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Leading the sustainability transformation

sustainability professionals leading the way

"Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it."

Henry Mintzberg had a point. And there are multiple ways to learn how to swim, but generally it’s best to start at the shallow end of the pool, with an instructor and a lifeguard. Leaders rarely get the opportunity to learn important lessons in such a controlled environment. Until now. 

GreenBiz Group is pleased to announce the Leading the Sustainability Transformation professional certificate program in partnership with WholeWorks. A completely online, team-based, global program, it is designed to accelerate leadership competence and confidence regarding sustainability through a 10-week learn-practice-apply cycle. It is designed for sustainability professionals interested in advancing their careers and business leaders who need to understand the impacts of sustainability on the success of their companies and organizations. 

"At GreenBiz, we’re about advancing opportunities at the intersection of business, technology and sustainability," said GreenBiz CEO Eric Faurot. "We have years of experience convening the brightest minds in sustainability with editorial resources, peer-to-peer networking and in-person and online events. This is a new way for us to reach more people around the world in a manner that is safe, secure and affordable, continuing to drive transformation and accelerate progress."

The heart of the program — and the thing that distinguishes it from traditional learning programs offered by universities and organizations — is a rigorous simulation, mirroring the complexity of an international company within a complicated ecosystem. 

Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it.

"We believe that leading businesses toward sustainable decision-making is one of the highest-stakes professions of our time, so we’ve used the same simulation-based training techniques used by pilots, military and police to create the simulation," said Matt Mayberry, founder of WholeWorks and developer of the simulation. Mayberry has more than 25 years experience developing award-winning leadership development programs based on complex, global businesses, including manufacturing and hospitality.

Rio Negro Bioproducts is the practice field, a new manufacturing site of a fictional paper company, Paper Nation. Set on the banks of the Rio Negro outside of the city of Mercedes in Uruguay, it’s a "green" site in more ways than one. The management team is charged with the responsibility of managing a global business and specifying, building and operating the brand-new site to align with ambitious sustainability goals — all while delivering a rate of return that meets the expectations of investors. Participants take on specific roles within the team — operations, supply chain, EHS, engineering, sales, marketing, IT and HR — all reporting to the senior VP, who has responsibility for the region within a multinational company.

Unintentional consequences

But in addition to the traditional management structure, there is a unique element in the program that provides even more real-world context. "Businesses operate in societies and environments, but for years we’ve taught business strategies as though those things are ‘externalities’ for which we don’t need to account. That’s ridiculous, of course. It’s one of the biggest fallacies that leads to all kinds of ‘unintentional’ consequences which are in fact completely predictable," said Stuart Hart, who serves as expert contributor, consultant and key content provider for the program. 

To account for the perspectives of key stakeholders, the simulation also includes roles from the public sector, including the mayor of Mercedes, the social sector and the local manager of an international nonprofit organization. In total, there are roles for 11 participants, each of whom contributes to the development of the organizational strategy but are required to implement specific decisions through the simulation, unique to their roles.

Participants have access to custom-designed online content, in the form of self-study microlearning modules, guided by a 10-week curriculum. Self-study modules include key areas of content and skill such as stakeholder engagement, finance for innovation and sustainability strategy. And each week, the Rio Negro BioProducts simulation gives the teams an opportunity to experiment with the concepts, practicing what they’ve learned, developing strategies in a virtual workspace to facilitate team collaboration, and then making decisions and deploying resources.

At the end of each week — which represents two years in the life of Rio Negro Bioproducts — the simulation calculates more than 5,000 variables and produces an extensive set of reports for measuring the results against financial, social and environmental objectives.

To ensure the concepts are internalized and applied in real life, the program requires that participants develop individual projects, based on the needs of their organizations. As they develop the projects over the 10 weeks, in parallel with the simulation, they pull on the expertise of their team members who come from different organizations and industries, taking advantage of diverse points of view. Ultimately, the projects are subject to a rigorous peer-review process at the end of the program.

"Learn, practice and apply — it’s all-important," Mayberry said. "And what we’ve found to be most effective is when someone comes to the program with a specific remit from their organization, to learn and practice the principles of sustainability and then to bring back a specific deliverable. To successfully complete the course and receive the certification, individuals must complete their individual project — whether a proposal, report or recommendation for their organization in whatever format serves their home organization best — but it needs to meet the quality standards of their teammates in the peer review process."

"We need to transform the way we do business," Hart said. "We can’t treat sustainability like a ‘saddlebag’ — hanging off the side of the organization. It’s fundamental. It needs to be integrated into every aspect of the business, from purpose to strategy to operations to metrics. This program gives people the opportunity to learn how to do that."

The 10-week Leading the Sustainability Transformation professional certificate program will be offered in two sessions: Sept. 14-Nov. 22 or Jan. 11-March 21. Each session is offered at a special introductory rate of $1,950 and space is limited. Click here to learn more and register.

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