Sustainable Business: 3 – Leadership is Crucial

The pandemic has presented some of us with the time and others the necessity to rethink our priorities and values. It has given many of us a renewed gratitude for the natural environment, an acute awareness of our own fragility, and shocking evidence of the impact of inequality in our society, with higher infection and death in deprived communities and amongst ethnic minorities. It has sharpened our sense of urgency in tackling sustainability – as customers and business leaders.

Climate Change remains the number one long-term risk for businesses, as Larry Fink CEO of Blackrock has highlighted for the second year running in his annual letter to CEO’s.

With fosil fuels now causing 1 in 5 deaths and significant savings to be made by reducing fuel consumption and waste, Climate change risk mitigation and management has never been more crucial.

Customers are increasingly seeking sustainable products and services, and some businesses have seized the commercial opportunities for efficiency, innovation and brand enhancement that a clear sustainability strategy offers.

We know that SME’s will be key to delivering the innovation and adaptation required to deliver the UK Net Zero target by 2050. They make up about 99% of UK businesses, and are the grass roots engines of change.

Yet while many SME’s have recognised the challenge, (and some are leading the way) are SME’s equipped to manage the competing demands on their time and attention to deliver the scale of change needed? Are we truly grasping the fundamental shift in our economic reality, do we understand what this means for leaders, and can we establish a clear and simple route map to deliver the long term change needed?


3. Leadership is crucial

Successful businesses need leaders who take a longer term lens – beyond short term profit goals – ensuring the decisions taken today do not jeopardise the profitability and very survival of your business 5 years from now.  Success will be marked by businesses taking time to visualise the less obvious climate change risks and seizing the commercial opportunities green growth offer.

A short term focus on profit can also prevent businesses from taking a broader view on their contribution to wider goals, such as developing the workforce and customers of the future and ensuring the market remains sustainable and balanced – the equity issues highlighted in the ‘hole’ of Kate Rowerth’s doughnut, and the wider equity aspects of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Focusing on profit today, at the expense of experimentation which may fail, or take years to deliver results, risk your business becoming obsolete as climate risks materialise and your competitors improve their efficiency, sustainability and branding through green technologies and processes.

So how can you develop these qualities in yourself and your team?

Involving a wider pool of stakeholders in understanding the risks and opportunities and developing your strategy can bring fresh ideas and opportunities to the table. Some organisations are doing this through independent Board Members, others are taking a ‘stakeholder mapping’ approach to ensure they meaningfully engage with, and understand the perspectives of their staff, customers, supply chain and local community. This will also drive a more mature understanding of risk, and the mitigations and innovations needed to manage it.

At a personal level, taking time out to reflect and manage stress levels is vital. Balancing how you respond to day-to-day challenges against this daunting agenda. Focusing on your wider values and aspirations that give business (and life) meaning also help. There is a growing body of evidence that mindfulness and meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety, increase empathy, and crucially improve long term (strategic) thinking.


In next weeks #OoomphSnippets we look at: Developing a route map for change


If this series has inspired you to learn more and you are in Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, or the Warrington council areas, come along to the University of Chester’s Sustainable Growth Bootcamp – Big Impact Small Footprint:


Words by Sallie Bridgen – Ruby Star Associate…


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