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Look forward into the future when creating a Sustainability Vision

How to Start creating a Sustainability Vision

Reading Time: 6 minutes

How you view your business or industry will be a key driver in how well you proceed in creating a Sustainability Vision for the organisation. It will also shape your Sustainable Leadership fitness to address the future.

In every successful transformation effort, the change leader develops a picture of the future that is compelling, easy to communicate and appeals to stakeholders. Creating a sustainabiliyu vision goes beyond Business Planning rounds, which are typically five-year cycles. A good sustainability vision says something that helps clarify the direction in which an organization needs to move. Eventually, it sets the foundation for the strategy for achieves the outcomes desired by the vision.

Sustainability Leadership Values

A Leader’s Sustainability Vision should change continually as new challenges emerge; its core ideology should not. The core ideology defines the sustainability characteristics that form the context of your own sustainability mindset, worldview and beliefs. Your core ideology is something you have discovered internally over the years. What you care about and what is central to your vission of yourself as a ‘responsible’ person. Your core ideology has two parts.

Core Values

Core values are the guiding principles through which you live your life, conduct businss or adopt in interactions with others. They are personal to you and require no external justification or apology to others.

Many articles and blogs consider extensive lists of what core values leader’s should possess. The Leading Green’s approach is to understand the 3 or 4 key attributes through which you define yourself. Whilst useful to understand a wider set of core values, it can miss your default values. One advantage in that instead of constantly shuffling between a long list of core values. A leader can more easily assess issues, decissions and dilemmas against 3-4 core values. Helping them remain true to them

Core Purpose

Core purpose is a individual’s understanding of their vocation, desires or need to undertake a role they have choosen. Although the term ‘idealistic’ is often used derogatorily in business, it commonly forms the inner driving force behind many great leaders. Your core purpose reflects the idealistic motivations you possess for leading other’s, conducting a role or launching an initiative.

Spending time considering your internal core values and purpose is a valuable leadership development action. It help your understanding of why specific elements of your sustainability vision are more important to you than others. It helps balance these against the business’s needs or organisation. They give a strong foundation to the creation of a sustainability leadership ideology the vision will bring forward.

Leading Green’s course on ‘Identifying Your Core Values‘ helps you understanding your leadership style and business practices. The course also offer insights into how your core values can provide insights into future decision-making practices. It remains our bedrock for leaders seeking to create a sustainability vision

An Envisioned Future

An envisioned future forms the second component of an effective sustainability vision. It has two elements that help elevate a vision in the eyes of employees:

  • A Big, Hairy, Audacious Green Goal (BHAGG) is an ambitious plan or concept that inspires the wider organisation. It helps your colleagues engage in the vision youhave created. They typically require 10 to 30 years’ work to complete (see ‘Backcasting‘ in the text below. It helps form the keystone within a comprehensive vision statement.
  • An inspiring story or communication that sets out the benefits, and what it will be like to achieve the BHAGG. They make the goal engaging—and tangible, for employees and other leadership colleagues .
Do you wish to uncover your organisation’s BHAGG

A Warning

Wheen seeking to create a sustainability vision don’t confuse your core ideology with an envisioned future—in particular, don’t confuse a BHAGG with a core purpose. A BHAGG is a clearly articulated goal that is reachable within 10-30 years, but your core purpose can never be completed! A good explaination of this point is contained in the Patagonia’s website. Patagonia are often regarded as a global leader in aligning thier sustainable company vision within thier business, combining thier sustainability mission within their commercial operations

Creating your Sustainability Vision alone or by Committee?

You can focus on what is important to you or you can delegate the task to an internal committee. Whilst vision creation groups can be effective in advising what are the sustainability issues faced by the business. They run the risk of ‘groupthink’ or ‘ vision by consensus’ when they try to accomodate all personal views and concerns.

It is often better to listen carefully to their advice, areas of sustainability concern. This gives you time to question the business value and logic behind each proposal. Ultimately you will have to determine what you believe will be the top priorities for the future.

In 1960, the U.S. Navy developed a design principle called “keep it simple, stupid” (KISS). This implied that systems work best when they’re simple, minimalist, and avoid unnecessary complexities. A useful concept to consider before seeking to drive forward too many visionary initiatives too quickly.

Many company are in the process of creating a sustainability vision that addresses (single use) plastic product elimination

For example, if you wish to create a new business strategy that has at its centre the following sustainability vision. To “increase business value through alignment with societal values relating to reduced plastic usage”. I am not joking it exists! The first step will be to consider all aspects of plastic use in the day-to-day activities of the business. Do not forget to consider current business-to-business (B2B), business-to-customer (B2C), and even customer-to-customer (C2C) interactions. Especially if your products have a future life beyond the point of sale and usage.

Backcasting from a Sustainable Future

Backcasting is one way in helping your intial goals start off strongly. It encourages you to look forwards and to envision an ideal state or goal (ie a zero plastic organisation). Then with the end in mind to start working backwards towards today, at each timepoint. This helps you consider what the future path would look like, the steps and decisions necessary, and by when should alternatives be put in place.

Using these statements of intent help to guide the strategic planning path. You can identify:

  • The Quick wins – steps that can be taken today
  • The intermediate steps – operational and process challenges to be addressed; and
  • Future Investments – new packaging equiptment or alternative feedstocks.

It can also help you can communicate the Vision, its future direction of travel and encourage others to assist you in the journey.

Safeguarding Your Sustainability Vision

All Sustainability bisions need a strong leadership strategy behind them to ensure they are ultimately effective. Think of the times that you have come across a previous manager’s visions. Were you inspired to act or just to give it lip service?

To help safeguarding your leadership intiative give due consideration to the dark side of corporate life. The interplay between strategy and organisational culture! Organisations will resist any radical change, even for the most sustainable of reasons, if they don’t understand how it impacts on them. Your visison needs to consider its impact on people, operations, resources and management commitment. Also consider your arguments and evidence for how the iniative sustains growth, profitability or a competitive edge.

In order to protect against this, consider these seven key factors. Review and decide if the Vision needs amendemnt to improve:

  • Its Clarity of Purpose
  • How it builds on the shared purpose of the Organisation
  • Does it create the right organisational culture
  • What will keep everyone on track (Monitoring, KPIs. CSR reporting)
  • The setting of Leadership and Employee Accountabilities
  • The strategy to Build and Maintain momentum
  • An arguement for how it delivers a competitive edge over those organisations that don’t leverage this process!

Creating a Sustainability Vision -Conclusion

Having your own leadership vision on sustainability helps you take a long-sighted view of the corporate world. It also helps develop strategic insights into your business, industry or market sector.

This is big-picture leadership thinking:

  • How is the world enriched or diminished by the decisions you make?
  • How your organisation’s products or services impact on people and thier environments;
  • What are your major impacts on society?
  • How do existing business strategy, operations and organisational hehaviours address adverse sustainability impacts?
  • How are internal and external stakeholders included in decision making. How are the costs and benefits of what you do shared among them?
  • Do you take into account the needs of eco-systems and the services they provide to communities, and
  • How do you take into account the needs of society and of future generations?

These first steps in Sustainability Vision building will help you as an organisational leader start the process (and eventual sustainability strategy) with a defined end in mind. Through the formulation of an effective visison and mission you make it easier for others to engage and support. stakeholders.

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