Reliance on a wise ‘guru’ leader or ‘hero CEO’ endangers progress in tackling the environmental crisis by shifting responsibility, according to a new report from CEMS.
CEMS, a global alliance of business schools, multinationals and non-profits, says that leaders need to adopt a corporate culture of ‘collective’ responsibility instead, empowering employees to make decisions with a generational outlook if real change is to take place.
Its new report – Leading for the Future of Our Planet – is based on a survey of 4,206 professionals across 75 countries. It reveals that 43% of those questioned believe the environment is the single greatest concern facing business leaders, overtaking technological advancement (26%).
Both issues were considered more urgent to global business than shifts in world economic and political power centres (14%), political instability (6%) and global pandemics (3%).
Survey findings include:
Averting environmental catastrophe will require a completely new set of business beliefs, behaviours, objective setting, and modelling which assigns value to sustainability and a cost to inaction.
Leaders must move from short-term, finite thinking focused solely on profit, to a balance with longer-term thinking focused on outcomes for future generations.
This will require leaders at all levels who can speak up, lean into the unknown, challenge the status quo and not be afraid.
Business leaders will need to engage their external stakeholder ecosystems to drive transformation. They need to understand their organization’s place in the societies within which they operate and build alliances across government, businesses and civil societies to effect lasting change.
A deep knowledge of ESG issues must be woven into business education, throughout the entire curriculum, not just specialist modules. This must include partnerships with market practitioners to create platforms for students to practise theory.
Early career professionals must leave business school with sustainability skills and competencies in their ‘toolbox’ as well as a deep knowledge of the subject. They must believe that they can make a difference, challenge the status quo and see themselves as agents of change.
Nicole de Fontaines, Executive Director of CEMS, said: “We hope that this report will add some rich insights from across our community into how business leaders, educators and professionals can truly make a difference when it comes to tackling the environmental emergency.
“For too long we have treated planet Earth as an infinite resource to plunder. In very recent years, however, humanity seems to finally understand that we are headed for environmental catastrophe if urgent action isn’t taken.
“The business world must play a critical role in leading the charge because it has the capacity, capability, and resource to drive positive change. The challenge is how to develop – at all levels – bold, exceptional leaders with the awareness and skills to deploy world-saving solutions.
“As set out in this report – with the urgency to tackle environmental challenges must come a comprehensive sea change in mindset, priorities and behaviours within companies. Difficult, long-term decisions must be made, with an unwavering commitment from organisations, and their leaders, to deliver on them – regardless of how difficult or unpopular they may be.
“As an organisation, teaching future global business leaders to integrate sustainability into business decisions has always been central to the CEMS’ mission. From the implementation of our model UNFCCC conference more than 10 years ago to our recent collaboration with the Estoril Conferences ‘A Future of Hope’ we continue to evolve our thinking and practice.”