4 Keys to Building Sustainability

May 14, 2013
By
Rebecca Henderson

Rebecca Henderson

With so much innovation that occurs in the business of green tech, it’s easy to lose sight of what it means build sustainability, whether in a corporate environment, as a business, or in a community.

Rebecca Henderson, McArthur University professor at Harvard Business School, who talks on sustainability issues, spoke this week at the Verge conference in Boston, hosted by GreenBiz, and reminded us that building sustainability requires a cultural shift as much as a technological shift.

“I think we live at one of the most exciting and difficult times in history,” Henderson says, adding that we cannot make the transition to a sustainable world without mobilizing all of us.

She offers four keys to doing this:

Develop an entrepreneurial mindset

This should be self evident, though to me it means doing new things, which is largely what sustainability and green tech is all about—and getting yourself or your initiative known. Marketing, networking, and creating partnerships are vital to getting people on board, whether in a corporation or community. Network and find ways to meet the needs of those in your organization or community.

Have compassion for the core

By this Henderson says we need to offer people the hope of building a new economy. We can’t just tell them this is the way it is supposed to be. We have to show them that sustainability can mean prosperity, more jobs, and economic progress. Otherwise, it’s a boring, green and wholly unattractive option. And did I hear of a study about climate change being the least concern to some Americans, while we’ve nearly eclipsed 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, beyond the presumed threshold of 350 ppm? Yikes.

Become rational about emotions

Talk values in a way that motivates people, whether they work for you or you’re looking to work for them. And remember that people react differently to different value propositions, be they money savings, saving the environment, conserving resources, health, energy independence and more. Know who you’re talking with, and find out what motivates them.

Develop a systems mindset

Or become a systems “architect.” Pursue partnerships between business and government and become active partners in these ventures, whether on a large scale or small.

Henderson also recommends that you take 5 minutes an hour or 15 minutes to a half-hour a day to reflect on who you are and recenter your values. In a company setting, recenter on values that brought you together as a group once a week or month, and remember that you are a part of a broader system.

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