How Carbon Footprint reduction is transforming the DNA of Leadership

Sustainability is about longevity, but it is also about transformation. “How do we respond to challenges and evolve for the better”, is always a question central to any leadership strategy. But being able to effectively communicate that question, connect it to a larger movement, inspire higher performance, find innovative solutions and influence traditional thinking are all characteristics that pertain to only a certain kind of leader. Given the recent flurry of climate change scares, there is no doubt that it is this concept of a “transformative leader” that will be leading the year’s discussion.

What is transformative leadership? Simply put, transformative leaders focus on their followers: they motivate followers to achieve higher levels of performance, listen and respond to their needs, challenge them to be innovative and creative, and in the process help them to develop their own leadership potential.

A recent report by The Climate Group spells out five traits that need to be embraced by business and government in order to create transformative leaders and achieve long-lasting, low-carbon results. The first step? Embrace change.

Many political and business leaders already acknowledge change, but only in recent years have we seen these leaders begin to embrace change as an instrumental part of longevity.  For instance, in his second Inaugural Address, President Obama announced a renewed commitment to clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction. In doing so he warned America of the need to change with changing times: “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.” World Bank President Kim Jong Kim has also recently promised to make tackling climate change a top priority during his term. These leaders are beginning to embrace carbon reduction – not as a goal, but as a long-term and integral strategy for profitability, economic growth, and security. Their brute regulation is not only imminent, but also reflective of a new style of leadership: one that is strategic, determined, and receptive to the possibilities of change.

With decisive leadership also comes disruptive leadership. Transformative leaders create controversial strategies that challenge the way sectors and state interact. According to Senate climate guru Barbara Boxer, we can expect to see this approach in upcoming U.S. policy, whether in the form of a revenue-generating carbon tax or re-energized EPA regulatory schemes aiming to drive businesses to compete in energy markets and pave the path for clean energy.

We’ll also witness this as an increasingly common business strategy for success. According to The Carbon Disclosure Project, more than two-thirds of business already put climate change at the heart of their business strategies. Most of these companies are reporting their emissions at the company level. However, many more are challenging the status quo by learning how to extend emission reporting from the confines of their own operations to the wider effects of their products – re-defining the scope of reporting to include categories such as product use phase, end of life phase, and carbon abatement of products and services.

The business Case is evident in the following graph where  organizations that join the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index (CDLI) have much better financial performance overtime that all the others in the Global 500 Index. The  CDLI includes Siemens, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and many other industry leaders

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At the Centre for Sustainability & Excellence, we observe these progressing trends with a growing number of professionals attending our global Sustainability and Carbon Strategy Practitioner training programs in all major cities including NY, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Toronto, Tokyo ,Dubai and Brussels  . Our registrants hail from forward-thinking companies like United Airlines, Walmart, Unilever and ABM. Their backgrounds are diverse – comprised of Sustainability and CSR Officers, Communications and Marketing Directors, Investor Relations and even Media Relations departments. What unites these individuals is a growing demand to learn: how to be radical, how to be transformative, and how to create impactful, enduring value.  Our upcoming training held in Chicago on March 7-8 is was designed in response to this maturing mentality; the training includes all scopes of GHG emission reporting, as well as incorporates hot topics such as water footprint, Life Cycle Analysis, and carbon reduction via green building.  As many more begin to follow these trends and pursue such knowledge, simple policies and reporting will no longer be enough. Investors and stakeholders alike will be looking for radical strategies that aim to create long-lasting impact – those professionals without the right amount of know-how might as well fold their cards to this new era of transformative leadership.

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