Leadership Actions for a More Sustainable Future


The objective: Embed sustainability into the core of business strategy and operations


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Lay the Foundations     Set the Plan     Enable the Change


Leaders should not treat sustainability as a matter of brand and reputation management or as an addendum to their core business—for instance, by simply launching a small line of sustainable products or services. Sustainability must be a critical strand of business strategy, motivating the transformation of operations and business models, and ensuring all opportunities are evaluated through a sustainability lens.

Achieving this kind of transformation—a shift towards value creation—is not for the faint-hearted. It requires leadership grit. Leaders and those around them need to be able to see and understand the complex web of cause and effect across market, social, environmental and regulatory variables. They also must be prepared to spearhead true long-termism: the willingness
to make disruptive investments and the courage and resilience to stay the course in the face of setbacks and pressure from short-term oriented stakeholders.

There are three key areas of action that leaders should focus on to drive progress on their organization’s sustainability journey:

01. Lay the Foundations: Embed sustainability into leadership capability and culture

Driving sustainability transformation is, at its core, about the lens through which decisions are made—and this lens is a direct result of the priorities, perspectives and passions of the leaders steering the organization—both across the board and C-suite. Who is on the leadership team, and how that leadership team operates together, has the potential to enable or torpedo an organization’s progress on sustainability.

With this in mind, organizations need to take concerted steps to embed sustainability into the frameworks that determine how leaders are selected, promoted, rewarded and developed. They must also ensure that the culture and dynamic of the leadership team enables executives and board directors to productively engage with the challenges and opportunities of

Leaders should focus on the following areas to deliver results:.

Selection and succession



Invest in talent

Team Effectiveness

Update selection and succession frameworks to consider individuals’ sustainable leadership potential and track record and enable the board and senior management to apply sustainability as a key criterion when selecting and promoting leaders.

Integrate sustainability into the objectives, incentives and remuneration of the CEO and executive team. Reward and promote those who lead sustainably.

Assess and shore up deficiencies in leadership attributes, mindsets and competencies required to lead sustainably.

Make long-term disruptive investments in talent, leadership and culture. This may mean creating new positions or functions, elevating existing mandates, or investing in new tools to support a sustainable transformation.

Invest in understanding the individual expectations, priorities, personalities and capabilities of your leadership team members in order to harness and direct their collective capabilities in service of sustainability.


02. Set the Plan: Connect sustainability priorities to the core

Sustainability is a complex space; it covers an array of environmental, economic and social issues, as well as a large web of stakeholders, from investors, regulators and customers to employees. This makes setting and defining a clear strategy a difficult undertaking.

Leaders need to walk the tightrope between being so broad as to dilute their ability to have real impact and too focused so as to alienate critical stakeholders.

Leaders should focus on the following actions to deliver results:


Connect to the core

Drive for value creation

Engage the board

Get specific

Orient your sustainability strategy around your company’s core business and areas of current or future competitive advantage.

Begin with impact reduction but strive for goals that create added value both commercially and environmentally and/or
socially, by offering new solutions for entrenched problems.

Ensure the board has an active stake in setting priorities and a clear role to play in achieving them.

Translate enterprise-wide sustainability goals into concrete actions and measurable objectives that leaders and employees alike can feel in their day-to-day work.


03. Enable the Change: Communicate and build employee engagement

As we have seen throughout this report, the perception of individuals across an organization can vary greatly. Employees are often much more skeptical about leadership actions and progress on sustainability than the leaders themselves. Moreover, respective ideas of what is a critical priority varies. While employees are concerned about macro issues like climate change, they are also much more affected by the everyday impact of economic and social inequalities. It is crucial that leaders make employees, and the communities in which they operate, central to how they build and communicate their sustainability strategies.

Leaders should focus on the following actions to deliver results:

Measure culture and engagement

Center on your people

Tap into employees to drive innovation

Treat employee engagement as a strategic imperative

Go beyond typical engagement surveys and use advanced culture analytics tools to get a deep scan of how connected employees really are to the organization’s purpose and whether the right behaviors and values are manifesting.

Make “people” central to communications and engagement strategies; consider bottom-up, not top-down, approaches to mobilizing employees.

Ensure you are leveraging the diversity of perspectives and solutions that employees of all backgrounds, and across the networks, can provide.

Strategic goals (sustainable or otherwise) are harder to achieve when workforces are not engaged. Pay attention to issues of diversity, equity and fairness—and don’t fall into the trap of managing perception. Instead, identify and tackle the root causes.



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