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Reposted from: LinkedIn

Warning: Ideas discussed here are ahead of time. And yet, better be 20 years ahead than 20 years behind.

They say ships don’t sink because of the turbulent oceans in which they find themselves. Ships sink because of cracks that let the ocean within. Cracks form due to a number of reasons (captain’s inadequate judgement, team that is misaligned, and/or ship infrastructure that is poorly maintained – all of these intimately related).

Whatever the reason, a strong ship takes you through the storm, and a weak one takes you right to the bottom.

Similarly, companies do not go out of business because of challenging and shifting economic conditions, insufficient resources due to climate change, or poor integration into cultural and social landscapes. Companies go out of business because they are not fit within themselves to adapt to changing economic, social and environmental circumstances.

Just like people, companies need to build capacity on the within in order to stay afloat of adversity.

As Credit Swisse points out in their 2015 report: ‘Aiming for Impact: Credit Swisse and the Sustainable Development Goals‘:

‘the private sector is starting to realise the benefits of contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’, those being the agenda to transform the world from 2015 until 2016, and which can be considered as the one and only path to the sustainability of our planet and the preserving of its biodiversity.

As Credit Swisse rightly points out, the private sector has been increasingly pressured by the public and all other stakeholders to include social, environmental and governance (ESG) factors in not only the reporting on the business, but also the business strategic planning, business model and operations.

Meanwhile, the private sector is – as always – expected to grow. However,

growth needs to be rethought in the context of the SDGs!

Innovative business models need to be found, such that create shared value for all business, society and the environment. And this can be incredibly tricky. Why? Because for businesses to do so, they need to work with all stakeholders, those being the United Nations System in its appropriate bodies, civil society, indigenous peoples, governments and regulatory forces. In fact, all these parties need to reach out and collaborate for sustainable growth, one that keeps profits on the rise but also preserves and enhances the biodiversity of the planet.

If businesses want to stay ahead of the game and afloat of current climatic and social adversities, this is the one and only way for them to do so and be here in another – let’s say – 100 or more years from now. And is it not what we all want, an agile yet profitable business that stays afloat and not only leverages, but also drives sustainability for growth?

What such a business-public sector-government-civil society collaboration means, ultimately, is not just a series of agreements between stakeholder groups, public statements, philanthropic gifts, etc. Such a transformative collaboration can not be achieved by planning and tools we have been using so far. It can only be achieved by innovation.

For businesses to truly stay ahead of the game, and afloat of current economic, social and environmental challenges, by embarking on a journey of growth that is profitable and sustainable, they need to transform on the within in terms of business models, operations, culture and collaboration practices. This is what makes them fit for the long-term.

In other words, businesses need to develop an internal fitness, or resilience, that puts, takes and grounds them on a path of sustainable and profitable growth.

Sounds good. How to do this?

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Corporate sustainability reporting is the elephant in the room here. In a recent post on Corporate Sustainability Reporting: the Case for Change I explored the leveraging of corporate sustainability reporting as a change management tool that takes companies on a path of sustainable growth. And having further explored this with Albor360 (Sustainability Services for the Chemical Industry) and Meier Marketing Global (Helping Brands Stay Meaningful, Relevant, Flexible, and Happy), we can say the following:

  • Companies should do much more with their sustainability reports than what they are doing currently. Staring with a business materiality assessment based on the SDGs, engaging stakeholders and reporting on sustainability is only the first step. The real opportunity to transform on the within and get the business on a journey of sustainable growth only comes afterwards.

To leverage this opportunity, companies should leverage the sustainability reporting exercise as an innovative journey of conversation, knowledge sharing and communications on the within and without of the business with key stakeholder groups.

  • Innovative and powerful content marketing approaches and practices should be leveraged for internal communications, to ‘sell’ key messages to key stakeholder groups and achieve engagement and bottom-up action. Meanwhile, the same can be done on the outside to reach out and engage external actors and forces, not only to enhance the company brand image but also pave the way for its profitable yet sustainable transformation.

The corporate sustainability report targets and KPIs should be used to transform operations and integrate sustainability on the within of the business, that way making it fit and resilient.

  • KPIs should measure performance at different levels, including cross-unit/department/division, as well as within units/divisions/departments. This way, the very fabric of the business is innovated for sustainable growth, not just pieces of it. This makes for a healthy and well-connected business and a sturdy ship that stays afloat of current challenges.

Qualitative and quantitative measurements should both be used.

