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.

Stranded Assets: Why Sustainability Scenario Appraisals are now part of smart business practice

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Two monthas ago I posted a Linked In article identifying how fighting natural disasters is increasingly becoming ‘business as normal’ for some industries faced with increasing climate change impacts. The case study concerned the Pacific Gas and Electricity Company (PG&E) and their mounting liability ($billions) arising from wildfires linked to network infrastructure.

It was with regret that I read that PG&E had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US after being brought to its knees through mounting liabilities for wildfires and the deaths of over 100 people.

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit southern Texas killing as many as 60 people, and caused damages as high as US$180 billion across government bodies, businesses and property owners. In addition, the hurricane shut down, damaged or destroyed Texas energy operations and related businesses. The final bill was estimated at up to 1% of US GDP.

The point in my original article was about how smart organisations, especially infrastructure asset management businesses, are starting to take real note of sustainability risks, notably Climate Change and Megatrends, and had started to incorporate them into thier Enterprise Risk Management portfolios, particularly via futurecasts (looking forward) across various anticipated scenarios. This approach integrates well with marketing and business planning activities where an open commercial mindset is applied. It tests future business strategy, assumptions and investment, but just as importantly it can uniquely identify redundant processes or future ‘stranded assets’.

Asset heavy state and private businesses, often effectively monopolies in terms of the business and customer base are most at risk of encountering this risk. Why? because thier comprative size, thier longevity, lack of real competition, and at times leadership complacency that significant competitive barriers to entry exist can lead to a false sense of security.

Stranded Assets

Stranded assets are assets that suffer from unanticipated or premature write-downs, devaluations or conversion from ‘asset’ to ‘liability’. Stranded assets can be caused by a variety of factors (climate change, policy transfer or societal concern) and are a phenomenon inherent when a company starts to focus internally rather than externally in its search for innovation, market intelligence and forgets to repeatedly ask itself ‘Why do I exist?’. Rapid technology or sociatal value changes in several technology sectors are evidence that it can happen across many market and service serctors. Leaving previously successful companies behind newer entrants, leaving them asset heavy and effectively market redundant in a previously regarded secure sector. Stranded assets can pose a significant risk to shareholders, organisations and the communities within which that business operates as it can effectively wipe out a business’s commercial viability as the balance sheet tips over towards liabilities and the investment call required to catch up with competitors becomes unsustainable as debt. Many coal based supply & generation resources, and other hydrocarbon-based indutries, now have the potential to become stranded through climate change as the world engages in a fossil fuel phase out.

For the financially minded it can be summarised quickly as a once valued asset that is not performing well in the marketplace but which must be kept on a financial statement in order to record a loss of profit!

A recent report by the NGO Climate Tracker outlined that the increasing competitiveness in renewable energy costs and the price drop in energy cost to consumers will leave $60 billion of coal burning plants in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines ‘stranded’ within 10 years. In Indonesia alone it identified $34.7 billion of stranded assets if policies were brought in to meet the goal of the Paris climate agreement to restrict global warming to less than 2°C.

Sustainability Scenario Analysis

Sustainability Scenario analysis is a useful starting tool for forecasting the potential liabilities and implications of sustainability issues, megatrends and in particular climate change on a business’s asset management strategy, its future investment scenarios and operational practices as a business and as a leadership tool through which to stimulate longer term scenario and strategic thinking. At a leadership level it starts to prompt a movement away from the concept of the ‘effeciency of the existing process’ towards a more sustainable ‘effectiveness of the future outcome’.

This blog is part 1 of a longer discourse on sustainability strategy in business and scenario analysis

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.

Building a Responsible Leadership Culture

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Organisations cannot expect a responsible leadership and sustainability culture to be built for them by EHS and EMS teams without the active involvement and participation of thier leadership teams

In any organisations, the strengths and values of responsible leadership and sustainability must sit within the beliefs and worldviewa of its individual leaders.  Their influence on other employees will then be determined by the collective responsibility they exhibit and ultimately how these messages and actions are perceived by, have influence on and ultimately change wider organisational culture.

