When I was in graduate school at Case Western Reserve University in the now MPOD program, one of our core areas of study was sustainability. It was my first exposure to concepts like the triple bottom line and the beautiful book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough. As an OD student working with brands from across the country, I was intrigued and took the insight and curiosity into each building and conversation. Over the past 20 years since graduation the lessons have stuck with me and I have handed that book to more people than I can count. Recently, I met the wonderful people at Venture Forward strategies. They are doing the difficult work of helping organizations and leaders stand up sustainability programs and practices. They are helping solve the difficult challenges and have the difficult conversations which often seem to go along with sustainability.
Venture Forward recently published an article sharing the top challenges faced by those trying to lead sustainability efforts within their organizations. I was struck at the list: not enough time, not enough capacity (small teams), lack of knowledge (many were placed in their role with no formal sustainability background).
I sat and considered how this exists amongst the diverse clients that we work with. If this is the current status of many of those trying to lead sustainability, what is the actual commitment to the work? How at risk are these leaders for burnout, turnover, frustration and potentially leaving their organizations or sustainability altogether? As these leaders work to provide global benefit, we are doing them a terrible disservice by not setting them up for success.
At the end of the day each action (or inaction) communicates commitment to the values of a company. For those with a person leading the sustainability conversation within your organization, I encourage you to pause, ask them about their experience and really listen to their response. Support doesn’t have to be expensive, labor intense or time consuming. Support can be found through networking, creation of connection with others in similar roles, and allowing the time and space needed to nurture these relationships. Sustainability is a conversation that is continuing to grow. Organizations are setting real goals and are requiring their partners to follow suit. Let’s set our sustainability champions up for success so that we all can reap the rewards.