LEADERSHIP FOR SUSTAINABILITY

This article looks into what differs between sustainability leadership and traditional leadership.

london skyline

There was one quotation that I came across recently that struck me as hitting the nail on the head for what the difference is, and I will post it below.

Sustainability requires leaders to be focussed more externally and it consider the interests of a wider spectrum of stakeholders.

It comes from a study by Bertels in 2010 called Embedding Sustainability in Organizational Culture and you can find a link to that study here.

Good leadership is good leadership, but there are some unique characteristics to sustainability that require a slightly different kind of leadership to ensure success.

Sustainability is different from a traditional business problem that can be solved by management. Sustainability is a wicked problem and so requires fundamental and far reaching change to the structure of most organisations.

Some of the best writing I have come across on the psychology of this is by George Marshall in his book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change. Humans survived throughout evolution because we are good at dealing with very real, very dangerous and very immediate threats. Such as running from a lion in the jungle or confronting an intruder in the house. We are not programmed to be good at dealing with long-term threats. I did a review of this book which you can find here.

For a lot of CEOs at public companies their life is lived financial quarter by financial quarter and for a lot of small business owners, they live month by month. This is why those who take a long-term approach are leaders, as they dare to be different.

We should never forget the original 1987 Our Common Future, definition of sustainable development.  Their definition can be found in full below.

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

I wrote a 4 part book review of Our Common Future, and for those who are interested, you can find a link to part 1 here.

For me, sustainability leadership differs from traditional business leadership as sustainability has a prerequisite for long-term thinking.

What you need to know

This article looked into what differs between sustainability leadership and traditional leadership.

We looked into how sustainability leadership requires an external focus and to consider the concerns of stakeholders that have historically been marginalised and ignored.

We looked into how sustainability is a wicked problem and so cookie cutter leadership styles that can be applied to traditional business problems are insufficient.

Sustainability leadership also has a prerequisite for long-term thinking.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think makes a leader a sustainability leader?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

WHAT ARE WE DOING?

This article looks into The Great Acceleration. This is a set of graphs created by Steffen, et al in 2015. It is very much the case that the impact of the infographic is greater than the sum of the individual charts.

What they display is exponential growth, which we know is not possible on a finite planet.

great-acceleration

I like the juxtaposition of the socio-economic trends alongside the earth system trends. This is the problem that sustainable development was created to solve. The graphs make it very clear that there are a lot of phenomena that are happening at the same time and many of these are linked.

I remember when I saw the graphs of The Great Acceleration for the first time, my immediate thoughts were of how important an ecological economics perspective is in this debate.

ecological economics

Particularly with regards to the earth system trends, I think that there needs to be a greater realisation that the economy and society exist within the environment. Without a viable environmental system, there will be no society or economy.

This should be used to inspire action by businesses, governments and individuals.

The charts for the socio-economic trends show all of the categories growing at a rapid rate.

For the earth system trends, the ones that stood out for me were the carbon dioxide graph, the methane graph and the tropical forest loss graph. Especially with regards to tropical deforestation, rates have been so high for so long, that we face passing on this ecosystem to the next generation in a very different state than we found it.

What is clear, is that particularly post 1950, these indicators have taken off like a rocket. Particularly when you look at the two datasets together, it is easier to see why many argue that we are living in a new geological age, one where humans are the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

If it is the case that we are living in the Anthropocene, then it makes the case for sustainable development based on the principles of ecological economics far stronger.

One positive takeaway would be that the data for atmospheric methane concentration and stratospheric ozone loss have been slowing or stabilising over the past decade. This shows that change is possible.

What you need to know

This article looked into The Great Acceleration. We looked at the graphs located within the 2015 paper by Steffen, et al.

The data clearly point to an exponential level of growth in the socio-economic indicators and a rising level in the earth system trends, which much change built into the system.

The graphs should work to sharpen the resolve of those who are interested in sustainable development.

Especially with regards to what framework should be used to evaluate progress on sustainable development, it is my belief that it makes the need for an ecological economics perspective greater.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think of The Great Acceleration?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY ONLINE

This article looks into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and how businesses should operate online.

data centre

A lot is written about what businesses should do for their employees, for their communities and for other stakeholders. But is there enough focus on what businesses should do in the online world?

I talk a lot about the need for consistency in what businesses do on sustainability and corporate responsibility. It therefore stands to reason that a great deal of harmony is needed between a company’s CSR efforts in the real world and their efforts online.

