In an exclusive interview with edie, Uren warned that sustainability managers need to be increasingly aware of the threat of disruptive innovation, which has the power to force companies to re-think their entire business propositions.

These disruptive forces tend to come from outside of the business – usually from a company entering a new sector with little to lose and shaking it up with a breakthrough approach.

Uren said that while big corporations don’t readily have the skill set to disrupt, they should examine how they can capitalise on opportunities when such disruption does happen.

This involves taking a systems thinking approach to understand the different time horizons at play – present, near term, and future – and how a company’s operating context looks, or might look, within those scenarios.

Once sustainability managers grasp this concept, they can then start to develop plans and policies to address each horizon, Uren explained.

“What many successful businesses do, they are able to surf these three horizons concurrently,” she said. “This is a really important feature of the systems thinker, the ability to hold different time horizons in your mind.”

She added: “Systems thinkers are really good at looking long-term, but then bringing that back to the short-term. You need to know what is happening in the far future because that will underpin the long-term value creation of the business.”

Uren further predicted that as the functionality of sustainability changes and becomes more deeply embedded into business acumen, sustainability managers will evolve into facilitators, linking departments together to ensure a consistent and co-ordinated approach is taken.

“I don’t think we’re at the stage yet where we can say that we no longer need a sustainability team. Organisations may be heading in that direction, but there isn’t any company out there operating within their environmental limits right now,” she observed.

Read the full interview with Forum for the Future CEO Sally Uren here

Sally Uren is one of the judges for edie’s Sustainability Leaders Awards 2013, which close for entry at 5pm on Friday July 19. Don’t miss out, find out more about the awards and enter here

Maxine Perella

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