As we began the UN Decade of Action and approached the 20th anniversary of the UN Global Compact, it was with an acute awareness that we were not on track to meet the 2030 deadline to transform our world. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, further exposing fundamental weaknesses in our global system and the fragile nature of our progress to date. With less than 4,000 days remaining until the 2030 marker, we need to turn commitment into action. As we set out to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time for all companies to raise their ambition for people, planet and prosperity.
For transformation at the level and scale needed, organizations need to focus on making sustainability sustainable. This is more than a matter of strategy, policy and process — it is fundamentally about leadership and people. Leaders on boards and in the C-suite have a huge opportunity to make sustainability central to their organization’s culture and leadership, yet only in 4 per cent of non-executive and senior executive appointments is sustainability experience or mindset a requirement.
For this reason, the United Nations Global Compact and Russell Reynolds Associates set out on a collaboration to answer an important question: how can organizations make sustainability core to the DNA of their leadership teams? To answer this, we conducted in-depth interviews and did background analysis on a group of 55 sustainability pioneers — Chief Executive Officers (CEO) and board members from across continents and industries with a notable track record of focusing on and making progress towards sustainability goals in tandem with commercial results.
These leaders are interesting because they have made progress where others have not. They are pioneering the business transformation that is so critical to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The analysis of them provides unique insight into the characteristics and actions needed to be a sustainable leader and how that can help us identify, enable and develop the sustainable leaders of tomorrow. Sustainability is a leadership imperative. The time to act is now.