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The sustainability revolution is upon us, with several factors driving the need for rapid change. We are seeing environmental expectations and limitations intensify in line with political agreements and net-zero targets. Consumers are demanding more from their chosen brands, while today’s purpose-minded generation are voting with their feet and opting to dedicate their time and skills to organisations that align with their values.

The challenges ahead are significant, but also offer a remarkable opportunity to do things differently and have a positive global impact. In the first article in our sustainability series, we explored how to engage the different groups in your organisation’s sphere of influence. In this article, we focus on ways to boost sustainability by engaging your internal leadership and talent.


To shape, deliver and embed meaningful change, it’s crucial to start with your people. When equipped with the right knowledge and tools, and motivated by a common goal, they can be your biggest source of innovation.

In reality though, we all know that making change happen is hard. We come across the same constraining factors time and time again, whether that’s a lack of funding, focus, engagement, time or capability. Add to that today’s wider challenges of ‘burnout’, extreme change fatigue and record levels of employee turnover, and it’s no surprise that it can be tough to focus on environmental or socially-responsible initiatives.

To make real change, organisations are bringing sustainability into the heart of their corporate strategies, building knowledge and capability, and making the bold calls to move their cultures and operating models towards a more sustainable future.

Our philosophy on change includes four key elements – lead, connect, equip and embed. A joined-up approach targeting these areas can help you tackle your internal barriers and create change.

1. Lead: Make it matter

Given the many competing priorities that senior leadership face, sustainability efforts need to be co-ordinated and focused to have a meaningful impact.

Does the topic of sustainability get enough airtime at your organisation, or does it feel more like lip service? Do longer-term sustainability objectives have equal standing with short-term financial goals? If not, consider how sustainability could be more closely tied to your vision, objectives and KPIs so that it becomes an enabler of your overall strategy. Accelerate your journey by building a coalition of leaders and sponsors speaking the same language and reaching for the same goals.

Some organisations are even opting to strengthen leadership accountability and commitment through financial incentives. Salesforce has announced that from this year it will tie a portion of executive variable pay to four environmental, social and governance (ESG) measures focused on equality and environmental sustainability.1 This is an era that requires radical collaboration and action. By coaching and empowering leaders to explore new models and advocate for change, we can move past greenwashing and forge a new path.2

2. Connect: Make it personal

We often feel we must have the right knowledge to lead credibly. However, the topic of sustainability can be overwhelmingly complex and many of us have a lot to learn. Those who are visibly taking steps to learn, engage and demonstrate an authentic personal commitment are setting the best example to create genuine change around them. Combining this with leadership commitment, energy and action at all levels will be key.

Do you know what topics matter most to your people? Who is already championing these and what networks are they using? Which area could have the greatest impact if it were given the right support?

Organisations that are crowdsourcing sustainability ideas from across their communities, focusing on what their people care about and empowering them to act, are generating momentum, engagement and results. For example, since 2018 the HKX Roots movement has brought together champions from across Havas agencies in London (including Gate One) to drive and deliver both corporate and personal changes, and create ‘a place for people and the planet to flourish’.

3. Equip: Make it easy

Have you put the right tools and training in place to upskill your organisation for the journey ahead? Can you break the challenge down into a pragmatic plan that lets you test and learn along the way?

While some members of your team may already be passionate and well informed about these topics, for many, the field is too broad, too technical, too scary or seemingly too remote to pique their interest. To tackle this, education and capability building are essential. We also recommend creating change interventions to help people identify how their role relates to the bigger picture and what tangible actions they can take on a day-to-day basis. Personas, user stories and blogs can be invaluable tools, highlighting the difference individuals can make in their own sphere of influence.

When it comes to planning and managing change, taking an adaptive, agile approach will help you move quickly, incorporating feedback and learnings at each step, and demonstrating value to build momentum and engagement.

4. Embed: Make it count

For sustainable action to thrive and take hold in your organisation, it’s vital that your culture is set up to support the fundamental changes required.

Do your people feel empowered to try new ways of doing things, even if they might not be the easiest, cheapest or quickest approaches? Is the path clear for change to happen or is it likely to get stifled by a desire to keep things how they are?

We are witnessing a ‘purpose’ culture in more and more organisations today, where meaning and positive impact are prized above profit. But in pursuing any specific culture, it’s inevitable you’ll be faced with cultural dilemmas – forks in the road where you must choose one path or another. Examples include whether adaptability is valued over structure, empowerment over hierarchy or, as referenced above, long-term objectives over short-term wins.

After assessing how these dimensions play out across your organisation, you’ll be better placed to bridge the gap between how things are now and how they’ll need to be in the future by introducing targeted culture interventions.

The sustainability shift

By weaving together change initiatives across these four elements, you’ll begin to see a shift in how sustainability is perceived, embraced and actioned within your organisation. Looking externally, your influence can reach much further when you consider the impact of your customers and the decisions they make.

Lucy Athawes

The time is now for businesses to take action to show they are a key part of the solution and not just the problem. Gate One can help businesses to overcome the challenges and explore the opportunities being a sustainable business unlocks.