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How can business leaders make tangible steps towards increasing sustainability?

05 Feb How can business leaders make tangible steps towards increasing sustainability?

The climate crisis represents one of the most complex problems facing our society today, and the overwhelming majority of UK businesses are seemingly struggling to keep up.

In line with the government’s new plan to reduce carbon emissions by 68% by 2030, UK laws now require large companies to share information on any sustainability risks and impacts they make. However, a recent audit carried out by ClientEarth discovered that 90% of the UK’s 250 largest listed companies make no reference to climate-related factors in their financial accounts, whilst fewer than 25% of companies clearly reference the impact that climate change will have on their business model.

This research suggests that a great number of businesses have thus far been unable to successfully transform their operations to create a more sustainable model. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is undoubtedly the complexity posed by such a problem. How can business leaders realistically transform their operations to dramatically reduce their footprint, without making wholesale, damaging changes to their business models?

With this in mind, Manish Jain, Co-Founder of Complexity University*, discusses the pitfalls facing businesses looking to improve their sustainability initiatives, and shares insight into how business leaders can effectively move their operations towards a more sustainable future:

“When many business leaders and companies come face to face with a challenge, the first response is typically to call a meeting and make a plan. There are lots of meetings to talk about what will be done, consultants are brought in to share their ideas and opinions on what must be done, and a lot of time and money is spent planning the approach.

This kind of traditional strategic planning is suitable for predictable, technical business challenges, but simply isn’t effective when it comes to tackling tasks as complex and intricate as transforming a business to become considerably more sustainable.

In this instance, the results of a planning-based approach rarely turn out as favourably as we hope, and in many cases businesses continue to plough resources into an ineffective solution to justify the amount of time and money spent on developing the initial strategy.

Businesses must instead take an alternate path, employing an interactive ‘learn by doing’ approach in order to quickly and consistently introduce changes and achieve tangible results. There’s only so long that a problem or challenge can be studied from behind a desk – often, effective solutions present themselves only after experience is developed by simply confronting the problem and taking some action to solve it. When it comes to accounting for the inputs and outcomes of an intervention in any complex situation, a ‘multiple capitals’ approach is the only way to see the full picture of what success or failure looks like. When we consider financial capital alone as an input and an output, we fail to register the true outcomes of our approach.

Complexity University is committed to educating individuals, businesses and communities to adapt, revise, and fail fast to reach a more effective solution with minimal resources.”