Why purpose must be at the heart of business strategy

So much for a gentle start to the new year. Early 2019 has been a challenging time for those of us who strive to make organisations a force for good – whether we call it purpose, CSR, sustainability or inclusion.

We kicked off the year in the midst of heavy fire from Anand Giridharas, journalist and author of Winners Take All, who dismisses corporate purpose as “an elite charade” designed to shore up the power of the wealthiest in society by changing nothing. Then, in mid-January, Gillette launched a campaign engaging with the #MeToo movement and challenging stereotypical ‘masculine’ behaviours, drawing criticism from people who felt they were under attack, and those who derided the campaign as virtue-signalling. Finally, at the end of January, historian Rutger Bregman became a viral sensation by calling out business leaders at Davos for skirting the issue of tax avoidance in favour of the safer topic of philanthropy.

As someone who is convinced of the power of business to drive positive change, it’s tempting to go on the defensive, protecting my field against those who would criticise it. But, instead, I find myself strangely uplifted by the opportunity to reflect on whether there’s some truth at the centre of these claims.

Because we all know, don’t we, of more than one company that deserves criticism like this? Those whose purpose doesn’t feel authentic for the company; and those who have a strong purpose but do not demonstrate it through their actions.

There are remedies for both of these ailments. The good news is that these remedies are simple. The bad news is that ‘simple’ is not the same as ‘easy’.

Finding an authentic purpose

The arguments for being (or becoming) a purpose-driven organisation are compelling. Companies led by purpose are now outperforming their competitors by over 200%, and Unilever’s purpose-driven brands continue to grow nearly 50% faster than the rest of their business. So it’s no surprise that companies often want a slice of this ‘purpose stuff’ – and they want it as quickly as possible. That’s what is behind many of the purpose fails of the past few years: a purpose statement developed by the board, or (even worse) a marketing agency.

Companies that do this have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of purpose. An authentic purpose starts not from what a company has to sell, but from a deep understanding of its role in the world, the unique skills and competencies it offers, and the societal needs it can serve. Articulating a company’s purpose needs to happen from three directions: top-down (strategic direction from company leadership), bottom-up (involving as many employees as possible), and outside-in (engaging those already working to change the world).

Neglecting even one of these inputs can lead to a fatally inauthentic purpose. The marketing team at McDonald’s, for example, presumably didn’t check in with their employees before flipping their famous M logo into a W for International Women’s Day… at the same time as female employees were accusing the company of failing to respond appropriately to sexual harassment claims.

Living an authentic purpose

The risks of failing to ‘live’ your purpose are significant, even if you escape the public backlash that some brands have experienced in the last few years. The longer-term journey is all about placing purpose at the heart of business strategy – and that means transforming operations, culture and even products to ensure they are in alignment.

Importantly, the first people to notice – and care about – a lack of commitment to your purpose will be your employees. Kin&Co’s own 2018 research found that 53% of employees say that their company’s purpose marketing does not reflect reality, and 68% say that talking purpose but not living it has a negative impact on their work, loyalty and/or trust in leaders.

There’s one simple question that reveals immediately how deep purpose goes: How does your purpose drive your business decisions? Authentically purpose-driven companies will be able to identify – and will likely be promoting – examples of where this has happened.

For example, on the same day as Apple took steps to protect the details of its self-driving vehicle, Tesla released all its patents to help others combat climate change. Its founder Elon Musk explained that the decision was inspired by the company’s purpose: “Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we… inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal.”

There are still too many companies who don’t get purpose right – whether it’s through public promises that are not lived internally, programmes that don’t have a measurable impact, or lobbying positions that don’t align with company values.

Every time one of these examples hits the headlines, it’s bad news for all of us. That’s why we must be (constructively) critical of those companies who are not articulating and living an authentic purpose – and help them to find a better way forward.

That’s when we’ll be ready for a new year without any surprises.

This article was originally published by Business Fights Poverty.

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Sustainability Smurf may be the newest in the village, but who’s next?

If you don’t have small people in your life, you may not yet have seen the sustainability world’s latest tie-up: the United Nations and The Smurfs. The Small Smurfs, Big Goals campaign features a snazzy advert and online quiz to promote the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I’ll admit it: I didn’t see this one coming. Not least because the Smurfs, with their gender ratio of 99:1, famously inspired The Smurfette Principle, when the one woman in an otherwise entirely male cast exists only in relation to the men. That sits pretty awkwardly with Global Goal 5: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’.

