Who Do You Need to Wake Up?

By Leslie Bennett & Heather Shapter, Open Spaces Learning 

Report from the 11th CBSR Summit, The Transformational Company: Applied

Note: the author represented CSRwire at the CBSR Summit in Toronto, Canada. CSRwire is a media sponsor for the CBSR. Article first posted to CSRWire November 25th, 2013

Corporate Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) hosted their 11th Annual Summit  The Transformational Company: Applied – in Toronto, Canada on November 6th with a sold out crowd in attendance. The Summit theme was grounded in the Transformational Company framework, developed as a guide for companies scaling up their efforts to address systemic societal risks and challenges.

When CBSR refers to transformational companies, they are referring to those that commit beyond their own operations to become world-class sustainability leaders in their region and sector. The 19 qualities identified within the CBSR research give us a roadmap to get there.

Most of the sessions at the CBSR Summit were designed to delve into the “how to” of creating a transformational company. We started the day off with an inspiring keynote address by John Elkington, Founding Partner and Executive Chairman of Volans, who painted the picture of why even taking the journey to have a transformed company is so critical to our future.

Complex Sustainability Issues Require a New Leadership Lens

One of the problems we now face, Mr. Elkington highlighted, is that there are so many sustainability issues to address and they are all interrelated. We require leadership that sees it this way. Change in the world will have to come with changing our approach within our companies. That can only happen with senior leaders on board.

Mr. Elkington offered some examples that highlight bold leadership taking ground on multiple sustainability fronts while still having their organizations thrive.

Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan is a great example of an organization that has integrated their overall corporate purpose with sustainability principles which include:

  • Sustainability drives organizational values,
  • What the company does is of benefit to society,
  • Profits enable fair and equitable compensation for natural and societal resources.

The Zeronauts are a John-Elkingtonnew breed of innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and policy-makers who are pushing towards zero net impact in such areas as population growth, pandemic risk, poverty, pollution and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Common Barriers to Transformation

Two common barriers identified at the Summit to integrating sustainability into your organization’s overall business strategy include:

  • Many organizations are grappling with how to bring transformation to the area of sustainability because of the myriad issues at play. What we end up doing in the face of the complexity, is focus on only one sustainability area; e.g., carbon offsets, but largely ignore interrelated social, economic and other environmental issues.
  • Organizations can also get trapped into viewing sustainability as a way to minimize risk or to increase their good corporate citizenship, and lose their capacity to entertain both.

Begin Your Company Transformation with Key Partners

If we need to have multiple viewpoints on sustainability, then it will be most easily accomplished if we have more than one role at the table.

The vast majority of CBSR Summit attendees were CSR professionals or CSR advisors. So, while there was great material shared and some great discussions had at the Summit, it still left attendees with the Herculean task of having to take back what they learned and engage – on their own – key counterparts in their organizations.

If we want to bring transformation to our organizations, our communities and our planet as quickly as possible, we need to have key internal and external partners in the conversation with us. Ideally, these partners include your CEO. In lieu of CEO participation, John Elkington suggests: “Get these groups to wake up… CFO, the HR community and Brand Management people.”

Next Step in Transforming Your Company Is Looking Within

Not only do we need to have greater diversity in roles at the sustainability table, but we also need to complement the looking outward with the looking inward for change.

We are looking “out there” for the system to change. A question emerges, then, what is there to change over here with me, my team and my organization that would give me access to influencing transformation in a bigger system? Kathryn Cooper, President & Chief Learning Officer of the Sustainability Kathryn-CooperLearning Centre suggests:

“To move from an unsustainable world to a sustainable world, a whole mindset has to shift in how our people are seeing and thinking and seeing sustainability, I don’t see companies doing that and until they do, we are only going to experience an incremental change.”

If we keep approaching sustainability in the same way, it is predictable we will get similar or only incremental results. To have a notable transformation on the planet, it will require us to think differently and to operate differently.

If we are looking inward as Kathryn suggests, we need to question our assumptions and beliefs about our own mindset as to why we haven’t been successful in waking up other critical leaders to the urgency and relevance of sustainability in our organizations.

If you haven’t yet been successful in creating partnership with these stakeholders, consider this is the place to start for your own mindset transformation. Do whatever it takes to have that happen. We need to have participation expanded well beyond CSR professionals in this conversation on applied transformation if we are committed to see something move significantly for people, profit and the planet. As John Elkington reminded us at the 11th Annual CBSR Summit: “You’ve got to keep jumping off cliffs, and hope you develop the wings on the way down.”

Start the conversation