Sustainability Leadership

leadershipThe leaders of an organisation can make or break its sustainability credibility. Good sustainability leadership involves not only supporting sustainability initiatives, but demonstrating behaviours consistent with that support.  People don’t just listen to what you say – they watch what you do.  When people see their leaders making personal changes to operate more sustainably, they are inspired to do so themselves.

Research on this enabler…

  • Research by Ramus and Steger found that “Employees who perceived strong signals of organisational and supervisory encouragement were more likely to develop and implement creative ideas that positively affected the natural environment”.
  • Harvard research found that only 25% of employees felt their leaders modelled sustainable working practices (mostly focused on work-life balance). Those staff whose bosses do demonstrate sustainable work practices were 55% more engaged and 77% more satisfied at work.
  • A 2000 study into the values of the leaders of 73 environmental organisations found that they were more ecocentric, open to change, and “self-transcendent” than managers of other organisations.
  • A review of intervention techniques for sustainability in the workplace concluded that “First, the leadership role is the most important factor for sustainability in the workplace”

Strategies for improving this enabler…

leadership image

  • Engage the leadership team in defining and committing to a set of behaviours and actions which demonstrate and role model the organisation’s sustainability aspirations
  • Train middle management in sustainability knowledge and skills for providing sustainability leadership
  • Invite senior managers to provide sustainability updates as part of regular communications to employees
  • Include sustainability outcomes in leadership KPI’s and performance criteria
  • Engage senior managers in forums to share sustainability ideas with their external peers

Best Practice Examples…

  • UK construction company Willmott Dixon developed a sustainability skills matrix for all employees to complete at their performance reviews. Executives also attend annual sustainability leadership programs.
  • Senior executives at HSBC attend a sustainability leadership program where they learn about key issues and opportunities and how to embed sustainability in decision-making and leadership.
  • Welsh railway company Arriva Trains requires their leaders to take responsibility for championing sustainability, through leading sustainability discussions, challenging unsustainable practices, and making executives responsible for delivery of sustainability objectives.

How Awake can help…

  • Awake can help you create a sustainability competency and behaviour matrix which defines key behaviours and skills for delivering sustainability leadership.
  • Using the Sustainability Culture Indicator, Awake can provide metrics on sustainability engagement, including staff views on leadership.  This information is invaluable for informing and influencing leaders and managers seeking to embed sustainability in their culture.
  • Awake can design and deliver unique workshops for managers and leaders to self-reflect on their sustainability leadership, make commitments to action and improvement, and learn skills for sustainability engagement and influencing.

Other useful resources…