In a time of general instability in society and the unrelenting fast pace of everyday life, sustainability and its associated phrases of all lengths and forms seem to have become indispensable in all communication. While most people still equate sustainability with environmental protection, at the level of organisations we are talking about principled guidelines that strategically dictate decision-making. Elsewhere, sustainability is emerging and gaining ground because of the moral and ethical stance of management and the orientation of corporate culture, elsewhere for regulatory or purely profit-driven reasons.
Who is behind the drive to use sustainability as a buzzword? The 2020 opinion poll report “Sustainability – a buzzword, a communication or business priority for organisations”, conducted in collaboration with Marketing Magazine and Kliping, shows that sustainability initiators are largely coming from corporate communication departments, followed by public relations departments. There are fewer marketing communication specialists, and most come from other, supporting departments. The key role is played by the leadership of the organisations, with middle management and professional services proving time and again the importance of good example.
Leadership is important for building the right corporate culture and making sustainable decisions. Likewise, with the right sustainability leadership, the concept of sustainability can be pushed towards the top, if not to the very top, of organisational priorities. .The power of leadership, knowledge and example most often leads to a response of identification with leadership among employees, which strengthens the resilience of the organisation. In an era when many things are taken for granted, sustainable governance should certainly not be taken for granted. At this point, we can also point to the increasingly popular notion of sustainability leaders, often CEOs who lead their organisations with society, the environment and the long-term sustainability goals in mind. Sustainable leaders take into account all stakeholders who have any connection to the company. From employees to consumers and all the way to future generations, not just financial investors.
A leader must ensure that this type of leadership is known to all employees and that his or her actions set a good example for his or her employees. Employees mirror the actions of management, following in their footsteps, contributing ideas and learning from their mistakes. “Walk the talk” is key to leadership. If we want to act sustainably, this means that we need to align our routines, behaviours and practices with our values, among which sustainability itself needs to be high on the list.
And how to be a good sustainability leader?
- Show at the outset that a change is feasible. If you succeed, so will the team around you.
- Share information on sustainability or how to implement it. This allows people to process them easily over time.
- It is also important that you do not expect results or big changes instantly, but in due course.
- Rather than defining an exact strategy, if possible, give more weight to staying focused on your goal.
Take every opportunity to broaden your horizons, but never let learning lead you only to knowledge. Let it lead you into action.