The Sustainability Dance

DECEMBER 1 / Donna Kennedy-Glans

DANCING WITH A PARTNER in sharp stiletto heels is dangerous. Yet done well—both partners engaged with one other in a state of ongoing harmonization—the art of tango can be elegant.  That’s the level of focus and attention that the sustainability dance requires of enterprise leaders and decision-makers. 

Whatever your enterprise and whatever your industry, it’s never easy reconciling shorter-term demands and longer-term goals. And in a crisis—be it a devastating industry change or a pandemic—the short-term scramble for financial survival draws attention away from the organizational values and business fundamentals essential to your enterprise’s longer-term sustainability.

If your enterprise survives the pandemic, hearty congratulations. Now it is time to refocus on core values and think about how to redesign and rebuild your enterprise to thrive, sustainably, in a post-pandemic world. That’s a world where the status quo—more of the same—is unlikely to be effective. Your stakeholders and the public will expect more and will push hard against your enterprise boundaries. 

The sustainability dance involves a new kind of thinking, a new conversation with the communities you serve,  a new way of engaging with stakeholders, and genuine collaboration. Your future is in their hands.

Re-Energize the Sustainability Dance

GO BACK FIFTY YEARS. Smart enterprise leaders heeded the wisdom of economist Milton Friedman, who famously said: “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” Today, sustainability means something quite different. For an enterprise to say it is sustainable, it needs to not only achieve fiscal viability but environmental, social and governance (ESG) aims as well.  

It can be daunting! For example, in a Planet focused on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and seriously navigating climate change, where does your organization begin? It’s easy for an individual organization to promise net-zero emissions by 2030 or 2040; it will require a lot of steadfast work and collaboration to get there.

Perhaps it is useful to remember the steps already taken. In Canada, for example, government, industry and advocates aligned their efforts to phase out coal plants. Alberta is two years away from a coal-free electricity grid, decades ahead of the retirement schedule for coal plants. And before that, public, private and non-profit enterprises figured out ways to come together to deal with the ozone layer depletion and acid rain.

Daunting or not, this is not the time to hide behind organizational walls and sneak wary glances at your stakeholders. It’s time to evolve or else go the way of the actual dinosaurs. It’s time to learn the tango.

Chapter 1: Re-Energize the Sustainability Dance,
Teaching the Dinosaur to Dance: Moving beyond Business as Usual