But, gender politics aside, the UN/Smurf partnership is a laudable attempt to motivate young people to get behind the SDGs and learn that “all of us, even a small Smurf, can achieve big goals”.

In fact, it inspired me to wonder whether there are other children’s programmes that could benefit from a bit of sustainability magic…

SEDEX: Transforming tiny lives

“We will fix it, we will mend it, we will make it brand new, new, new.”

Ah, the clockwork mice – for many of us, our very first introduction to upcycling. Without them, Emily’s shop wouldn’t have been able to fulfil its primary function: returning lost items to their rightful owners.

What is less clear is the conditions under which the mice work. Are they paid a living wage? Does Bagpuss protect their right to freedom of association? Are their grievances treated with the strictest confidence, or would they be better off with a formal whistleblowing process? These questions, and so many others, are left unanswered.

That’s why Bagpuss needs to sign up to SEDEX, a simple and effective way of managing ethical and responsible practices in the supply chain.

As their website says, “Revelations of unfair or unsafe labour practices, corruption, or environmental negligence in the supply chain can damage a company’s reputation and lead to a loss of revenue.” And what would Emily think of that?

Mr Tumble needs a framework

Disembodied voice of child: Hello, Mr Tumble.

Mr Tumble: Hello!

Child: What’s that?

Tumble: My spotty bag! Justin is with his friends today, and I want them to find THREE SPECIAL THINGS.

Child. But how did you choose those three special things, Mr Tumble? Are they really the most important things you could have chosen?

Tumble: [confused face]

Child: You need the GRI, Mr Tumble. It’s the internationally agreed way to define and report against your material aspects.

Tumble: [very confused face]

Child: Just think how much easier it will be to choose your three special things once we’ve developed your GRI index and assigned you an “in accordance’ level.

Tumble: Aha – I see now. It’s time to sign! Scope 3 emissions. You sign! Scope 3 emissions.

How Net Positive could save Mummy Pig’s sanity

Peppa Pig is a brat. There, I’ve said it. Yes, I know she’s only young – but although four-year-olds can certainly have their moments, I don’t know any who have hung up on their friends or been rude to The Queen.

But I believe she’ll be able to turn her life around with the help of the Net Positive movement. It will be much more compelling for little Peppa to commit to ‘doing more good’ than ‘doing less bad’.

She could help Miss Rabbit with one of her jobs: rescue helicopter pilot, perhaps, or aquarium sales assistant. She could raise money for her school so that she and her 18-month-old brother are no longer in the same class. Or she and Daddy Pig could petition the scriptwriters to stop making him so useless.

The possibilities for doing good are endless. And, according to Forum for the Future, Peppa will also be able to “grow [her] brand, deliver a strong financial performance and attract the brightest talent” – far more than even self-confessed clever-clogs Edmond Elephant has managed.


It’s been fun to imagine the potential partnerships between sustainability frameworks and children’s programmes. And even if my suggestions haven’t been 100% serious, it’s critical that the sustainability community innovates in this area, motivating and engaging younger generations to get involved with some of the world’s trickiest issues.

So I’m officially throwing down the gauntlet to all sustainability movements. Who’s next for a Smurf-style makeover? And who will your partner be?

This blog post was originally published on the Futerra website. Image credit: United Nations.

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I’ll believe it when I see it: Three ways to help your employees believe in your values

If you’re serious about your organisation’s purpose and values, you’ll know that articulating and agreeing them is just the beginning of a much longer journey.

Embedding your values in your organisation is a critical step on that journey. In fact, the statements themselves mean very little until your employees live and breathe them every day.

That’s easier said than done. Employees are frustrating creatures: shrewd, ambitious, flawed humans who like to form their own opinions – and who base those opinions on the evidence of their own eyes, rather than on what they’re told by head office. It’s very inconvenient, especially if you’re tasked with convincing them your organisation is committed to living its values.

You can make it easier for them to believe you by making sure their day-to-day experience aligns with what you’re telling them. That’s the wisdom behind the adage, “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

It’s easier said than done… but we’ve put together a three-step plan to help you get started.

