COP26 Thought for the Day #13

Management for a Sustainable Future

Todays Thought for the Day comes from Sybille Schiffmann. Sybille is Chair and a trainer here at Wise Goose and part of a team at Marjon University who have been collaboratively designing a new MSc in Management for a Sustainable Future.

The main ethical question for our time is what kind of work we want to build together with the immense resources we have at our disposal.”

GRLI, 2008 (The Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative)

In my work with leaders from business and the social sector who are currently studying on Marjon’s MSc Management for a Sustainable Future, the question above is particularly relevant. 

At its heart it is about taking on new responsibilities, concerns for other people, and for our environment, while weighing those concerns directly against our self-interest and in relation to the primary activities, undertaken by our businesses and organisations.

It becomes a question of leadership – responsible leadership in other words.

As I work with students who have committed to this quite demanding path of study, while holding down their existing full-time jobs, I am really appreciating what a transformative journey this is for those individuals, as they seek to shift thinking and action in their workplaces, through the adoption and in time, integration of sustainable business practices.

Such responsible leadership requires far greater cognitive understanding of the complexities of addressing sustainability matters. As one small business leader, who produces sustainable swimwear while actively adhering to Circular Economic Principles and practices put it: “The easiest and most sustainable thing to do would be not to set up and run a business at all”.

Responsible leadership also involves being visionary in the sense of waking others up to the future that is being debated furiously at COP 26, and to help orientate others in their workplaces towards potentially very different business activities, or entirely new business ventures for that matter.

My hope for our leaders on this programme is that they fully embrace their unique potential to create a positive difference, and impact, for the people, or customers they serve and for the planet they inhabit; be that large or small.

Their job moving forward is to “ build muscle” as Mary Gentile puts it and apply ethical decision-making in their workplaces. All this while facing the demands and challenges of day to day business as usual, where they must now present the ‘voice’ for those environmental and societal stakeholders not conventionally represented on the Balance Sheet, or the Profit and Loss account.

In essence they are creating the path to new possibilities, new products, services or even whole new ways of doing business. Walking this path requires restless curiosity, resilience, courage and a willingness to act at times contrary to the status quo; or as Jacob Bronowski once said “It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.”

It is a great pleasure to be on this journey with them.

Another quote that aptly describe the mind and heart of our students:

“The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation.”

Jacob Bronowski