Sustainability: what if you don’t have a Ray Anderson to lead you?
A challenge for many sustainability practitioners working in organisations is their senior leadership doesn’t have the same passion for sustainability that they have. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. One shining example is the granddaddy of corporate sustainability, Ray Anderson, who until his death last year, was the ceo of £1 billion turnover modular carpet manufacturer, Interface.
So what can you do when you don’t have an inspirational leader such as Ray to help you deliver sustainable change?
I suggest the ‘three Ps’ approach– priority, psychology and politics.
Interface is the world’s largest manufacturer of modular carpeting, and also peerless in the success it has had in generating a sustainability culture. Its journey started over 15 years ago, when Ray had a ‘Eureka’ moment regarding the future of business. He then set the company on the path toward it’s staggering target of having zero overall impact on the environment by 2020: ‘Mission Zero’.
This is fantastic, and as a pioneering organisation which is demonstrating how to deliver profitable sustainability, it creates momentum for those who follow. The challenge is how to get significant movement without your own Ray.
This topic was explored when PeopleProfitPlanet, and our new parent company, Carbon Credentials, recently held a workshop with Interface’s European Sustainability director, Ramon Arratia as a speaker.
Whilst Ramon was clear that having Ray made a massive difference in the 1990s and 2000s, he believes that sustainability has become such a competitive issue that organisations will either survive or fail based on their attitude to sustainability. He stated that organisations can design sustainability into their operations by working with the middle management in fields such as supply chain, marketing and R&D. Ramon gave the example of the car industry as one that is being transformed not due to the individual ceos, but by market pressures; and this pressure will start permeating all organisations sooner or later.
Survival is clearly critical for any organisation, so fits the first ‘P I mentioned earlier – your opportunity is to position sustainability as a key priority.
The second two ‘Ps’ – psychological and political – are intimately related, and is the space that I personally find myself helping many of our clients.
Why psychology and politics?
You may have excellent environmental qualifications, but you possibly don’t have as much experience in behaviour (e.g. psychological) and cultural (e.g. political) change. The key, therefore, is how you think around this challenge and identify the psychology concerning resource efficiency and how to encourage sustainable behaviours. Once you have done that, you can then work out the politics of your organisation, and how you can change its culture.
Neither of these is easy, but it is possible with careful planning to create a programme that will embed sustainability into your people and organisation.