1. Tackle the biggest contradictions

If you’re leading your organisation’s purpose and values, chances are your time is precious. You need to focus on the activities that will make a real difference to company culture.

So if there’s a clear, systemic conflict between your values and culture – for example, if your values include treating colleagues and clients with respect, but your appraisal system rewards and promotes rude or ruthless employees – fix it. You’ll never convince savvy employees that your values are real if inconsistencies like this still exist.

2. Don’t hide the remaining issues

With your focus on the most important activities, there will always be a long list of smaller, less material issues that are outside your focus.

You can’t, for example, announce an ambitious carbon reduction goal one day, and rid your products of every little bit of unnecessary packaging the next. (And it probably wouldn’t get you much closer to that goal if you did.)

Yet it’s tangible improvements such as packaging that are most likely to capture the attention of your employees. That means it’s a mistake to ignore them, even if they are not strictly the most important issues for you. Instead, you can take steps to mitigate the impact of this disconnect on your employees’ goodwill.

  • Never communicate on values-led topics until you have a clear plan in place to deliver the change. If you can explain the route to achieving your goal, it’s easier to show which actions are the most important.
  • Make sure your communications strike the right tone. The focus should be on the vision of the future – but you also need to acknowledge where you are on the journey, and that many contradictions remain.
  • Enlist the help of your employees to spot the contradictions that bother them the most. Then listen carefully and respectfully, take action where necessary – and, critically, communicate clearly when you have taken action in response to an employee’s idea.

3. Recognise contradictions as a sign of ambition

Finally, make sure you understand the complex truth about contradictions. They exist for one reason alone: because the organisation you want to be is better than the organisation you currently are. If you had no ambition, there would be no inconsistency.

So while you need to resolve issues like these, it’s also important to recognise them for what they are: an inevitable stage of your journey to becoming a better organisation.

Congratulations – you’re on your way!


This blog post was originally published on the Kin&Co website. Image: 117/365. How To Catch Shooting Stars by Anant Nath Sharma is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Is the way we talk about sustainability teams preventing us from driving change?

I’ve had a lovely Christmas this year, spending time with family and friends, and finding the time to look back on 2014. So I should be writing a blog post about the year just gone, or looking forward to a fresh new year.

But once again – call it recency bias if you will – I find myself troubled by a phrase that came up more than once towards the end of the year, from friends and colleagues alike.

“My job is to put myself out of work.”

If you work in sustainability, you’ve probably used it yourself, or at least heard it from someone else. That someone might even have been me, because I’ve certainly employed it on occasion. It’s a lighthearted way of communicating one of the most important goals of sustainability: to embed social and environmental concerns so firmly into core business strategy that we no longer need a team of people to keep them on the company’s agenda.

But I’ve never been entirely comfortable with this expression… and it’s only recently that I’ve realised why not.

I began to notice the same kind of discomfort I get whenever someone says – always with the best of intentions – that “parenting is the hardest job in the world”. I can see the point they’re trying to make, and it’s a good one. Parenting is uniquely challenging, requiring commitment, consideration and persistence.

A paid job can also be uniquely challenging, and many of the same qualities will help you succeed. But that doesn’t mean the comparison is a good one. Beyond the general sentiment of “they’re both challenging pursuits and both worth your time”, the demands of parenting (and other forms of caring) are so different from those of paid work that the comparison doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

(Incidentally, the value judgment implicit in the comparison above annoys the hell out of me. I don’t believe we need to judge parenting on the same terms as paid work in order to make it worthwhile. But that particular rant is out of the scope of this article.)

In the same way, beyond the sentiment of “we’re trying to affect core business”, I don’t think there’s much that stands up to scrutiny in the idea that sustainability teams want to make themselves obsolete. And that’s not because we have some sort of “vested interest” in the end of the world, as that odd little climate change-denier argument would have it, but because we don’t really believe that one day, in a few years’ time our work will be finished for good.

Right now, we’re helping businesses make the transition from focusing on short-term shareholder revenue to long-term societal value. Once we’ve made great strides in this area, you can be sure that another transition will be required. As long as the world keeps on changing – and I don’t see any evidence that it’s planning to stop – there will be a role for an engine of change within every company. The team that delivers this is likely to look and sound very different from today’s sustainability team, but it will still be there.

