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Models for Sustainable Leadership

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It is 2018, and as companies take environmental sustainability more into account they need sustainable leadership to make it happen. Sustainable leaders think beyond the bottom line, and consider how their products or services influence the environment. They must look past the desire for immediate profit and measure how the product affects material goods and resources.

Environmentally Friendly

Consideration of green technologies can be employed to decrease dependence on non-renewable resources. Solar, water, wind and sun technologies have made it possible to harness energy in ways that are useful, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly. The use of recyclables needs to be implemented, as plastics can be substituted in many cases with biodegradable paper. Disposable outputs also need to be examined to identify how waste can be reduced, recycled, or renewed. All of these contribute to the long-term impacts that must be thought about for current and future generations.

Ethics = Sustainable Leadership

Ethical and socially responsible leaders will incorporate the dimensions of corporate social responsibility, weighing what is right for the organization and environment as equal counterparts. A sustainable leader will educate them-self in this area, and continue to learn in an effort to maximize procedures and practices that support sustainable efforts. Committed leaders will also teach and mentor their employees in this arena so sustainability becomes a part of every organizational goal.

Planet, Profit, and People

There are many challenges for sustainability leaders. The integration of planet, profit, and people has to hold equal value. These factors are inter-dependent requiring management and planning. Some leaders see these as competitors. This view sets up a pattern of tradeoffs rather than seeing all the stakeholders as valuable members to the organization.  Leaders must pursue employee engagement, incorporating every member as a sustainable partner supporting all three factors.

Culture of Change

Sustainable leaders have to create a culture of change. In creating change, leaders must lay the foundation so adjustments take place in a controlled fashion. Leaders seeking long-term changes must consider time, process, and planning. Changes are best received when they are small, and incremental, providing time to adjust before additional changes are implemented. Employees support change when they understand the reasons for change. Knowledge empowers people and can increase employee moral especially if change supports current company initiatives.

Strategy = Sustainable Leadership

A sustainable leader is a good strategist. They have the ability to analyze, direct, share the company vision, and allocate resources prior to implementing a strategy. They depend on more holistic and organic leadership theory models to assist growth and development. Business is more complex today; there is a higher demand for global integration, connectivity, and complexity (Rahim, Neal, Berg, & Richards, 2014). The internet has been an incredible tool leveraging global integration and connectivity. This innovation has furthered businesses ability to engage with others around the world but has also provided challenges in cultural communications and global ethical implications.

Try Something New

Traditional management is no longer acceptable for sustainability change. Due to advanced complexities in business, every employee must be innovative, and willing to learn how their part makes a difference. Organizations must become learning organizations so they are able to readily adapt to change when dynamic change. Researchers Nattrass and Altomare, “stress the importance of organizational learning to support a sustainability initiative: Our research has shown that for those business corporations that make the commitment to sustainable development, the understanding and practice of the organizational learning disciplines will be the indispensable prerequisites of a successful transformation to sustainability” (1999). Organizational learning is essential for change and includes leadership development and employee engagement fostered by a culture of learning.


Leaders must adhere to reporting methods that capture necessary information to be shared with necessary stakeholders. Documentation should include history, change implemented and reaction to change. This information should be shared with employees to demonstrate organizational development. Reporting systems need to make sense and have the ability to integrate with other controlled systems. Reporting should include all sustainability efforts; people planet and profits; viewing all factors results together for organizational performance.


Rahim, E., Neal, J., Berg, S., & Richards, W (2014). Foundations of Social Responsibility and Its

Application to Change. Illinois: Common Ground Publishing

Leong, C. L., & Fisher, R. (2011, May). Is Transformational Leadership Universal? A Meta-Analytical Investigation of Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire Means Across Cultures. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 18(2), 164-174. doi: 10.1177/1548051810385003

Nattrass, B., & Altomare, M. (1999). The Natural Step for Business: Wealth, Ecology, and the Evolutionary Corporation. Gabriela Island, BC: New Society Publishers



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