The planet is a big issue - lets make sure its covered.
What’s today’s biggest leadership issue? Profits, corruption, jobs, governance, empowerment? They all demand top tier attention, but surely the biggest issue has to be the planet and thankfully it receives growing attention from our business leaders.
The environment is top of mind at many companies, especially the major corporates. A big driver is sustainability reporting – now standard practice at many businesses. Carbon footprints are measured. So is water and energy consumption.
Fuel, water and mains power are increasingly expensive. Showing environmental sensitivity has therefore become a win-win issue for corporate leaders. They can contain costs and show environmental leadership by reducing the drain on resources.
It is still unusual for a CEO to demonstrate a commitment to fuel cost reduction by driving to work in a hybrid, but leadership is shown in other, very practical, ways.
Route optimisation tools cut kilometres travelled by the vehicle fleet. Local sourcing has similar effects while often boosting procurement from a new generation of black-owned businesses.
Can more be done?
Of course, and a recent reminder came from a very eminent leader indeed.
Pope Francis in his ‘Laudato Si’ encyclical criticised capitalism for compounding the threat to our environment and our drinking water.
The ‘Green Pope’ made a worldwide impact with his environmentally friendly statement. Perhaps this is a hint to other leaders – political and business – that they will find themselves on the side of the angels if they take a similar stance.
Whatever the motivation, the pontiff’s pronouncements ensure that environmental issues remain firmly on the leadership agenda.
There is no doubt that protecting the planet is becoming urgent and leaders have to take personal responsibility.
Today, many companies have recycling and energy reduction champions at departmental and divisional level. Even greater momentum would be achieved if senior managers gave a personal lead on the need to reduce, re-use and recycle.
CEOs can’t personally collect the empty ink cartridges, but they can take up the green mantle in other ways, and many do.
They set recycling and carbon emission targets, and make a point of enquiring about monthly recycling quantities and paper usage when reviewing performance.
They also make subtle behavioural changes, because they know that people notice what the boss does.
That’s why some CEOs or chairmen make a point of switching the lights off when leaving a room. This communicates a strong message; certainly stronger than sending a memo.
It’s clear the ‘Green CEO’ is starting to emerge. But is this a fad or a development that will come increasingly to the fore?
I believe the green theme will become more and more apparent as a new generation of managers takes over; executives with young children who take environmental awareness home with them every time they ask mum and dad for help with a class project on global warming and pressure on landfill space.
We may even see ‘environmental awareness’ on the job specification when a board of directors goes looking for a new leader.
Shortlisting Pope Francis might be difficult, but we are certain to see more and more candidates who look to protect the planet while protecting profits.
*Auguste (Gusti) Coetzer is Director, Executive Search, at TALENT AFRICA, an alliance of Korn Ferry.
Talent Africa is a world-class company, based in Sandton, the business hub of South Africa. They offer integrated talent solutions to clients nationally and in sub-Saharan Africa. Talent Africa is proudly a level 2 BBBEE contributor.
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