I think there’s a big risk in using this innocuous-sounding expression in front of people who are our potential allies in driving change. We risk them mishearing the message “we’re here to become part of core business” as “we’re not really supposed to be here… and we’ll be off as soon as we’ve won a few battles.” We risk them concluding that sustainability is a temporary threat to the status quo – and that means we’ll need to win them round again when the next challenge arises.

The essence of my objection is this: by framing the role of the sustainability team in a way that borders on the dismissive, we may well be diminishing the importance of our field to the future of business. In my view, it’s better to be honest about what we’re fighting for: a long-term commitment to reflecting our society’s values that, far from going away, will only become more challenging and nuanced as time goes by.

So I’m starting 2015 with a resolution: to say out loud to as many people as possible that I’m proud to work in sustainability, that we’re here to stay, and that both business and the world will be a better place if we do. And I invite you to do the same.

Image: B.Duck Motion Speaker 07 by Tommy Tsutsui is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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If you can’t say something useful, don’t say anything at all

On the stretch of motorway near my town, there’s a sign that infuriates me so much that I’ve begun to take a different route home just to avoid it.

It’s one of those electronic signs that hang across the motorway, much like the one in the picture above. Usually, it’s reserved for critical messages like Strong Winds: Slow Down, or Caution: Roadworks Ahead. They’re messages that benefit me and everyone else on the motorway, making us prepared, aware and safe drivers.

But when there isn’t a critical message to convey, the sign defaults to this: Don’t Drink and Drive.

What’s the problem? I hear you ask. It’s a worthy message in what would otherwise be a blank space, delivered to a captive audience of drivers. What harm can it do?

First, I want to emphasise that I’m not  minimising the impact of drink-driving, which accounts for 13% of all road fatalities in the UK. So the message on my motorway sign is an important and worthy one.

And it’s a message that has been refined and improved for many years now – since 1964, here in the UK – resulting in a dramatic decrease in road casualties caused by drink-driving. There’s a great rundown of 50 years of drink-driving campaigns on the Telegraph website that shows their evolution from simple messages (“Don’t ask a man to drink and drive”) through to more sophisticated, harder-hitting campaigns.

But, for me, the high standard of modern drink-driving campaigns throws into stark relief the futility of my motorway sign. It’s the very definition of a pointless message.

It’s not targeted. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t drink and drive, yet it still happens – why? Is it because people can’t judge how much they’ve drunk? Can judge their alcohol intake, but believe they’re different? End up drinking more than they planned and drive drunk “just this once”? Changing this behaviour requires detailed insight and specific interventions, not simply repeating the mantra over and over again.

It’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you’re reading the message, you’re already driving, and by that time you’ve either had a drink or you haven’t. It’s too late to change it now.

It might even be counterproductive. There’s nothing like repetition without variation to make someone filter out your message. And, speaking personally, I’m not such a confident driver that I want my motorway journey interrupted by non-critical messages – I’d feel much safer if I were left to concentrate on the road.

If we’re going to change complex and embedded behaviours – not just in drink-driving but all across the sustainability spectrum – this isn’t good enough, even if it’s not our main efforts. We need to be smarter.

How do we do that? Simple: just reverse all the problems highlighted by this motorway sign.

Know what you’re talking about.

I’ve said this many times before, but effective behaviour change begins with amazing insight. You need to know, in detail, why your target audience behaves the way they do. Only then can you begin to craft a message that will resonate with them.

The Embrace Life advertisement, funded by Sussex Safer Roads, focuses on the central character’s love for his family, rather than his own safety. The unspoken question is: what would have happened to them if he hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt? (And it makes me cry no matter how many times I see it. Don’t tell anyone.)

Talk to people in the right place at the right time.

It’s not a difficult one, this, but we seem to get it wrong a lot of the time. To successfully change a behaviour, people need triggers – points where we encourage them to stop, reflect and change – before we can create a new habit.

The UK Government’s Moment of Doubt advertisement does this well, focusing on a man trying to decide whether or not to have another drink before driving home. Although the focus of the film is on the consequences of drink-driving, the key question (“What’ll it be?”) is a trigger for drink-buyers everywhere.

Repeat, with intelligence.

