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How a coaching approach can help business leaders clarify their sustainability goals

Consumers are demanding greater environmental accountability from businesses. Leaders can use coaching approaches to design sustainability goals that support a company’s core values.  

Wisdom Weavers

Sustainability is more than a trend — it’s good business

Brand value is tied to a product’s material and emotional impact. With the rise of conscientious consumerism and youth climate activism, wasteful manufacturing, pollution, or poor labor conditions can harm a brand’s reputation. Business leaders are responding to changing social values by introducing green products and sustainability goals. However, poorly integrated programs can detract from core business needs or lead to greenwashing.

Sustainable transformation in business requires a focus on values and purpose. Integrating a new program or initiative is easier when it aligns with the existing brand value. Additionally, leaders who clarify and articulate their sustainability goals can engage employees and effectively resource new initiatives. Wisdom Weaver Mark Topley works with business leaders to create strategies that support and enhance sustainable business integration. He explains that in his work supporting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategy, “I always start with a foundational exercise, which is about tying the ESG strategy to the company’s purpose and values. If they don’t have those already, we will work on that first. I draw the link for people that anything they do has to be tied to purpose and then filtered through their values. Otherwise, it will just look like a PR exercise. Unless the strategy is tied to values and purpose, the workforce will find it very difficult to navigate in terms of understanding why they’re doing this, which will then affect engagement.”

Adopting similar coaching approaches can help leaders to develop specific and impactful sustainability goals by:

  1. Identifying core values as they relate to sustainability
  2. Casting a long-term vision for environmental impact
  3. Identifying steps and resources needed to meet sustainability goals
  4. Anticipating challenges to stay accountable to the vision

1. Identifying core values provides a north star for sustainable business

Coaches often ask their clients to consider how values and purpose drive their actions. When actions do not match up with values, clients often struggle to invest in opportunities or stay motivated when they face challenges. Applying this lens to sustainable business, leaders who can establish sustainability goals to support their organization’s core mission and vision will be able to allocate company resources to improving environmental impact. 

Establishing mission and vision statements help clarify the purpose of a business. A company’s products and services excel when they meet a specific need. In addition to filling these needs, organizations operate under a ‘social contract’, where employees and consumers support a business when it meets culturally defined expectations. The new social contract is increasingly aware of the long-term impact of manufacturing and production on community and environmental health. If businesses do not work to mitigate environmental harm, they risk losing their social license. In the same way, companies that support planetary health and societal well-being are more likely to generate business and attract top talent.

2. Casting a long-term vision helps leaders clarify their desired impact

Once a company can define its core vision, taking a long-term perspective helps leaders to identify which sustainability goals might support the existing mission. Casting a long-term vision clarifies the impact of daily work and can help teams to allocate resources towards a shared goal. Wisdom Weaver John Friedman explains, “Many businesses can find their core purpose links up to one or more of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).” A coaching approach takes a future-oriented perspective to confirm that a desired impact aligns with the core mission. John cautions that companies can quickly get off-track and try to take on secondary goals:

“Anything you do can have downstream effects; if you reduce pollution, reduce waste, which is an SDG, you are also impacting and benefiting life underwater because waste is not going into the oceans or rivers. But is that the primary SDG or secondary?”

John Friedman

Leaders will need to be able to envision the most important impact of their business and prioritize their actions around specific goals. Looking to the future is a valuable tool for evaluating the merit of different options and allocating resources. This perspective also helps teams and individual employees to understand how their work supports a greater impact. As workers increasingly look for purpose in their jobs, having a shared vision for the future can help employees tie their daily tasks to a greater purpose.   

3. Identifying steps and resources needed to meet sustainability goals

Whether a company is enhancing its current business model or adopting a new sustainability agenda, a coaching approach can help leaders map a trajectory for success. Coaches work with their clients to frame action steps by evaluating their current resources and finding ways to work towards a long-term outcome incrementally. This might involve developing future leaders, recruiting new talent, or enhancing efficiency in a department to increase profitability.

As the largest independent green energy supplier in India, Renew Power is strategically building capacity to fulfill its vision to “build the best renewable energy company in the world” with the long-term purpose of creating “a carbon-free world by accelerating the clean energy transition.” The startup built capacity by investing in wind, solar, and hydroelectric energy production while innovating energy storage solutions. Renew Power has gained private investment and government partnerships as it developed expertise. Through these partnerships and collaboration with other industry leaders, Renew Power lends its skills and services to support the clean energy transition in new markets and provide clean energy to Indian corporations working towards net-zero goals. Following the example of Renew Power, leaders can use a coaching approach to build capacity, identify partners, and gain new resources as they work towards long-term goals.

4. Anticipating challenges helps leaders stay accountable to the vision

Along with anticipating growth, a coaching approach helps leaders identify potential barriers and create strategies to overcome challenges. Predicting obstacles helps leaders to strengthen their sustainability plans while also focusing on accountability. Even if a particular milestone is behind schedule, leaders who can anticipate challenges and develop strategies aligning with their vision and mission will be able to keep their commitments.

Transparency and accountability will continue to shape businesses in the future as governments and consumers look to measure the environmental impact of industries. Companies that uphold a culture of transparency and accountability will lead in their markets as national carbon regulations, source tracing, and ESG investing value sustainability on par with financial measures.  

Coaching Empowers People

Coaches work with leaders to anticipate changing market expectations, adopt new strategies, and transform team culture around shared goals. As organizations and teams work to tackle complex and global issues, coaches can help clients identify milestones and acknowledge progress. Mergence Investment Managers in South Africa was already investing in renewable energy when they decided to work with a coach to strengthen team sustainability culture. Through this partnership, coaching helped leaders to measure their team’s environmental impact and communicate how behaviors like recycling or reducing energy use could improve the team’s carbon footprint. With a long-term vision to be carbon neutral, Mergence measured sustainability efforts in the office and celebrated team achievements in the company newsletter. By communicating clear steps towards a long-term vision, celebrating key milestones, and staying accountable to the vision, Mergence engaged both employees and clients to partner in their vision to be carbon neutral. After achieving neutrality, Mergence has now dedicated funding, management support, and a dedicated team to enhancing organizational sustainability.

The ICF Credentialed Coach Finder portal connects people with certified coaches who can help them achieve their particular coaching goals. As more countries move to regulate environmental impact and support national goals for carbon neutrality, coaches can help organizations consider how their mission and vision can promote sustainable actions that minimize harm and restore natural environments. Beyond meeting regulations, coaches can also help organizations to lead in their industries through sustainable transformation that focuses on long-term global impact.

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