Sustainability and Change Management

By Kathy Miller on July 8th, 2013

Originally published in Environmental Leader 

Finally the corporate world is beginning to come to grips with what sustainability means to their companies and to their survival.  While varying definitions of ‘sustainability’ abound, more and more companies are embracing values related to sustainability and are defining actions to support the values.  Some are merely looking for ways to comply with new regulations.   Others are looking for better ways to manage their electrical and water resources, and reducing their carbon footprint.  Still others are taking much broader approaches and looking at how the company does business with its shareholders, suppliers, customers and employees.  No matter how narrow or broad a company defines its efforts, success will require activities to enable change within the company.

Many times those who are assisting with change enablement  to support organizational initiatives use models  of change management.  However, change enablement for supporting sustainability efforts, whether broad or narrow, will differ substantially from the change management for most other corporate initiatives.  Sustainability initiatives are much more complex than almost any other corporate initiative that I have observed or assisted with in my 30 years of consulting.  Thus our traditional models for change are unlikely to be sufficient.

Certainly some  parts of our traditional  models will apply.  However I do believe that fundamentally, our approach to change enablement for sustainability requires a new  paradigm:

  1. The changes required to enable successful sustainability efforts are enormously transformational.
  2. The implications of the ‘triple bottom line’ are far-reaching and continue to evolve with more data, advances in technologies, etc.  Thus the change process must be organic.
  3. Usually the initiatives include a very  broad range of stakeholders who must work together across internal and external boundaries to accomplish change .
  4. Sustainability generally energizes the workforce.  Resistance is more likely to occur at the top of the hierarchy than at the bottom.

We are beginning to build this new paradigm for change that companies are seeking as they take on the hard work of looking at corporate sustainability.  Our work is truly cut out for us!