Should I Leave a Company that doesn’t reflect my Ethical or Sustainability Values?

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There are times in all careers when you have to ask yourself should I move on and find a new employer?

An organization full of employees who believe they belong is an organization full of employees who feel purposeful, inspired and alive — in other words, engaged. These engaged employees are more productive and better performers.

Many organisations are seeking to integrate environmental compliance and management processes into their ways of working, and several are attempting to drive sustainability into their cultural DNA!  To achieve this, they are enlisting a new group of employees – the environmental or sustainability specialist – as change managers.  Many are having spectacular success in altering the organisational beliefs, ways of working and the mindset of their organisations.  In the course of which they deliver a new lease of commercial life in their sectors and marketplace, but others are failing as they become dispirited with entrenched leadership attitudes, lack of accountability and on occasion evidence of organisational acceptance of illegal or unethical practices.

No company is perfect and on many occasions the change management activities that are required to embed sustainability issues and thinking into organisations can feel like draining the Atlantic Ocean with just a recycled Starbucks coffee cup for help!  That is why I was surprised in one recent mentoring session on how dismayed a young sustainability adviser was with her career choice. 

No one said entering the environmental profession would be an easy one or a free pass to career success.  You are after all trying to bring in a new mindset into business before the traditional mindset impacts too severely on the lives and prosperity of people and their environments!  The challenge and the excitement of the role and ultimately why you are here in these positions are why most of us get out of bed each morning. 

We analysed some of the problems she faced and then took them apart to examine the specific issues that were causing her so much grief in detail:

  • Some were clearly based around her lack of experience and could be rectified through training and development coaching;
  • Some were based simply around her lack of misunderstanding of how the industry operated and could be rectified through the identification of a suitable internal mentor to be a guide and someone she could bounce her future ideas off in advance, and
  • In one scenario it was clear that she had mis-communicated badly her case to a group of managers.  She had used technical jargon familiar to sustainability professionals but new to the audience and lost them.  She hadn’t aligned her case close enough to corporate outcomes to interest them and as a result had made an unpersuasive argument for change.  These again could be rectified through further coaching and mentoring.

But in a couple of situations the issues were clear and the challenges she faced significant.  Despite her best endeavours, there were several key sustainability issues where she felt that her efforts were being purposely disregarded, where the context of sustainability claims were being manipulated for greenwashing/marketing purposes without organisational evidence.  Whilst these indicated a lack of responsible leadership or management in those above her, ultimately our conversation had to address a cruel set of question that only she could answer:  

  • Had her contribution as an employee hit a rough patch on these issues that she could work through with time and support?
  • Could she live with the unethical or non-environmental behaviours and with time correct them?
  • Had she reached a performance plateau in how far she could take this company in terms of her own sustainability vision against the willingness of the people within the organisation to change?
  • Was she still excited by the role – or was it time for someone else to take up the reins and try it their way?
  • Should she move on and find a new employer?
Should I stay or should I go now?

Ethics and strong values underline an environmental or sustainability professional’s career choice.  Many of us remain optimistic and holds an altruistic view on how business can work in economic and social partnership with the rest of society for the economic betterment of all.  Your work is integral, not only to how you see the world, but how your chosen sector or employer actively improves their environmental or sustainability performance into the future as core business strategy.

So, when your employer makes headlines for the wrong environmental reasons or continues to act in an unsustainable manner contradicting its stated polies should you look for a new role with a new employer?  To figure that out, you need to closely examine your emotional relationship with your work and with your employer:

  • Do your employers continue to act in the knowledge of the social and environmental impacts they are accountable for?
  • Where is the redline before they will seek to correct the issue?
  • If the issue blows up due to regulatory or negative publicity, will you be innocent of any wrongdoing or culpability?

Dependent on your answers you may not need to leave, many companies weather small environmental scandals and they are often a golden opportunity to enhance changes in behaviour – simply put don’t waste a crisis but be aware of how such situations could damage your reputation.  

