Charging Forward for a Sustainable Future!

Posted on 25th October 2023 | Events

Sustainability leaders come together to discuss the future at Chester Zoo

Sherrington Associates have enjoyed a long relationship with Chester Zoo, supporting their incredible conservation work both as fundraising partners and as retained recruitment and leadership coaching partners. It was fitting therefore that Sherrington's Managing Director was recently asked to join a panel of sustainability experts to discuss the future of sustainability in the wake of recent political decisions. Alongside speakers from Bruntwood, Weinerberger and Anthesis, Rob shared insights from Sherrington's work developing the 4A Model of Sustainable Leadership over recent years.

Tackling Root Causes

"What’s the one thing you think is needed from governments to drive a sustainable future?"

The first question brought an opportunity for the panel to share their views following several weeks of political turmoil following the Conservative's decision to scale back climate and environmental commitments. It was no surprise that there was unanimous agreement that the starting point for government should be to - as a minimum - honour previous pledges on climate and nature, if not to bolster them given the scale and speed of climate breakdown.

The concept of better education around green skills both for business and within the curriculum was a notion shared by several panel members, even integrating more rounded sustainability education into the curriculum.

A review of the British Values System (now ten years since the last review) was suggested by Rob, as a way of tackling the root causes that have led to contemporary environmental challenges. As well as current values such as rule of law, respect, tolerance and individual liberty, all of which are noble and relevant in today's society, we perhaps need to consider additional values that can deliver sustainability, such as courage, future generations, respect for nature and inclusion, Rob suggested.

The biggest environmental problems aren't climate change, plastic pollution or biodiversity loss. No, they're only symptoms. The root causes of these issues are selfishness, apathy and greed.

Gus Speth - US Environmental Lawyer

Challenges & Opportunities

"We know that business and society are forging their own paths on sustainability, which is incredible to see but we know this won’t be an easy journey. What are the key challenges and opportunities you can see for driving forwards a sustainable future?"

The panel came at this question from very different angles, but rather than taking a technical perspective Rob addressed the challenges businesses face in defining a truly authentic and meaningful purpose that actually impacts sustainability, both in a financial sense but also in a social and environmental sense. Rob referred to the spectrum of leadership consciousness that is evolving around the subject of purpose. Unlike those who are advanced in their thinking on purposeful business and have a clear reason for being, there are those who struggle to define themselves. They know they need to change but can't seem to get beyond 'words on a website' when it comes to defining their purpose. However this brings great opportunity and for those who choose to really embrace sustainability, the future becomes very exciting.

Define your purpose, but make sure you believe it!
Communicate it, then over-communicate it!
Be sure your leadership team has the right qualities for sustainable leadership.

Rob McKay - Managing Director, Sherrington Associates

Culture & Collaboration

"Do you see culture and collaboration being used to accelerate our efforts in sustainability?"

Unsurprisingly the panel of four all agreed that both culture and collaboration was critical to achieving organisational and societal sustainability. Sherrington's work with Barrett Values Centre has taught us a lot about the importance of culture when it comes to achieving sustainability. Rob quoted research from global management consultancy Bain & Company in their research from 2016, that surveyed 300 global corporates and found that the main reason 98% of them had failed to achieve their sustainability programme aims and objectives, was a lack of management buy-in. Rob pointed out that if the management themselves don't subscribe to sustainability initiatives and the culture isn't optimised for sustainability, then it's unrealistic to expect any level of success when it comes to delivering sustainability effectively.

The concept of collaboration was highlighted as an essential pillar of sustainability success by Associate Director at leading sustainability consultancy Anthesis, Zara de Belder, citing examples of partnering with third sector organisations and NGO's as a great way of private sector businesses tackling sustainability challenges through effective collaboration.

The idea of being able to tackle such huge and complex issues such as climate change without working together was ridiculous said Stephanie Palmer, Head of Sustainability at global building products manufacturer Weinerberger.

Property developer Bruntwood's Head of Sustainability Bev Taylor shared examples of working in partnership with other actors across the value chain and building effective relationships with customers, suppliers and other external stakeholders as the best way to achieve maximum impact.

Finally highlighting the need to take a truly inclusive approach to diagnosing culture, in other words by gaining the views and opinions of the whole workforce and not just HR or C-suite, Rob explained that to develop a culture of sustainability you first need to understand the current state of play, and that means inclusive surveys and interviews across the whole organisation.

Chester Zoo organised an excellent event and Sherrington Associates were grateful to be part of the panel.

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