Eco-leadership is gaining prominence as the need to integrate sustainable and environmentally friendly efforts is being felt at both strategic and tactical levels of planning in organizations across industry verticals.
With sustainability taking center stage, the importance of developing eco-leadership should be emphasized. As found by EY’s Global Institutional Investor Survey 2021, an overwhelming 74% of investors divested from companies performing poorly on the sustainability front. This indicates the compelling need to develop sustainability leadership and promote green skills across the hierarchical levels. While there are many ways to promote sustainability leadership across organizations, here are the prominent principles that can help firms in building and nurturing eco-leadership throughout the organization:
a) Develop Ecocentric Mindset: Being part of the global community, firms need to imbibe that their actions have a profound impact on the environment and communities across the globe. This worldview emphasises the positive impacts of green initiatives and helps emerging leaders develop a sustainable and long-term view of the future. The positive impacts of green initiatives should be celebrated and communicated across departments to help people visualise the positive impact they are making on society as a whole.
b) Strike Cross-Industry Collaboration: By encouraging cross-industry interactions, the concept of sustainability leadership can be strengthened at the grassroots level. The “Green Leadership Groups” can be formed wherein the participation from the project executives, sustainability advisors, thought leaders, and academic researchers can be sought. These collaborative efforts can be then converted into action points and pursued as a vision to bring more sustainability to industrial processes and service operations.
c) Create Influence: Unlike other management styles, the key to developing eco-leadership is building a soft influence that is more centred on the welfare of society and upcoming generations. To that end, leaders should strive to develop credible power aligned with larger issues of climate change, global warming, and rising emissions among others. Remember, sustainability leadership is more about exerting soft influence rather than exercising outright authority and its adoption should be executed softly, incrementally, and in a phased manner.
d) Embrace Complexity: While developing Eco-leadership, firms are sure to hit many roadblocks and obstacles. Especially when it comes to trade-offs between profitability and ecological contribution, complexities are sure to overwhelm the top leadership of companies. In such situations, sustainability leaders must work amidst competing interests, political pressures, and varying expectations of shareholders as well as stakeholders. To strike a balance and find a middle path, sustainability leaders thus need to adopt a unique leadership style which helps them achieve consensus among the conflicting agendas.
e) Build Relationships: Sustainability leaders must develop a knack for building relationships across value chains and business ecosystems. The importance of promoting diversity, creating transparency, and encouraging ecological values in developing sustainability leadership is crucially important and hence, must be given the top priority by firms. In addition, eco-leadership should also strive to connect with suppliers, partners, and policymakers to promote green skills as these are necessary for realising credible results on sustainability leadership.
f) Long-term Commitment: Sustainability efforts demand long-term commitment. The results of green initiatives won’t appear overnight, rather it’ll take several months and years to achieve credible outcomes on the environmental front. Therefore, nurturing the long-term perspective is necessary for developing eco-leadership in organisations. This approach will also help sustainability leaders manage complexity with long-term prospects in mind rather than emphasizing achieving results on a daily and weekly basis.
Amidst the rising influence of ESG and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, the time is opportune to make a decisive push for eco-leadership in organisations. The principles discussed above can help firms build, develop, and nurture sustainability leaders and by keeping them at the forefront of environmental initiatives, organisations can contribute effectively to reducing emissions and reversing the harmful impacts of climate change. In sum, developing an eco-centric mindset with a long-term vision and collaborative perspective is key to developing and nurturing sustainability leadership in organisations.
Authored by: Mr. Satya D Sinha, Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Mancer Consulting