There’s a fine distinction here, so I want to be clear: for most communications, most of the time, repetition is to be encouraged. But a message like “don’t drink and drive” doesn’t suffer from a lack of repetition. It has the opposite problem: most of us have heard it so many times that it becomes background noise. The same goes for exhortations to recycle, turn off the lights, or file your paperwork on time.

To break through the “I’ve heard it all before” response, we need to be more creative. I love Gareth Kane’s animation The Art of Green Jujitsu, which shows how to break out of the cycle of shouting ever louder.


Achieving real, lasting changes in behaviour is very difficult – the need for 50 years (and counting) of drink-drive campaigning is testament to that. But that doesn’t mean we need to grab every opportunity to repeat a generic message just in case it makes a difference.

We can do better than that.

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Why communicators are vital to delivering sustainability

You’re probably familiar with this story:

On a visit to the NASA space centre in 1962, President Kennedy spoke to a man sweeping up in one of the buildings. “What’s your job here?” asked Kennedy. “Well, Mr. President,” the janitor replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

That’s a level of personal engagement in a job that most employees don’t yet feel. But in the world of sustainability, where I’ve worked for the past decade, it’s vital that we foster engagement like this across our workplaces. Corporate sustainability goals are becoming ambitious, strategic and more closely tied to core business strategy – and the more fundamental the changes required to achieve them, the less likely it is that the charge can be led from global headquarters.

Many leading companies – such as Virgin, EDF Energy and TUI Travel – are finding ways to drive change throughout their businesses not just through the traditional employee engagement channels, but also by fostering deep engagement with a smaller audience: hand-picked champions in key areas of the business.

I’m not talking about the “green champions” of old (you know, the ones who could be found patrolling the floor for contaminated recycling bins). This new breed of champion knows their part of the business inside out, and is empowered to make the decisions needed to drive lasting change. If your company has them, it’s likely they don’t have a name like “change agent” or “champion” – but, nonetheless, that’s the job they’re doing.

For example, Wal-Mart created a dozen Sustainable Value Networks to deliver its ambitious sustainability goals. The networks consisted of Wal-Mart employees, NGOs, academics, government officials and suppliers, all working under a Wal-Mart sustainability champion. Each team focused on a strategic sustainability issue and soon showed clear results – the fleet logistics team improved efficiency by 38%, saving $200m annually. (For more on this case study, see David A. Lubin and Daniel C. Esty’s article The Sustainability Imperative in the May 2010 edition of Harvard Business Review.)

In my view, this network of change agents is a sustainability team’s greatest asset, and it should be managed with care. But getting the best out of them is a new departure for many sustainability professionals, who are often hired for their technical know-how or their sharp strategic skills rather than their ability to engage, persuade and influence each other.

If you’re a communicator, you may already see where I’m going with this… because those skills are exactly the ones you’re likely to possess in spades. That means you can play a critical role not only in the communication of sustainability initiatives, but in the delivery of the strategy itself.

All you need to do is to share your professional skills with your local sustainability team, and you’ll be helping to fast-track sustainable change within your company.

Share your comms skills

Let’s start with the most obvious one first.

Most global companies will have a network of sustainability champions from different countries, departments and brands, all working to deliver change within their small part of the business. They’re such a valuable resource because they’re all different: knowledgeable about their own area of the business and how it works.

But those differences make them more difficult to communicate with as a group. You can help the sustainability team to develop a clear and robust plan for their communications – the key messages, most effective channels and frequency of messaging. And, if you’re in a global role, you can help with your insights on communicating across departments and cultures.

Help them find the right people

As a communicator, you almost certainly have an enviable contact list of your own. That means you can help the sustainability find and secure the right people for their own network.

The ‘right people’ will be different for each company culture, but some qualities are needed across the board. My own perfect champion job description looks something like this: Ambitious senior manager or director with a passion for sustainability, linked clearly to the business, and the ability to inspire and influence others.

It’s a tall order – but chances are that you know better than most people how to find such a person in many of your company’s departments. Can you introduce them to the sustainability team so that their talents can be used for good?

Lend them your attitude

Finally, you can contribute something slightly more esoteric – your attitude to getting things done. I may be guilty of stereotyping, but my experience is that communications professionals tend to be more entrepreneurial in their approach than the average sustainability manager. Faced with an issue you don’t understand, you’ll get on the phone for an explanation… and if that person can’t help, you’ll keep trying until you find someone who can.

