Tuesday, July 27, 2010

C-Level Leadership

Leadership for sustainability is critical for maintaining and fostering a decent quality of life on this planet for as many of its inhabitants as possible.  This leadership needs to come from everywhere - citizens, government, business, religion, education, etc. - and from all levels - the boss, the workers, the students, the moms, the kids, etc.

The recently released McKinsey Global Survey on how companies are managing (or not managing) sustainability stresses the importance of active C-Level leadership in avoiding the risks and taking advantage of the opportunities that the sustainability challenge presents for every organization.  They state:
Companies where sustainability is a top item in their CEOs’ agendas are twice as likely as others to integrate sustainability into their companies’ business practices. This suggests that senior executives who want to reap the benefits of incorporating sustainability into their companies’ overall strategies must take an active role in the effort.

This is something we stress all the time in our work with college & university presidents through the ACUPCC - and a central theme of the Leading Profound Change (pdf) resource we developed with presidents and chancellors on how exactly to take an active leadership role in this process on an ongoing basis.

It's also why the lack of such leadership from the other "C-level" - Congress - is so disheartening.  I won't go into details on why, because others have done so more eloquently than I would be able to in recent days, but I would highly recommend taking the time to read the following:

In "We're Gonna Be Sorry" Friedman shares a story that ran in The China Daily the same day news that the Senate would not pursue a bill before the August recess was released, and that clearly shows how this inaction and lack of leadership is ceding power and moral authority to China (and undermining one Massachusetts Senator's rationale for inaction):
“BEIJING — The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target. The decision was made at a closed-door meeting chaired by Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission ... Putting a price on carbon is a crucial step for the country to employ the market to reduce its carbon emissions and genuinely shift to a low-carbon economy, industry analysts said.”

He also cites a hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham, who wrote:
Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for ... what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? I have a much simpler but plausible ‘conspiracy theory’: the fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results. I, for one, admire them for their P.R. skills, while wondering, as always: “Have they no grandchildren?”

Finally, in "What 7 Republicans Could Do" Friedman notes:
What if the G.O.P. said: We will support a carbon tax provided one-third of the revenue goes toward cutting corporate taxes, one-third toward cutting payroll taxes for every working American and one-third toward paying down the deficit. The G.O.P. would actually help us get a better energy policy.  Surely there are seven Republican senators who can see this. Aren’t there?

Hopefully there will be - this is the kind of thinking needed to get past partisan politics and implement smart policies that will benefit all of us.  But it is going to take a heavy push from all of us to encourage our Senators to see that and to actually take up a real charge on passing a climate bill this year after the August recess.

Stay going.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

40 Years & Obama's Chance

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have created a quick video that brings home the point about how long we've been trying to break our addiction to oil and create systems that use much less energy, so our demand can be met by safe, clean, renewable, and sustainable sources of energy.

After 40 years we have what may very well be our last chance to put the policies in place that will make such a shift possible before irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption becomes unavoidable.  This will require great leadership from Obama, but also from each of us - call you Senators today and let them know you support strong climate legislation that helps to internalize the true costs of carbon and correct the artificial market distortion that makes fossil energy seem cheaper than it really is.  And sign EDF's petition calling for strong leadership from Obama to help make this happen.

Stay going.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Clean Energy & a Price on Carbon

Below is a new video from Repower America about boosting wind turbine manufacturing in the US.  With the debate in the Senate on climate legislation about to kick into full gear, now is the time to get to work.

Without strong legislation this year, there's a good chance we won't get it for a while - and we know to have any chance at avoiding really destructive climate disruption, we need global carbon emissions to peak by 2015.

That's not going to happen without leadership from the US in the form of meaningful correction to the price signals.  We can continue to keep the price of fossil fuels artificially low, but as we continue to find out in so many ways, we end up paying the true cost eventually, and it is much much higher, in the forms of oil spills, wars, Katrinas, droughts, floods, crop failures, and so on - all of which have huge real financial costs and unfathomable moral costs.

Here in the Commonwealth we're looking to Scott Brown to step up and take advantage of what amounts to a huge leadership opportunity to champion a bi-partisian bill, rise above the nonsense that this is a economy-destroying conspiracy, and make the case that this is a market-correction that needs to happen to ensure American competitiveness, create jobs, boost national defense, and most importantly give us half a chance at ensuring a livable planet for our children and grandchildren.  Sign Repower America's petition and give your Senators a call today.

