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How can good leadership accelerate the implementation of green solutions in a company?

Not only are many of today’s customers interested in buying eco-friendly products, but a great number of employees support sustainability and want to work for environmentally- responsible companies.

How can business leaders help develop environmental awareness among employees and customers? Should leaders stress the importance of decision-making and the impacts of personal and business practices  on the environment?

I’ve been able to observe the various challenges within companies related to supporting environmentally-safe activities. Many managers struggle in understanding the complexity of the required changes needed to adapt or have a lack of belief that environmentally sound measures would indeed make a significant impact on the environment. To some, resource-efficient actions may appear to be nothing more than a marketing stunt.

When introducing change in a company, the leader's task is not to refer to numbers (although they inspire leaders) but provide inspiration by defining the actual goal. Clear and well-defined goals give people something to identify with because they carry additional value. At the same time,workers would be disinclined to accept change if it was portrayed as laborious and exhaustive, so it must be presented as attainable.

Vision sets the direction

A clear vision sets the direction by including all necessary resources, especially that of human resources. This is the image of an enterprise of the future. When modifying or updating environmental policy changes, it’s important that they be identified in a way that nurtures understanding and encourages engagement.  Simon Sinek proposes two fundamental changes in the strategy for communicating about the climate crisis.

First, he recommends labeling the crisis not as “global warming”, but rather “climate cancer”. In his opinion, if we start talking about the problem in this way, people will feel a stronger need to act because they’re more familiar with the stages and development associated with such a disease. People will probably then be more inclined to talk about global warming and its effects in 50 years’ time.

Second, according to Sink, instead of telling people that we have to save the planet, they must be warned that they and their families are in danger. They need to understand that failing to act today will negatively affect the lives of them and those they love.
We can’t encourage people to change by presenting them with logical reasons or the results of reports. We should engage them by influencing their emotions. Even though we’re not always aware, it is our emotions that accompany us and guide us at every moment in life. It is  our emotions and the needs that motivate  us to act.
When the vision that mobilizes employees at every level is defined, a strategy can be prepared that will ensure an equal understanding of what we intend to achieve together. “Top down” changes are rarely effective, but in the case of introducing new eco-friendly practices,  management teams should be the first to receive such training. Since proposed changes require new knowledge and a new skill set, advancements can only happen once team leaders have been trained, remain open to the complexity of change, and are willing to impart new ideas.

The changes will be complex, because they concern organizational changes in the structure of the company, new rules of cooperation between teams and departments, as well as the acquisition of new skills and competencies. Organizational and structural change may prohibit a reliance on the tools and resources that were once available to employees for many years. This departure  may cause a change in the number of employees, the number of jobs, and the number of working hours. It may also be associated with a change in existing employee duties, promotions, or cause degradation in the employment structure.

When we introduce organizational changes, it often involves new rules for team or department cooperation, depending on the assigned responsibility for environmental activities. Ideally, teams should have a real influence on how and with whom they want to collaborate, share information, and results. The sooner this is established, the easier it will be to cooperate. This teamwork avoids exacerbating certain conflicts and can help form and support new alliances.

Gaining new skills
The size and complexity of the newly proposed eco-friendly goal will determine the need for  retraining or training employees. This is a job for the HR department. In 2021, the highest priority for HR departments was building key skills and competencies. Therefore, I believe that most departments already have some experience naming and describing skills that are critical to their company and industry. This is an important factor that will allow a company  to assess its resources and employee skill sets and determine any deficiencies. Once those deficiencies have been addressed, leaders can then make important budget-related decisions. The HR department will need to provide a solid justification for its company and the lasting value of training. While employee training is a slightly simpler task, retraining requires the readiness and willingness of employees and remains a critical resource in a company’s vitality
It is worth considering the retraining of employees as an investment because as established workers, they already have an investment in the company. This redirection could help put them and the company in a stronger position more readily and help them continue to operate and remain competitive for years to come.

In today's reality, it’s no longer a question about “if” a company wants to pursue sustainability and introduce eco-friendly solutions that protect the natural environment. It’s rather a question of when and how to do it? This task is or will soon be placed before many leaders, managers, and owners of enterprises. For some businesses, legislation may dictate a more immediate response. But in some organizations, the pressure to change will be more gradual and guided by the “green” beliefs and decisions of customers and employees. The turning point defining a new “environment-friendly” direction of change will help speed up the process. But in my opinion, it’s necessary for companies to develop a program now that anticipates the change that will happen over the coming months and years. Companies can minimize risk by introducing programs that include training for the managerial staff first, and then for all employees.