At the end of the day and to repeat the starting paragraph – An organization full of employees who believe they belong is an organization full of employees who feel purposeful, inspired and alive — in other words, engaged. And these engaged employees are more productive and better performers.  

Ultimately you must consider your own job satisfaction, your well-being, career prospects and future development if you stay.  If the company’s actions (or inactions) violate your moral and professional code of conduct, then you may need to take a professional stand and move on.

If you do decide to leave, be ready to answer the obvious question ‘Why did you leave your last employer’ from the next HR or recruiting manager.  Prepare an answer in advance that acknowledges the organisational risks you identified, the actions you sought to take for that organisation’s benefit, how you personally felt your values and ethics were being compromised by the management responses received and seek to distances yourself from their behaviours.  Turn it back on the recruiter as a first step in what sort of professional they are hiring – How would this company deal with such an issue?  It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business 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. In addition we provide a confidential mentoring and coaching services to new and experienced professionals seeking to enhance thier performance and skill sets.

The Leadership role of the EIA Team Leader

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‘EIA Project Managers focus on project targets and processes, EIA Leaders focus on project outcomes’

I believe this to be one of the fundamental mindsets that leaders in EIA possess, and a factor that helps them move up a tier in the profession.  The right leadership in the environment of today’s project management world is crucial to providing a clear path and vision for attaining organizational as well as sustainability goals. In the EIA and infrastructure development world, it is also about creating agile teams with S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) goals backed up by effective team management skills to execute desired outcomes effectively and to become more agile in their approach in handling uncertainties within IA and its related assessments.

As a EIA leader you are ultimately measured on one thing — the results that you deliver within the project scope. Given this ultimate measure and its wider importance to local communities and society in general, it is vital that you are outcomes focussed from the start (pun intended!).

So what are the key benefits of being an outcome focussed EIA Team Leader? As I see it there are 5 key benefits.

Benefit 1: Communication

If you are crystal clear what you want and where you want to take the project, issue or project team during the project, it becomes much easier to communicate it to those that you are interacting with or leading. If you can communicate an inspiring vision for the future, you are much more likely to get project managers, engineers and team members to support you in translating this into design options and ultimately reality.

Benefit 2: Time

No one has ‘too much’ time in projects, it is a rare luxury in our or any profession involved in infrastructure and construction. It is how we use that time that makes the critical difference. When you are outcomes focussed, you spend your time on those areas that are likely to leverage the greatest benefits for yourself as a leader, for the EIA and for the wider project.

Benefit 3: Big picture worldview

It is all too easy, especially in times of project challenge to become obsessed with the detail and trivial stuff.  During these periods it is easy to lose sight of the big picture – reducing residual impacts and promoting sustainable development.  Being outcome focussed helps you remember the big picture and what you want to achieve for the project, the project team, for your organisation and for you personally as an advocate of sustainable development.

Benefit 4: Planning

They say that failing to plan is planning to fail. If you are clear about what you want to accomplish, it becomes much easier to plan what you are doing, when you are doing it and how you will achieve it.  When you sit down to work out EIA priorities you can simply ask yourself – ‘will this move me closer to the outcome I want?’.

Benefit 5: Results

EIA Leaders that focus on the outcomes get more done and as a result deliver better EIA outcomes for society. As you achieve one result, it will act as a reinforcement and motivation to achieve more – this helps start and reinforce the leadership cycle within you.

The take away message — Being outcomes focussed can lift your EIA performance and your own brand of EIA leadership to a new level. So start considering the formal and infomal roles that EIA leaders fulfil in projects and what steps can you can personally take to re-focus on outcomes?

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At Leading Green, our approach to environmental leadership mentoring & 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. We run the only EIA leadership course that has been accepted for delivery by the Internation Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) at thier annual conference.

Mentoring Young Sustainability Leaders – Inexperience is Normal, Problems are rarely unique and don’t be a Prophet without a portfolio

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In the late ‘80s I entered the Power Industry.  I was tasked with helping ScottishPower set up its first environmental team.  There were no rules, little supervision and precious few guidelines on ‘how to get green done’.  My MD’s first words to me were on the rabbits at the bottom of his garden – no doubt a fascinating topic to this new breed of non-engineering employee! 

