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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Awake Article: Being A Sustainability Leader

Is a sustainability leader any different to a normal leader? It is a question which arises occasionally in forums and debates about creating the sustainable organisations of the future.

Various commentators have attempted to describe the attributes that a sustainability leader requires in order to be successful. Nicolas Ceasar writes that they need to excel at mindfulness, advocacy (arguing for sustainability in a savvy way), holding discomfort (hanging in there) and femininity (being collaborative rather than combative).  Expanding on the gender theme, Tania Ellis describes how “softer, collaborative and intuitive behaviours” are becoming important in the new world of business.

In order to develop and nurture these characteristics, according to Mary Gorham, we need to get clear on what matters to us, understand what is driving our mindset, and undertake personal disciplines which help us to stay on course.

Reading these viewpoints, a certain pattern emerges - sustainability leadership requires a level of emotional and spiritual intelligence which allows us to operate with deep integrity, courage and vision. Indeed, a 2000 study into the values of the leaders of 73 environmental organisations found that they were more ecocentric, open to change, and “self-transcendent” than managers of other organisations.

Equipped with these feminine, courageous and mindful characteristics, sustainability leaders must then go forth and use them to create change in their organisations. So, what do they do?

A few studies have looked at the key leadership behaviours which encourage sustainability. Research in UK organisations found that the top two facilitators for effective environmental practices were “managers' support and openness to pro-environmental practices” and “senior management commitment”. Conversely, the biggest barrier was “lack of management commitment and/or support”, while the third biggest barrier was “unclear leadership strategy and goals towards environmental issues”.

The importance of the combination of clear strategies and aligned behaviours was echoed in the findings of aUS study in 2002, which found that employees were more likely to try an eco-initiative if the organisation had a clear, written environmental policy, and if they felt like they had the support of their supervisor.  The behaviours which had the most impact were a “participative environmental management style, including use of a democratic, non-hierarchical approach to encouraging communication from employees”.

So it is clear that the way in which leaders operate has a large effect on the extent to which a culture of sustainability gets embedded in the organisation. Recent analysis of data from Awake’s Sustainability Culture Indicator (SCI) tool shows a strong relationship between leadership behaviours and employee connection to the organisations sustainability vision. This suggests that people take the sustainability commitments more seriously if they perceive that leaders are walking the talk.

In summary, it does appear that fostering a sustainable organisation requires something a little different of leaders. This is probably true of any organisational change toward being less traditional and more visionary and transformational. Furthermore, these can be divided into what the leader needs to do, and how he/she needs to “be” in order to do those things.


What a sustainability leader needs to doHow a sustainability leader needs to be
  Create a clear sustainability commitment  Direct and inspirational
  Demonstrate the behaviours and walk the walk  Self-transcendent and honest
  Encourage and support sustainability initiatives  Collaborative and participative
  Keep going when the going gets tough  Resilient and courageous
Leadership Self-Assessment

The article above outlines some of the behaviours of effective sustainability leaders. If you are a sustainability leader (note. leadership does not have to be a formal role), then you may find the following questions helpful to see if and where there is room for improvement.

Rate yourself on the following items from 1 (low) to 5 (high)

  1. The extent to which I have clearly communicated the commitment to sustainability for our group/team/organisation
  2. The degree to which I walk the talk, demonstrating the behaviours which I expect of others
  3. The extent to which I act collaboratively, supporting and encouraging others and sharing responsibility for sustainability
  4. My resilience and optimism when faced with challenges to sustainability goals and intentions
If you scored 15-20 in total, well done, you are likely to be operating effectively as a sustainability leader.

A score of 10-15 means you have a few things to brush up on - take the behaviours you scored low on and make a plan to improve them.

Below 10 probably means you need to have a close look at the way you are operating - perhaps consider some leadership development training or coaching.


You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it:

Awake provides psychology-based tools and services which support organisations and communities to develop a culture of sustainability.  Visit for more info

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+