Manage Change. Don’t Let it Manage You.

managing sustainabilityBy: Randi Kruse

Every two years, thousands of people from around the world interested in advancing sustainability come together in Vancouver for three intense days of learning and networking. Since 1990, the GLOBE biennial conference has served as a major world platform to transform environmental challenges into business opportunities. It’s like the Grammy’s for thought leaders, but with less red carpet and gowns.

This year, the discussion themes were selected in a context of turbulent economic times. Unstable capital markets coupled with recessionary forces and spending restraint are putting huge pressures on governments and corporations across the globe. The GLOBE organizers added some cultural wisdom to the event by sharing that the Chinese character for ‘crisis’ amalgamates two symbols: one represents risk, the other opportunity. This leads me to wonder: How can we as a society find the silver lining to our global crises and advance corporate social responsibility? What can we do to build a sustainable economy through innovation?

Perhaps the opportunity for change lies with collaboration between leaders from academic, commercial, and political spheres around the world. GLOBE has a major emphasis on meaningful interaction between businesses, municipalities, technology leaders, and public policy decision-makers. To support this philosophy, Energy Advantage hosted an event at GLOBE with the sole purpose of creating connections to accelerate the development of a more sustainable economy. Over an informal dinner in historic Gastown, leaders in the real estate industry from across Canada joined Peter Robinson, the CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation, to ponder their role in promoting social and economic innovation.

It’s interesting that GLOBE included the Chinese interpretation of crisis as a crossroads for society; this cultural image aligns well with one of David Suzuki’s most profound insights about the evolution of humanity. Dr. Suzuki has spoken for decades about the assets of our earliest ancestors being our brains rather than our bodies. It wasn’t our speed on land or in water that allowed us to dominate the planet – it was our ability to look ahead, predict danger, and change course accordingly. Foresight – the uniquely human capability to adapt plans for the future based on our experiences of the past – was the basis of our success.

But I don’t think that GLOBE got everything right. I can’t help but pause when I read the theme for day three was around managing change. For a number of reasons, I take issue with framing sustainability to be about directing a clear outcome. Sustainability is by its very nature emergent; it is the combination of many social, economic, and ecological factors that can’t – and shouldn’t – be controlled. Beyond semantics, it simply doesn’t advance social innovation to talk about the need for change or how to manage it. From a psychological perspective, people have a visceral reaction to “change.” It’s threatening, and most of us try to avoid it as much as possible (don’t believe me? Ask yourself when you last chose a different brand of toothpaste). I think it’s far more useful to place innovation at the heart of sustainability, and to provide positive illustrations from the public and private sector that clearly illustrate the benefits of an ever-evolving and improving practice.

Lucky for us, we don’t have to look far. Energy Advantage is fortunate to be working with corporate and municipal leaders across the country. Want to join the party? The red carpet is waiting for you.

Randi is a social marketing and corporate sustainability planner with ten years of communications management experience.

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