Don’t hesitate to declare a sustainability breakthrough

Leadership Blog  |  4 minute read

Justin Temblett-Wood

Written by Justin Temblett-Wood

Don’t hesitate to declare a sustainability breakthrough

126 countries have adopted, announced or are considering net-zero goals by mid-century according to UNEP’s 2020 Emissions Gap report. While initially encouraging, the report also points out that “Despite a dip in greenhouse gas emissions from the COVID-19 economic slowdown, the world is still heading for a catastrophic temperature rise above 3°C this century – far beyond the goals of the Paris Agreement.

In the absence of short-term action, grandiose climate declarations can feel fashionable and empty. They also set a bad precedent which can make organisations reluctant to declare their own sustainability breakthroughs for fear of greenwashing or falling flat. 

Short-term sustainability advancements are always something to shout about though. They’re a form of direct meaningful action which can be tracked, measured and promoted across our organisations. Net-zero targets are great, but only if they’re backed up by short-term goals that ensure these great green transitions start today.


Backing up declarations

All declarations need action to come into fruition. Announcements such as the Biden-Harris climate plan to become net zero by 2050 might feel empty because it’s such a long-term commitment, one in which the interim seems invisible. If statements don’t translate into immediate tangible actions then they essentially disappear.

Your organisation might be making a series of short-term climate commitments that seem trivial or inconsequential in contrast to net-zero targets but here’s the thing – they’re actually more impactful. Short-term commitments can drive immediate action here and now because they’re measurable and they spark conversations as well as other changes.


Short-term commitments are key

It’s easy to get caught up in the bigger aim to become entirely sustainable and find everything in the interim overwhelming. Starting off with short-term, actionable climate commitments sets a vision and direction for the whole organisation though. They help overcome hidden assumptions and contexts within teams that would otherwise limit innovation, and they’re the first critical first step in enrolling others to support and follow a vision. 


Some examples of short-term commitments organisations might make include:

  • Retrofitting high-emission assets to lower their emissions
  • Upskilling or reskilling employees via training which drives the organisation towards net-zero goals
  • Nominating a workplace ‘green champion’ to research and action sustainable products around the office
  • Making energy-efficient upgrades where you can: switch to using LED lights; use smart thermostats; supply staff with laptops instead of desktop computers
  • Providing public transport commuter benefits
  • Using green web hosting services


Create an existence system

Making a commitment is one thing, but there needs to be volition behind it to make it happen. Once a short-term sustainability commitment or declaration has been made, we need to create an existence system to animate and breathe life into it. Existence systems create the frameworks needed to make things happen. 

The existence system constructed by Paul Polman while CEO of Unilever is infamous. He created a new framework from which the organisation could interrogate the way it measured success. A notorious example of this occurred during a brand strategy meeting when he challenged their brand lead to articulate how their strategy would fulfil a purpose which was nothing to do with money or the brand. 

Existence systems are most effective when they create a series of short-term, actionable commitments with a direction of travel towards a larger long-term mission. The B Corp Certification route is a great example of this progression as the final award is broken up into a series of smaller breakthroughs. It allows organisations to commit to a huge goal via a trackable, progress-based journey.

It’s much easier for your people to connect to these short-term breakthroughs, as they empower employees to see and achieve real-time progress that builds a greater sense of accomplishment.


Don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good’

At Achieve Breakthrough, we don’t think striving for perfection works for anyone. Committing to and celebrating pockets of ‘good’ makes room for others to grow. It might not be net-zero yet but it’s progress.

Declaring sustainability wins as they happen is the perfect first step towards driving bigger and more sustainable projects. In doing so, we encourage departmental leaders to act on instinct without waiting for a top-down mandate and we inspire individuals to take permission without asking or waiting for it.

Looking to create an impossible future? Get in touch to explore how we can help you ignite your sustainability ambitions.


Published 05/04/2023

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