In the media

The Sustainability Mindset: Seven key lessons for leaders

Glyn Griffiths

By Glyn Griffiths

Sustainable Business Magazine

17 July 2023

PA Consulting sustainability and innovation expert Glyn Griffiths, PhD, authored an article for Sustainable Business Magazine discussing findings from PA’s "The Sustainability Mindset” report.

Read the Sustainable Business Magazine article

As the realities of climate change and environmental degradation become more apparent, the role of businesses in driving sustainable practices is increasingly crucial. To achieve authentic and lasting positive change, business leaders must adopt a sustainability mindset as a core part of their operational toolkit. The benefits are manifold, serving as a catalyst for innovation, a platform for competitive differentiation, and a beacon for establishing lasting partnerships. Moreover, the adoption of a sustainability mindset as part of a shared company culture fosters an inclusive and positive environment that attracts and retains the brightest and best talent.

Earlier this year we launched “The Sustainability Mindset” report which outlines why we need to think differently when designing for tomorrow, based off interviews with business and sustainability leaders, who place sustainability at the core of their professional fulfilment and business success. Here are seven essential lessons for cultivating a sustainability mindset within an organisation.

1. Create awareness of your actions

The first step towards sustainable leadership is cultivating a deep awareness of one’s actions and their repercussions on the environment and society. Leaders must comprehend the complex web of effects resulting from their business operations – ranging from resource utilisation to waste management, emissions to ethical labour practices. Importantly, they should also recognise how their behaviour, choices, and actions can influence employees, partners, and customers towards more sustainable practices. This involves employing tools that measure environmental and social impacts, translating these impacts into relatable terms, and maintaining transparency in communication, all with an aim to inspire conscious actions.

2. Connect your values with your work

A robust commitment to sustainability needs to be woven seamlessly into the fabric of a company’s core values. The most impactful sustainable changes occur when they resonate with the fundamental ethos of a business. Leaders, therefore, should intertwine sustainability objectives with their business strategy, making it a pervasive theme running through all aspects of the organisation – from product development to marketing, customer relations to employee engagement. This integration of values ensures that sustainability isn’t a standalone effort, but a purpose-driven approach adopted across the business.

3. Find time to zoom in and out

A balanced perspective is crucial in sustainability. This involves zooming out to comprehend the overarching global sustainability landscape and then zooming in to meticulously examine the details of daily business operations. Both perspectives are essential, as they provide valuable insights into the dynamics of sustainable practices, which in turn inform a comprehensive strategy that synchronizes short-term actions with long-term sustainability goals.

4. Stronger together

Collaboration is key in the sustainability paradigm. By forging strategic relationships with a broad spectrum of stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, competitors, and even regulators – businesses can tap into a vast reservoir of ideas, perspectives, and resources. This pooling of collective wisdom and effort can accelerate the pace of sustainable innovation and yield comprehensive solutions that are beyond the reach of individual entities.

5. Share and educate

The role of education and knowledge sharing in advancing sustainability is immense. Businesses bear the responsibility of enlightening their stakeholders about the environmental and social impact of their decisions, choices, and habits. They can accomplish this by creating compelling narratives, sharing data, insights, and experiences that elucidate the importance and benefits of sustainable practices. This commitment to education cultivates an informed and engaged community of consumers, employees, and partners who are proactive advocates of sustainability.

6. Create a culture of openness

An open, inclusive culture is a cornerstone of sustainable businesses. Such a culture values and encourages the unique insights each person brings, fosters open dialogue, invites questioning of the status quo, and promotes the exchange of ideas across the organisation. This openness fuels innovation and creativity, leading to more effective, comprehensive, and sustainable solutions that serve the broader interests of the company, its stakeholders, and the planet.

7. Add a guide to your team

Embedding a dedicated sustainability role within teams can greatly enhance a company’s focus on sustainable practices. These individuals serve as guides, mentors, and advocates, constantly aligning the team’s actions with its sustainability objectives, ensuring that sustainability remains a critical factor in all strategic decisions. This dedicated role often acts as a catalyst, driving sustainability to the forefront of the business and reinforcing its importance across all levels of the organisation.

A sustainability mindset is no longer a bonus for businesses; it’s a strategic necessity. It transcends the boundaries of minimising environmental impact, influencing areas such as innovation, customer loyalty, and partnerships. It’s not just about compliance with regulations; it’s about proactively identifying and addressing environmental challenges before they become pressing issues. Leaders have a critical role in paving the way for innovative, sustainable solutions, fostering a culture that transcends self-limiting beliefs, and answering the call for improved practices. By following the seven step process, business leaders can truly drive sustainable change. This commitment not only benefits the planet but also propels businesses towards enduring success and resilience in a fast-evolving global landscape.

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