Sustainable business transformation is people-led

For edie’s landmark Sustainable Business Leadership report, Tor Burrows, executive director, sustainability and innovation at Grosvenor, discusses how people hold the power to drive net-zero movement.

Sustainable business transformation is people-led

Despite decades of progress for the sustainability agenda I occasionally need to remind myself that we are still pioneers. In the words of edie’s Sustainable Business Leadership report “the sustainability movement is still fledgling”.

Today, a sustainability leader is tackling long-term business, industry and societal issues and we need to be capable to address them all. Yes we’re now in the boardroom, at the top of the agenda but the challenges are systemic, the background is urgent, the answers are nuanced and the horizon long term.

At the vanguard of a complex change agenda, I completely agree that ‘motivating and empowering’ is one of the most important traits of a sustainability leader – whether that’s in relation to your colleagues, yourself or your industry.

Transformation is ultimately people-led. When I accepted the opportunity to lead Grosvenor’s Sustainability and Innovation team, I knew that key to success would be increasing understanding and creating belief in success, breaking a significant long-term strategy in to achievable steps where every person could see the relevance of their daily role in delivering on our plans. We spent a lot of time on capacity building, helping teams to see the big picture and allowing them a critical role in deciding how to innovate and adapt their business areas.

This taught me how motivation and empowerment are powerful levers in one of the challenges cited in this report – engagement and effecting behaviour change. We tackled this through extensive listening and knowledge sharing, embedding climate action as part of every communication, placing responsibility with individuals, not only teams, and correlating reward directly to success.

Motivation also comes in the form of personal resilience – a critical skill as sustainability leaders haven’t had, and in many instances, still do not have, a playbook. Precedents are still to be set and best practice, such as science-based targets, is changing rapidly as we explore what’s possible.

If I find myself in need of inspiration I draw it from our future leaders – younger people from my team or organisations I work alongside. They see a system that is failing them and their future, they take personal, as well as professional, responsibility for leading change and aren’t willing to accept piecemeal shifts. I enjoy drawing from that drive, but also channelling it to solve problems.

I wanted to close on a word of caution. Edie’s excellent analysis is a survey of those already on their journey. Even if the backdrop is challenging, they are investing in change and, encouragingly, voicing their commitment to accelerated ambition. But we also need to look beyond our businesses to motivate and empower those not yet engaged in any form of climate action – making the next step feel easier and possible. And by working together, this is achievable – as one of the UKGBC’s 10 Built Environment Climate Ambassadors I helped Race to Zero achieve breakthrough targets for the sector before COP26 by engaging directly with companies to formalise their commitments.

Working collaboratively within teams, across businesses, sectors and on broader platforms is the only way we make meaningful change and evolve once more what it means to take effective climate action and be a sustainability leader.

edie’s Sustainable Business Leadership report

edie’s latest must-read report is now available to download, charting the trends and challenges that will shape and define corporate leadership across the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) spectrum over the coming months.

The 2022 Sustainable Business Leadership report reveals and analyses the key findings from edie’s exclusive survey of more than 250 sustainability professionals as well as summarising some of the key themes and discussions that took place over the two-day Sustainability Leaders Forum in March 2022.

Click here to download your copy of the report. 


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