Soon after this I was working with one of the older mechanical engineers on an air dispersion model for a proposed waste-to-energy plant.  I used an early ADMS computer programme, he achieved comparable results on the back of an envelope!  I was bemoaning my lack of experience in this area and the difficulties I faced relating the result to potential dioxin dispersion, and how I would incorporate the results into the Environmental Impact Assessment.

 ‘Experience’ he gently said, ‘Experience is only gained through facing up to your lack of experience!’  A great lesson from a highly intelligent and modest man.

Now after 25 years’ experience in environmental impact assessment, management and sustainability I find myself addressing 3 common themes again and again with new sustainability and environmental managers during mentoring discussions:

1. You don’t have to know everything.

The more you know, the less you know’.  As you grow in confidence and knowledge the questions get bigger as new areas open, new linkages are found, and solutions open further avenues of mental exploration.  No one person can ever understand the complexity of ‘the environment’ – for heaven’s sake we don’t even possess an internationally recognised definition for the word.  We must accept that often what we face is novel, specific to that location and has a mass of intangibles tied up with it. 

You must come to accept that in some areas you will alays remain a ‘professional generalist’ – able to cover a wide spectrum of environmental topics, expert in some but only touching the surface of others. 

What’s the solution – learn to ask others for help!  It isn’t weakness it is a strength that will pay back dividends if managed carefully.  I have worked with many great environmentalists and engineers on a large variety of complex large infrastructure and sustainability management projects.  I have been thrown into stakeholder bearpits, investment board meetings and national emergencies such as flooding, food & Mouth epidemics and terrorist incidents.  There is no previously written guidebook on how to manage, but the best possible approach is to surround yourself with, or have access to, those that can add to the jigsaw solution.  If you don’t know the answer, the best route is always to say either ‘I don’t know but I will find out and come back to you on that issue’; ‘Do any of you know the answer to this’ or ‘Can you engineer me a better solution with these outcomes’.  

Rather than losing trust by displaying ignorance, it builds trust as you solve complex problems as a team, your colleagues comes to realise that they are dealing with a professional who understands the risk in, and limitations of, their knowledge, is prepared to say so honestly and work with others co-operatively to find a solution.  The worst thing you can do is bluster or pretend that you fully understand all the parameters of the dilemma.  No one expects you to know everything. Relax. And ask open questions that may stimulate the answer through others.  Try it!

2. My problem is unique.

I have seen young managers work themselves into a state because they feel that they are the only one at this coalface.  The organisational culture is unique, the problem is unique and hence the solution must be unique.  They feel that the problems they face are so specific to them, so much so that external advice or options will not help.

What is the solution – You can internalise a problem and hope that your mental skills set can find a solution, or you can externalise a problem and gain help?  Whichever route you take the responsibility for solving the problem remains with you and must be ultimately owned by you as the leader.  Personally, I often enjoy switching into an external mindset when debating problems and potential solutions, I want to hear how others think about the issue, what they suggest and what experiences they can bring to the table.  I also data mine externally looking at how other organisations have addressed the issue to gain ideas.  I then go back and work through the new information, sifting for ideas and a solution that fits before taking the decision to press forward again.

As Tom Lehrer in 1953 so aptly put it about the secret of being a successful mathematician:

‘Plagiarize!  Let no one else’s work evade your eyes

Remember why the good Lord made your eyes

So, don’t shade your eyes but plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize

Only be sure always to call it please ‘research’!”

This has helped me find solutions to laying underground electricity cables in water pipeline technology, decision making models via the car industry, and ecological answers in hardware shops.  Keep your problem-solving radar active and never let a good idea pass you by!    

Your responsibility ultimately lies in making the decision on how the organisation progresses, you can’t duck this, and the decision risk should always remain with you as the accountable leaders.  You can make decisions via committee but watch out for group think and consensus through banality.  The most appropriate approach is often to cast widely, listen to what others have to say, challenge their assumptions (try playing the Devil’s Advocate in conversations) and ultimately select the one that you can confidently deliver on through your abilities, resources and organisational support networks.  

