Leading Sustainable Organizations
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As this series has documented, Sustainability Insurgents are professional insiders driven by a higher purpose. While loyally serving their employers, they also pursue a higher ideal: aligning their organizations with a global vision of a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. This article explores how two insurgents, working for dramatically different organizations, partnered to save the planet — and in doing so spread the sustainability insurgency to thousands of individuals and dozens of organizations.
The unlikely duo is Frances Edmonds, an environmental scientist, and Adrienne Lo, an MBA. They hail from the conservation non-profit WWF and the tech leader HP Canada. But, in a twist increasingly common to the insurgency, the environmentalist works for the business, and the MBA works for the non-profit.
What brought this odd couple together? A shared belief that saving the planet depends on engaging and rallying as many people as possible to action. Their target audience: Nascent Sustainability Insurgents, whom they call “champions,” in companies around the globe. Champions are employees who see opportunities for positive change, but aren’t tasked by their company’s official CSR function to act.
Their model of change is peer-to-peer engagement, which they see as the most effective way to support champions and encourage them to take actions that can foster new sustainable norms at work.
Edmonds and Lo knew from experience that champions operate on a volunteer basis, stepping up to the challenge largely because it makes their job more meaningful and personally fulfilling. This intrinsic motivation is vital because insurgents swim against the organizational current. They get told “no” often.
It’s not that the companies don’t want to improve their sustainability performance: No executive gets up in the morning and asks, “How can I destroy the planet today?” But, according to Lo, established corporate processes, systems, and policies are difficult to change — and often, no single person or department has the power to act alone. Corralling and convincing all the needed people requires unique skills and organizational knowledge that are not readily available, nor taught in traditional management programs.
This is where our duo steps in. They wanted a way to provide the know-how and tools champions need to advance the sustainability insurgency in their organizations.