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Happy to share this Greenbiz piece I wrote for Transitioning to Green & the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Why sustainability requires leadership training

Sustainability is now firmly on the radar screen of business. Along with their ongoing focus on economic issues, two-thirds of executives and managers now consider social and environmental issues as significant or very significant concerns. Yet only 10 percent of leaders say they are fully addressing these issues. Those who have been able to embed sustainability into core functions of their companies are reaping significant benefits.

Sustainability is one of those big openings that hold enormous promise. It requires teams to know not only what it means and why it’s important, but also how it can be actualized in a business. And as always, it takes excellent leadership skills to turn good ideas into tangible results.

For every highly-influential leader who may have the clout to put sustainability on the table, it takes a whole team of skillful champions working together to make sustainability a reality.

Throughout my career, and in my role at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, I’ve witnessed what’s possible when business leaders set a powerful agenda and then pull together the teams that get it done. Those game-changing initiatives take commitment, talent, hard work and time.

One problem we face as leaders today is that we developed our leadership talents, and gained business success, in environments that were much more predictable than those our businesses face now. The business challenges surrounding resource constraints, erratic markets, extreme weather, economic volatility and social change have become the new normal described by Andrew Winston in The Big Pivot. These conditions, along with innovations in technology that have interconnected our world, have infused the business landscape with a never-before-seen radical level of transparency. All this has left business leaders with much less control than they would ideally want.

Making sustainability happen — at scale — and with the speed required to reap returns on investment under these conditions, requires business leadership to rethink and remix their skill sets to develop the versatility and agility they need.

Sustainability leadership training

The value to leaders of developing collaborative relationships that are cross-functional and inter-industry cannot be emphasized enough in regard to sustainability. The USCCF and other forward-thinking business-focused organizations have a critically important role to play in moving sustainability forward by providing venues where business leaders can learn what they need to be highly effective in a complex, rapidly changing world. The recent Sustainable Brands Conference is one example of how this can be done. GreenBiz VERGE events are another.

We also see a huge opportunity for a new kind of leadership training: one that gets at the hands-on, nuts-and-bolts of actually running a profitable, socially responsible company, and ensures that business leaders at all levels and key job functions — including operations and production, R&D, marketing and sales, human resources and finance — are equipped with both the “why” and the “how” of sustainability.

We believe that to be successful, leadership must engage enough people so that sustainability practices permeate the organization. That’s the reason our LeaderShip for Sustainability three-day training program aims at causing such breakthroughs as garnering C-suite support for integrating sustainability throughout the entire organization and in every function, or implementing sustainability employee-resource groups and green teams throughout the organization to engage employees at every level and make sustainability goals their own.

We’ve been watching the rise of gamification in business that helps employees discover, learn and practice hard-core business skills (while including the human side) in a low-risk environment, as DeloitteGartner, and others have noted. While it’s still an emerging arena, gamification has huge potential to help people learn and gain insights about making sustainability real in their business. And doing it in days, rather than years.

That’s why we apply a learning model that integrates sustainability concepts and best practices with hands-on experience through gamification that simulates an actual business. We believe this approach models for companies what they can do internally to accelerate learning and to have their leaders gain relevant experience with minimal risk.

We believe that each of us has a role to play in responsibly managing our planet’s resources and making a positive contribution to society, while generating business opportunities and results that benefit many people both locally and across the globe. Many of you have your own experiences to share. Now that you know what we’ve been up to, we’d love to hear what you are doing to champion sustainability.

***

What if I told you that you could lead a fictional, $100M, triple-bottom-line company for five years—in just three days? You’d have the experience of running a sustainable business successfully—or into the ground—risk free.

As a leader, you’d strategize and negotiate with heads of marketing, finance, HR, production, sustainability, and sales, then put the business plan you’ve developed into action. You’d get to try out different market approaches and operational strategies. See what works best for your company and compete against other companies to achieve profits while improving conditions for both people and the planet. And you’d gain all the insights that come from learning by doing, with your leadership team, and the support of expert instructors.

That’s what our July 30-Aug. 1 program is all about: “LeaderShip for Sustainability: People, Planet, and Profits in a New Green Economy.”

“We are pleased to offer this program to deliver important lessons on leading a profitable business while also making a positive contribution to our society,” said the Honorable John McKernan, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “This type of expert instruction is an essential part of our efforts to strengthen America’s long-term competitiveness.”

We’re hosting this program to respond to the challenges that our supporters and the wider business community tell us they’re facing. Whether your business is micro-sized or enterprise, we’re all dealing with the new normal described by Andrew Winston in The Big Pivot: resource constraints, weather challenges, changeable markets, and our connected world’s radical transparency. We all want to take care of people and the planet for tomorrow, as well as achieving profits today.

But actually making sustainability happen—at scale—and with the speed required—poses huge practical leadership challenges.

Which is why LeaderShip for Sustainability is a great choice. This course teaches not only established—but also emerging and high-potential people—how to be sustainability leaders in every part of the company.

No matter what your job title, as leaders and sustainability champions in our companies each of us has to understand the bigger picture for triple-bottom-line success that engages people to responsibly manage planet resources while generating profits. That means not only operations expertise, but also marketing, finance, human resources, IT and supply chain management skills.

Here are some of the ways that this course is different:

Gamification: Participants play an online business simulation where teams compete head-to-head to build and grow a triple-bottom-line company. Each team starts with $28M total assets to run their company over 5 years, completely risk-free.

Financials and metrics: The game forces players to wrangle with balance sheets, weigh debt decisions, and balance competing priorities. Many non-finance program alums report that this gave them a completely new understanding and appreciation of the CFO’s role in achieving sustainable outcomes.

Networking and support:The course continues after the three days in Washington, D.C. with in-depth follow-up calls to help you apply what you learned to your company’s goals and challenges. And you’ll join a community of fellow program alums that include senior and middle level leaders from BASF, Honeywell, Novartis, Alcoa, Church and Dwight, Sanofi, and Alcatel-Lucent.

The course is led by Dr. Jeana Wirtenberg (author of the new 2014 book Building a Culture for Sustainability, with a foreword by Andrew Winston) and her team from Transitioning to Green.

Please take a look at the program description and register today. The Early Bird discount ends June 30. Registration. CCC supporters receive a discount off registration.

Questions? Please reach out to me at jgerholdt@USChamber.comor Jeana Wirtenberg, Ph.D. at 973-335-6299 or jwirtenberg@transitioningtogreen.com.

Hope to see you at the end of July.