VIDEO: What does true sustainability leadership look like in 2024?

The 2020s so far have been described as an era of ‘polycrisis’ or ‘permacrisis’. With some organisations taking a step back from environmental targets to prioritise short-term crisis management, what does true sustainable business leadership look like?

This was the question we posed to several of our judges and award winners at the presentation ceremony for the 2024 edie Awards, which took place in central London earlier this month.

The edie Awards recognise and reward the incredible people, projects and partnerships that are transforming business, for good. They have been running for 17 years and 2024 winners included the likes of Caroline Lucas (lifetime achievement award), Sky (marketing and customer engagement campaign award) and Mitie (transport and fleet management award).

As we convened representatives from our shortlisted organisations – plus a selection of our judging panel –  for the glittering award ceremony, we had the chance to ask how they would define sustainability leadership, whether from an individual or an organisation.

David Bent, senior associate consultant at Skating Panda, said: “Sustainability leadership against the background of the polycrisis is a big, big ask and poses a big, big question. For me, the polycrisis is a result of lots of parts of our status quo failing and demonstrating that they are not fit for purpose.

“So, leadership is about transformation… transforming our economic system, our political system and how we live our lives, so that we can have nine billion people enjoying themselves and choosing their own version of a good life which is aligned with nature.

“Businesses need to change all aspects of their all operations and all of their relationships – with shareholders, staff.”

Crista Buznea, head of marketing at Ecologi, added: “Sustainability leadership, to me, right now, would involve taking a very focused decision to go after long-term benefits rather than short-term gains… we’ve seen a lot of short-termism, and we want to move away from that.”

Julia Barrett, chief sustainability officer and holdings board director at Willmott Dixon, echoed these sentiments, stating: “Sustainability leadership means being consistent, focusing on the long-term and making sustainable decisions part of your everyday business.”

Amelia Woodley, executive board director for ESG, Speedy Hire, added: “Well, I think sustainability leadership is about having tenacity and patience. There are always going to be ebbs and flows within different geopolitical and economic crises, so really being sustainable as an organisation is about focusing on your north star… to ride through those changes.”

When focusing on long-term planning, it is important to check in during the interim to keep track, celebrate and collaborate, noted Jonas Persson, head of sustainability and ESG finance at Lloyds Bank.

He said: “It is really important for companies to get the chance to celebrate successes in sustainability. It allows us to validate strategies and investments that could have been very difficult. It also allows our teams to bring colleagues with them.

“The other point is that they can share with other businesses and accelerate accordingly.”

A full video of responses to this question can be watched above.

A free-to-download PDF listing all 2024 edie Award winners can be accessed here.

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