Posts Tagged ‘cambridge’
By Wayne Visser
What we need, therefore, is to strengthen the societal context – though increased public awareness and customer activism – and the market context – through stronger public policy and price incentives. This is what leadership author Manfred De Vries calls the architectural role of leaders – and that is what we see the world’s leaders here in Copenhagen striving to do: to redesign the ‘rules of the game’.
Beyond the societal and market context, however, we also need to enable individual leaders to emerge – both as strategic navigators at the helm of their organisations, and as embedded catalysts at all levels of organisation and society.
We may ask: what types of leaders are we looking for to take us through the climate crisis? There are many theories on leadership styles and traits, but it seems to me that we will need all kinds of leadership to emerge. Times of crisisdo call for heroic, charismatic leaders, but quiet, servant leaders are equally needed.
Many leadership traits will come into their own in the years ahead, as climate change intensifies and we transition to a low-carbon economy. We will look to leaders with an ability to craft a compelling alternative vision in the midst of business-as-usual, to think systemically about solutions in the midst of reactionary politics, to call for action in the midst of inertia and to foster hope in the midst of despair.
The good news is we do not have to wait for these leaders to be born. I firmly believe – and am supported by modern leadership research in this – that leaders are made, not born. For 20 years, the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership have been nurturing leaders to take on the sustainability challenge. Now their time has come, and we start to see them stepping forward, through initiatives like the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change and the 1,000 CEOs that have committed themselves and their companies to the Copenhagen Communiqué.
It is true that it will not be easy; nor will all who tackle the challenge, succeed. But that is the challenge of leadership.
I started by saying that we need extraordinary leadership for extraordinary times, and I quoted Unilever CEO, Paul Polman. Now, I would like to end with something else he said, because I believe it captures some of the essence of what it means to be a leader for sustainability. He says, “I hope that the word integrity comes into that. I hope the word long-term comes into that. I hope the word caring comes into that, but demanding at the same time.”
By Wayne Visser
On 8 December 2009, I spoke at the launch event for my new book - The Top 50 Sustainability Books – at Heffers bookshop in Cambridge. At the end of this 3 year project, it is both a relief and a triumph to see the book in print – and it looks great, even if I say so myself!
One of the comments by our bookshop host was that they were surprised (and delighted!) that the 50 books were so diverse. That is certainly true, and there were some surprises even for us – books like A Sand County Almanac and The Dream of Earth were not even on our radar screen before we conducted the poll among the Cambridge alumni (on which the list is based).
In addition to this, I had three main reflections that I touched on in my brief talk, largely based on the interviews I did with around 30 of the authors:
Worldviews - It was very clear that the books said much more about the authors’ worldview – the lens through which they see reality – than the actual ‘facts’ of sustainability. Someone like Paul Ehrlich (The Population Bomb) was very pessimistic, while Jeffrey Sachs (The End of Poverty) was very optimistic.
Stories - I soon realised that the books mostly represent stories – possible futures that the authors’ have imagined, based on their own culture, knowledge, experience, etc. Whether we buy into ‘The Limits to Growth’ or ‘When Corporations Rule the World’ story depends on where we are at in our own journey, as much as the authors’.
Hope - Finally, I deliberately asked them all where they derive their hope from, and almost without exception, it was the inspiration from people who are working tirelessly and selflessly to solve social and environmental problems.
Two anecdotes about the late Donella Meadows stick with me (as told by her ex-husband Dennis). On her door, she had a quote that said: If I die tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today. And when people used to ask her if we have enough time to solve our global problems, she would always say: Yes, precisely enough time, if we start today!
To me, these capture the spirit the lies at the heart of sustainability. It is an optimism built on making a difference; an attitude of action for hope.
For more information on the book, see here.
By Wayne Visser
Last night I was at the Science Museum in London attending the 20th Anniversary alumni celebrations of the University of Cambridge Programme for Industry (CPI – where I am a Senior Associate and was formerly Research Director).
The evening included an introductory speech by Director, Polly Courtice. Then we showed a little film (on a BIG Imax screen). The film included extracts from interviews I conducted with Joseph Stiglitz, George Monbiot, Hunter Lovins, Elizabeth Economy, Mohammad Yunus and Jeffrey Sachs. These interviews are the basis of two books that I am writing, which will be published in 2009.
Following the film was a panel discussion comprising John Elkington (Founder, SustainAbility and Volans Ventures), Emma Howard-Boyd (Director, Juipiter Asset Management), Doug Parr (Chief Scientist, Greenpeace UK) and Jonathon Porritt (Founder, Forum for the Future). They were asked to speak about what made them hopeful about the future.
John was placing his bets on social entrepreneurs, Emma commented on substantial growth in SRI in the past year (suggesting that it may be up to 20% of all investments by 2015 if memory serves), Doug cited victories in stalling a new UK nuclear plant and airport runway and Jonathon was putting his faith in a grassroots upswell (and his hopes for Barack Obama).
I would be lying if I said it was an entirely upbeat discussion. John sees the next 7 or 8 years of recession being very bleak and creating serious (and painful) discontinuities, Doug despairs over multilateral policy processes like Poznan and Jonathon thinks the scope for business to make serious progress in the current policy climate is extremely limited.
What all seemed to agree, however, is that 2009 will be an extremely challenging and exciting year for all of us working in CSR and sustainability. Their unified plea was for us to focus on the strategic, systemic reforms, rather than fiddling around the edges with incremental change.