What is it that we sustainability folk do?

I like the notion that “change” and “value” feel most solid in defining what it is that we sustainability folk do.

  • Change is the process (not change for change’s sake, but change because things aren’t right as they are)
  • Long-term, equitably allocated value is the outcome

I believe it’s helpful to be as precise as possible about the difference between:

(a) what (processes or characteristics) we believe will lead to that outcome: e.g. transparency, accountability, inclusivity, interactivity, engagement, collaboration, innovation, scalability…

(b) what that outcome actually is: value that can be created again and again, value that is equitably allocated … to be translated more specifically for each different sector, corresponding to meeting a certain societal need. So for the food sector, “long-term equitable value creation” equals the production of nutritious, safe, affordable, accessible food for all humans in such a way that ensures that producers can keep producing and that the environment can keep sustaining agriculture. For energy, it’s the production of energy accessible to all humans in such a way that the earth (and sun!) can keep providing… etc. (and so 2 degrees / electrification of transport isn’t the endgame itself, but what we need to do to achieve that endgame).

So our job is fundamentally two-fold:

(1) to make the case to businesses, and those who work with them, as to why they should transform so that they will deliver value to all stakeholders both now and for generations to come. To do this we need to be able to persuade companies of the merits of this new, big-picture, society- and environment-encompassing way of defining business value. Some major tasks involved:

  • continually gather the evidence for this new form of value outside of the usual “business case” dimensions
  • generate robust analysis and ideas for solutions
  • communicate all this in a persuasive and high-impact way

(2) to work with businesses, and those who work with them, to help them change how they work and make money so that they will deliver value to all stakeholders both now and for generations to come. For example, we should help companies to:

  • better identify and measure these new forms of business value, and helping intrapreneurs to sell ideas internally, by developing frameworks that can help embed and operationalize
  • be more transparent and accountable by offering sustainability governance and reporting and performance measurement
  • collaborate by facilitating intra-industry, cross-sector and other forms of collaboration and partnership
  • strategize and innovate through executive coaching or CEO engagement
  • implement by developing tools that help managers and ops folks to operationalize this new way of generating business value

One thought on “What is it that we sustainability folk do?

  1. Pingback: Links for 20-22.3.10 « p5

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