  • Examples of the former are stories and testimonials: they capture cause-effect relationships and make evident the heuristics that underlie performance, which heuristics in turn – by their engaging nature – create conditions for learning and innovation across the entire business to take place.
  • Knowledge sharing and organisational development tools such as social network analysis (of the type developed by a partner company, Innovisor) should be further leveraged to determine who the key influencers in the inside and outside of the company are, and then work with those champions to design and speed up corporate change efforts. Why? Because transformational change ultimately starts, ends, and works (or not) because of people as change agents, not because of systems, processes, or other mechanisms. In this sense:

Design thinking approaches that look to co-create strategies and forge an emotional and spiritual connection between the business and those who make it happen, as well as those who determine its relevance and those who depend on it, should also be increasingly used.

  • Last but not least, the right systems, in terms of infrastructure, IT and measurement, should be developed, co-created as appropriate and mainstreamed throughout the business in a participatory and engaging manner, leveraging content marketing and social media approaches and tools, and putting people at the centre.

With all this in place, a business is in for a journey of sustainable growth for the long term with a number of benefits: improved brand image, enhanced profitability, sustainable business models and systems, happy stakeholders, to say the least, and a lot more that can not be even projected to start with.

And, with all this in place, there is a growing and evolving conviction on the part of employees and stakeholders that this business, by growing, also develops the society and preserves the environment where it operates, in an ESG kind of a fashion.

The more the business can continually strike an ESG balance, and the more it uses the corporate sustainability reporting exercise as one key and integrative lever on this journey, the more we are convinced it is the kind of a business that is in it for the next 100 years at least which is, as you can imagine, very, very appealing to customers, consumers and investors. It is good for you now and it will be good for you tomorrow. And not only that, it makes you feel good too, no?!

Do you share these ideas? Myself, Albor360 and Meier Marketing Global would love to hear from you if you do. Do you have better ideas? Do you want to get on a sustainable growth journey? Please contact me.

We can travel with you, answer your questions and discuss opportunities for your business sustainable growth.

With you, we design and operationalise corporate social responsibility change management programs that leverage the various stages and opportunities of sustainability reporting. We empower you to get on a path of transformational discovery of what sustainable and profitable growth means for your business, and how about we do this for the 100 years from now?

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I just read this really excellent article by Bill Barnett in the Harvard Business Review Blog. It is called ”When Choosing a Job, Culture Matters”. I highly recommend it not only to job seekers, but also to anyone who’s looking for herself/himself in the organisation where she/he works, especially those who are not that happy with these organisatons and how they do what they do.

Organisational culture, or organisational mindset, is something I have already explored in another post. The culture within the organisation, the team, and so on where we work, is key to whether we can be successful in it. It is a key determinant, almost as important, if not more important than what the organisation or the team actually does.

Despite this, when we look for jobs, we often look for such in organisations that do something we believe in, be it reducing poverty, feeding the hungry, saving the displaced-by-disasters, developing social businesses, driving the digital revolution, and so forth. As we do this, we rarely ask the ”culture” and ”mindset” questions.

Personally, having worked with a variety of organisations for already more than nine years, and having experienced a variety of cultures, and having struggled a number of times, I am at a point where I think culture is more important than organisation purpose.

Think this scenario:

You have high integrity. You are environmental sustainability minded. You believe in business that is both responsible and sustainable. You value and respect others and expect them to value and respect you. You are focused on doing the right thing, always, and are prepared to work hard by yourself and with others to figure out what that is and then implement it. You are open to learning and new experiences. You believe in that real, all-encompassing and overturning change is the result of many working well together, not just a few doing their own thing. You believe in working with all the stakeholders. You are competitive and like winning. You are exhilarated by the possibility of winning a contest based on nothing but your abilities and outstanding performance. You have a vigorous approach to both practice and research. You want to make a difference in this world.

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You join an oil and gas company. Doesn’t make sense, right? How will you ever contribute to a business that is socially responsible and brings environmental sustainability to the world from within there? What this company does is in stark opposition with your values. But, think again, is it?

As it turns out, the oil and gas company has a culture that greatly suits what your personality needs in order to succeed. It is transparent when it comes down to promotions, and, because of the nature of the the business, there is a deep and shared commitment to health and safety. The people there want to do good (albeit it may sound like a paradox to you initially). They don’t want any spills. They want to innovate solutions to extracting the oil and gas in the depths of the Earth, solutions that do not damage it in the long term, solutions that do not cause and precipitate earthquakes, solutions that are clean and minimal in terms of impact. Furthermore, they are investing in renewable energy and are well familiar with how challenging is to produce such sustainably. They want to tackle this as a corporation. They are looking for the answers, together. There is respect for points of view different than yours. Knowledge sharing and knowledge management catalyse good practices emerging from the bottom-up, and scale them up through corporately adopted solutions. It is all bubbling inside that company, actually. There is urgency to innovate and plenty of commitment to doing good.

