Join SEENTalks Virtual Summit June 14th, hear Dr. Stephanie Bertels discuss “ Getting Executive Leadership Onboard: Foster Understanding and Support for Sustainability Employee Engagement Efforts,” a guide and tactical inventory.
Why do some CEOs make the shift to incorporate sustainability into their decision-making while others do not? This was a research question posed in a recent study by the Network for Business Sustainability. A Guidebook and Tactical Inventory for Changemakers who want to support their CEO was produced from this research.
The guidebook was created using the experience of sustainability changemakers and insights gleaned from over 100 CEO’s, board members and sustainability executives. It lays out 8 actions:
1. Help your CEO create strong business cases
The guide recommends framing sustainability proposals in the language that clearly makes use of your company’s existing strategy, considers risks and opportunities and how it defines business value. Use systems thinking to show how applying sustainability to upcoming projects can create business value for the company.
2. Create opportunites for your CEO to experience the issues first-hand
Immersive, experiential learning and service learning is best for developing a responsible mind-set, ethical literacy, cultural intelligence and a global mindset. Bring your CEO to the community, the natural disaster or the front line. It is an opportunity to challenge or disrupt their current worldview.
3. Help your CEO learn from influential peers
One CEO in the guide says, “…it’s only when you take yourself out of the industry, put yourself into something else and suddenly you see the burning platform…. The whole thing of why revolutions happen, it’s difficult for you to really believe that much is going to change. You don’t want to change too much….” Participating in industry and cross-industry leadership initiatives is one way for CEOs to see the change that is needed.
4. Let the business “fail small”
Mini crises create a sense of urgency and a shift to new practices. Sustainability change agents recommend identifying small failures as they occur and demonstrating the value in learning from them by tying them to largers failures in other companies or industries.
5. Leverage the interest of key customers
Bringing back a story from a key customer can make all the difference. The guide recommends using customer engagement opportunities to enable your CEO to hear sustainability related concerns. Also, you should document cases where you have successfully earned new business by solving a sustainability problem for a customer.
6. Help board members be better sustainability advocates
One CEO noted, “I really think a single director can change the way
7. Create opportunities for your CEO to make public committments
CEOs pointed to moments when they were asked to make public commitments or to speak publicly about sustainability as pivotal moments in shaping their thinking. Ray Anderson’s epiphany at Interface came from a staff request for him to share his environmental vision for the company. At the time, he wasn’t sure he had one. He read the “Ecology of Commerce” and the rest is history.
8. Create opportunities for your CEO to receive recognition for this work
One sustainability changemaker explains, “The week that I was scheduled to meet with our CEO to ask for more resources for sustainability, we had been given a supplier award by one of our biggest customers. They had implemented their first sustainability award, and they gave it to us….Our CEO was over the moon that we had won …he’s like ‘Of course we’re going to do this…’ Make sure your CEO and executive team get credited for their leadership, support and vision. Nominating your CEO for external sustainability and/or leadership related awards is one way of doing this.