thestoryofmeaningfuluse

A Magazine Capturing the Story of Health- For People, Environment, Economy & Habitat

Can Sustainability Sustain?

A New Wave and Format for Stakeholder Engagement

By Lavinia Weissman

@WeCareHealth52

Boston MA

Last week, I attended the web-located press room briefing by George Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact. George presented an overview of the UNGC’s 2010 Annual Review. What I heard did not surprise me.

The conclusion in my opinion was not new news. Of the 6,000 Global Compact members surveyed, there is not sufficient global adoption of sustainable measures. The 6,000 UNGC members represent less than 8% of 80,000 companies that need to embed sustainability.

The additional summary points were not new news.

  • CEO awareness is high. Execution and implementation is low;
  • Beyond the corporate headquarter of the UNGC multinational members adoption is low in subsidiaries and the small to mid-size enterprises that comprise the “supply chain;”
  • The excuse for low adoption continues to be insufficient resources for implementation.

From my perspective this analysis perpetuates “embedded sustainability” as a practice of risk management or compliance and not innovation.

Yet the global citizen voice reflected by its leaders and ordinary people are asking for the “discovery” of “embedded sustainability” as a response to problems inherent to how economic decision makers from all sectors have led us into the resulting harm of global warming and poverty and the resulting harm impact on rising incidence of disease, unemployment and declining conditions of habitat and local economy.

What I have learned….

Inadequate resources imply not enough money and more importantly, not enough educated people to perform the jobs of sustainability.  My downsizing research across numerous Fortune 2000 companies consistently showed that when corporate leaders downsized, they were also unwilling to support the retooling and education of a workforce with out of date skills.

In a downsized culture, motivation becomes a practice of survival and protecting one’s job. It is only when a catastrophe occurs, e.g. the BP Oil Spill that the economic decision makers release resources to repair harm and then offer the public a view of the company will now adhere to compliance and regulation.

The culture of response to a “catastrophe” becomes a culture of accountability in response to liability and wrong-doing. The leadership drivers are shaped top-down and across a hierarchy of organization where people are told what to do and when they cannot do it, they blame the organization for lack of training and skill.

In contrast, virtual team and innovation research showed that when creativity and imagination are fostered extraordinary results are discovered through the learning of sound science and applying that science through the adoption of tools (technology) that invites high performance of teams and people across networks of expertise that learn to cooperate in service of building outcomes for sustainable value.

In a culture of innovation, high-performance brings investment rather than proof of concept because no matter the landscape of diversity (culture and expertise), the people anywhere within the network shaping sustainable value are aligned on building capacity for the purpose of producing sustainable value.

Within the picture is a dilemma…

Traditionally investors and economic decision makers want to hedge their bets and invest in something that has been historically proven sustainable value.  Yet the need to learn sustainable value is a response to a burst in society that has led to economic upheaval from how investors of any kind and motive (business, philanthropy and government).

To deliver sustainable value, investors have to learn a leadership value for recruiting and facilitating an organization of people that recognize failure is part of the cycle of building successful sustainable value and organize investments that prompt societal responses to what we have to address for global climate warming, poverty, disease, water and energy in a incubator of learning where there is less overall risk to one investor and the discovery of great impact for a even a network of competitors.

For example, on the numerous occasions of  investigating the projected harm of non-ionizing radiation, I have wondered what would happen if the companies that rely on non-ionizing radiation for defense, telecommunications and medical equipment would invest in an organization to investigate forms of reducing risk of impact on the “growing proof” that non-ionizing radiation is resulting in a rise in cancers, e.g. Leukemia and brain tumors?

Instead over the last two decades or more, we have seen a heated debate in the press between the scientific community, regulators and commercial lobbying groups.

What is interesting to me if I look at the perspective of what it will take to engage stakeholders in a world of early adoption is most likely to occur if a system of accelerated action research is organized into a collaboration that is strategic, purposeful and engaged by deliberate design.

In my studies of how that occurs that can lead to multicultural adoption, I have witnessed and studies for sometime the behavior, culture and outcomes delivered by 3 capacity building organizations unique to specific issues of sustainability:

  • ChemSec.org from the get go gave exceptional performance in service of its mission to build a world free of chemical harm. Chemical Sec had a unique beginning in that the initial investors were through an investment fund created by other non-profits.

