How 'extended' sustainability leadership will change the system

Last month saw the publication of "Changing Tack," a report that is the final output of The Regeneration Roadmap, a project undertaken during the last 18 months by GlobeScan and SustainAbility to assess progress on sustainable development over the last 25 years.

In a column providing an overview of the report, my colleague Chris Guenther suggested that "extended leadership" will be required to accelerate and scale sustainable development progress and ensure that present and future societies and ecosystems have equal opportunity to thrive. He spelled out the report's point of view that the private sector has the opportunity to demonstrate "extended" leadership in order to accelerate progress. Six attributes of extended leadership were deemed most important: vision, goals, offer, brand, transparency and advocacy.

"Changing Tack" holds that the six attributes, especially undertaken together, will directly improve company sustainability performance and increase organizational resilience. Equally, the report emphasizes how critical it is that leaders think of the system conditions that need to change to enable sustainable development. This article builds on Guenther's previous column and briefly explores why systems thinking and an acceptance of interdependence are such critical elements of extended leadership.

Bigger than any of us

"Changing Tack" sets up an enormous challenge -- the re-shaping of the economic system in a way that exploits its strengths while ensuring that future innovation and growth occur within planetary limits -- and asks companies to embrace the imperative of sustainable development leadership.

Fundamental here is the premise that the economy and markets can meet their potential to be a positive force in delivering sustainable development only if sustainability is addressed at the level of the whole system. This requires a collective effort that looks into the root causes of problems and how relationships between system elements might evolve to allow better, more sustainable outcomes. Critical to any chance of success are businesses' relationships with one another, government, investors and consumers, and the manner in which private sector interests complement or align with civil society's actions and the influence it in turn is exerting to bring about change.

Image by JNT Visual via Shutterstock.

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