On leading change and learning how it is done

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Former U.S. Sen. and Wisconsin Gov. Gaylord Nelson.

GreenBiz is pleased to publish this among the winning entries from the 2015 #CleanEnergyU essay competition.

Being a millennial is remarkable. That is not just because we have an endless supply of information at our fingertips, but also because we can effortlessly apply this information to resolve real world problems.

This is a defining opportunity before the new generation and I believe it’s a key part of securing our green future. A few short years ago I was a perky and unaware little freshman coming to the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. Since my stay here, I have participated and witnessed students and faculty drive a dialogue for creating a greener campus.

Campuses are unique environments for learning, research, implementation and demonstration. What I found most remarkable is the ease of adapting a system and its goals to create a working model for everyone. Throughout my experiences on campus, I have learned that adaptation and change of an established system is not as intimidating as one might think.

I believe this is where businesses and campuses are very similar and can learn from one another. Both settings are already established and are having a driving discussion at which sustainability is the main objective. With this, change and adaptation are entirely different from complete reorganization. A misconception about this can lead to decreased involvement and support. But that is the glory of overall sustainability; it’s about incorporating the sustainable philosophy into a current system that best suits all stakeholders.

I deeply look up to the late Gaylord Nelson: Wisconsinite, past United States senator, past Wisconsin governor and founder of Earth Day. He spearheaded the environmental movement in the U.S. Congress and got the environment on the political agenda.

I recently have finished reading a biography about him, "The Man from Clear Lake: Earth Day Founder Senator Gaylord Nelson." What surprised me most about all of his efforts is the fact that he focused on many important issues, including taxes, human equality, the Vietnam War and the environment. He was not just a hero on the environmental front, but on many others as well because he approached issues fairly and systematically. I like to call this the "holistic approach" and Nelson was a leader and left a great model for us to follow.

There will always be a plethora of very important issues that will need the attention of the public, campuses, businesses and Congress. All issues have importance and needs and should be addressed at some level. With this in mind, I have learned and focused a great deal on the triple bottom line.

The triple bottom line + leadership

The triple bottom line is composed of three parts: planet; profit; and people. The overlap of all three categories is the ideal platform to establish overall sustainability. But I also like to consider a forth and hugely defining component to the triple bottom line: leadership. The first three components can be easily targeted and focused on, but it takes the last component of leadership to create action to achieve a goal.

Through my experiences on campus, leaders have the ability to create a dialogue and to set a goal forward is a key component. Leadership has many aspects as well: education, planning, communicating and implementing. That is where businesses and campuses have the ability to take all three aspects of the triple bottom line, guided with the many aspects of leadership to make a change.

Campuses and businesses have a great opportunity to holistically account for all parts of a system and become leaders and experts. All great ideas start out as a vision, but taking the initiative to become a leader behind that idea is what can make the difference between a vision and a reality. Throughout my time of participating in activities of changing and adapting systems, I have seen change far more dramatic than I could have ever imagined.

It all had to start somewhere, but with persistence, adaptation and holistically accounting for stakeholders, any goal can become achievable. This gives me a sense of hope and pride in what I and others have achieved and what can be achieved in the future. The question that one must ask is, are you going to take the initiative and lead on an idea to make it reality?

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