Ogilvy on Advertising in the Digital Age

I just finished reading the recently released updated version of Ogilvy on Advertising by Miles Young. I found this to be packed full of information on corporate responsibility and how brands can leverage this online.

Ogilvy on Advertising

This short article is in no way a full book review; however, I might follow up with one in due course.

There was one section in particular that caught my eye and it was a section on CSR on page 205. It goes as follows.

DIGITAL SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: THREE RULES

  1. Be extremely sensitive to anything which remotely smells of “green-washing” – of insincerely stealing the clothes of an issue.

 

  1. Be prepared to shock the audience into understanding that your issue is important.

 

  1. Have a clear ask: what do you want people to do, and, if they do it, how it will improve the issue.

I thought that these were great morals for companies to abide by online.

I mentioned before about Simon Mainwaring of WeFirst that I thought his input into corporate responsibility was highly valuable. There is also the input of someone else that I really like and that is Steve Hilton, who co-founded Good Business. Both of these gentlemen came into corporate responsibility after careers in advertising and after this latest effort by Miles Young, I think there is clearly a lot of room for professionals in this space to help improve the communications aspects of sustainability and corporate responsibility.

Back to the three rules that Miles Young has put forward, lets look at each of these in turn.

For the first rule, it cannot be emphasised how important this is. Effective CSR programmes are not cheap and a lot of good and valuable work can be undone if a company takes a foray into greenwashing and suffers the consequences in the media for it. Particularly with social media, consumers are smarter than ever and able to access information from their peers. When this is combined with well resourced NGO’s who can call out instances of greenwashing, there is really no way a company will be able to get away with it.

As far as the second rule goes, this was the rule that I was most pleased to see. Companies, particularly large companies have a tendency to play it safe and aim for the mushy middle. But that route is not only heavily congested but is also as ineffective as it has ever been. The companies that you see making headlines for their CSR programmes are the ones that are really pushing the boat out and going all in on sustainability. This has a lot of business benefits and consumers will reward you for your efforts if you go the extra mile.

The last rule is also very important. The saying that I have been pushing for some time now is that communication is the missing link in sustainability. I was writing recently about the opportunities that exist for corporate responsibility within the marketing department and you can find a link to this below.

MARKETING CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY

Sustainability and corporate responsibility are complex ideas, which are interwoven with a number of wicked and not easy to solve problems. This is why they have lingered for so long. For me what Miles is trying to get at in his third rule comes down to materiality. Have you selected issues to focus on which are material and relevant to your business? If you do that, it will be a lot easier for consumers and other stakeholders to see the logic in your CSR programmes.

If you are a drinks manufacturer, you are going to want to be very strong on your water use and your plastic bottles. If you are a clothing manufacturer, you are going to want to be very strong on the labour standards in your supply chain and the chemicals in your clothing. If you are a construction company, you are going to want to be very strong on the environmental performance of your buildings and the health and safety on your building sites.

Sustainability means 100 different things to 100 different businesses. If you come from leftfield with your CSR programmes, don’t be surprised if these fail to connect with your audiences.

Also, for the last point, it really cannot be emphasised how important it is to get your customers involved in your CSR programmes. With the advent of social media this has never been easier and there is no reason why your customers, who are a key stakeholder group should not be involved online.

What you need to know

This article looked into CSR and how businesses should operate online.

We looked into three rules for digital social responsibility which were pulled out of the new Ogilvy on Advertising book by Miles Young.

The overall takeaways should be that greenwashing is highly risky, with a very small upside and the potential for a very substantial downside. That consumers are likely to reward you if you push the boat out and go all in on sustainability. Lastly, that you should pick issues that are material, be very clear with your communications and get your consumers involved in your CSR programmes online.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. How do you think responsible businesses should act online?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

MAKING SUSTAINABILITY REAL

This article looks into how businesses can make sustainability real. Businesses that make sustainability a core competency of their organisation have a better chance of capturing the opportunities that sustainability presents.

light through trees

Businesses that take the approach of using sustainability and corporate responsibility as a risk reduction strategy fail to capture the full benefits. This approach is better than being a business that willingly harms society and the environment, but it is not the best approach.

The best approach is to make sustainability the job of everyone in the business. This does not mean that it should be everyone’s number one priority all of the time, but it should certainly be in the top three.

Businesses that fully integrate sustainability into their way of working leave compliance risks from sustainability far behind and can work on solutions to sustainability problems that help their customers succeed.

Let’s now look into three ways companies can make sustainability everybody’s business.

1. Persistent public commitments

Persistent public commitments to sustainability and corporate responsibility help to highlight how the company is determined to do things differently. These should ideally come from senior executives and people with real influence.

