Leading Sustainable Organizations
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For our two-part post, I spoke with Emma Stewart, head of sustainability solutions at the California-based Autodesk.
In the last post, we saw how Dr. Stewart pursued the Sustainability Insurgent’s tasks of relating externally to capture valuable social intelligence, and relating internally to build a network of allies in the functions and departments vital for Autodesk’s sustainability performance.
In this post, we see Dr. Stewart translating social intelligence, incubating functional sustainability initiatives and acculturating business units to sustainability decision making.
One of the challenges facing sustainability insurgents is that their positions don’t automatically come with decision-making authority. To make progress internally, they have to influence without authority by becoming masters at translating sustainability insights into a dialect that resonates with their managerial colleagues.
This can be a challenge because of the oft-bleak rhetoric employed by environmentalists and social activists. According to Stewart, “I’ve found that if you hammer people with, ‘Global energy demands will double by 2030,’ and ‘Water shortages are going to hit every major city in the next 30 years,’ … their eyes get wide, and then glaze over, and you’ve just disempowered them.”
To inspire needed action, sustainability insurgents contextualize issues in terms of their impact on the market and the possible opportunities that it might offer for the company.
In speaking to colleagues, Dr. Stewart says, she might point out, “Look, this is just going to become a reality. Here are the regulations and standards that suggest as much. Here are the corporate mandates that are codifying this. So, here’s our upside…our total addressable market, and … ” — importantly for succeeding as a sustainability insurgent — “ … here’s the skin in the game that we’re willing to offer to get it started.”
It is important to be specific when approaching colleagues, employing data and intelligence gained from relating externally. “Vagueness,” says Stewart, “has been the enemy of CSR for a long time.” Corporate sustainability generalities discussed in the press don’t help colleagues understand what it means for the business.