Becoming a Sustainable company

I’ve recently attended different events regarding sustainability. It seems to be gaining relevance in these days, when we see more environmental challenges. There are terrible tragedies that make us wonder what will happen with the earth if we continue in this path. But as George Carlin said the Earth is fine, is the people that are f#cked. Every day we see in the news companies that are actively working to improve the situation: we see great advances in science that show a light at the end of the tunnel, but of course, we see that the usual suspects don’t seem to be doing anything relevant. We know that some companies are doing really good efforts and other are just pretending. Becoming sustainable requires operating in a way that helps the environment, which requires not only occasional actions but an entire strategy to drastically change the way we’re  interacting with the environment.

According to an MIT Sloan research on Sustainability, this is a two stage process. The first stage  involves re-framing the company’s identity through leadership commitment and external engagement with organizations that share this concern. The second stage involves codifying the new identity through employee engagement and mechanism of execution.

Of course, the CEO commitment is key, but it has to influence the behavior of employees. It’s not only a good intention that is needed, the culture of the company has to change to allow and promote sustainability in each one of the tasks employees perform. The study says that “engaged employees are emotionally connected to their work and to their workplace. As a result, they tend to be more productive and more willing to engage in discretionary efforts to achieve company goals”.

The corporate culture will have an impact in people’s behavior, but given the fact that Sustainability is an incipient concept (at least in our economical model) MIT recommends to head in a direction, tolerate risk and make adjustments en route, which is very likely against any manager’s expectations.

This is the reason why consultants that are familiar with this kind of transformation are needed, to help the company trust the process and create room for small changes, that will increase the capacity of the organization for transformational change.


So, the first question is: who is involved in this change? Shareholders, CEO, employees?  It’s not the responsibility of the OD department, the Engineering team or a committee that wants to see some changes. It has to come from the top (or get to the point where there is real buy-in from the CEO, otherwise, is only a nice-to-have attribute.  It has to permeate the entire company, through conversation, training, generation of ideas and re-definition of the processes, or it will never work.  As any other change process, is everyone’s responsibility.