Sustainable leadership

Sustainable leadership: The importance of an educational focus

Transformational change is inextricably linked to education. To make any kind of progress, you first need to adjust people’s perceptions, expectations and behaviors. This is why senior managers and specialists in a wide range of sectors need to take up educational leadership roles within their organizations. That is especially true when they are seeking to introduce widespread measures to target greater sustainability.

Being socially responsible — and finding more environmentally responsible products, services and systems — is now mandatory across the board. It is demanded by regulators, investors, customers, employees and often the personal ethics of senior management.

However, there is now considerable scrutiny on the validity of all claims made on this topic, and those audiences also seek evidence that organizations are genuine and successful in their sustainability activities. The term ‘greenwashing’ has been coined to describe disinformation used to create an environmentally responsible image that is just a façade.

To be transparent and accountable on this topic, organizations need two things. First, they require a workforce that is fully committed and engaged with their employer’s sustainability agenda. This generates the facts and figures that can be used to illustrate that you are credibly and consistently pursuing sustainability.

To make this happen, the leadership of the organization must invest in purposeful and continuous training and communication to deliver on their social and environmental policies.

The benefits of this focus

The benefits of being a socially responsible organization and having sustainable leadership initiatives in place certainly go far beyond legislative and ethical obligations. They include the fact that going green can sometimes enable companies to find ways to cut costs. For instance, a sustainability measure to source more things locally would cut your carbon footprint and could also provide significant savings on transport and delivery charges, while using less fossil fuel could make your venture more energy efficient.

For many organizations, the reasons to introduce sustainable leadership are tied up in people’s perceptions. Both employees and customers are likely to have increased respect and trust when an organization shows genuine commitment to being environmentally responsible. Sustainability is important to 78% of consumers, according to one survey, and well over half were willing to pay extra for brands they felt were eco-friendly.

Another way green agendas increase profit potential is by including robust ways to reduce resource waste. Finding more sustainable products, services, and systems can also be integrated into policies to tackle industry-specific safety concerns. For instance, discontinuing the use of solvents and other harsh chemicals can minimize the risk of workers being exposed to hazardous substances.

Another illustration would be focusing on better education for drivers in your fleet alongside logistical improvements to reduce fuel use and time expended for your company. Safer and better-coordinated fleet management provides both economic and environmental benefits.

Cost management

These reasons to practice sustainable leadership are impressive, so why isn’t every organization doing it? The fundamental obstacle is that it takes considerable skill, innovation and commitment to juggle social and environmental responsibility with other commercial priorities. In many situations, the day-to-day responsibilities are all-consuming, and investing in medium and long-term sustainability measures gets pushed to the background.

Sustainable leadership is sometimes expressed as PPP, which refers to the triple bottom line of managing people, planet and profit. For instance, there is a need to constantly evaluate the return on investment (ROI) on money spent on green initiatives to ensure value for money.

As it is often a complex task to manage so many large issues alongside everyday business operations, it becomes imperative that sustainable leaders first secure sufficient buy-in from their workforce. This enables them to find allies within their peer group and enough engaged staff to make positive change a reality.

This requires that sustainable leaders also have educational leadership skills they can apply to the proper execution and governance of their environmental policies.

The vital role of educational leaders

The ability to manage this complex topic starts with the level of education that the senior staff members themselves have achieved. This often requires committed and insightful individuals who have followed a specific educational leadership career path. An online Ed.D. in Education and Leadership from a reputable institution such as Rockhurst University equips graduates with abilities across a wide range of sectors. This includes creating corporate trainers and directors who have the ability to design, implement and assess lifelong learning projects. From this comes growth in the skills, knowledge and confidence of their employees. For more information on how to pave a successful educational leadership career path, click here.

From the basis of well-informed and enabled employees, you get far more assured delivery of your organization’s sustainability goals. This educational focus also stimulates a flow of new ideas from your team on how to do things in an eco-friendly manner.

Equipping your workforce to be green

A workforce-wide commitment to sustainability is the only way to ensure that when you do come under scrutiny, you can be transparent and accountable in how you execute your policies and procedures.

This starts with ensuring that employees genuinely understand the goals set by your sustainable leadership team. It is important to be clear regarding what is green to your organization. For instance, in a survey, people were asked, “What is biodiversity?”. The most common answer was a type of laundry powder.


Developing an educational program for your organization will ensure that everyone has a consistent perception of how important this is to the planet and to your profitability and performance. It will also equip employees with lifelong learning opportunities that constantly refresh and reinforce their perception of sustainability in a rapidly changing world.


Education is also a key part of building a strong organizational culture, as by providing continuous learning on the issues that matter, you fully demonstrate your sense of social responsibility and investment in your people. Creating pride in your organization’s proven track record on green issues can also help significantly with your recruitment and retention.


Educational leaders turn words into actions


Clearly, a better reputation, increased sales, improved staff and customer loyalty and better financial performance in general can result from introducing sustainable leadership within your organization. However, genuine social and environmental responsibility is about changes in behavior, not policies. To be authentic in your sustainability aims as an organization, your senior staff needs educational leadership skills to make those aims both achievable and accountable.

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