That’s exactly the attitude that the modern sustainability team needs – unafraid to build support for their strategy and confident to reach out and make connections. So if you can find a way to help the team to foster deeper relationships with their key contacts from across the business, please do so.

Many of the ideas above may seem small, prosaic or even boring to you. But the sustainability strategies of most major companies are sorely in need of some communications magic – not just to tell employees about its successes, but to be part of the successes themselves.

And if we get this right, we’ll all have our own man-on-the-moon stories to tell. Wouldn’t that be something?’

This article was first published on the Fishburn website. Image: Daylight moon by Fillipi Pamplona is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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How to make friends and influence… the whole company

The real skill of social intrapreneurship is building support for your idea, collaborating across departments, and developing your network – not simply targeting the one or two people who might fund it, and otherwise keeping it to yourself.

I’m going to start with a confession: I’m not an intrapreneur. In fact, before I became a Mix-Fitter last year, I didn’t really know what the term meant.

Right now, I’m working in a freelance capacity on sustainable business – and before that, I was a corporate sustainability manager. (You may not have heard of a ‘sustainability manager’ before, although you may well have met your friendly neighbourhood CSR Manager. One of the things about us is that we like to change our names, just to confuse people.)

But, labels aside, from what i’ve seen sustainability managers and social intrapreneurs have a huge amount in common. In his recent article for Guardian Sustainable Business, David Grayson gives a great description: “Social intrapreneurs are typically going against the grain, challenging their organisation and questioning the status quo to develop and implement commercially attractive sustainability solutions.”

That’s not a million miles off the day-to-day role of a sustainability manager, which is about changing the culture of the organisation for the better from the inside. And if the two roles share a common goal, they also share a pitfall: narrowing your focus to pushing through a specific project at the expense of wider corporate culture change.

I believe it’s critical to make time during your day to consider how your work is affecting the culture of the rest of your business. There are two things that can help you do this effectively, and that won’t result in immediate burnout: build your network early, and embrace resistance. One by one:

Build your network early

It’s tempting to see network development as a job to be done once you’re 100% sure about your idea: what it is, how it will be delivered, and exactly what needs to happen to get you from here to there.

I’d recommend a different approach, and start building your network as your idea and business plan take shape. You’ll get the benefit of their experience while you’re developing your plans, including insight from countries, departments and brands you don’t know yourself.

It also means your champions will be bought into your goals from the outset – because they helped to shape them, they’ll feel a sense of ownership and pride that they wouldn’t get if you delivered a slick presentation to them at a later stage.

So, try to start talking to people about your idea one step before you’re truly comfortable doing so. That’s where they can start adding value… and you can start getting them on side.

Embrace resistance 

Most of us don’t enjoy it when other people don’t ‘get’ – or worse, actively oppose – our ideas. If you’re a social intrapreneur, chances are you’ve already discovered that this tends to happens a lot when you propose a change to ‘business as usual’.

The good news is that it’s a sign you’re doing your job well! All change creates resistance, and much of it is useful and necessary. Resistance to ideas is a sign that people are taking the idea seriously – after all, it’s easy to agree with something you intend to ignore.

The real challenge is to take it one step further and embrace resistance. It’s harder than it sounds, especially if it’s your idea on the line. Take a look at my blog post for Corporate Citizenship Briefing for the story of how I learned to love the people who didn’t like the changes I wanted to make.

You might even look to include a few naysayers in your network in order to test your ideas – the more you’re forced to respond to resistance, the better your strategy will be!

… and make the change happen

Creating and sustaining change is never easy, but it’s nearly always delivered at a local level by dedicated people who are empowered to make critical decisions. If your network members know how to deal with resistance and encourage others to help shape their plans, they’ll be well placed to make those decisions in favour of the goal you’re all trying to achieve.

The real skill of social intrapreneurship is building support for your idea, collaborating across departments, and developing your network – not simply targeting the one or two people who might fund it, and otherwise keeping it to yourself.

It’s easy to lose sight of developing your network because there are so many other things to do. But building support for your idea right now will be critical to the next stage – no matter where you are with the project.

