Tone At the Top – Leaders Must Lead

You’re a CEO.  You have a lot on your plate.  People depend on you.  The buck always stops with you.  Your Board tells you that every quarter.  You’re busy, and you probably don’t even have time to read this post.  I’ll make this brief.

You need to be out front on sustainability.  Not your VP IR.  Not your CFO.  Not even your Chief Sustainability Officer.  The face of sustainability at your organization has to be you, and there is no workaround here.  The credibility of your sustainability effort rests on your demonstrated and vocal leadership in the area.  As the article in yesterday’s Industry Leaders magazine suggests, an organization who claims that sustainability is a priority but whose CEO is nowhere on the issue places a low ceiling on its sustainability cred.

The argument is pretty straightforward:  if the CEO is not leading the charge, then sustainability is (a) not a corporate priority, nor reflective of true corporate values, (b) unlikely to be integrated into either risk management or strategic planning, and (c) more likely to be window dressing at best, or brazen greenwashing at worst.

The buck stops with the CEO.  If you’re not where you need to be on  understanding sustainability, get yourself there.  Then have a frank conversation with your Board to ensure that they are aligned with your approach.  Then tell the world.  Directly and often.  Others within the organization will of course play their part, but it has to begin with you.  Tone at the top.

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