We have often featured in Radar the perspectives and learnings of people who have worked in the sustainability field, whether that be in business, civil society, policy or academia.
In this 30th Anniversary issue, we are pleased to feature the collective advice of many of those in our network who have been working tirelessly to create a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable world. Wherever you are in your career, whether just starting out or a seasoned professional, we hope that this emboldens you and inspires you to keep fighting the good fight. With many thanks to all those who generously shared their wisdom with us, here is some of their advice...
We are all activists
Be bold, speak up, use your voice, get involved, be an activist in all areas of your life – as a student, an employee, a consumer, a citizen. You may have to take risks to drive home an important argument, but that conviction will be recognised by those that matter. Keep challenging the status quo, don’t let the rigid views of others limit the change that you want to see in the world. Never forget you can make a difference. It is no surprise that many of us are inspired by Margaret Mead’s quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
So much negative stuff is happening and it is easy to feel we can’t change anything, so allow for hope – it is possible for people to change things.
Be open minded, open hearted and keep listening
Meeting people who are different can open your eyes to diverse aspects of the world, provide a broader context and help you grow empathy. Go out and see what is happening and keep asking yourself: Is this the way we want the world to look? As your influence grows, listening becomes even more important. Listen to those whose future is at stake, listen to those who are being left behind, listen to the disenfranchised, listen to those who you don’t agree with. Always be open to other ways of seeing the world.
Listen first, with compassion, and say the truth as you see it, realizing that none of us alone can see the whole picture and we all need each other if we hope to get closer to the truth.
Learn how to play different roles
At various times you may need to adopt different personas depending on who you are working with and the change that you are trying to bring about. Are you the ‘hair in the soup’ agitator, the troublemaker or the troubleshooter? Companies need to understand the way the world is changing and how they can create business strategies that embrace a new reality. To support them with this, understand when it is helpful to advocate, motivate, inspire, agitate, cajole or advise.
Focus on opportunities
Change comes more quickly if you concentrate on the opportunities and project a positive view of the change desired. Focusing too much on the problems will drive us all to despair. Help people understand the solutions and the transformation that is needed.
There is always more energy in the room when you discuss the opportunites. I have learnt you get change more quickly if you take this route.
Understand who has the power to create and/or block change
We tend to direct our efforts to the people and businesses who have the energy to go in the right direction. However if we don’t seek out those who are resistant or stand in the way, we will struggle to disrupt the status quo. Likewise identifying who has the power, whether that be visible within organisations or hidden in terms of who a business is lobbying or influencing. Learn to identify where decisions are made and how you can shape them.
Why isn’t business lobbying on broader issues? If business doesn’t use its political power – lobbying and advocacy – the other stuff like products, partnerships and services doesn’t matter.
Embrace complex systems
Build your knowledge and seek out the facts, through formal learning and practical doing. Understand the complexity of the systems and world in which we live and the system wide consequences of our behaviour. Don’t isolate yourself in a silo.
Whatever you’re looking at, it’s more complicated than you think.
Work with personal values, as well as the business case
There is some consensus that the sustainability field has focused too much on the business case. Yes, it is important to make the case that sustainability will create new markets and more resilient businesses, but there is also a need to work more with personal values and emotions.
We need to make things cheaper, faster, make consumers happier, healthier - we need to present the personal case for the benefits of sustainability.
Integrate sustainability into your job, any job
Consider how you can embed sustainability principles into every job you do. Think first about how you can become competent at something, preferably within the wider business rather than in a niche sustainability role, and then find and pursue your passion.
Having experience of other sectors including civil society, finance and government can help us achieve better results. Think of moving between sectors, be a ‘tri-sector athlete’, generating a career informed by multiple perspectives. Or have friends across sectors. For too long, differences between NGOs and business have restricted progress on a range of environmental and social issues. The role of the NGO as a watchdog is absolutlely crucial, but we need to know when to set this aside – to move interchangeabley between confrontation and collaboration is key.
If corporates are going to be part of the solution and they need to be, civil society has to find ways where we don’t simply treat them as the enemy. Pick your battles – don’t be confrontational the whole time.
With thanks to our contributors...
Anthony Abbotts Rockwool Robert Barrington Transparency International UK Mike Barry Marks & Spencer Seb Beloe WHEB Asset Management, SustainAbility Council & alumni Chris Benjamin PG&E Merene Botsio Care International Lindsay Clinton Intellecap & SustainAbility alumni Bianca R. G. Conde Fibria Celulose S/A Chris Coulter GlobeScan & SustainAbility Council Maggie de Pree The Human Agency, League of Intrapreneurs & SustainAbility alumni Rob Frederick Brown-Forman Corporation Jeanne-Marie Gescher author of Becoming China: The Story Behind the State & SustainAbility Council Niel Golightly Shell/City of Houston & SustainAbility Council Eva Grambye Danish Institute for Human Rights Gary Kendall Nedbank & SustainAbility Council & alumni Geoff Kendall Future-Fit Business Benchmark & SustainAbility alumni Janice Lao Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Hendrik-Jan Laseur Lead the Change & SustainAbility Council Clarissa Lins Catavento & SustainAbility Council Geoff Lye SustainAbility Non-Executive Director & alumni Hiro Motoki E-Square Diane Osgood independent Kavita Prakash-Mani WWF, SustainAbility Council & alumni John Schaetzl SustainAbility Lead Non-Executive Director Koann Skrzyniarz Sustainable Brands Lorraine Smith independent & SustainAbility alumni Shankar Venkateswaran independent & SustainAbility alumni Dominic Vergine ARM Patrin Watanatada Bernard van Leer Foundation & SustainAbility alumni Peter Zollinger Globalance Bank, SustainAbility Council & alumni