Business leaders: change not just what you're doing, but what you're being
Posted 10.23.15Chris Laszlo, PhD and professor of organizational behavior, is interviewed by David Rogers for Salt Magazine about the future of business and sustainability, and what business leaders need to do to truly affect the environment, people, and the future of the planet, for good.
excerpts from Salt Magazine writer David Rogers:
...[Chris Laszlo] said: “Reducing energy, reducing waste, reducing materials intensity cut costs all down the supply chain. That was a relatively easy argument to make, but the next step is to show them that sustainability can also drive innovation and top-line growth.”
Laszlo says that leading companies are starting to develop business models and product designs that don’t add costs but do add environmental and social ‘attributes’ to their services. “One example that’s vivid for Americans is the car company Tesla – those are expensive cars, but people buy it rather than a BMW or a Mercedes because it’s a better car [in every sense of the word]. Then there’s the reputational advantage. Unilever and Paul Polman are examples that are known worldwide for their efforts to decouple their growth from resource use. Without requiring consumers to compromise, they get a product that has the right performance, the right price, the right aesthetic and it also has environmental and social enhancements.”
As well as improving production and driving sales, Laszlo argues that the “good” company finds it easier to engage and motivate employees. “There is a huge level of disengagement in the workforce, and we argue that environmental awareness is the best way to make staff more loyal.”
These are all powerful examples of how economic principles are changing in the “right” way, but is it enough to give us reason to believe that the Kuznets curve will come to our rescue?
Laszlo says no. He says that after making the business case for sustainability for all those years, it dawned on him that it was not enough to really make a difference.He says: “If we look at what sustainability means in practice, it’s about doing less harm. Someone said to me recently, it’s like saying I’m only going to hit my child twice instead of three times. If you look at climate change, biodiversity, the disruption of the nitrogen and phosphorous cycle, at best business is slowing the rate of unsustainability.”
Laszlo argues that this led him to a radical and deeply controversial conclusion: that business leaders have to change what they are being, not just what they are doing. Ultimately it is individuals, not systems or technological processes that have to change. What he means by this that they have to “authentically care” for issues such as biodiversity, and not just be driven by a logical return on investment type of approach. He says: “In the past environmentalists have focused on moral injunction: shaming or finger-wagging, and that doesn’t work – it pushes business in the wrong direction. I believe the only approach that is likely to be effective is if business leaders change from the inside out. They have to feel personally deeply connected to their life purpose, to nature, to others, to future generations. This is where compassion, mindfulness and reflective practices come in. It doesn’t have to be eastern meditation – it has to be anything you do outside of normal business, outside of constantly checking your smart phone. You have to pause and quiet the sensory overload so you can reconnect to what’s important for you in your life: that what’s we need more of in business.”
Weatherhead School of Management helps students and organizations innovate, envision and implement business as an agent of world benefit. Learn more about the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit and the degree programs Weatherhead offers.