Stay going. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Far and Endless Sea

“If you want to build a ship, then don’t drum up men to gather wood, give orders, and divide the work.  Rather, teach them to yearn for the far and endless sea.”
                                                                                                        — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Stay going. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Arising from the rubble

I think that there are good reasons to suggest that the modern age, the industrial era has ended.  Today many things indicate that we are going through a transitional period, when something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born.  It is as if something is crumbling, decaying and exhausting itself while something else still indistinct, is arising from the rubble.

                                                                                                                         - Valclav Havel

Stay going. 

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Power + Love

A couple of weeks ago we went to see Adam Kahane talk about his new book – Power and Love.  The talk and the book both helped shed light on aspects of leadership and social change that to some extent have not been explicit in our work.  I wouldn’t say we weren’t conscious of them already, but his depth of research and experience helped solidify our understanding and articulate the important interplay between power and love.

Kahane uses definitions of power and love from theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich:
Tillich defines power as “the drive of everything living to realize itself, with increasing intensity and extensity.”  So power in this sense is the drive to achieve one’s purpose, to get one’s job done, to grow.  He defines love as “the drive towards the unity of the separated.”  So love in this sense is the drive to reconnect and make whole that which has become or appears fragmented. (Power and Love, p. 2)

Central to the book is the idea that these conceptualizations of power and love both have two sides – a generative side and a degenerative side.  He looks to Martin Luther King, Jr. (whose doctoral studies focused on Tillich’s work): “Power without love is reckless and abusive,” King said, “and love without power is sentimental and anemic.” (Power and Love, p. 8). 

The point is we cannot choose power or love, we must choose both – generative love must come with power and generative power must come with love. 

The implications for sustainability work - for creating positive social change - are many and far-reaching.  Too often elements of the movement are dominated by degenerative power (e.g. obstructive regulation or heavy-handed guilt tactics), and probably more often, by degenerative love (e.g. “save the whales,” “think of the children,” “why can’t we all just get along?!?”).

We’ve always tried to avoid both in our work, and for me, that is at the heart of why Strategic Sustainable Development (SSD) is such a compelling approach.  It recognizes the complex current reality - with entrenched power structures led by dominate corporations and rich nations - and works to evolve it in ways that create a sustainable future as smoothly as possible.  It recognizes the power of our institutions, as well as the love necessary to foster cooperation, alignment and movement towards a sustainable future.  It employs a rigorous, scientific framework for what sustainability means, in conjunction with the tenants of organizational learning necessary to engage the leadership of all types of people needed to create a sustainable society.

The suite of examples from Kahane’s work with Shell, Generon, Reos, and SoL on projects all over the world - Peace and Reconciliation in South Africa, climate change in Canada, political stability in the Philippines, child nutrition in India, national visioning in Israel, and the Sustainable Food Lab across many countries - illustrate how complex challenges cannot be “solved” with any sort of prescription.  The ultimate of these challenges - the sustainability challenge - which embodies each of these and many more, is of course no exception. 

That is why SSD uses a principle-based definition of sustainability.  There is no roadmap or path to sustainability - the system is too complex with too many variables for us to know exactly what a sustainable future will look like. But we do understand enough about our system - humanity living the biosphere - to know what a sustainability society must be in principle; sort of a “true north” towards which we know we need to head before it is too late to avoid wholesale collapse of ecosystems and social systems.  In this sense, we don’t have a map, but we have a compass that can and must guide us in all of our personal and professional decisions.  In doing so, we create a sustainable future step by step.

Kahane credits fellow Reos Partner Jeff Barnum in pointing out that “creating something new in the world… requires us, not to plan it all out from the beginning, but rather to step forward, to act, to reflect on the results of our action, and then to take our next step”  (Power and Love, p. 136).  He also quotes peace activist Ana Teresa Bernal, with whom he worked in Columbia, and who said: “It’s like that poem of Antonio Machado: ‘Walker, there is no path.  The path is made by walking’” (Power and Love, p. 140).

I agree this is the only way to effectively lead in complex systems, and would add that having a compass for the “true north” of sustainability - not prescriptive specifics, but generic principles - is necessary for providing sufficient context and orientation for walking that path in as strategic and effective a way as possible. 

Stay going.