Why sustainability requires leadership training

Sustainability is now firmly on the radar screen of business. Along with their ongoing focus on economic issues, two-thirds of executives and managers now consider social and environmental issues as significant or very significant concerns. Yet only 10 percent of leaders say they are fully addressing these issues. Those who have been able to embed sustainability into core functions of their companies are reaping significant benefits.

Sustainability is one of those big openings that hold enormous promise. It requires teams to know not only what it means and why it’s important, but also how it can be actualized in a business. And as always, it takes excellent leadership skills to turn good ideas into tangible results.

For every highly-influential leader who may have the clout to put sustainability on the table, it takes a whole team of skillful champions working together to make sustainability a reality.

Throughout my career, and in my role at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, I’ve witnessed what’s possible when business leaders set a powerful agenda and then pull together the teams that get it done. Those game-changing initiatives take commitment, talent, hard work and time.

One problem we face as leaders today is that we developed our leadership talents, and gained business success, in environments that were much more predictable than those our businesses face now. The business challenges surrounding resource constraints, erratic markets, extreme weather, economic volatility and social change have become the new normal described by Andrew Winston in The Big Pivot. These conditions, along with innovations in technology that have interconnected our world, have infused the business landscape with a never-before-seen radical level of transparency. All this has left business leaders with much less control than they would ideally want.

Making sustainability happen — at scale — and with the speed required to reap returns on investment under these conditions, requires business leadership to rethink and remix their skill sets to develop the versatility and agility they need.

Sustainability leadership training

The value to leaders of developing collaborative relationships that are cross-functional and inter-industry cannot be emphasized enough in regard to sustainability. The USCCF and other forward-thinking business-focused organizations have a critically important role to play in moving sustainability forward by providing venues where business leaders can learn what they need to be highly effective in a complex, rapidly changing world. The recent Sustainable Brands Conference is one example of how this can be done. GreenBiz VERGE events are another. 

We also see a huge opportunity for a new kind of leadership training: one that gets at the hands-on, nuts-and-bolts of actually running a profitable, socially responsible company, and ensures that business leaders at all levels and key job functions — including operations and production, R&D, marketing and sales, human resources and finance — are equipped with both the “why” and the “how” of sustainability.

We believe that to be successful, leadership must engage enough people so that sustainability practices permeate the organization. That's the reason our LeaderShip for Sustainability three-day training program aims at causing such breakthroughs as garnering C-suite support for integrating sustainability throughout the entire organization and in every function, or implementing sustainability employee-resource groups and green teams throughout the organization to engage employees at every level and make sustainability goals their own.

We’ve been watching the rise of gamification in business that helps employees discover, learn and practice hard-core business skills (while including the human side) in a low-risk environment, as DeloitteGartner, and others have noted. While it’s still an emerging arena, gamification has huge potential to help people learn and gain insights about making sustainability real in their business. And doing it in days, rather than years.

That's why we apply a learning model that integrates sustainability concepts and best practices with hands-on experience through gamification that simulates an actual business. We believe this approach models for companies what they can do internally to accelerate learning and to have their leaders gain relevant experience with minimal risk.

We believe that each of us has a role to play in responsibly managing our planet’s resources and making a positive contribution to society, while generating business opportunities and results that benefit many people both locally and across the globe. Many of you have your own experiences to share. Now that you know what we've been up to, we’d love to hear what you are doing to champion sustainability.

Top image by docstockmedia via Shutterstock.

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