How to foster climate leadership?

How to foster climate leadership?
March 2024
Szilvia Szabó

Szilvia Szabó Author

Journalist, Editor
Journalist, Editor
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Today, we are increasingly aware of the planetary challenges and how they intersect with our lives.

However, what seems to remain untouched is the set of beliefs, values, assumptions, mental processes, and paradigms that we hold and share: our mindset.

How do we transition to a sustainability mindset?

Dr Isabel Rimanoczy, author of the Sustainability Mindset book, identified 12 Principles for a Sustainability Mindset and created a framework that can be applied in higher education.

She says:

“If I were to name some of the characteristics of people who can generate change, I would start with self-reflection.”

Dr Isabel Rimanoczy, author of the Sustainability Mindset book

She further explains that reflection is all about stepping back, slowing down, giving time for myself and looking at where I am heading with what I am doing now.

"Having a sense of higher purpose, whatever it is for you, also helps you not just randomly react to life's demands but use this purpose to be your compass."

Of course, there are other factors, but to be in a position to change something, you first need to stop and realise your situation.

Isabel shares:

"While we carry off the everyday things we need to get done, going through our to-do list, we are simply not suited to listen or learn.

Being conscious about what is out there for us and how we behave and operate is a great power.

I like to compare consciousness to a curtain that once you open, you cannot close again, and once you look behind it, you cannot un-see those things you find there.”

They surveyed over 20,000 students about changing mindsets, and one thing that emerged is that once the shift in thinking happens, it brings the need to share this discovery with others so they wouldn’t feel alone with their new thoughts.

This practically means that they start talking with their boyfriend, girlfriend, neighbours, friends, parents, etc.

In collaboration with other experts, Isabel launched the Sustainability Mindset Indicator (SMI) to help leaders map their current mindset concerning sustainability.

This is the first instrument to map and profile where an individual is on their journey towards a Sustainability Mindset.

The SMI is a questionnaire consisting of 36 bipolar statements, exploring three dimensions of our mindset for sustainability: the cognitive, the behavioural and the affective.

It offers a personalised report that highlights the unique skills and opportunities to shape a better world.

It also provides questions for reflection to expand awareness and leverage personal resources.

The 12 Principles for a Sustainability Mindset is introduced by Dr Isabel Rimanoczy in her book.

Dr Ciarán Ó Carroll, sustainability consultant at Change by Degrees and lecturer on the Postgraduate Course on Sustainability Leadership at the Technological University in Dublin, says that the current trend in sustainability leadership is to focus on integrating holistic and systemic approaches.

This would include concepts such as the Doughnut Economics model, which seeks to balance human needs with the planet's ecological limits, adding that there's a strong emphasis on climate justice, ensuring that efforts to combat climate change are fair and equitable.

Regarding sustainability in organisations, Ciarán says:

“While leadership commitment is crucial for setting the vision and allocating resources, a ground-up movement is essential for embedding sustainability into the culture and operations of the business.

The ideal mix involves leaders who set the agenda and empower employees at all levels to contribute ideas and take action, fostering a culture of innovation and shared responsibility.”

Dr Ciarán Ó Carroll, sustainability expert and lecturer

He emphasises that we need visionary leaders capable of inspiring and motivating their teams and open to learning and adapting.

“Successful examples include leaders who practice participatory decision-making, allowing teams to contribute to sustainability initiatives and those who adopt a coaching style, facilitating personal and professional growth within the context of sustainability goals."

Ciarán believes that sustainability leadership prioritises long-term ecological and social well-being over short-term profits, emphasising collaboration and inclusivity, and requires a deep understanding of ecological limits and social equity.

Based on his experience teaching postgraduate students, he says that the most challenging aspect is overcoming scepticism and demonstrating the tangible benefits of sustainability initiatives.

This involves not only highlighting the ethical and regulatory imperatives but also showcasing how sustainability can drive innovation, reduce costs, and enhance brand loyalty.

“That includes setting meaningful, ambitious goals, regularly measuring and reporting on progress in a transparent manner and fostering a culture that values sustainability as essential to the business's success,” Ciarán explains.

Once you have that understanding, you can move forward with implementing sustainability strategies.

But you need to avoid making it a box-ticking exercise.

Reflecting on his experience as a lecturer, he adds:

“The most challenging part for many students is often integrating sustainability into traditional business models and strategies, requiring a deep understanding of both sustainability principles and business acumen to create solutions that are both effective and viable.”

For Ciarán, one of the most influential people in sustainability leadership is Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, Chair of The Elders Foundation and fierce advocate for climate issues.

“Her work brilliantly showcases how leadership, when combined with a deep commitment to justice and equality, can drive significant progress in sustainability.”

What he also finds fascinating is Robinson`s ability to articulate the interconnectedness of climate change, social equity, and human rights and then mobilise action at both grassroots and global levels.

“Mary Robinson exemplifies the kind of leadership that sees the bigger picture and acts with compassion and conviction, making her a true role model in sustainability leadership.

Her work is a reminder that to truly address the challenges of sustainability, we must look at them through a lens that encompasses not just the environmental impact but also the social and ethical implications.”

Szilvia Szabó

Szilvia Szabó Author

Journalist, Editor
Journalist, Editor