I say both play a critical role. Let me explain why and how.
First I’ll identify the characteristics of sustainability leaders. Then I’ll reward you with a dance video. One that nicely illustrates how a movement is born – thanks to the first follower.
I am privileged to work with a number of mission-driven companies. These are companies that have progressed along the five stages of the CSR Continuum, which I identify as pre-CSR, basic CSR, strategic CSR, integrated and finally mission-driven.
Here’s what I notice about them. CSR leaders typically embed social and environmental factors throughout their operations from governance, to purchasing, to investments, to HR. They incorporate their sustainability commitments into existing products, or new product lines. And they set bold goals, such as no net impact or to become sustainable.
In addition to integration, they use their influence to catalyze sustainability beyond their corporate boundaries. (Here’s the first nod to followers.) You can spot these leading companies as they champion sustainability within their regions, to different levels of government, to others in their industry through their trade associations and to the public at large. (And so they inspire “followers” who may add their own innovations to the movement and, in turn, attract more followers until they reach a tipping point.)
Leading companies engage their stakeholders – particularly their clients and their employees – to adopt more sustainable behaviours, at work, at home and in the community (because again, without followers you don’t have a movement). They use their business to advance solutions to social and environmental challenges.
Leaders also report on how they manage their sustainability performance. Two of my clients – leaders in their sectors – are good examples. The Co-operators and TransLink both have recently released sustainability performance reports.
It’s also important to recognize and celebrate sustainability leaders so that others can be inspired by them (aka followers). So, please join me in congratulating The Co-operators for earning top place in the Corporate Knights ranking: 2011 Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada.
Barbara Turley-McIntyre, Director, Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship, The Co-operators Group Ltd explains what drives her company’s leadership actions.
“Being a sustainability leader means looking beyond our organizational boundaries, to see how we can catalyze social and environmental solutions locally and globally. We need to walk our talk, and have set ambitious targets to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, for example. But we also want to leverage our resources to generate sustainability benefits through our relationships.”
Bravo to The Co-operators and to all the other sustainability leaders on the Corporate Knights’ list.
But we can’t all be in the best 50 – although aspiring to it is a great thing. So, as promised, here is the video Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy, by Derek Sivers. It demonstrates why being a follower –especially a first follower – is just as important as taking the lead.
Coro Strandberg is principal of Strandberg Consulting, a firm that helps companies and industry associations integrate sustainability into business models and strategy.