Leadership for a Sustainable Future


I must confess, that throughout my career as an entrepreneur, I was only focused on building my businesses and have been quite oblivious to the concept of climate change.

When I was invited to moderate a session on sustainable solutions for urban growth last year at the TIA summit, I forayed into the world of sustainability for the first time. Between my own research for this session and listening to all those remarkable speakers who spoke at the summit, I was convinced at the end of that conference that climate change is for real.

Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to moderate many panels on this subject.  At the School of Policy and Governance, where I am a director, we are currently running a fellowship program on Net Zero, with the aim to educate and influence the future leaders of our country. So, without realizing, within a year, I am deeply involved in the world of sustainability.

Clearly, what’s happening around the world is causing major changes to the planet and the impact that it will have on the future generation is completely unfair. We need to bring green back and business leaders also have a role to play.

The conundrum of Sustainable Leadership

What is this sustainable leadership? It is all about adopting a responsible approach in how one leads. It urges you to stop and ponder over the broader impact that actions you take might have on the environment. You might have to consider even your larger group of stakeholders for this and as leaders, you are also shapers of your organisational culture. So, who better than you can make sustainability a reality?

A McKinsey article said, ‘When it comes to sustainability, despite genuine interest, many still suffer from collective inertia.’ This is true because many leaders are waiting or hoping for others to take action.  They do not know where to start and do not even understand the magnitude of the difference that they could make.

This is even more challenging for a developing economy like India. Our goal is to be a $30 trillion economy by 2050 if we have to move towards being a developed nation and lift the remaining people above poverty line. How can we achieve this goal while keeping an eye on the environment? How do we not destroy our natural resources in the name of development? Where do we even start?

Lead by example

In order to even begin this process, as a leader, you must explore how your role can contribute to slowing down climate change and other environmental challenges. You must also make your team understand how individual actions can also have an impact on the environment and the future. Responsible leaders can pave way for a responsible and sustainable future for companies.

Even if as a leader you do not have a specific solution for a problem, you do have the power. You can create opportunities for others in your organisation to come together and generate their own answers to problems. You can facilitate.

Last year, on the occasion of World Environment Day, Tata Group’s Chairman Emeritus, Ratan Tata stated that we should all pledge to build a better environment for India, so that there is ‘fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink and no one is left hungry’. The Tata Group has always been very conscious about giving back to society and conducting with ethical leadership. This style of leadership is something worth emulating.

Think Long term

Rome wasn’t built in a day. No leader can change his organisation in a day. It is a shared responsibility that leaders are undertaking and we must also understand that there are multiple stakeholders here including the government. As leaders, we can establish certain processes and structures with long term gains in mind. Baby steps do matter!

Leaders must be able to balance both short-term and long-term goals and incorporate a renewed set of ideals that can improve environmental issues. One must lead in a way that benefits societies and the environment, and all this while maintaining financial performance of course.

The time has come now to create a generation of citizens, workers, students, and leaders ready for climate change. This can be done by strong leaders with a plan and will to engage diverse stakeholders to make it happen.

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