3.  Are you following your ideas at the expense of working for the best interests of the organisation?

I have seen young professionals run into a mental wall when their goals are dashed through organisational inertia to change.  I have experienced it myself at times, and it can set you back mentally and physically when an organisation refuses to change its preferred ways of working. 

Then is the time to take a good long hard look in the mirror … were you following your own preferred agenda or in the best interests of the organisation.  Had you planned sufficiently, had you sold the idea to others, sufficiently and ultimately would it have added value?  I have seen environmental and general managers pursue microcosm agendas that no one else in the organisation believes in or understands.  As a Case Study, a previous Director who fixated on the cost of biscuits served in meetings whilst his division’s budget was cut… we wanted strategic changes, he wanted Rich Tea biscuits. 

I have on occasions advised environmental managers to look hard at their priorities, not only through an environmental lens but also what it will mean in terms of enterprise risk management, the corporate plan. Internal budgets, brand and stakeholder benefits.  Incorporating these factors into your sustainability agenda helps prioritise action, expands your organisational worldview, forces you to seek input from others and to understand how their cog spins in the corporate machine and who they interface with. 

What is the solution – Ask yourself whose sustainability agenda are you working on and what is the desired outcome?  Is it your own preference, added value for the organizations or the world?  These objectives are not either/or options they interact, but there are trade-offs, and ultimately your focus must be on the operational, economic and sustainability of the organisation that employs you.  That doesn’t mean that you say ‘yes’ to everything.  You are there after all to bring through cultural change management towards a more sustainable operating business model.  But in organisational life there are often trade-offs that need to be considered, and these may require you to put aside your personal sustainability agenda for the moment and get stuck into the priorities of others in the business.  Similarly pursuing a radical sustainability agenda will not be in the best interest of a company if no one understands its value, instead a more strategic, leading-but-not-agitating approach may take you further.  Whatever your agenda, the preferred legacy is that your colleagues adopt the initiative into their personal worldview, live it and hopefully pass it on others – that is success in sustainability leadership book!

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business 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.

Getting Green Done ……

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I was amazed as a young environmental colleague lamented the lack of success, she had had recently in presenting her CEO with a new sustainability initiative.

‘He threw out most of my proposal and gave me only 30% of what I wanted!’

The initiative was wrecked, she was down-heartened, she had embarrassed herself, and her enthusiasm was now at a low ebb through disappointment.  It had been a bold initiative, it had matched her vision for what the company could achieve, had aligned with their new sustainability policy and could have delivered real business value.  The whole initiative reflected well on her and the career training she had received to date. 

‘Wow! I was thinking, 30% – that’s just great as a first step I mused, but in her disappointment, I sensed the frustration that many graduates today in the sustainability field feel when entering the workplace.  They leave their institutes with high expectations and run full tilt into the operational realities and encounters that are so common in organisational bearpits.  What was once so clear and rational in the classroom becomes murky and complex when it must be delivered through workplace colleagues.  Organisations just don’t act as rationally as sympathetic classmates with shared worldviews on sustainable development. ‘We must do this’ becomes quickly challenged by ‘Why must we do this?’, ‘But….’, ‘Perhaps when we have the time and money!’ or even a stonewalling ‘No!’. 

It took time to explain to her that I was impressed and pleased for her, that 30% success is not failure but success when you are trail blazing!  For after two decades in corporate environmental risk management and sustainability you learn that any advance or step forward is a good win. 

In sustainability, we are first and foremost business change managers, our role is to ratchet up organisational performance, to deliver value outcomes and to continually progress ‘getting green done’ within organisations.  There are very few ‘Look at Me!’ and ‘Aren’t I Great!’ moments for many environmental professionals within organisations. 

Personally, my greatest inner satisfaction comes from watching others adopt sustainability thinking into their work because it now makes strategic sense to them, aligns with new business direction or reinforces a strong organisational culture with a new worldview.  That is my reward. We all like success and the recognition of high performance by our peers, but when your leadership is enacted via changes in the behaviours of others don’t be surprised if it is overlooked.  Remember that people rarely own up to changing thier past opinions. 

