The Power of Leading from the Middle

Welcome to the first post from SustainAbility's Changing Tack blog on GreenBiz.com. While a number of SustainAbility team members have written for this site before, we are newly committed to regular contributions under the Changing Tack banner, and delighted the GreenBiz team invited us to do so.

A quick word on the blog header feels appropriate this first time out. The sustainability field is young and dynamic: Adaptability and continuous quick learning are prerequisites for those who would lead this largely uncharted journey. So Changing Tack will explore the evolution of knowledge and skill needed to advance and accelerate progress, as well as the constant shifts in direction (in this case, business practice) necessary to reach a destination when conditions are variable. Where possible, we will illustrate our thinking with examples from SustainAbility's think tank research, consulting portfolio and other real world experience.

First Up: Coca-Cola Enterprises

While in London in late September, I attended the release of Coca-Cola Enterprises' (CCE) Sustainability Plan. Titled Deliver for Today: Inspire for Tomorrow, the plan represents a major step forward for the company. The launch was silky smooth -- an in-studio event filmed at The Hospital Club in London's Covent Garden, kicked off by CCE's CEO John Brock, featuring a panel of accomplished business and NGO leaders assembled to assess the plan that was moderated by Catherine Cameron of the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, and all unfolding in front of an expert audience containing the likes of Marks & Spencer Chairman Robert Swannell and Two Tomorrows Executive Chairman Mark Line.

The full plan and video of the September 28 proceedings are available at the CCE plan link above and repeated here. Headline commitments target Energy & Climate Change ("we will reduce the carbon footprint of the drink in your hand by a third [by 2020]") and Sustainable Packaging & Recycling ("we will set the standard for sustainable packaging, achieve zero waste in our operations and recycle more packaging than we use").

If you want, you can find all the commitments here. But I write about the plan and the event assuming most readers, even at GreenBiz.com, did not notice the unveiling. Why didn't more people pay attention, and how should we assess the CCE plan's potential impact?

Leading from the Middle

We expect sustainability leadership from organizations at the extreme ends of value chains -- from retailers who dictate to suppliers that a more sustainable offering will be made available to consumers, or from suppliers who have the opportunity to shape what materials enter marketplaces, like farmers who switch to organic.