As a leader you can work hard to cultivate a strong leadership culture around yourself – it may be personally satisfying, but ultimately it means nothing in today’s business world if it doesn’t have a positive impact on organisational culture.  We have become aware of or experienced the ‘crash and burn’ hire – the candidates who promise everything in the interview room but fail when presented at the operational cliff face!   Having a positive impact on organisational culture is one of the most in-demand skills that responsible leaders can possess, especially when it is tied into a leadership culture that encompasses business sustainability or transformation leadership skills.

Your personal leadership culture is not only what you believe internally, but often what people close to you perceive and react to.  If the two perceptions aren’t in alignment, then your effectiveness in the role will be limited.  To progress in responsible leadership and sustainability those around you must have trust in the strength and validity of your inner beliefs, the transparency of your behaviours in this area and how well you communicate this worldview.   Your own personal WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) dilemma – if you cannot inspire trust, accountability, direction and inspiration in yourself as a leader. It will only be the power inherent in the post that you hold that deems you ‘a leader’ in the eyes of others!  So, building a leadership culture around yourself can be a successful and empowering enterprise, but it needs critical self-reflection in ‘who you are’ and ‘what you believe in’.

In combination with the other ‘leaders’ around you, the collective leadership culture will set the organisational culture for the business.  Research has shown that the degree to how embedded this perceived ‘leadership culture’ is will have a positive or negative impact on business longevity, adaptability, sustainability and how well senior leadership teams are able to act as a responsible manager and the extent to which they can work collectively for the benefit of the organisation.

If the leadership culture is too skewered towards the independent actions of its respective leaders, then you run the risk of a leadership culture composed of self-deluding peacocks each following independent agendas.

If it is too skewered towards a dependent leadership culture, then you run the risk of ‘group think’ and the deluding belief that only those around the board room table are responsible for existing practices, patterns of behaviour and leadership interactions. 

Building a strong leadership culture lies in building in balance with:

  • a diversity of personal characteristics, beliefs and worldviews (if you only employ engineers or accountants, don’t be surprised if they are logical and enjoy analysing complex problems but struggle in tuning their behaviours to the needs of others during CSR discussions)
  • a positive adaptability to changes outside the organisation (a willingness to change and adapt the business to address marketplace changes or customer values)
  • , a desire to integrate their diverse skills collaboratively towards business outcomes (can they perform as a team!), and
  • creative enough in their own persona to promote or inspire others to join them in any future direction the organisation takes (i.e. brave enough to face up to challenging situations and to take others forward with them)

Why is this important?

The organisational culture of a business reflects the beliefs and values that have built up within its employees – from the top to the bottom over time.  It reflects the freedom to operate that all employees need when they act in the best interests of the collective as opposed to the individual.   Staff are ‘inspired’ either to do their work or more positively by the value in which they feel their work is held.  This has a significant impact on efficiency and organisational performance.  As all good leaders know, it isn’t about you, it is about them!  If they are inspired by positive leadership set within an inspiring organisational culture then their personal well-being, attitude, approach to customers, behaviours and (ultimately for those organisations who wish to retain skilled employees) their longevity in employment will be improved.

Without inspiration, without direction and without positive leadership – staff will adjust their work patterns to a level that allows them to operate within the leadership cultures that they find themselves.    

  • Why risk your inspiration on a leader who only reflects on his own position within the leadership?
  • Why work hard for a leader who fails to hold others accountable for poor performance?
  • Why seek system thinking from a leader whose judgement, design and thinking is poor?
  • Why follow the vision of a leader you don’t trust?

In seeking to act both as a ‘leader’ and a ‘leader of others’ you must understand the relationship between organizational culture, your individual (and collective) leadership behaviours and their outcome on business performance, sustainability, staff satisfaction and retention.

To help you in this, I recommend that you reflect on the following three leadership insights:

  • To what extent is the organisational culture having a positive or negative impact on sustainability
  • Is our collective leadership culture helping us to achieve the sustainability strategies that have been set?
  • What do I need to address internally and who do I need to challenge openly to change matters?

The last question as always is the most difficult to answer, but it is the one with the greatest self -reflection and desire to act as a leader!

