Sustainability Isn't In A Title

When I first started my journey toward sustainability 5 years ago, I wanted to have a meaningful impact in this world through my work. Sounds cliché, right? I also thought that to have such impact, it required having sustainability within your job title. Today, I realize that I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Since I’ve started LeadingAhead, the learning curve has been exponentially higher of a regular work position. One of the key things that I’ve learned over the years working with different organizations is that sustainability isn’t in a title. It is a state of mind. It is a way of thinking. Sustainability can and has to be implemented within every position of an organization. The sustainability team cannot do everything on its own. Cooperation and integration are mandatory.

For every position, there is a sustainability element to it. To demonstrate, let’s start with three positions that are very distinctive within a work environment.

1. Engineer

           This is where everything starts: The design phase. For the past 100 years we have designed products having only one phase of the product life in mind: The usage phase.

Noticeably, there are 4 phases in the product life:

1.   Resource extraction

2.   Manufacturing

3.   Usage

4.   Waste

The last phase has been highly disregarded. In this case, when it’s time to dispose of a used product, we find ourselves wondering what to do with it. As an example, most people don’t know what to do with an old pair of running shoes, carbon bike frame, etc. It is imperative for the design team to think about how the product will be disposed of. Whether it is recycling, reclaiming program, reusing, repurposing or using as raw material for a different industry. This is the basic structure of a circular economy.  

2. Marketing Coordinator / Manager

           Marketing plays a very important role within the implementation of a sustainable strategy. In today’s world, we’re no longer talking about billboards, prints or TV ads. To reach a target market, creating engagement is key and that is mostly done through social media. It is up to you to decide which story you’d like to tell your current and prospective customers. It is far easier to engage with your audience by taking them through your sustainable journey while asking for feedback and interacting with them instead of pushing products, sales or posting about new hires Gary and Suzy.

3. Production Manager

           Nowhere does it say to include sustainability within this job title. However, the amount of sustainability related elements that a person on the production line can impact is endless. While observing the manufacturing process, finding ways to improve the production line and reduce the environmental footprint as well as cost production is fundamental. Whether we are talking about water use reduction, energy saving, using biodegradable chemicals, using less paint, reusing waste and left overs, these are only examples of what can be optimized. In a manufacturing environment, there are unlimited components that can be identified. If an organization isn’t manufacturing on site, the same principles apply down to the supply chain.

These are simple instances where sustainability is applied to different positions. Following a speaking engagement at a business conference or a university, many people come up to me and ask what they can do to get involved in sustainability initiatives within their workplace and take concrete actions. The first barrier to overcome is understanding that a job title has nothing to do with your abilities to make an impact. It’s defined by your actions and your willingness to move forward and present a project to your manager with a forward-thinking idea and implement it within your job description.

Surprisingly, many executives are afraid of implementing corporate sustainability initiatives since they worry about the staff reactions before testing the water. If you are an employee, don’t fear talking to your superior about it, repeatedly. When a matter comes up often and by several individuals, then upper management understands that it’s become increasingly important to act on it. Your final move is to educate them with articles, studies and business cases showing a potential ROI and people’s involvement towards a sustainable business model.