This highlights to external stakeholders that the business is committed to responsible practices and demonstrates to employees what is expected of them. It creates a pressure to find sustainable solutions for their own business and for their customers.

In this environment, the business is naturally focussed on the opportunities that sustainability offers.

2. Partnerships

Partnerships are another way businesses can make sustainability real. These could come from inbound requests or from external prospecting.

Partnerships are the last and one of the most important of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

UN-SDGs

As a business, this could involve a partnership with another business, a charity and even academia or the government. The important thing is the collaboration and working together to help solve social and environmental problems.

3. Culture

Another way businesses can make sustainability real is by fostering a culture that supports sustainable ideas and innovation.

Without such an organisational culture it will be difficult for any business to make anything beyond meagre progress on sustainability.

An organisational culture that would predict success on sustainability would be one that is highly collaborative, open to trying new things and based on the best ideas rising to the top, regardless of where they have emerged from.

What you need to know

This article looked into how businesses can make sustainability real. The important thing is to make sustainability seamless within the organisation and not a bolt on afterthought.

I have suggested three ways this can be achieved. It can be achieved by persistent public commitments from senior executives at the organisation. I can be achieved by launching new partnerships with other organisations to solve problems related to sustainability. It can also be achieved by fostering an organisational culture that is receptive to new ideas.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think businesses need to do to make sustainability real?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

MARKETING CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY

This article considers marketing within the context of corporate responsibility. There are some who would consider marketing to be the opposite of what a responsible business should be engaged in. But this is not the case.

woods

If marketing is defined as “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.” Then it should be clear that marketing itself is not dangerous, only specific types of misleading marketing and marketing that promotes products and services that damage the earth socially and environmentally.

What is needed is a new kind of marketing that makes sustainability irresistible and causes responsible businesses to stand out.

The good news is, that there are lots of opportunities for businesses who take a creative approach to marketing their responsible business practices.

Businesses that integrate sustainability into their marketing messaging become more responsible businesses. By doing this, you can change consumer preferences and change the way an entire sector is perceived.

This of course needs to be backed up with verifiable and meaningful changes so as to not to be considered greenwash. There should not be any inconsistencies. High standards of corporate responsibility should be found throughout a company’s operations.

Responsible businesses look to develop a new kind of marketing that is distinctly different to what came before it. Let’s look into some of these aspects.

1.    Environmental impacts

In the old style of marketing, environmental impacts would not have figured in any kind of messaging. Now, responsible businesses should use the marketing channel to demonstrate their excellent environmental credentials.

For services businesses, this should be demonstrating that that they have very robust sustainability throughout their operations and supply chain.

For manufacturing businesses, this should be demonstrating that their products are manufactured using efficient processes and that during their lifecycle they will use less energy and resources than competing products. Consumers also care about the products packaging and what to do after the product is needed. The packaging should be made of recyclable material and you should help consumers to be able to repair their product if necessary.

In this regard Patagonia is clearly a leader. Making their products with sustainable materials and helping their customers to repair items. Please watch the video below, where founder Yvon Chouinard sets out how his business is distinctly different from businesses that operate a single use throwaway model.

Yvon Chouinard: Why there is no kinship between Apple and Patagonia

2.  Human impacts

Responsible businesses also take the time to demonstrate that they care about the human impacts of their organisation. Consumers care a great deal about what their money is being spent on and they have a right to know so that they can make informed decisions.

For construction companies, this would be demonstrating exceptional levels of competence in health and safety.

For manufacturing companies, particularly those using factories located in emerging markets, a lot of emphasis should be placed on labour standards. If you have gone to great lengths to ensure that the labour conditions in your supply chain are robust then you should relay this to your consumers via your marketing efforts.

A great company in this regard is Nike and you can learn more about this by clicking the link below.

Nike supply chain disclosure

3.  Cause related marketing

Cause related marketing is a great example of how marketing can be used by responsible businesses.

This is a new form of marketing where a company partners with a charity to tackle a social or environmental problem. The typical setup is that a company enters into an agreement with a charity and a portion of the proceeds from the sales is donated to the cause. The aim is to create value for the company, the charity and the consumer at the same time. This example of a win-win-win outcome is a truly special phenomenon and why cause related marketing is so powerful.

Probably the best known and most successful cause related marketing campaign is the Pampers partnership with UNICEF on their tetanus programme. This works well because of the synergies between the product and the cause. You can find out more by clicking the link below.

