What Makes a Sustainability Leader?

Ray Anderson

Many of us in the corporate responsibility and sustainability community were saddened this week by the death of Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface.  If you don’t already know his story, Ray is perhaps best known for his compelling description of the ‘spear in the chest’ epiphany that shifted his environmental paradigm from old-school compliance to sustainability evangelism.  The many tributes paid this week invariably described Ray as a sustainability leader.

That got me to thinking about what attributes epitomize a “sustainability leader.”

In his own words, Ray provided a “shared higher purpose” to his team at Interface.  He articulated a clear vision, supported by a persuasive rationale.  He communicated a sense of urgency, while describing a clear path of action.  He was consistent in his messaging, and tireless in its delivery, both within Interface and with external audiences.  Ray was willing to take risks, to step out ahead of the crowd, fueled by conviction and determination.  He was sincere, and he was deeply committed.

Consequently, Ray Anderson transformed his company into an industry leader in sustainability, while also inspiring thousands of business people, corporate responsibility practitioners, and ordinary folk through storytelling.

Ray showed us that sustainability leaders don’t have all the answers.  They lead from where they are.  They embrace and enable followers and collaborators, anyone who can help to achieve the sustainability vision.  They are courageous and willing to stand alone.  They find their own voice and leverage their own strengths to distill the complexities of sustainability into a simple, clear vision of the way things are, the way things need to be, and the path between these realities.  They move inexorably forward in the sustainability journey, though it may be a daunting one.  They act.

 

View Ray Anderson’s TED talk here.

Photo of Ray from Interface Global’s website.  Ray’s words, above, quoted from John Elkington’s tribute to Ray Anderson in the Guardian Sustainable Business Blog, here.  

Read additional tributes to Ray Anderson here, here, and here.

View Interface’s memorial page and blog here.

A Work-Life Balance Standard: Helping Employers Distinguish Themselves

Human resources specialists (and corporate social human resources specialists, as Elaine Cohen prefers), take note!  Earlier this month, the government of Québec introduced a new program – apparently the first of its kind in the world – to certify employers that implement work-life balance initiatives.

The foundation of the program is a new reference guide, developed by the provincial standard-setting Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ), in consultation with employers, employee representatives, academics, and government representatives, that specifies mandatory requirements and best practice elements of an employer’s work-life balance initiative. The work-life balance standard, or “la norme Conciliation travail-famille” (BNQ 9700-820), can be applied to any organization in the public or private sector, regardless of size or type of business.

Click here to learn about the scope of the work-life balance standard

Social Media and Corporate Responsibility

Getinvolved.ca is a fantastic initiative focused on connecting individuals and organizations to make change possible. They’re the folks behind Power of the Hour, a national campaign to encourage Canadians to stand up and count the power of volunteer time. They’ve also done a whole series of interesting videos, called Digital U, about various aspects of social media.

Late last year, we filmed a piece about social media and corporate responsibility. Here it is.

By the way, at 10:25, when I said “non-material issues”, I meant “non-financial material issues”!

(And my name is pronounced “Sa-lisa”, not “Sa-lessa”! Ah, but I quibble…)

Cultivating a Community of Practice

Two years ago today, I launched the Canadian CSR and SD Practitioners Network on LinkedIn.

At the time, I saw a need for a network to connect individual corporate responsibility and sustainability practitioners in Canada.  There were already several Canadian (and, of course, international) organizations bringing together businesses and corporations around these issues, but, for the most part, these were or are not accessible to the individual practitioner, unless their employer is a member.  I especially welcomed the opportunity to create and participate in a community that meets my own needs and interests, living as I do in a small town quite outside the traditional corporate meet-and-greet circle.

I wanted to create a space where individual practitioners could share information, engage in dialogue with peers, and network with others in their sector, their region, and their area of expertise.  My goal was and remains to help increase the uptake of corporate responsibility and sustainable practices in business across Canada (and, where Canadian practitioners are active internationally, beyond).

If the growth in the Network is any indication, we are collectively realizing this goal.   Click here to read about the growth and impact of the Network

Dealing with Despots

Each day, the Globe and Mail – one of Canada’s national newspapers – runs a reader poll on a “hot topic.”  Today, in light of current events in Libya and elsewhere, the poll, under the heading “Dealing with Despots,” asks readers, “What is the most important duty for a Canadian business operating in an authoritarian country?” and provides the following response options:

  • To keep corrupt elites from looting revenues owed to locals
  • To protest when human rights abuses are detected
  • To provide local development to workers and communities
  • To insist on democracy development
  •  

    The very structure of the response options reveals one of the most egregious and persistent misperceptions of corporate responsibility: that it’s fundamentally an “OR” decision, that we can either make money and protect our investment or we can fight corruption, protect human rights, promote democracy, and provide community benefits, implying that these actions do not contribute to return on investment.

    In fact, taking a proactive stance on issues of corruption, human rights, community development, and governance can help to establish a more stable government and regulatory regime, build social capital among affected stakeholders, and secure a licence to operate, all enhancing the likelihood of protecting the original corporate investment and achieving a positive ROI. Click here to read more about the poll and its results

    Air Canada Is On Their Game

    In Tuesday’s National Hockey League match-up between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens, Habs forward Max Pacioretty suffered a serious concussion and a broken vertebra in his neck after a devastating hit by Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara.  Chara received a major penalty for interference and a game misconduct for the hit, but, to the surprise of many, he was not suspended.

    Now, despite being Canadian, I’m not a diehard hockey fan.  I watch Hockey Night in Canada sometimes, I’ll watch the playoffs, at least while there’s still a Canadian team in the running, and I even go to see a game once in a while.  But this hit has my attention, not because it’s so different from those that have happened before, but because of its link to – you guessed it – corporate responsibility.

    What, you might wonder, does a check in hockey have to do with corporate responsibility?  Well, a lot, it turns out, if you’re Air Canada.
    Click here to read more about Air Canada’s flying body check to the NHL…

    One Year On: Canada’s Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor

    Earlier this week, Canada’s Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor tabled its first annual report in Parliament.  The establishment of the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor is one of four pillars of Canada’s 2009 CSR strategy for the Canadian international extractive sector, Building the Canadian Advantage.  (The other three pillars are (1) support for resource management and governance capacity building in host countries, (2) promotion of internationally recognized performance and reporting guidelines and standards, and (3) support for the development of a Centre of Excellence for CSR.)

    The Office is housed within the federal government and reports to the federal Minister of International Trade.  The Office may make recommendations, but has no policy-making role or authority.  This is fairly consistent with the Canadian government’s emphasis on voluntary approaches to promote improved corporate responsibility performance by Canadian companies operating abroad.

    The report summarizes the activities of the Office over its first year of operation, which included various administrative tasks in establishing the office, informal and formal consultation with stakeholders within and outside of Canada, and development of the process by which the Office will undertake reviews of CSR practices of Canadian companies operating outside of Canada.  The report also provides, for context, a short history of the dialogue around CSR as it pertains to the Canadian extractive sector.

    The most surprising omission is the lack of any description of the range of sustainability and corporate responsibility issues that most commonly arise in relation to extractive sector operations in developing countries.  I can understand why the Office would avoid making any specific reference to past or current allegations levelled against Canadian companies operating abroad.  However,  the light treatment of environmental and social issues seems out of balance with the description of the economic impact of the sector, the Canadian extractive sector’s leadership in CSR and sustainability initiatives, and the relative influence of Canada’s resource sectors.

    Otherwise, the report is a useful read for those engaged in corporate responsibility and sustainability advocacy in the extractive sector in Canada and internationally, if only to better understand where the Office came from and where it’s going in the coming months.

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