Last year, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) published a position statement identifying a lack of awareness and understanding of sustainability in the business arena that will hold the UK back from being internationally competitive.
‘Our current economy cannot work in the long-term’ says IEMA; it must be reframed so it is ‘capable of equitable growth within the natural limits of the environment.’ Organizations need to have the ‘right skills and knowledge to deliver transformational change.
One year later, this feels more current than ever.
The skill and knowledge gap identified in the report applies to the existing workforce as much as it does to the next generation as our world is changing fast. There are new things to learn and emerging and complex ideas to understand – the circular economy, disruptive innovation, systems thinking, inquiry based learning, big collaboration etc.
Business schools are considered key training grounds for executives, but sustainability as a subject does not yet feature in many MBA type courses. If it does, it often focuses on practical tools for energy efficiency or reputation management.
Encouragingly, there are some institutions that are placing increased emphasis on experiential learning, systems thinking and exploration of body and soul, as well as knowledge acquisition around the subject (the Ashridge Masters in Sustainability and Responsibility, MBA Leadership and Sustainability at the University Cumbria, Cambridge University Masters in Sustainability Leadership, Sustainability Leadership Programmes with Earthwatch). However, sustaining motivation, confidence and interest in alternative ways of working after such programs come to an end also needs to be considered.
Needless to say, coaches can play a key role in supporting individuals and teams to integrate new learning, practices and goals into their strategic thinking and planning. Co-Active Coaches in particular regard their clients as an integrated whole just as ‘systems thinking’ considers our planet and its people as an interconnected web or fabric.
With sustainability we are all finding our feet, it is not about success or failure - it is about learning, experimentation and reflection. Often in the work place we are expected to get it right first time, to know the answers and to do better next time. However, when tackling this monumental challenge of living within the means of planet earth and keeping its people out of poverty, we must be kind to ourselves, appreciate efforts made, be curious about new ideas, listen to different and silenced voices, challenge current practices, champion all kinds of leaders and never rest on our laurels.