Is Leadership Really Sustainable?

June 4, 2021 – As the world gradually starts to lift the restrictions imposed as a result of COVID-19, many business leaders are questioning the capitalist models that have been used to build society. From a clean tech perspective, it is a historic moment in which business leaders can choose to return to the world of pollution and waste or they can choose to accelerate the transition to a future where profit, revenue and results are aligned to environmental and sustainability goals. And it is in these times of change that leadership and its collaborative skills are decisive.

“If we are unable to protect our natural capital—the planet—there will soon be no value to capture, products to sell, or jobs to create,” says Rui Guedes de Quinhones, managing partner of EMA Partners, in a new report. Sustainable leadership occurs when business leaders (usually chief executive officers and board members) run their companies with the environment, society and long-term sustainability goals in mind. Referred to as the PPP (people, planet, profit), or the triple ‘last line’ approach (in an allusion to the net results of the actions of the organization), a leader guided by the principles of sustainability takes into account the interests of its different stakeholders (from employees, consumers, business partners, future generations) and their shareholders.

“It is about leading in a way that benefits societies and the environment, while maintaining financial and economic performance,” said Mr. Guedes de Quinhones. “It is more important and urgent than ever before to find the right balance between delivering to short-term financial pressures and long-term sustainability goals.”

Walking the Talk

In the report, EMA Partners points to a number of examples of courageous leaders who in recent years have bet their careers in this direction, with enormous success. These include Paul Polman (ex-Unilever CEO), Claus Aagaard from Mars, Jesper Brodin from IKEA, Rosa Macario from Patagonia, Tim Cook from Apple, and others.

“But what are the characteristics that make these leaders the benchmark for combating the climate crisis whilst keeping their companies with healthy and profitable growth?” said EMA Partners. “Firstly, they have an ability to envision a fairer and more balanced future, aligned with a sustainable business vision. Secondly, they have tremendous energy to promote change, based on technology and innovation, while being deeply empathetic with the various actors involved (employees, regulators and governments, partners, producers, and consumers).”

“Finally, the one that should be considered to be inseparable from the individual and the most important: their personal dedication to the cause of sustainability,” said the report. “They ‘walk the talk’ rather than leadership based on the concept of ‘Do what I say, not what I do,’ and they strongly believe in social justice and protecting the environment.”

Related: For Executive Recruiters, a New Way Forward

This means that it is not enough to just put on the shoes of a leader who is aware of the challenges of sustainability and then take them off as citizens, consumers, educators, neighbors, or friends. “The leaders who live and breathe sustainability in their everyday lives will be the ones who identify opportunities for improvement in every corner of their company through innovation and technology – from changes in legislation and every production line to the processes of manufacture or extraction of raw material,” said EMA Partners. “Profit and future sustainability will be in the hands of those who know how to innovate, guided by the culture of their organization, driven by moral principles and oriented towards change.”

Small Gestures

And this is true for all of us, in the small gestures of each day, in our choices and through our actions. “The planet earth has already survived many environmental catastrophes during its billion-year history,” said the report. “However, as the extinction of dinosaurs has proven, the human species does not necessarily have this same capacity to survive. If we continue to destroy the fragile ecosystem on which we depend, mother nature will be in charge of eliminating us and will continue on its evolutionary path. It is important that the leaders of today continue to remember this and make decisions which will ultimately deliver both profit and sustainability.”

Since 1988, EMA Partners has partnered with multinational corporations, governments, and not-for-profit organizations across a variety of industry sectors and functional areas. It has more than 40 offices on six continents, and the firm continues to expand globally.

Mr. Guedes de Quinhones joined EMA Partners in 2019 as country partner for Portugal. He has extensive experience in strategic development, leadership and organizational assessment across several industries, such as consumer, retail and services, technology, marcom, government and not-for-profit, healthcare and financial services.

Known for his role in the not-for-profit sector, Mr. Guedes de Quinhones worked as vice president of one of the largest social centers in the country and as president of the Portuguese Association of Cycling Without Age in Portugal, a popular movement started in 2012. He holds a law degree from Universidade Autonoma de Lisboa and is a post graduate in digital marketing and social media from ISEG Business School.

Related: Executive Search Enters a Pivotal Moment

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

Share This Article


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments