“One fine day, encouraged by the massive use of chemical fertilizers by surrounding farmers, a small green alga begins to thrive in a vast lake. Its annual spread is rapid, but no one cares. Doubling each year, the algae will cover the entire pond within thirty years. One will begin to worry when the algae have colonized half the surface, triggering the asphyxiation of aquatic life.
It took decades to get to that point, but it will only take one year to cause the death of the lake ecosystem. We have reached the point where green algae have colonized half of our pond…” so wrote long ago Serge Latouche, in his much-debated paper, “Farewell to Growth” while commenting on the capitalist economic model and its effect on the environment.
Today the numbers of reports and analyses speak clearly: Our Planet is slowly deteriorating! With warming 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels and the mass extinction of animal breeds and plant species, we have entered a dangerous new era.
Therefore, the focus of the international socio-political, economic, and cultural debate is today, on the dynamics of eco-sustainability. Companies and large organizations are looking around with eagerness and restlessness, waking up from indifference to the environment. But the turmoil is not necessarily something negative; it can also be a driving force towards acting differently: the excitement of trying new business strategies or seeing opportunities for growth that were not previously considered.
New business leaders are preparing and training on the new ESG standards – Environmental Social Governance. These standards can be understood as a blueprint toward planet sustainability (Green shift) and businesses. Indeed, ESG standards acknowledge and support questions such as, ‘What can we do for the future of our planet?’ ‘What impact does my company have on the environment?’
These practices and behaviors are aimed to strengthen the Sustainability DNA, i.e., the management practices and processes that all resources must follow within the organization to change behaviors and decision-making capabilities.
However, it would be a mistake to think that all leaders are equally committed to this shift.
The maximum return with a minimum effort
Stakeholders and investors today are not willing to have lower profits than yesterday and demand them from all those organizations that are good for the environment. Many managers of large companies know this, and that is why they are willing to comply with this demand.
Some leaders are simply willing to go along with the movement towards sustainability as if they are following the mainstream and taking into account the new rules of Business. And so if stakeholders want transparency regarding the carbon footprint emitted, the marketing department is called in, and if an ethical crisis erupts, then it will be a public relations problem.
The green shift, in this respect, appears as a movement dragged from the outside, a kind of reaction to suggestions arising from beyond the company. A forced, though not fictitious change, that will be made only if it can be publicly shared.
To be clear, in this case, we are not referring to greenwashing: the leader we referring to is perfectly capable of answering the question What actions am I taking to support the environment? And the actions chosen have an actual positive impact on the environment. However, the latter is instrumental in obtaining capital and funding and is not aimed to strengthen the Sustainability DNA. In this type of management practice that accommodates change, sustainable behaviors will not be expected in the daily work routine of people in the company unless they are legally required.
Taking charge of a new corporate mission
Other leaders have taken a different approach to the green shift and ESG strategies, succeeding in debunking the cliché that doing well financially is an opposite and incompatible action from doing well for the environment.
Some managers have not simply changed their strategy to include some sustainable actions, but have also worked for a change to occur at a personal level in their assets. This kind of change to sustainability is more difficult than the previous one as it is more profound and will have positive effects in the long run.
Integrating the issue of environmental sustainability within the company’s mission and cultural DNA means requiring all resources to enact sustainable behaviors in their workday. In this case, the movement to change arises in the company’s heart and radiates outwards like the sun’s beams.
The leader acts as an example for his or her resources and stimulates them to implement behaviors that are correct for the environment. In this way, when a resource makes a certain behavior their own, acquiring it sincerely, then the latter will not only be accomplished within the walls of their office but will become casual movements of people’s personal lives.
This is how a company becomes a promoter of change! In this sense, the charisma and confidence of leadership are the keys to change, but for this to happen, the leader first must be convinced: It is necessary to be consistent: Walk the Talk! (you can’t preach well and do wrong!).
Another characteristic of this type of change lies in the goals set. Leaders and managers who are sincerely committed to sustainable programs set challenging but always realistic goals, unlike companies that instead patronize change. The latter publish ambitious plans, but not at all achievable and without referring to KPIs to demonstrate achievements.
Whereas companies that promote change, are not afraid to publicize even negative news, because they are aware that the ecological challenge must be carried on day by day and will pay off in the long run, unlike companies that pander to change. In this case, there is a danger that the efforts made, which are sometimes slick, do not go deep enough to bring both business and environmental benefits.
In short, the first step for the green shift is how one looks at the problem of sustainability. Only if taken personally, with a thoughtful approach that can be seen as an opportunity for business growth, and more importantly, as an opportunity to protect the Planet the green shift becomes a real success.
If, on the other hand, the green shift will simply be a response to an external stimulus, then we are talking about a superficial change that will not have the strength to leave the office walls. Determining the movement of change – from the inside out or the outside in – will be the role and responsibility of the leader!
This is what we observe as Business Coaches by attending diverse and very heterogeneous organizations and what we support and implement daily in our small organizations and our private lives.
What about you, how do you intend to take action in the movement?…