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Leadership in Sustainability


By Vikki Slade

How Much Is Sustainability Valued in Your Organisation?

A fascinating digital magazine dropped in my inbox this week – Top 100 Leaders in Sustainability. While reading their stories of disrupting the status quo, I was struck by the fact that women dominated it.  In fact, 9 of the top 10 – and all the top 3 are women.

I wondered why this was.  Only two of the top ten were professional scientists, and most had taken a postgraduate qualification in something relating to sustainability, but their education was predominantly people related – Psychology, Marketing, HR, and International Relations.

Their stories talked about collaboration, communication, and a sense of standing up for other people.  The role requires ‘soft power,’ relationship building and long-term changes that are more difficult to demonstrate- all skills that are common to many female leaders.

Phrases like “head of talent and leadership,” “corporate intelligence,” and “brand development” litter their CVs and hint at leaders who understand that responding to climate change is all about behaviour change.  

Two of the top three leaders were from Online giants – Microsoft and Google – and the third was Unilever. Brands that most of us in the western world engage with daily. Their power to influence us is immense, hence their place at the top of the power tree.

This was a global chart and so it is probably inevitable that it is dominated by tech and consumer brands but if this were localized to a country – or a city – would this be different?  

Would the Head of Sustainability at the local authority or hospital feature in the league table?

Hospitals tend to be one of the biggest employers in a town or city and local authorities provide services for every household, business, and community group. They have the capacity to revolutionize progress towards net zero but in many cases the lead officer for sustainability is a middle manager, sitting in a department with the role tacked onto other commitments. 

We need to celebrate these leaders so that other organisations elevate them to the board, giving them an equal voice so that they can influence every element of the business.

In my role leading Cratus 2050, I sent a copy of Bill Gates book on climate action to the leader of every English council. We hoped it would enable each of them to take some time to think about how climate action – or inaction – can change the direction of what they do.  We asked them to read the book and share it with senior leaders in the organisation and to consider whether their actions go far enough. One action that they could take is to rethink the role of their Climate Lead- Promote the best. Employ a specialist if they are available, or promote the brightest, most persuasive, and persistent to the role and empower them to challenge the organisation.

Our Cratus 2050 Climate Database gives us the opportunity to share with clients and potential council partners where the priority of each local authority sits, helping them to win business and create partnerships with shared values. 

To find out more about Cratus 2050, contact Vikki Slade 

Leadership in Sustainability