This article was first published on the Mix-Fits website. Image: Captive Audience by J J is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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The evolution of the sustainability champion

The study and taxonomy of the Sustainability Champion has become unfashionable of late, and there is a curious collective denial of their importance. Below, Sarah Holloway, professional observer of sustainability champions, traces the evolution of this species and provides a simple guide to their identification.

1. Homo inhabilis

The earliest recorded example of the sustainability champion is Homo inhabilis (“unfit champion”).

As with many early examples, there is scant evidence of his existence, though it can be found if researchers know where to look. The kitchen cabinets of some urban offices have been found to feature yellowing posters asking the indigenous population, Homo oblivious, to recycle.

Little is known about Homo inhabilis beyond these scraps of evidence. Researchers believe he was loyal to the elders of his community, and highly respectful of tribe hierarchy and norms. Elders are thought to have shown great interest in distributing money to worthy causes, and this took up a significant proportion of Homo inhabilis’ time.

2. Homo compliancensis

Homo compliancensis represents a clear step forward in champion evolution. He is named for his primary motivation: compliance with national and international regulation.

Until recently, it was believed that Homo compliancensis stayed mainly within his own habitat. However, the recent discovery of “environmental footprints” from this period suggest that he may have explored his environment within a limited range, perhaps as much as once every financial year.

Homo compliancensis appears to have spent much of his time focusing on incremental change – scraps of documents known as Environmental Management Systems can still be found in many corporate computer systems – and that his influence on the work environment was limited to reductions in electricity use and the introduction of recycled paper.

3. Homo securitas viridis

Homo securitas viridis (“the green police”) is the first truly visible example of a sustainability champion, and we therefore know much more about his habits than those of his ancestors.

Following extensive investigation, we know that Homo securitas viridis is the first champion species to have a well-developed sense of morality, and to have used rudimentary weapons (anger, sarcasm and mock disbelief) on members of the related species Homo unsuspectingus who failed to share his ethics. Common transgressions included unnecessary printing, drinking from a plastic cup, and using a car to travel a walkable distance.

Although some experts claim that Homo securitas viridis is now extinct, most agree that isolated examples still exist in many work environments.

4. Homo changeagentus

In some modern organisations, Homo securitas viridis has been completely replaced by a new species: Homo changeagentus. Although similar in appearance to his predecessor, Homo changeagentus has a crucial advantage: the ability to influence change in his environment.

Homo changeagentus carries more advanced weaponry than Homo securitas viridis, the most powerful of which are deep local insight, and an understanding that he cannot change things alone. He hunts strategically, working in partnership with others to pick off larger prey. The most successful examples of this species have managed to capture key tribal elders (“the Board”) and convert them to their cause.

Researchers believe that members of this species have already begun to work with others to tackle complex problems such as deforestation, public health and inequality.

5. Homo futurum

Based on the adaptive capability of sustainability champions, experts predict that a new species is likely to emerge in response to significant changes to the work environment.

Homo futurum (“future champion”) is predicted to have changed his culture to such a degree that significant change is no longer necessary. He will be careful to gain the trust of the other species, including Homo middlemanagerus and Homo stakeholderensis, and be making headway with the complex issues he needs to address.

Most importantly, Homo futurum will continue to scan the horizon for societal trends and environmental challenges to ensure his team is at the cutting edge of sustainability. We look forward to meeting Homo futurum!

This article first appeared on the Dō Sustainability website. Image: The Descent of Man by Newtown Graffiti is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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WEBINAR: How to build a sustainability network

Last week, I presented a Do Webinar on Building a Sustainability Network alongside Rosie Bristow of TUI Travel.

Rosie and I talked about the role of change agents in delivering sustainability goals – a small army of people who know their department, country or brand inside out and who can drive change at a local level.

We covered:

  • Practical skills, tips, strategies and tools you can start using immediately to improve your relationships with key contacts from across the business
  • Different types of network and the role of the network lead (that’s you!)
  • The mindset change you need to make when leading and managing a network across a global business
  • Dealing with resistance — and why resistance is a sign you’re doing a good job

If you missed the webinar, don’t worry! You can access the recording below:

… and if you enjoyed the recording, there’s much more in my book, Networks for Sustainability, published by Do Sustainability.

Image: My Social Network by Eugene Kim is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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