Helping business leaders drive planet-positive change

Xynteo’s managing partner Jonah Grunsell explains how to stay on track when it comes to reaching net zero
Climate activists hold up a sign saying "There is no planet B"

How can leaders avoid net-zero ambitions being disrupted by day-to-day concerns?

One common mistake is they don’t integrate a net-zero strategy into their core corporate strategy. With sustainability, you must weave it into everything that you do, and every pillar of your strategy must have a sustainability lens to create a direct link between your planet-positive commitments and the operational levers needed to realise them. Leaders should adopt a holistic scorecard and governance framework to measure progress against all metrics, rather than a separate ESG scorecard, which can make sustainability metrics less of a priority and not a critical part of running a high-performance organisation, as it should be.

What challenges do larger businesses face when shifting to more planet-friendly models?

Larger organisations tend to be hierarchical and fail to delegate when it comes to who is responsible for driving ecosystem change, while junior staff don’t feel empowered to act. Implementing change is only possible by thinking beyond the C-suite. Setting up cross-functional and cross-geographic teams at different levels of the business and empowering those teams can help drive faster, more impactful change. If you don’t, it rarely gets to the top of the priority list in the C-suite, and change implementation often becomes secondary to business-as-usual priorities.

What skills do leadership teams need to create planet-positive impact?

The first is agility. That’s about process, governance and making sure that enablers are in place to help create rapid change. Too many great ideas fail at the start because organisations have too many barriers associated with processes and ways of working. The second is having a culture of creativity and ensuring people within leadership have the capabilities and mindset to think about creative solutions to challenges. The third is empathy. Impactful change is only successful if you bring your people with you. If you don’t carefully consider the impact of change on your people and demonstrate genuine empathy, then often that change is doomed to failure.

How important is it to empower individuals within organisations to drive change?

It is absolutely critical. Change within organisations never succeeds if there is not buy-in throughout your organisation. If there isn’t buy-in about the rationale for change and how it will tangibly improve things and have a positive impact, then it will never get implemented properly. You really have to think from the shop floor up about why this change matters and go into very granular and personalised narratives to explain why it will make things better.

How can organisations embed sustainability through collaboration with external stakeholders?

Data sharing is one very important factor when it comes to enabling effective leadership and strategic decision making to realise impact. There is a huge amount of environmental data out there to support driving planet-positive change, but we’re pretty insight-poor. Without sharing data and insight across organisations, it’s hard to see the full picture about how you enact change. You end up working within an echo chamber and not engaging with different organisations who might have a very different perspective. By having holistic data and insight, you can identify what levers you can pull to drive positive change.

Why do leaders need to think wider on net zero to achieve ecosystem change?

It’s easy for organisations to identify key groups and stakeholders to engage with, but have you really thought about why they would want to engage with you and whether they are ready to engage? If you don’t find common ground and identify shared outcomes, there is no reason for them to engage and you will be unlikely to effectively work with them. Ecosystem change can seem big and scary because of the number and complexity of different actors involved. Starting with a small subset, cause group or thematic segment where you’ve got a shared business case and then scaling from there is often the best approach.

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