Leading Change from Within: Maximizing People Power for Sustainability

Feb 28, 2011 10:00 AM ET

The Natural Step Blog - A Post by Sarah Brooks

Vision 2050 is the World Business Council on Sustainable Development’s response to the global sustainability challenge. It lays out a pathway for arriving at a place where we are able to meet the needs of society within the limits of nature: in other words, sustainability. If you haven’t already read the summary report, I encourage you to do so–it’s fascinating and exciting, at a time when we could use both!

What’s really interesting is the language and positioning. Consider the following excerpt:

We hope to challenge companies to rethink their products, services, and strategies, envisioning new opportunities that put sustainability at the center, to communicate with and motivate employees and their boards, and to develop leadership positions in the wider world… Rather than follow change, business must lead this transformation by doing what business does best: cost-effectively creating solutions that people need and want. The difference is that the new solutions will be based on a global and local market place with 'true values and costs', the 'truth' being established by the limits of the planet and what it takes to live well within them.” (WBCSD, Vision 2050 Summary Report)

However, one major question is how do we leverage the value proposition of sustainability–as the WBCSD suggests, to cost effectively create solutions that people need and want–by communicating with and motivating employees? One of the ways to do this is to leverage the ingenuity of the entire company–all staff–by inviting them into the organization’s sustainability journey. Take Landmark as a leading example.

The Landmark Group of Builders is a construction company based out of Edmonton, Alberta. Having worked at multiple green initiatives for years, in 2009, the Group decided to take a more concerted and strategic approach to sustainability. Applying The Natural Step Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development within their business context, Landmark has come a long way: they now have a deep understanding of their key sustainability challenges from a holistic, science-based perspective; they developed medium-term sustainability stretch goals that will guide the business over the next 10 years and address their key sustainability challenges; they established a strong internal network of sustainability champions who are now acting as in-house sustainability resources; and the organization drafted an action plan to move them toward achievement of their strategic goals. Having come this far, the question Landmark then asked themselves was: How do we bring everyone on the journey together and make best use of the minds that work here?

The response was nothing short of astonishing. On January 27-28, 2011, Landmark held an all-staff workshop with the intention of bringing everyone onto the same page as to Landmark’s sustainability journey to date and involve them in creating the process and projects moving ahead. Partnering with The Natural Step Canada's Sustainable Business Program team, the Group moved through a process of exploring The Natural Step Framework to guide their business through the ‘sustainability storm’ relevant to their organizational context. This included the history of Landmark’s sustainability journey, case studies of how other organizations are responding to the sustainability challenge, and the value that is being created as a result. But the bulk of the time was spent asking all staff what they thought Landmark could do to achieve their strategic goals. What specific projects would help them address their key challenges, make significant progress toward their goals, and would be stepping stones for future moves–all while providing a return on investment to seed additional steps on the Group’s sustainability journey?

To see images from the event, click here!

After discussion, over fifty possible projects were identified. Different staff members then led conversations to discuss the details of each project: Who would lead the project? What were the sequential steps that would need to be taken? How would they occur? What support and resourcing was needed and what was the suggested timeline?

The exciting news is that everything is possible. Because the Group spent time bringing everyone together to develop a common sense of where they have been, where they are, and where they are heading, people were able to contribute relevant suggestions, which they are now in a position to own and develop. It’s a great example of one way to communicate with and motivate employees per the World Business Council on Sustainable Development’s Vision 2050.

Now imagine what could happen if the bulk of Canadian businesses found ways to engage all of their employees around an organizational sustainability journey. Imagine the change in atmosphere and practice that could occur if we all understood what we are doing and why, and where we are heading. Imagine the leaps that business could make if they engaged their employees–the real experts for each business–and worked together to define the new agenda for the organization. The possibilities are endless and astonishing.

We’re all familiar with the Margaret Mead quote: "Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has." What if that group were your employees?

If you’re interested in exploring what an employee engagement process could look like for your company, we encourage you to learn more about The Natural Step Canada's Service Path for Sustainable Business or contact me to discuss today. We look forward to helping you lead the sustainability transformation for Canadian business!

And be sure to stay tuned to our blog for more updates on Landmark’s progress as their sustainability journey continues.

About The Natural Step Canada

The Natural Step Canada is a dynamic non-profit organization with over a decade of experience helping organizations and individuals understand and make meaningful progress toward sustainability. We envision a sustainable world in which individuals, communities, and businesses thrive within nature’s limits. We strive to inspire, educate, and connect Canadian leaders to accelerate the transformation toward a sustainable world.

Through award-winning learning programs and our unique suite of advisory, coaching, training, and process facilitation services, we translate the fundamentals of sustainability into practical steps businesses and communities can take to achieve lasting change.