And so, surprisingly, culture-wise the company is a good fit for you, which is also why you took the job. You know it will be hard and challenging at times, but the culture is there to support you and carry you on its waves. Besides, a little bit of hardship and challenge is what you welcome to make things interesting and really make it possible for you to achieve your vision and goals.

Makes sense?

While this example is entirely fictitious, it helps to illustrate the point.

Culture, and not organisation purpose per se, is what creates conditions for us to succeed, to show and put to work what we are capable of, and to achieve our personal visions. The right culture is what brings it all out, connects us deeply with our colleagues and stakeholders, and makes it possible for us to run fast yet never be tired.

In a similar way, the people we work with, how they are, their aspirations and ways of working, their motivations and integrity are almost as important if not more important that what we actually do together with these people. And, this is because, if there is chemistry inherent to how we work together, we are willing to listen, learn together, change the course of action and even re-examine and change our values. If the culture is good, we are genuinely putting ourselves at work and positive growth can emerge. This is why culture, and that chemistry that imbues our teamwork with others, is by the far the most important prerequisite for us being successful, happy and satisfied at the workplace.

If you are reading this and are not happy with your work, think why that might be. Think what it is about it that is stopping you. Think of how to overcome it. If the only way of doing this is by joining another organisation (and leaving your current one), do that, don’t be complacent. It is all about growth in the end. Making yourself a success is the one most important thing you want to achieve in your life.

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I see the following dynamic streams in the future of our world (i.e., world = the dynamic system that represent the planet, environment, and humanity):

  • Religion

The role of religion, spiritual values and norms will increase in the years to come. This will not have much to do with the various sorts of religious institutions there are, however, unless these succeed to transform and embrace gender equality, social justice and innovation.

People will more and more want to be guided by religion in their day-to-day lives and decision making. More and more they will construct their own religion(s) though, rather than follow the ones that have been written. As much as they will appreciate the existing religions, they will also recognise their insufficiency. A world awaits where all religions fuse together to provide people with the spiritual guidance and answers they seek and need.

  • Environment

Sustainability and sustainable development will continue to be one of the most topical issues on the world’s plate today (the other ones being peace and security). The businesses that will win will generate sustainability from the heart of their organisations, and pursue sustainability as an opportunity for increased revenues.

Governments will provide more and more frameworks for business and society to embrace environmental sustainability, however a major challenge will lie in operationalising these frameworks.

Whilst richer countries will struggle to reinvent their entire systems and integrate sustainability and environmental preservation in them, poorer countries will be torn between 1) adopting sustainability as core to their systems and 2) pursuing development solutions that lift people from poverty in the short term but are unsustainable and damaging in the long run.

  • Social Innovation

What is more, stronger religion and sustainable systems underlying life on our planet will be accompanied by increased connections and collaboration within communities and across geographies. Solutions to pressing issues such as security, hunger, disease, justice, and the gender gap, will be the result of multi-stakeholder collaboration at every level – global, regional, local.

Innovation will take place in social spaces especially designed for this purpose, such as hubs, communities of practice, and groups like the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Councils. Agents of change will emerge and lead projects and initiatives beneficial to society and the environment.

  • The Human Species

With ecosystems often inadvertently changing, our bodies will change too. More and more people will live in polluted cities which will lead to gradual evolutionary changes to the human body.

In addition, the increased pace and connectedness of our lives, and the fact that we are bombarded with information, will mean changes in our brain capacity, minds and spirit. Children will learn faster than we used to. More and more of them will be born with the innate ability to intuitively sense the state of the dynamic systems we are part of, and will want to rebel against structures no longer viable.

  • The Animal Species

Some animal species will disapear, although not as many as currently feared. However, the majority of those who stay will be in decreased numbers which will tilt the biodiversity on the Earth.

For the Earth’s biodiversity to survive, human consumption will have to decrease. I believe this trend is at a tipping point and it is not yet clear how it will tip. What do you think?

What do you think about these trends? Are these all? Are there others?

Thank you.


