Tag Archives: leaders

Seek Out and Learn from Sustainability Leaders

In a recent article, How to Become a Sustainable Company, in the Summer 2012 issue of the MIT/Sloan Management Review they ask the question, “What differentiates sustainable companies from traditional ones?” To the answer in a minute.

Although the article references commitment to sustainability, noting that few companies are born with it, an issue arises for me that goes beyond terminology and suggests a fundamental misunderstanding  – to be a sustainable company is not equal to being a company committed to sustainability. The adjective, sustainable and the noun sustainability are not one in the same. Unfortunately, the former is what is popular in business, both public and private and the answer to the question above demonstrates what I mean. According to the article the differences are:

  • Sustainable organizations are effective at engaging with external stakeholders and employees
  • They have cultures based on innovation and trust
  • They have a track record of implementing large-scale change

These are not unique to sustainability nor to sustainable companies. Petroleum and  toxin-based companies, for example, may be successful at all three and yet have no commitment to sustainability, to the seven generations, mired as their leadership may be in the short term, and, ultimately, in denial about global warming and the inability of an economic system that externalizes risk and costs to ever bounce back.

Sustainability is a goal, a desire, a hope and it signifies the ABILITY to drive change, first, at the personal level. We need sustainability leaders to drive a sustainability culture in their organizations. This point is raised in the MIT/Sloan report:

“When leadership commitment drives the process, it usually comes from the personal resolution of a CEO to create a more sustainable company. In general, top-level executives have the ability to create an enterprise-wide vision and the clout to see that it is realized. Without this commitment, becoming a sustainable company is a “nonstarter.”

While leadership commitment is talked about as critical,  the report continues with the language of ” leaders of traditional and sustainable companies” rather than sustainability leaders of companies directing our attention to how things are not working rather than who is working. Our sustainability leaders need to influence their “traditional” peers, first,  to raise their consciousness as quickly as possible.  There are two very effective ways to advance the personal and model the behavior that is desperately needed.

Online Video

Screen shot 2012-06-19 at 11.30.53 AMHere’s an interview with Dominique Conseil , Global President of Aveda and Karl-Henrik Robert founder of the Natural Step, both sustainability leaders. Or listen to The Regeneration Project’s Ray Anderson Memorial video series, here is one video, Why Meaningful Progress Depends on Activists – Spotlight on Civil Society, featuring sustainability leaders Jonathon Porritt, Vandana Shiva, Nitin Desai, Lester Brown, Bill Ford, Kris Gopaladrishman, Yolanda Kakabadse and Gro Harlem Brundtland.

Online Video and Research

Dr. David Hall of Portland State University stepped out of the box and advanced the personal by producing a series of sustainability leadership videos as part of his research called Native Perspectives. Here you can listen to the indigenous voices, sustainability leaders, of the Salmon Nation.


The Regeneration Project, between July and October, will host a number of Salons – curated, facilitated conversations sustainability leaderswith influential stakeholders from across industry and sector. These Salons will take place in major international cities across the world. Attendance is to be limited  to approximately 50 people, on an invitation-only basis.  Great work and hopefully the start of something fresh in sustainability awareness, education, and innovation.  The project is an inititiave of GlobeScan, a public opinion research company and Sustainability, a think tank and strategy consultancy.

All of this is to say go ahead and read the research digging into sustainable companies,  but give more time to listening to your peers who are sustainability leaders, pioneers, heroes, and innovators.  Look for research and events that emphasize the personal over organizational. Rely less on processed information when you can now hear directly from the sustainability leadership as found in the hundreds of companies that are for-benefit and in the hundreds of voices of sustainability from across the Web, the reason we invested in bringing together these voices for you in one place, EarthSayers.tv, voices of sustainability.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, June 19, 2012, Portland, Oregon.

Portland: the Most Sustainability Conscious U.S. City

Portland is #1

Portland is #1

Since 2004 the growth of the search term on sustainability has been slow and bumpy, but UP.  And the state with the highest volume of search? Oregon with Vermont close behind and in 2009 close to closing the gap.  And while Eugene outpaces Portland if you look at the period 2004 to the present, Portland outpaces all U.S. cities in 2009. Denver is close behind. It would be a good thing for the cities lagging behind to benefit from the expertise here in Portland from the leaders among all economic sectors.  SUSTAINABILITYStarting from the bottom of the top ten, cities such as Philadelphia, Sacramento, San Diego, Minneapolis & St. Paul, Seattle-Tacoma, Raleigh-Durham, Boston, and Phoenix would benefit from a transfer of skills and expertise. This is part of the reason EarthSayers.tv has started the Portland Sustainability Leadership Channel (PSLC).  We collect already available videos from around YouTube that feature Portland’s leaders.  Aggregating the content increases the likelihood of finding Portland’s leader from among the YouTube sea. Its search function is extremely limited. The PSLC is then linked to EarthSayers.tv giving them national and international exposure. We twitter and tweet as well. Both YouTube (#4 on search volume) and twitter (no. 1 on fastest rising by 1250%) are heavily searched terms on Google and, as such, are busy places to reach an audience. While EarthSayers is new and growing, over the last two months there have been over 6,000 visits, with 2,000 of them being unique as visitors return 3x. We also create original content (thanks to filmmaker Barry Heidt) by interviewing leaders. The folks we have interviewed so far include Rob Bennett of the Portland Sustainability Institute, Marcelo Bonta of the Center for Diversity and the Environment, Dennis Wilde of Gerding Edlen Development Company, Mary Vogel, urban designer, of PlanGreen, Willem and Evan of Where Are Your Keys, Peter Bauer of Urban Scout Rewilidng, Lindsey Newkirk of Elysium Events, Kristy Alberty of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, Carl Grimm of  Metro, and Kate Miller, consultant, sustainable Lighting.


Sustainability, Climate Change, and Global Warming Trends

What other steps could be taken to promote Portland’s planning and urban design professionals, green building experts, and business owners who have worked hard at the business and civic levels and contributed to Portland’s sustainability reputation?  They have helped Portland “turnaround” from the un-development following World War II that Michael Mehaffy has written left Portland “a hollow shell bisected by freeways, invaded by trendy but lifeless buildings and deserted by families heading for the suburbs.”  Transformation was in order. Portland attracts people and jobs in a large part because of its sustainability reputation or brand.  Now would be a good time to help the many consultants and professionals here in Portland export their skills and expertise to help other communities and in the process rebuild their own businesses clobbered by an economic collapse. We will continue to grow the Portland Sustainability Leadership Channel and seek support from the business community to fund our efforts (Chelsea Peil is the curator of the Channel and is extending invitations to companies with high integrity and a sustainability track record to be channel sponsors at a very modest rate for the branding- chelsea@earthsayers.com), but this is not enough.  Let’s put our heads together and come up with more ideas for marketing the talent and brains of sustainability from right here in Portland.