“You guys pair up in groups of three, then line up in a circle.” – Bill Peterson –
I wouldn’t recommend following that directive. In fact, I am not even sure how it can be accomplished. But, it is relevant. Here’s why:
Sustainability as a practice can be challenging since it is “a business approach that creates long-term shareholder value by embracing opportunities and managing risks deriving from economic, environmental and social developments” (Dow Jones). That is a fair amount of territory to cover. For this reason, it requires the expertise and hard work of many people in multiple departments in a company. Teamwork is important. Trying to pair up in groups of three and then lining up in a circle leads to confusion, and maybe, a few bruises.
It is concerted efforts following an agreed-upon mission that allows a company to progress and succeed in sustainability. For those in the corporate strategy field, this sounds a great deal like the method used for achieving general business objectives. And, frankly, it should since it is appropriate for both. It’s worth noting that a goal of sustainability professionals is the inevitable integration of sustainability into business processes.
For FedEx, our role, or mission, is highlighted within the first two pages of our 2008 FedEx Global Citizenship Report
Our role is to connect the world in responsible and resourceful ways. This involves many different departments bringing differing knowledge and values to the effort. But, each needs to be working in concert with others, as well.
To be clear, my title at FedEx is director of environmental affairs and sustainability. Because there isn’t a universal description of my title, I’ll discuss what is commonly referred to in the industry as chief sustainability officer. So, what role does a chief sustainability officer, or in my case a director of environmental affairs, play in a company’s efforts? As reference, Wikipedia defines a chief sustainability officer (CSO) as “the corporate title of an executive position within a corporation that is in charge of the corporation’s environmental programs.” Simplistically explained, they often act as coaches (or, as Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical, says in the New York Times link below: “You need a lot of huskies pulling the sled, but you’ve got to have a lead dog.”). CSO’s typically work on aligning policies and having sustainability strategies developed, ensuring the governance – think roles and responsibilities – is in place. They rely upon the team, both within and without the sustainability department, to help carry out the agreed-upon strategies. Without the strategy and execution defined, players, or workers, can often be individually effective. But in team sports, teams win games, not individuals.
Therefore, sustainability team members, working together, are extremely valuable – individually powerful, but collectively effective. The soccer star, Mia Hamm, has said, “I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.” She gets it.
Team Sports. Powerful stuff.
Want more perspective about Chief Sustainability Officers and the value of sustainability? See the following New York Times article: