Leading Sustainable Organizations
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If you want to hear a collective groan from a group of CSR directors, just mention filling out a customer CSR survey.
Idealistic MBAs may imagine that being promoted to the post of “director of sustainability” means they will lead a company’s social and environmental agenda and make their business a force for good. Sustainability executives who actually hold the job tell a different story. Most spend their time communicating — cynics might say “selling” — their company’s responsibility story to external constituencies in order to stave off reputational risks. Compiling glossy social responsibility reports and making speeches to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) converted is de rigueur. And then, of course, there are those surveys.
Is it any wonder that sustainability managers are starting to rebel?
The externally focused CSR function has run its course. Driven by need — or frustration — many sustainability managers are taking a new tack. Today’s successful sustainability executive is leading what can best be called a sustainability insurgency inside their organization. It is an insurgency that breaks the bounds of job description, budget constraints and the limits of “moral influence.” Its goal is simple: to alter the way business is done in every function and unit of the company.
By insurgency, I obviously don’t mean armed insurrection. An insurgency in this instance describes actions that, while not directly authorized by policy, are motivated by shared organizational and societal values.
In my own organizations, and the companies I studied, I find that CSR executives are leading this insurgency by inciting functional managers and line employees to identify their own opportunities to improve corporate social and environmental performance with their range of influence. This drives CSR down to lower organizational levels, embedding it in the company culture and organizational processes, a practice I call acculturation.
The goal is simple, yet revolutionary: to alter the way business is done in every function and unit of the company.
Through acculturation, corporate sustainability moves from “personality-focused” to process driven — and the creation of organizational routines that stick.
The typical chief sustainability officer (CSO) already has a list of literally hundreds of sustainability actions that need implementing in their company.