Five Rules that Make a Sustainability Leader

What it takes to become a sustainability leaderFor companies to become sustainability leaders, they need leadership inside the organization, writes the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS). Having reviewed the best management research from around the world, NBS identified the following five rules for becoming a sustainability leader: 1. Take the long view; 2. Show employees who they’re helping; 3. Live your values; 4. Customize and reward CSR through the ranks; 5. Cultivate “master managers”.

 5 Rules That Make a Sustainability Leader

1. Take the Long View

Executives need to think long-term. Neither ecological cycles nor stakeholder relations run on quarterly timelines. Research by Murad Antia (University of South Florida) and colleagues shows CEOs with a long-term view lead their companies to better financial performance.

2. Show Employees Who They’re Helping

Research by Adam Grant (Wharton Business School) shows that doing good is a powerful driver for employees. In one study of fundraisers, bringing in scholarship recipients (i.e. the beneficiaries of the fundraising) to meet employees led to increases in productivity of 400 per cent. Professor Grant has also found that showing employees how their actions help creates better commitment to the company.

3. Live Your Values

David Mayer (University of Michigan) and colleagues find leaders who exhibit ethical values have employees that did the same. Their departments also have less internal conflict and colleagues are more supportive and respectful of each other. Work with HR to assess the integrity of new managers. And to reinforce good behaviour over the long-term, put posters or other visual cues with ethical messages in places where employees will see them daily

4. Customize – and Reward – CSR through the Ranks

C-suite champions are crucial to your sustainability program. But Jesús Ángel del Brío and colleagues (Universidad de Oviedo, Spain) suggest the best-performing companies also have personalized environmental agendas for employees. They use specific rewards to incent new ideas or positive behaviours. These companies reward both individuals and groups alike – giving them money, public recognition or both for driving one-off projects or helping meet annual targets.

5. Cultivate “Master Managers”

Research by Carolyn Egri (Simon Fraser University) and Susan Herman shows the best sustainability leaders have three distinct traits. They show concern for the welfare of others and the environment, and they are motivated to create change within the company. They are multi-talented “master managers” who simultaneously perform a wide variety of leadership and managerial roles. And they inspire others to support their vision. They garner this support by collaborating across the organization and focusing on employees as individuals.

Via 5 Rules for Becoming a CSR Leader – Network for Business Sustainability. (Twitter: NBSnet, Facebook). Picture credit: Phillie Casablanca


Those points are a valuable addition to previous posts on sustainability and csr leadership and show the importance of soft skills, emotional and social intelligence for future csr and sustainability leaders. The question is, are aspiring managers trained and educated appropriately, for example through mandatory sustainability courses in MBA and other management degrees?

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