ChemSec engages corporate stakeholders in the exploration of substitutes for harmful chemicals and serves a bridge of advocacy for the citizen voice that has suffered harm from chemicals that needs to be substituted now.

ChemSec is an European organization that has been invited to present in the US and become a hub of learning for a , Stanford doctoral candidate in the Green Chemistry network established through an alliance between faculty at University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University.

  • EDF.org was founded in 1967 in the United States at a point in time, when non profits environmental groups refused any association with corporations out of what was defined a clear conflict of interest.

EDF’s mission is to find market-based solutions based on sound science built from unlikely partnerships and non-partisan policy. EDF’s best practice fellowship program resulted in 51 MBA students generated for EDF’s corporate partners, “$350 million in net operating savings over the projects’ lifetimes. 400,000 metric tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions. More than 650 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

In contrast, the Myelin Repair collaboration out of a combined investment of $80M formed for MS research  by Scott Johnson, Founder and President

1.   Identification of over 150 novel potential targets;

2.   Development of 24 new research tools for broad application to other neurological disease

3.   Filing two US patents and applied for 16 more;

4.   Publication of 50 peer review articles;

5.   The launch of broader collaboration with pharma companies;

6.   Extending this research base for benefit to 70 other disease categories.

What do these organizations share in common?

None of these 3 NGO’s are lost in the “muck and myre” of protest and conflict.  They are focused on purpose that as uniting principle through which people can form an agenda and guide themselves to learn to innovate change.

Perhaps one of the most costly uses of donations and grants has been to fuel conflict and protest.   As Jochen Kleef, founder and CEO of Ecopoint.Asia recently reflected to me in an email,

“The thought this brought to my mind is, where would we be today if Greenpeace would have engaged with the establishment and stakeholders rather than confronting them.  I am not questioning Greenpeace’s achievements or the results they have achieved, but I think there could have been so much more coming out of the last 30 years…”

About the time of formation of the 1987 Brundtland Commission,

Greenpeace shifted its focus from the peace movement and antinuclear protest to building this engagement of conflict. This enabled a pattern that the US continues to be locked into today,

1.   Many NGO’s see it their role to protest “corporate greed;

2.   The scientific community in most instances refuses to engage with corporations or accept financial support for fear that this can be perceived as conflict of interest;

3.   As a result , this pushes an expectation that change can only happen if government authors policies and regulation; hence pushing the notion that risk management and compliance is what leads change to protect the environment and people.

Moving Beyond this Trap…

None of the 3 organizations I described previously are trapped by that system of thought.

Today, Greenpeace is a global NGO headquartered in Amsterdam, Netherlands with offices in over 40 countries and 2.8Mno donors and foundations providing grants.

So while leading NGO Think tanks around the world point out challenges to building resources to shift adoption of sustainability across subsidiaries of multinationals and small and medium size enterprise; one has to wonder with the lost jobs, inability of so many to gain the right education to be employed and the impact of global warming and toxic exposures on a growing geography of people facing poverty complicated with chronic illness.

What would have happen if Greenpeace had shifted its focus from the peace movement and antinuclear protest to building engagement with corporations to adopt sustainable practices instead of perpetuating and reshaping the protest and campaign methodology of anti-war to the environment?

Would Marc Gunther be reporting as he did last week that the cost of natural disasters in 2010 grew to $130B?

Would the economic powers struggling with the global recession continue to avoid the real focus for economic development by investing in the education of its people who are unemployed or becoming of age to join the workforce and create a sustainable method of employment to replace the dying system of full employment based on one life-time job?

Will leaders of the sustainability movement regroup themselves to sustain sustainability by acting on science as we know it today?

Is this form of innovation the best practice to return balance to our global ecology?

Ultimately to sustain sustainability and be effective in creating a global system of health for the environment, economy, people and habitat —-politicians, business and NGO leaders can learn from ChemSec, EDF and Myelin Repair Foundation the most important lesson on how to align purpose to accelerate cooperation and collaboration that will result in embedding sustainability into all aspects of the global economy.

_____________

Authors bio:

Lavinia Weissman is an sustainable market leadership coach, journalist, and publisher of thestoryofmeaningfuluse.com. As a speaker she describes the new emerging patterns of markets shaped by sustainable market leaders and the social networks they work with and employ.  As a coach, Lavinia works with all her clients to inspire professional development that assures a person the opportunity to embed sustainability as a leader into the network and culture of people they work with.

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