, remember that sustainability leadership is all about ratcheting up the overall sustainability performance of the business. Often as long as the business is moving forward steadily on its sustainability journey – then that is a win in itself! Be prepared to sacrifice 20% of your initiative if its still delivers 80% success. Don’t lose the initiative entirely through unreasonable expectations on others, their worldview, their lack of support. Their worldview and the immediate pressures they are under will strongly influence their decision-making and buy-in.
It is always worth spending time considering the emotions that you want your initiative to elicit – a sense of pride in the business, ownership for a solution, buy-in to participate or even just acceptance and compliance with the new direction if it means minimum disruption. .
4 Ask yourself: How will I roll this out?
Now that you’ve outlined the key business objectives and benefits of your initiative and have built a supportive network internally, it’s time to decide how you will roll it out. If it is outside your immediate budgetary allowance, then at this point it can be advisable to approach the key decision makers, those who will ultimately decide on the labour, investment or even operational space for change and ask them directly for advice and for help by sketching out their preferred route through the corporate jungle.
As they think through the issue and outline a proposed route, you can gain satisfaction in watching their mental buy-in to the initiative and its alignment with their preferred worldview of how best to move your objective into business operations and ultimately into a more sustainable corporate culture.
I was interested to read that several of the world’s leading jean brands have been working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to lay down a set of Jean Redesign Guidelines based on circular economy principles. The new redesigned jeans will enter the shops next year. The new principles, in addition to focussing on the health, safety, and rights of workers in the fashion industry present minimum requirements for:
Recyclability: Jeans made with greater than 98% cellulose fibres, designing out or minimising metal rivets, and all additional materials should be easy to disassemble.
Material Health: Jeans fibres sourced from regenerative, organic or transitional farming methods; free of toxic chemicals and conventional electroplating; the banning of techniques such as stone finishing, potassium permanganate, and sandblasting.
Durability: Jeans able to withstand a minimum of 30 machine home washes while still meeting minimum quality requirements and have labels with clear information on product care.
Traceability: Confirmation of how elements of the guidelines will be made available, compliant companies will be able to use the ‘Jeans Redesign’ logo, and an annual review of the logo annually based on compliance with the reporting requirements.
Participating ‘denim’ organisations in the scheme currently comprise
Brands: Bestseller, Boyish Jeans, C&A, Gap, H&M Group, HNST, Lee, Mud Jeans, Outerknown, Tommy Hilfiger, and Reformation
Manufacturers: Arvind Limited, Hirdaramani, Kipas, and Sai-Tex.
The initiative represents an interesting case study of organisations adopting a responsible leadership approach to address unsustainable supply chain practices, build trust and co-operating in advance of any need for governmental regulation. It also demonstrates how even a long existing product such as your pair of blue jeans can be redesigned to add new value & continued economic growth within an existing industry, and ultimately recycled back into new jeans at their end of use.
In contrast this week, it looks as if the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a political lobbying trade group (motto – Driving Innovation!) representing 12 of the world’s largest car manufacturers (BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, GM, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo USA) have been lobbying the Trump administration to rewrite existing laws to lower fuel efficiency and fines for missing emissions targets.
Three interesting issues struck me in this case:
Jaguar Land Rover whose range is almost 80% diesel powered have been lobbying the UK government hard for aid to help switch their range over to electric vehicles and to maintain jobs in the UK, but who seem to aspire to other ethics abroad.
The absence of Honda from the group – who are well on with their fleet conversions towards mileage efficiency, lower air emissions or electric power, and finally
The lobbying groups concern for the harm that non-compliance fines for fuel inefficiency would have on auto manufacturers, workers, and ultimately consumers – as opposed to the harm poor urban air quality already has on innocent members of society – which when last checked also included auto manufacturers, workers, and ultimately consumers!
In the wake of the VW-emission rigging scandal and under President Obama, The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was on track to effectively treble the cost of fines levied against vehicles that did not achieve their claimed mileage efficiency. In February, the Trump administration broke off talks with California’s clean air regulators, and last Friday, the administration said that NHTSA would be issuing final rules suspending these regulations. Eighteen US states, including California, have responded by vowing to sue the Trump administration if the vehicle emissions requirement freeze becomes finalized. Now the Trump administration seems to be trying a different tack by rewriting the rules to lower fines for missing emissions targets.
The two scenarios represent two very different approaches to
the challenges that signal whether these companies have a strong enough organisational
culture to demonstrate to the marketplace that they are modern responsible
businesses and responsible players within their respective marketplaces.
It has been clear for many years concerning the global impact that cheap non-recyclable clothing and fossil-fuel based power-train automobiles have been having on our world. The evidence has been there for years, and companies have had time to prepare their responses to the social and environmental challenges faced. Whilst it looks as if the clothing industry is now actively waking up to the challenge of new economic models and consumer values, the automotive industries within the western world, still reliant on their technologies of the past and unable to effectively manufacture many of the future components of tomorrow’s vehicles , still exhibit a worrying tendency to remain in the past.
Two trends I can see myself being affected by in the future:
Within 10 years effectively ‘hiring’ my clothes from a trusted retailer who will take them back for recycling at their end of life
Within 3 years obtaining an electric/hybrid vehicle whose parts and technology primarily originates from the Far East.
At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting and training encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.