Building Management

Businesses must place sustainability at heart of leadership says UNGC

United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) report highlights gap between rhetoric and hiring, which urgently needs to be closed to implement SDGs after Covid-19.

The Leadership for the Decade of Action report was produced by consultant Russell Reynolds Associates and UNGC, an initiative which aims to support the global business community in advancing the UN’s environmental goals, including its 17 SDGs.

According to the UNGC, which has 10,000 company signatories based in over 160 countries,  92% of CEOs believe integration of sustainability is important to the future success of their business, only 48% say they are implementing sustainability in their operations. 

Russell Reynolds Associates also analysed 4,000 role specifications across industries around the world found that sustainability experience or mindset was a requirement in only 4% of job specifications last year.

“We need leaders everywhere to step up their ambition and become agents for sustainable change”

Lise Kingo

Based on in-depth interviews with of 55 sustainability pioneers, including CEOs and board members, the report therefore set out to discover how they are integrating sustainability across strategy, operations and stakeholder engagement and what this means for how board and C-suite leaders are selected.

The report identified the characteristics of these pioneers, which combine a sustainable mindset with a set of other leadership attributes:

  • Multi-level systems thinking—They incorporate the interplay of business, societal and environmental systems and drive decisions that turn sustainability into a competitive advantage.
  • Stakeholder influence—They do not seek to manage stakeholders, rather they actively include them in defining and implementing decisions.
  • Disruptive innovation—They possess the courage to challenge traditional approaches and cut through bureaucracy to drive the disruptive innovation needed to do away with the profitability- sustainability trade-off.
  • Long-term activation—They do not simply have an orientation towards the long term, they set bold sustainability goals and rigorously drive concerted action in their pursuit.

“Transforming our world is all about leadership,” said Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, adding that on the recovery from Covid-19, it was the smart thing to do.

“Enlightened CEOs and board members know that to succeed you need to be sustainable. We need leaders everywhere to step up their ambition and become agents for sustainable change. This is the moment for top management and boards to ensure that these critical competencies are represented and developed across the organization,” she said.

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Rawpixel Ltd (CC By 2.0)

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