It was most definitely not a day like any other…Thursday June 13, 2013 saw the webcasted launch of Changing Tack, the culmination of our 18-month Regeneration Roadmap research program in collaboration with Globescan. The webcast was preceded by the annual Marks & Spencer Plan A Conference at which former U.S. Vice President Al Gore gave a barnstorming speech. Meanwhile, across London, the B Team launched its Plan B. Not a usual day by any means. Most certainly, something stirs…
Our Regeneration Roadmap analysis sees us poised between a sustainable future and catastrophic collapse. So Changing Tack recognizes the intensely pressing need to accelerate progress towards sustainable development. No less than transformation is needed. The enabling context for such transformation is trust, collaboration and leadership.
Business must find new ways to build trust, new models for collaboration and, above all, provide a new type of leadership – Extended Leadership. The six characteristics of Extended Leadership are new forms of vision, goal setting, offer, brand, transparency, and advocacy.
Alignment from companies as diverse as SC Johnson, BMW, and Cisco is surely rare; therefore, it is all the more striking when leaders from those companies are so strongly agreed on the need to build this enabling context.
But we must move fast, especially since it is often said that the pace of change is too incremental. SC Johnson’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kelly Semrau pointed out that actually we need both incremental and systemic change – we must do both. It is in the DNA of business to think in terms of continuous improvement so the journey continues day-by-day. Systemic change can be addressed too, but it must be through collaboration. The industry’s joint response to the CFC challenge in the 1990s points the way as an example of what can be achieved.
Vice President of Sustainability and Environmental Protection at BMW Group Ursula Mathar reflected the notion that both incremental and transformative change is needed—evolution and revolution. BMW is revolutionizing at the same time as it evolves its existing range.
Its BMWi electric vehicle initiative is an example of what can be achieved with committed leadership and a small team collaborating towards a common goal. It can even see a future for electric vehicles as a new means of power distribution as well as usage. Its “HomePark” service is another example of the sharing economy gathering momentum.
Another example of the benefit of Extended Leadership can be found at Cisco where leadership’s insistence on adopting its own video conferencing technologies has slashed the travel budget and cut CO2 emissions. But it has also increased collaboration across the company rather than reduced it, and enabled the creation of the Networking Academy which as scaled up to 165 countries.
While such examples give hope, we know we are a long way from success. The reality according to a recent survey quoted by Guardian Sustainable Business editor and Changing Tack moderator Jo Confino is that 75% of CEOs make decisions to meet short-term earnings that they know may have long-term damage to long-term prospects.
As Cisco’s Senior Director, Corporate Affairs Kathy Mulvany pointed out, the big commitments are going to take at least five years. Executives across the company need to understand the need for longer-term investment horizons. Business is, by its very nature, competitive, and the visible demonstration of progress by others does make a difference. It is Extended Leadership in action if you will.
Changing the context is not only about shifting the investment community; it is also about the public policy and regulatory arena. SC Johnson didn’t wait for government to update regulation; it went ahead on its own and created its green list for itself. Such an act changes the dynamic in the industry. It is a form of advocacy, a form of Extended Leadership.
The Guardian’s Jo Confino, who so ably chaired the discussion, posed the question, “Are we at a defining moment?” Given the consistent themes from all of the day’s events including this webcast, I believe we are.
From the leadership that Marc Bolland and Al Gore described at the PlanA event, it is evident that both are already putting Extended Leadership into practice. And they are in good company with leaders at Cisco, SC Johnson and BMW. Changing Tack describes choppy waters, but as the gathering storm becomes clearer, we’re gaining clarity on how we can navigate to something better.
Rob Cameron is Executive Director of SustainAbility.