Every year, on March 1st, I wish my friends and loved ones ”Chestita Baba Marta!” and give those whom I can reach geographically (and that is only a small proportion of them) a martenitsa. Every year, I love seeing the appreciation my friends and loved ones feel at this gesture. Martenitsas are beautiful in that they celebrate a Bulgarian custom that has survived through very many centuries (its origins are pagan).  They celebrate love, humanity and humility for nature’s law.

Matenitsas protect as the seasons change from winter to spring. They bring you good health, fortune and luck. They attract love and happiness. They ensure the energy and vitality of the coming spring throw only their good side on you. Every martenitsa is made from white and red threads, white to bring peace and good fortune, and red to bring love, good health, vitality and energy.

I wish you Chestita Baba Marta! Happy Granny Marta Day! 🙂

More about martenitsas is here.

A nice slideshow of selected martenitsas is here.

 


My great great friend Jono sent me the below poem sometime back. I find it speaks true and from within the depths of my heart. I love it (and Jono does too). I wanted to share it with you.

Merry Christmas! 🙂

The Invitation – Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.


Embedded Sustainability: The next big competitive advantage

By Chris Lazslo and Nadia Zhexembayeva

Greenleaf Publishing 2011

I put together a summary of Lazslo’s and Zhexembayeva’s book as part of my LEAD Europe training in leadership for sustainability. The book is very good and so the summary worth sharing with you here.

The book is organized in two parts: business strategy and change management.

1.    Business strategy – This part explains why embedding sustainability creates business value.

There are three distinct but interconnected trends that are putting increasing pressure on business to be sustainable. Whether business managers like it or not, business has to transform. These trends are as follows:

  • Declining resources (i.e., fish, and other natural capital rapidly diminishing),
  • Radical transparency (i.e., increasing number of activist organizations and NGOs using social media to catalyze change) and
  • Increased expectations (i.e., employees wanting to work for ethical companies; customers not willing to pay a premium for sustainable products, but wanting smarter products with sustainability at their core).

Lazslo and Zhexembayeva argue that the most adequate way for business to transform with sustainability at its core is by Creating Shared Value (CSV) for both stakeholders and shareholders.  Pursuing both stakeholder and shareholder value creation means value is created for both business and society. Responsible business does not have to compromise profits. CSV creates increased competitiveness by getting business to embrace what is sustainable whilst realistic and possible. CSV also ensures that business invests not only in the present but also the future.

Lazslo’s and Zhexembayeva point out that business strategy tends to focus on adding and removing costs, making trade-offs, mitigating risk, reducing energy and waste, differentiating products, entering new markets, protecting and enhancing brand and influencing industry standards. In all these, it does not normally look at resource  and natural capital availability and value chain security. This is despite that resources are declining and value chain security is rapidly diminishing.

It is good practice to look at business strategy as an opportunity:  i.e. pursue change proactively, systemically and aim for zero harm and positive benefits. Sustainability strategy should be no exception. Pursuing sustainability may be about a radical and disruptive move-away from the classical business paradigm. Pursuing sustainability should be inherent to the business, as well as motivating and aligning employees around a common vision for sustainable business. In this, product differentiation and radical innovation (facilitated by methods such as The Embedded Sustainability Cloud) are key.

2.    Change management – The second part of the book outlines the methods, competencies and processes for embedding sustainability.

The authors point out that embedding sustainability means incorporating health, environmental and social values into the business with no trade-offs in product price and quality. Embedding sustainability means a radical transformation in values, mindset, consciousness and behaviors. Here are some of the key messages:

  • Building transformative relationships is at the core of embedding sustainability. Cooperation with competitors is a source of gain.
  • Developing new competencies such as design, inquiry, appreciation (open mind) and wholeness is important. Leadership and design thinking should join forces.
  • There has to be on-going cultivation of an inspiration-ideation-implementation cycle of feeling-thought-behaviour. This cycle, if inspired by values around sustainability, can be deeply transformative. Topsy Turvy (reverse brainstorming) and appreciative inquiry are useful methods to cultivate such a cycle. Same goes for learning the language of systems thinking and practicing lifecycle analysis.
  • In order to get change to stick in, we must harvest the low-hanging fruit, balance short-term with long-term thinking, monitor and evaluate and remain open to change and circumstance.

The messages the authors put across in the book are simple yet sophisticated. To sum them up, the authors quote George Orwell who once said that industrialization has cut the soul of man, but he did not notice it for many years. In a similar way, the paintings of Tamara Lempicka from the industrialization age show lots of beautiful however sad and empty people surrounded by grey and cold buildings. In my mind, embedding sustainability in business and our lives is key to achieving not only a comfortable balance with our environment, but also a new way of living life. We can do it.


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