Innovation is at the heart of Sustainability

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There are some great media stories out there extolling the steps that a company or brand has taken to minimise single plastic usage.  Some are small scale in their impact, but others will have a significant impact on plastic usage, amounta leaving via the factory gate, and its potential after consumer use to enter the environment as waste.  These are great stories and actions that hopefully will become ‘business as normal’ in the future!

One element that has fascinated me, during all this, is the range of alternative solutions and strategies that have emerged.  The challenge of reducing single use plastics has obviously released a lot of innovative thinking within these organisations. 

So, why had no-one released this innovation earlier? Why had it taken these organisations so long to wake up to the possibility of reducing plastic usage within their systems?

A key business driver for sustainability is challenging and changing established practices or beliefs that this is the only way to conduct a business, drive a process or use a material.  Sustainability leadership has at its core the need to ask questions that nobody at first can answer and to stimulate answers to problems nobody had questioned.   It is closely integrated with innovation, and when practiced as a business tool stimulates innovation internally or across supply chain partnerships.

So why don’t business harness and seek to create opportunities to release this inherent innovation more often within their organisations.  The answer I feel is that sometimes they don’t realise it is there or that it is centred in distinct parts of an organisation that has ‘defined innovation’ areas. 

What is important to me within these single use plastics initiatives is that the innovation probably arose internally through debate within a wider pool of employees than normal, it probably brought different players into contact and required organisational silos to interact and work more closely together.  Sustainability issues are notable for being trans-organisational – that is what makes a sustainability managers life so difficult at times. 

But look at the outcome of this innovation.  The internal workforce has been presented with a challenge or has sought to solve an inherent risk by coming forward with solutions.  This has probably had a positive impact on those involved, a clear sense that they are ‘doing good’ in terms of aligning their values with how they want to behave, a reinforcement of how they expect their employers to behave, and externally how customers and society feel they should behave.  In bringing this forward thier innovative solutions into the marketplace they will have been supported by the businesses’ leadership group, and everyone is feeling good about themselves.  An ideal ‘I Win – You Win – We Win‘ scenario that has then pounced upon by PR and Marketing teams as a positive story to take out into the marketplace.

The next step I hope is that these initiatives reveal potential cost savings and data on how much plastic usage has been offset from environmental escape.  I would also like to know how many Environmental Management Systems had paid previous attention internally to plastic usage and how many had ignored their external impact altogether…. perhaps for another blog!

What I do want to conclude on, is that here is a clear example of how seeking to enact sustainable solutions can galvanise organisational innovation and bring forward new initiative to take out into the marketplace.  They were faced with an uncomfortable truth over their products association with single use plastics, they thought about it and took positive action and the marketplace welcomes their innovation.  Becoming more sustainable hasn’t rocked the boat, hasn’t caused investors to man the life rafts and no one has dies of leadership shock by taking a risk in changing direction.  In contrast the staff are feeling good about themselves, their company and what they have achieved. Internally the initiative has probably brought new internal; teams together to solve a challenge and has given these companies a great story to add to their brand and marketplace communications. 

So, my Big Question is: Why aren’t organisational leaders utilising sustainability more as a business driver to challenging their staff to achieve further sustainability outcomes if the outcomes can only be beneficial?

The issue of plastic waste isn’t new.  The five oceanic gyres hadn’t developed overnight, and environmentalists have been raising concerns about Man’s plastic usage and the environment for years.  So why has it taken so long for action to permeate the strategic tiers of businesses?

Sustainability has the potential to galvanise innovation within and across businesses, it provides a positive culture for business expansion and a repositioning of brands within the marketplace.   

So, business leaders try setting a sustainability challenge to your organisation, a problem that needs to be solved or a resource that needs to be reduced.  Something that can deliver a reputational boost to the brand and that attracts consumer attention, but most of all something that stimulates innovation across the organisations

If you want innovation, give sustainability a try!

Leading Green offer a range of ‘brainstorming’ workshops for leadership teams and wider organisational groups, helping them address and focus on sustainability issues, priorities and future pathways. Contact ross@leading-green.com to see if we can help your organisational needs.

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.

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

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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