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Leadership Lessons for a Career in Sustainability

What is sustainability? The United Nations’ definition of sustainability is ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. Business sustainability or corporate sustainability involves the management and coordination of all aspects of business, whether environmental, social, or financial, to ensure continuous responsible success. A career in sustainability, unlike many others, does not require a clear career path. Many enter the sustainability industry or career path after a long career in another industry. Possibly because sustainability as a viable career has only gained traction recently. A genuine interest and a determination to work towards a more sustainable world is all you need to enter the industry. The skills you acquire in your career, whatever the industry may be, will most definitely be among the many useful leadership lessons for a career in sustainability. Leadership in sustainability is much like leadership in any other industry, but with a strong leaning towards sustainability practices and a deep understanding of what is required in this vast and comparatively new arena. While you do not have to be a leader in order to implement leadership lessons for a career in sustainability, you do have to truly understand and learn about sustainability. For that you can study the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the UN.

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Sustainability, according to the UN, has three pillars;

  • Environmental, which ensures that companies reduce their overall carbon footprint.
  • Social, which ensures that the workforce of a company as well as the people impacted by the organization.
  • Economic, which ensures that companies make their profits through ethical and sustainable means.

While a career in sustainability is fairly new, it is currently expanding exponentially as companies aim to establish an environmental, social, and corporate governance or ESG team to establish new policies and steps to begin the sustainability journey.

Leadership lessons for a career in sustainability

Here are some leadership lessons for a career in sustainability that can be focused on in order to strengthen your leadership style and skills.

Integrate sustainability at every level

This is possibly one of the most important leadership lessons for a career in sustainability. In order to lead in the world of sustainability, you need to truly understand and imbibe it in every aspect of your business and manner of doing things. It is a complete change in lifestyle, process and structure and not merely an additional step. It is not something that can be accomplished by half measures. To establish a truly sustainable organization, everything from simple everyday processes to more complex long-term plans need to be reviewed and rethought to lead sustainably.

Focus on inclusivity

Inclusivity is increasingly becoming one of the primary changes in big companies as well as small ones and is also probably one of the most important leadership lessons for a career in sustainability. A big part of sustainability is inclusivity – of gender, culture, religion, sexual orientation and more. DEI efforts are also increasingly gaining importance and popularity in order to ensure a wholesome culture and positive environment in an organization. Being inclusive is a big part of being a leader at a sustainable organization. It means you will have a positive work environment, which encourages better quality output and therefore a sustainable process.

Think long-term

Sustainability is only a long-term goal, it is not something you can achieve in a short time. It is something you have to maintain over a long period and keep at it. It is also one of the most important leadership lessons for a career in sustainability. As a leader in any organization, long-term plans are an important aspect. This is even more true in a sustainable organization. Sustainability is not something that can be achieved overnight, or even over a few nights; it has to be practiced as a professional lifestyle for you as a leader and an organizational lifestyle for your company. Set long-term sustainability goals and then break them down to achieve them and maintain them slowly over time.

Constantly review data

Just like any other goal, reviewing data and constantly revising practices to improve outcomes is among the most important leadership lessons for a career in sustainability. As a leader you must be able to adapt to whatever is right for the team and the business, no matter your opinion. You need to be open to the path that proves beneficial and sustainable. That can only be acquired through regular reviews and redirection of the strategy at hand. This process will need you as a leader to guide and direct your team to achieve new goals.

Involve everyone

While making significant sustainable changes to your company, keep in mind that your team will be affected by the changes. Also keep in mind that they might have ideas to improve the efficacy of their work and processes they are involved with. So it will bode well to discuss the need for change, the types of change and your goals with everyone in the company so that they can give their opinions and ideas and you can then make more informed decisions.

These are some indispensable leadership lessons for a career in sustainability. While the road to sustainability is long and constant without a definite destination, it is one that is extremely important and an absolute necessity in today’s world. These points above will help you prepare to be a leader in sustainability.

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