Published research: Individual Sustainability Leadership
Antwerp Management School and the European Petrochemical Association (EPCA) have joined forces to conduct research on the nature and benefits of individual sustainability leadership, drawing on expert opinion, best practice cases, and the existing literature.
Specifically, the characteristics, competencies, employee benefits, barriers, and enablers of individual sustainability leadership presented in this report have been distilled from 15 in-depth interviews with sustainability experts from industries both within and outside the petrochemical sector.
Individual Sustainability Leadership: Characteristics and Competencies
Individual sustainability leaders can be found throughout an organisation, from C-level to first-line workers in operations. The impact of this type of leadership might differ depending on the formal or informal role, where the level of authority, accountability, and sphere of influence are different. Additionally, the way sustainability topics are presented – using rational arguments or emotional motivation – affects how they are perceived. The interviews helped to define individual sustainability leaders as intrinsically motivated, endowed with moral courage and a creative mind, trustworthy, and emotionally intelligent. Additionally, they create visionary engagement and open communication, are literate on the topic of sustainability, have a firm business understanding, and bring a holistic view.
Employee Benefits of Individual Sustainability Leadership
Sustainability is not only about environmental challenges. It also includes, for example, employee diversity and employee well-being. This research highlights various employee benefits, including improvements in recruitment and retention of talent, workplace engagement and motivation, creativity and innovative thinking, purpose and pride, and a positive spill-over effect.
Barriers and Enablers of Individual Sustainability Leadership
Finally, the research also identifies the main barriers or obstacles that can threaten – and the factors that can enhance – an individual’s ability to effectively engage in sustainability leadership. Our interviews specifically highlight two barriers, namely short-term economic focus and perceived lack of personal capacity or self-belief, and two enablers, namely leadership development training and open, values-based culture with a shared vision that enables integrated sustainability. If organizations want to attract new talent and develop them into future leaders for sustainability, the barriers need to be overcome and the enablers should become an organizational priority.