It was clear that her CEO had been supportive and had giving her a chance to progress her initiative but had yet to be totally convinced enough to give her the whole package.  She had first to deliver on this element before any further funding or support was granted – a clear pragmatic leadership decision.

We all need mentors in our professional lives, colleagues who can guide us through the organisational minefield, suggest alternative ways forward and pick us up when we are downhearted or discouraged.  It took time to show my colleague that her disappointment in the meetings outcome was unjustified and had in fact been a win.  She had set her heart on 100% success, her CEO in supporting her had granted 30%.

So now we have started work on ensuring that she does successfully deliver on the 30% she has been entrusted with.  In doing so, we are working out what her strategy will be and how she will bering on other colleagues to gain the next 30%, and the 30% after that, and the 30% after that ……until she wins over the CEO and gets his full backing for her vision. 

So, don’t expect 100% success overnight, building a sustainability foundation within an organisational culture involves a slow but continuous ratcheting up of performance over time.  It is a marathon, not a sprint and that ultimately success is in…just Getting Green Done!

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Note: I have happily borrowed the phrase ‘Getting Green Done’ from the book of the same name by Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company. It is a useful read for sustainability professionals enetering any work sector.

‘Consume less’ to save the Planet or ‘Consume more’ to save your Economy

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money pink coins pig

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

A political and economic paradox, but a paradox that is currently operating in the UK.

Over 2/3rds of the UK’s GDP depends on household consumption.  Whilst this helps to explain the resilience in the economy to Brexit chaos and most post-war UK recessions, as exports and investments are relatively minor components of current GDP.  It stands against us as a measure of UK future economic sustainable development.

In contrast, what does cause economic recession in the UK? – when we consume less and when we save more!

Both issues raise questions about how business & sustainability professionals address future ‘growth’ strategies.  There are many UK businesses whose leadership have committed their organisations towards responsible leadership practice and the integration of business sustainability within their core strategies.  These actions are to be praised and applauded as they form the keystones of the UK’s commitment to a greener business economy.

However do we truly believe that the next phase in sustainable development is sustainability modelled around continued rises in household consumption?

Increasingly consumers now demonstrate greater awareness and response to what they spend their incomes on, and how they view ethical brands, sustainable goods and services. This is great news and is helping to demonstrate the growth and value benefits to businesses of responsible leadership and sustainability in businesses. However, consumers are also not letting up in their desire to spend and acquire more. We are purchasing smarter but we are still purchasing more than we need, and save less than other European nations.

We are still decades away from getting to grips with a circular economy or one that is sustainably balanced in terms of inputs and outputs.  However, there needs to be a bridging phase during which we embed more sustainable business models into the economy, coupled with policy & societal models that:

  • incentivise households to save towards a longer life expectancy
  • incentivise household savings towards the purchase and implementation of sustainable household infrastructure – renewable energy, lower carbon construction outcomes, reduced ecosystem service and impacts) that offsets living costs
  • offset household consumption on materially unsustainable goods or services that have a higher than desirable impact on ecosystem services or climate change.
  • incentivise the UK’s trading balance towards the growth in export of goods and services that promote a greener global economy, and
  • address the deep structural cracks that current economic policy will have on tomorrow’s economy.  It was a great model whilst you couldn’t see the forest for the trees, but now that the forest has been cleared to the size of a coppice we need some new economic ideas and practices.

If economic theory is logical, and political economic science rational – how can a society, such as the UK, develop more sustainable economic indicators, be encouraged to pursue these through more stable economic models and to promote household sustainably over  household materialism.   Where is the economic leadership that allows us to switch tracks from GDP Key Performance Indicators based on unsustainable consumerism to those more suited to the realities of the future?

Individuals and businesses are capable of great innovation but future recession beating policies must accept that you cannot enable sustainable development through mass consumption, and that household savings can ultimately contribute to societal sustainability.

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business 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.

Contact ross@leading-green.com