Pampers UNICEF Partnership

A recently announced cause related marketing campaign that caught my eye was the Xerox relationship with PrintReleaf. This will allow customers to record, track and monitor their paper usage to ensure an equivalent area is replanted in managed forestry projects. This works well as a monitoring aspect and it works even better as it has tangible benefits in helping their customers to be more sustainable. You can learn more about the partnership via the link below.

Xerox to offset customer paper footprints through reforestation platform

4.  Products as services

This is an attractive option for manufacturing businesses who are developing products with high levels of efficiency and durability.

With this option, products are leased to the customer through a pay for use arrangement. This totally dismantles the incentive for manufactures to load their products with planned obsolescence. It incentivises companies to develop durable products, that are highly efficient and that can be disassembled and recycled easily.

With a normal product distribution model, the incentive is purely to maximise the volume of sales. With a product as a service business model, it incentivises performance and rewards companies that have the most efficient offering. This allows manufacturing companies to capture the environmental and energy benefits that they pass on to their customers.

This is a marketing strategy that results in a number of benefits. The manufacturing company wins through increased sales and more reliable income, the customer wins through access to a higher quality product and the ability to pay over time and the environment wins as perverse incentives are eliminated and the most efficient producer wins.

What you need to know

This article considers marketing within the context of corporate responsibility.

We looked into how responsible businesses should integrate messaging about how they are tackling their environmental and human impacts into their marketing output.

We looked into how responsible businesses can create engaging and memorable customer experiences via cause related marketing.

We also looked at how manufacturing businesses can flip whole sectors on their head by designing their products as services.

All of the different options demonstrate that it is not marketing per se that is flawed, but rather misleading marketing that leads customers towards options that are bad for society and the environment.

It is incumbent on responsible businesses to advertise and market to their customers what a better world looks like and how they are making it possible. Through changes to their marketing strategy, responsible businesses can make sustainability desirable and gain market share as a result.

The overall takeaway is that businesses should focus on the opportunities that integrating sustainability and corporate responsibility into their marketing strategy presents.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. How do you think responsible businesses should market themselves?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

THE FUTURE MBA – GISELLE WEYBRECHT

This book review looks into The Future MBA: 100 ideas for making sustainability the business of business education by Giselle Weybrecht. I followed the ideas closely when Giselle was releasing them daily via social media and it is great to see how it has turned into a physical book.

mba

I came across Giselle through her other book The Sustainable MBA. I thought that book was absolutely outstanding, you can read my short review of that book by clicking the link below.

2017 A YEAR IN LITERATURE

The book opens with some really impressive recommendations by Paul Polman, Richard Lyons and others. The introduction sets the scene and lets readers know about the basis of the book, which was 100 ideas posted online over 100 days to explore what the business degree of the future should look like.

Giselle opines that “Each idea brings with it multiple potential benefits, for the school, the students and, in particular, sustainability in its broadest sense.”

I think that the criticisms and suggestions that Giselle makes are certainly relevant to other degree choices in higher education.

My intention is to pick out what I consider to be the best ideas and the ones that I found most relevant for improving the situation outside of business education.

1.    Suits

I really liked this opening idea and the arguments that Giselle constructed around it. I liked her point below.

Creating a more casual dress environment (within reason) may provide a better setting for the sharing of information and insights, drawn both from successes and failures. It may give students the opportunity to focus on being what they are and not what the sector wants them to be.

13. Risk taking and failure

This was the next idea that really stood out for me. It is important that universities focus on turning out the right kind of candidates and not just candidates who can memorise information and write essays. A healthy relationship with risk and failure is one such skill set.

Giselle writes that “businesses increasingly need graduates who aren’t afraid of questioning assumptions or testing new ideas, graduates that can help create a culture and environment in business that supports risk taking in a constructive way.

23. Influence

I found this idea to be very relevant. I have a big interest in the psychology of persuasion and it is definitely something that needs to be touched upon at university.

26. Plug and play

This idea definitely chimed with my own beliefs on how university courses should be run. It is now a few years since I finished university and with only abstract memories of the main lectures, my memories of the guest lectures remain largely intact because of how engaging they were.

Giselle writes that “in the future, a variety of organisations in particular fields will create regularly updated mini-lectures on the subject on which they specialize, which can be used within business school programmes globally.”

30. Labs

I liked this idea as it emphasises the importance of doing things and not just talking about things. Giselle’s idea is that “rather than bringing together groups of individual researchers publishing papers, labs will be much more action-oriented and involve a wider range of individuals.”

