Sustainability is a team effort – something we very much believe in, supported here by the research by Sara Sodestrom and Klaus Weber in an article written by Amy Maxmen.
Sustainability teams are often small, indeed in many organisations its just one solo individual or even someone double hatted with the responsibility. The good news if you can achieve it, is that success lies not with the lone wolf, but with the pack.
"It isn’t easy ‘going green’ say Weber and Soderstrom. Yes, there are some companies that have lessened their footprint without going broke, but there are far too many sustainability initiatives that flounder and fail.
To lend insight into the process of change in large organisations Weber and Soderstrom spent 18 months observing a multinational medical devices company as it strove to incorporate sustainability into its agenda.
They observed meetings, analyzed email messages, meeting minutes and spreadsheets, and conducted interviews with people ranging from those in the finance division to product developers to see how different sustainability efforts moved forward.
Several initiatives emerged; managing the company’s carbon footprint, greening the supply chain and community education.
As always seems to be the case, some efforts produced better results than others. Ask any Sustainability Manager, Head or Director if they have experienced this and I bet you will be met with an acknowledging nod of the head.
What surprised them was which of the avenues of sustainability attempted gained momentum. Enthusiasm emerged as one of the key factors of success.
Informal chats led to informal meetings which became formal meetings with structured agenda. Momentum gathered when positive interactions during meetings inspired wider participation.
“We were surprised to find that energizing interactions developed not only among people who cared about sustainability from the onset,” Soderstrom explained, “but quite often from people who were motivated by the energy they got from the process of working on an issue.”
They succeeded in the initiative to green the supply chain even though there was no clear customer demand and some suppliers resisted it. As positive interactions layered upon each other an environmental purchasing policy emerged and the company created a new role to guide supplier sustainability.
Imagine how that felt for the people involved in the initiative.
Conversely the initiative to produce greener products stagnated and failed. Without employee convergence or common focus, frustration spawned and the crucial positive feedback loop dissolved. No definite outcomes arose – despite significant external pressure from impending regulations.
Sound familiar? How many times have you or people you know highlighted an imminent change point only for nothing to come of it or the action to start much later than it should?
Weber points out that “People put their effort and creativity into topics they enjoyed working on with their colleagues,”.
For anyone that has trained for an event this is not new news. Sure, there are the rare individuals who can put in the long-term effort, often without visible gains in pursuit of a dreamed goal. For most people though being part of a team, celebrating successes, sharing hiccups and benefiting from the ‘group energy’ makes it a whole lot more enjoyable. And as we know, we tend to do first what we enjoy and gain benefit from.
Maxmen concluded "By mobilizing the grassroots in a company, sustainability can happen in the most unlikely of times," something that is surely of significant relevance in today's turbulent world.
Read the full article here: