Challenges, opportunities and priorities: Sustainability leaders answer the big questions

What is the biggest challenge facing sustainability professionals? What makes an effective CSR leader? And what should be at the top of your list of priorities for 2017? Last week's Sustainability Leaders Forum was the perfect opportunity to find out...

(Top-left to bottom-right): ING's Léon Wijnands, Danone's Emmanuelle Wargon, Statoil's Charlotte Wolff-Bye, and Adnams' Andy Wood spoke at the Sustainability Leaders Forum

(Top-left to bottom-right): ING's Léon Wijnands, Danone's Emmanuelle Wargon, Statoil's Charlotte Wolff-Bye, and Adnams' Andy Wood spoke at the Sustainability Leaders Forum

The Forum, which coincided with the Sustainability Leaders Awards, saw hundreds of sustainability professionals congregate at the Business Design Centre in Islington for two days of insightful and inspirational content, delivered by an array of industry experts.

What better opportunity to take the temperature of some of the world's most renowned sustainability leaders and find out exactly what makes them tick? 

At the Forum, edie asked delegates a series of questions using audience interaction software Slido. At the beginning of each session, the audience were able to answer questions set by edie via their phones or tablets, with the results presented live on-screen.

And the questioning didn't stop there. edie also took the opportunity of the Forum's networking breaks to ask some of the speakers and delegates three key questions: What is your biggest challenge? What makes a sustainability leader? And what is your top priority this year? Take a look at the bonus videos underneath the poll questions below to hear the answers.

The state of sustainability: Six key questions...

(The number in the top-right of each image corresponds to the number of audience members that answered the question).

1) How do you feel?

Clearly, the political earthquakes of 2016 have impacted the green economy, and sustainability professionals are left decidedly unsure about the year ahead - 34% of 105 audience members said they felt 'uncertain' when it comes to the current state of sustainability.

There is reason to be hopeful, though: 26% of respondents said they felt 'optimistic', while 25% felt 'defiant'. And thankfully, just a handful of Sustainability Leaders Forum delegates felt 'angry' on the day.

 

2) What's stopping you?

So, what's causing that uncertainty? Behaviour change was a big buzzword of the Sustainability Leaders Forum and, unsurprisingly, this was cited by the most delegates as the biggest barrier to achieving sustainability success. 

Whilst 34% of respondents said current economic systems were to blame, almost half (44%) agreed that 'external' and 'internal' behaviour change was preventing success, with 24% and 20% of the vote respectively.

Interestingly, political turbulence caused by the likes of Brexit and Donald Trump was ranked lowest on the list of options, perhaps showing that sustainability professionals are unfazed by the geopolitical landscape.

  

Bonus video: What's your biggest challenge?

3) Are we on the right track?

2016 may well be remembered for all the wrong reasons, but it was also the year of the Paris Agreement, which was signed, sealed and delivered within the space of 12 months. The Agreement, which has now been ratified by 127 countries, aims to keep global temperature increase "well below" 2C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C.

But was the Agreement ambitious enough? And has it put us on the right track to tackle global warming? Sustainability Leaders Forum delegates didn't think so, with the majority of survey respondents (59%) saying the Agreement alone will not be strong enough to curb climate change.

 

4) What makes a 'sustainability leader'?

All this talk of sustainability leaders, but what exactly is one? Following on nicely from our series of videos that investigated the skills required to become a leader, delegates at the Sustainability Leaders Forum seemed to be in agreement that being a good influencer and a motivator were the key attributes required to drive change.

Innovation and disruption were also cited as key skills by 21% of respondents, while the art of storytelling got 18% of the vote.

 

Bonus video: What makes an effective sustainability leader? 

5) If you were a movie star...

We've all been there: commuting home from work, imagining we were a world-famous film star. But what if your career was actually turned into a film? Which character would best suit your role in sustainability?

As a light-hearted way of opening the second day of the Sustainability Leaders Forum, delegates were asked which character archetype would be most fitting for their job role. And the results were rather interesting.

Almost half of respondents (46%) said they would be the 'alter-ego' of the film - always working hard to drive change, but often left in the shadows. Following close behind was the 'mentor' - full of ideas and dedicated to helping others on their journey to being more sustainable. Just a handful of respondents saw themselves as a 'superhero'. Who would portray that superhero is another question entirely...

 

6) What happens next?

If 2016 was the year of uncertainty, then 2017 is the year of courageousness; of progression, of innovation and ambition. But what does that ambition look like? 

When asked which framework or initiative is top of the to-do list this year, almost half of respondents (49%) said they are looking to source renewable energy and/or roll out on-site sustainability solutions. Four in 10, meanwhile, said they are aiming to transform their business model to make it fit for the low-carbon, resource-efficient revolution.

 

Bonus video: What is your top priority? 

View all of our sustainability leadership content here.

Luke Nicholls


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