Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Leadership and sustainability

Lena Wang discusses the importance and key differences between managers and leaders within a sustainable working environment.
Leadership and sustainability should go hand-in-hand. Without a strong leader who inspires and supports taking action to achieve a better business, and in turn, a better community and a better world, sustainability has little chance of achieving real traction within the business. A great deal of research has been conducted on sustainability and leadership. A number of key aptitudes and behaviours have been identified that are important in leaders who seek to address sustainability issues in their businesses. First, having a commitment to new forms of governance that support equitable and participative practises across the organisation. Second, introduce sustainable and ethical values that will shape organisational culture.
Third, create a strong vision for making a significant difference. Fourth, adopt an inclusive style that engenders trust. Fifth, have a willingness to innovate, develop, and train employees and build momentum around sustainability initiatives. Sixth, take a long-term perspective on outcomes and be future oriented.
These leadership traits help deliver transformational change on the business journey towards sustainability. A leader who drives the quest for business sustainability will seek to engage with stakeholders to build a common understanding of what sustainability means and will craft a plan of action.
Key differences have been identified between leaders and managers. A leader sets a direction, aligns people and motivates them during the course. A manager plans, organises and recruits, without necessarily inspiring people; rather they help employees find solutions to problems or challenges.

Leaders inspire and support people to act together towards achieving a vision or ideal. Green leaders inspire people to act together towards achieving a better world. They are often seen as change agents as they initiate, enable or foster change. In sustainability, leadership is crucial in driving the change process. It is often mentioned that producing change is about 80% leadership and 20% management. In this light, the real gap seems to be the fact that we have hundreds of experts and, perhaps, green managers but not enough great leaders.

There are many suggestions and discussions about the key attributes a green leader needs, and also the fundamental principles they would have to follow. These may include interdisciplinary understanding, a strong vision, emotional intelligence and a long-term perspective. A sustainable leader is someone who thinks globally and towards the future; someone showing a caring attitude and who is ready to be radical. These abilities become even more complex, and rare to find in one person when you start exploring concepts such as strategic influence towards the change, visionary thinking (think strategically and creatively to find new ways) or building networks through empathy and high interpersonal understanding.

If you now think that this is already difficult enough to achieve, the best is yet to come! The crucial aspect for a great green leader is to understand that the focus must not be on the list of abilities and their importance (taken as a single unit/element) but rather on how these characteristics are linked to each other. Like branches of a tree, each of these aspects supports and reinforces the others, in a dynamic and solid interconnection.

The focus here is not on the comprehensive listing of all possible skills and functions of a green leader, but rather on the interconnectivity of these abilities, and how each can and does strengthen other parts of the same system.

Do a little research using Twitter by searching using the hashtag #sustainableleader and identify who a person or company who you consider to be a sustainable leader. Quote tweet the post and include four words that describes the work they do and add the hashtag #RMITsustainableleader
If you are unsure how to use Twitter, see the guides in the See Also area.
This article is from the free online

Business Futures: Sustainable Business Through Green HR

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education