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Sustainability Leadership: Linking Theory and Practice

October 2011 – This paper aims to create a clearer understanding of the nature of sustainability leadership and how it can contribute to transformational change. It does this by locating sustainability within the leadership literature, defining the concept of sustainability leadership, and presenting a model of sustainability leadership in practice.

SustLeadTheoryPrac.pngBy Dr Wayne Visser, Senior Associate and Polly Courtice, Director, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

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The model was tested with a sample of senior business leaders and refined in line with their feedback. The model presents insights on sustainability leadership in three areas: context, individual characteristics, and actions. The model is illustrated using quotes from senior business leaders that are focused on sustainability in their organisations.

This paper is based on research conducted by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), which works with business, government and civil society to build the capacity of leaders, both to meet the needs of their stakeholders and to address critical global challenges. The paper is an attempt to create a clearer understanding of the nature of sustainability leadership and how it can contribute to transformational change.

The Model of Sustainability Leadership that we have developed was corroborated by interviews with the following business leaders, conducted in 2010: Neil Carson, CEO of Johnson Matthey; Ian Cheshire, CEO of Kingfisher; Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric; Philippe Maso, CEO of AXA; Jan Muehlfeit, Chairman of Microsoft Europe; Truett Tate, Group Executive Director: Wholesale, for Lloyds Banking Group; José Lopez, Executive Vice President: Operations and GLOBE of Nestle; and Sandy Ogg, Chief Human Resources Officer for Unilever. The paper and the model are illustrated by extensive quotations from these interviews.

Citation

Visser, W. & Courtice, P., 2011, Sustainability Leadership: Linking Theory and Practice, SSRN Working Paper Series, 21 October 2011.

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Published: October 2011

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