Sustainable leadership has become a buzzword in business lately. Exactly what is all the hype about sustainability and how can you make it work for you? Data from the International Finance Corporation found that companies with high environmental and social scores outperformed those with lower scores.

According to the GlobeScan-SustainAbility Leaders Survey, while integrating sustainability into the core of business operations was identified as a key aspiration by most companies, leaders are still challenged by translating “what’s good for the world to what’s good for business.” The survey results suggest that to successfully integrate sustainability initiatives into an organization’s culture, it is essential that executive leadership is committed to through both actions and words to the program.

“There is an urgent need in business today for a new type of
leadership—one that makes the long-term sustainability of our
world a top priority. Business leaders have an important part to play in
making the right strategic choices to create this sustainable future”

– executive consulting firm, Russell Reynolds Associates

Leadership is not only about managing priorities and people, it’s also about envisioning and shaping the future.  Ellen Weinreb, CEO of the Weinreb Group, characterizes sustainable leaders as having the following five core competencies:

  1. Systems thinking. Systems thinkers understand a business is part of system of relationships that includes supply chains, vertical industries, geographic regions, and ecosystems.
  2. External collaboration. Leaders must be willing to work with suppliers, customers, and even at times competitors to build social capital and explore new market opportunities.
  3. Social innovation. Innovative leaders think outside the box to identify ways to revamp processes and products to create both business and social value.
  4. Sustainability literacy. Sustainability-literate leaders fundamentally understand the risks and opportunities that environmental and social trends create.
  5. Active values. A leader with active values has the emotional intelligence to view their company and themselves as part of a larger purpose, fostering trust among employees and external stakeholders.

University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, now offers a Sustainability Leadership program with thousands of alumni from the US and abroad. The Institute’s latest effort, Rewiring the Economy, lays out a plan for governments, financial institutions, and businesses to work together to build a more sustainable economy in cities everywhere.

Sustainable leadership is not just active, its proactive. It’s not just energized, its synergized. Sustainable Leaders offer clarity, meaningful action, and compelling consistency in complex environments. These leaders challenge the status quo and have multidisciplinary backgrounds. Are you leading with the future in mind?