40. Turning off

This was an idea that made a lot of sense to me as I am someone who did not get a smart phone until January 2014. I find these devices to be useful, but extremely distracting, when for quality work concentration is required. I now have my phone on aeroplane mode for a lot of the time, so that I can receive notifications at my time of choosing.

Giselle’s idea is that “students will be asked to leave their cell phones, computers and all other devices at the door for courses where they are not necessary.”

71. Easily accessible

I found this idea very interesting. Ultimately, research is nice, but if it does not influence the real world then it has not been useful.

Giselle writes that “the challenge is not only that many of the publications in this space are not readily accessible to business practitioners, but that they are often not written in a way that is useful or relevant to the actual challenges that businesses are dealing with.”

90. Collaborative action

In this idea Giselle makes a good point about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). While in the sustainability space, they have made a huge impact, in wider society I think people would be shocked about how little the general public know and understand about these ambitious goals.

On this subject Giselle writes that “few business students or faculty have heard of these but, due to their increasing influence over business practice, should be more widely discussed in business education.”

100. A change in language

I really enjoyed this point as I am very passionate about language and its ability to shape perceptions.

Giselle writes that “for many students, ‘sustainability’ and ‘business’ are two completely different concepts.”

What you need to know

This book review looked into The Future MBA by Giselle Weybrecht.

This book proved to be an interesting and impressive read even as someone who has not sat through a business education course.

I found the ideas within the book to be relevant for other university degree courses and society more broadly.

I would definitely recommend this book.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be changed about university education to improve sustainability?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

SUSTAINABLE OPPORTUNITIES IN THE SERVICE SECTOR

This article looks into sustainable opportunities that can be seized upon by businesses in the service sector. These tend to be businesses with a lower environmental footprint than other sectors. But as we will see, sustainability is very important for this group of businesses.

london 1

In the UK, the service sector is especially important. This sector accounts for 79% of UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The decline in the numbers of people working in manufacturing and the increase in the numbers of service sector workers is part of a long-term trend. The number of service sector workers overtook the number of manufacturing workers in 1881. This surprised me as I would have thought that it would have happened later than that.

Unsurprisingly, London is dominated by service businesses, with this sector accounting for 91% of the city’s economy.

Whilst the UK’s economy is particularly dominated by the service sector, as the graph below shows, this is a trend that is seen across the G7 countries.

services sector by country (ONS)

Let’s now turn to two sustainable opportunities that service sector businesses should seize upon.

1. Sustainable procurement

Because of the nature of service sector businesses, they will typically have less sustainability variables to manage directly than businesses in other sectors.

What this means, is that your service sector business needs to be bulletproof in its supply chain sustainability. There is no excuse for service sector businesses to have poor sustainability within their supply chain.

Businesses in the service sector depend on inputs from the manufacturing and primary sectors. These need to be selected with sustainability in mind. The new paradigm of sustainability and corporate responsibility dictates that even though you did not produce these inputs, if you purchase them and use them within your business, you are responsible for their sustainability credentials.

Sustainable procurement also offers the opportunity to look for suppliers who are local and who are SME’s. Some consumers may be willing to pay a small premium for these products or display a higher level of brand loyalty.

Sustainable procurement should be seen as partly a risk reduction measure. But it is also about seizing on the opportunity to be the sustainable service provider of choice.

2.  Create green consumers

The marketing channel is an excellent avenue for sustainability. Maybe you have green consumers already, which is a good thing. But if you do not, then it is possible to create them through marketing of sustainability.

You can promote your own and your supplier’s sustainability success stories. These should be short, neatly packaged stories that people can connect with.

You can use communications to demonstrate how the actions you are taking make your consumers environmental footprint smaller.

You can also engage in cause related marketing. This is where a company’s marketing is directly aligned with a charity or cause and each purchase provides a certain amount of benefit to the worthy recipient. This can build reciprocity between the consumer and the business and is an example of a win-win-win outcome. The business wins through sales, the consumer wins as they feel they are making a difference and the charity wins through funding and a raised profile.

All of the techniques discussed help to make your services desirable and memorable. You really can create green consumers.

What you need to know  

This article looked into sustainable opportunities in the services sector.

We looked into how the services sector dominates the UK and other advanced industrial economies.

We looked into how sustainable procurement can make you the sustainable service provider of choice.

We also looked into how through marketing of sustainability, you can create green consumers.

All sectors have a responsibility to help make sustainability happen. The priorities in the services sector a slightly different, but the end state remains the same.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think are the key sustainable opportunities in the services sector?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby