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What makes a sustainability leader?

David Beach  |  11/25/13 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Misc

What makes a successful sustainability leader? And what are the biggest sustainability challenges going forward?

This week's Crain's Cleveland Business put those questions to several observers of the local sustainability scene. My answers follow. What would you say?

Citizen leaders<br />The annual Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit is a gathering place for rising sustainability leaders.

What attributes are necessary to be a leader in the sustainability sector of tomorrow?

A sustainability leader must be a systems thinker with a long time horizon — someone who can understand complex relationships between economic, environmental and social issues and who is dedicated to building institutions that will flourish for generations. And since our present society is very unsustainable in many ways, the sustainable leader must be a determined and courageous change agent. He or she must be able to communicate the need for change and inspire others to act. This requires a strong faith that a more sustainable and healthier world is possible, even though it might be dramatically different from the world we know today. To be authentic in this role, he or she should set a good, personal example — living an ecological life that minimizes consumption, carbon emissions and waste.

From your perspective, what are some of the most significant challenges in sustainability going forward?

One could make a long list of big sustainability challenges: climate change, biodiversity loss, soil loss, water shortages, ocean acidification, disparities of wealth and opportunity, and so on. But the biggest challenge might be ethical. We lack an ethical framework that forces us to account for actions that undermine the prospects of future generations, the global poor and other species.

See comments from other observers of the sustainability scene here. And see Crain's special feature on 2013 sustainability leaders here.

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