Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
April 21, 2022

Earth Day – a call for leadership

Earth Day offers each of us a welcome opportunity to reflect not only on the extraordinary gifts of nature, but also on the critical role we all play as stewards of the natural resources on which our prosperity depends.

We are all guilty of taking for granted the planet on which we live to the point where today, we face the greatest collective challenge humanity has ever seen. This challenge of investing in our planet, protecting the environment and accelerating sustainable solutions is critical to ensuring we can co-exist in equilibrium with nature long into the future.

To implement these solutions at scale, we need a coalition of the willing; we need unprecedented collaboration across sectors and across nations. Above all, we need world-class leadership.

For decades, writers like Rachel Carson (Silent Spring), Bill McKibben (The End of Nature) and David Wallace-Wells (The Uninhabitable Earth) have warned of the devastating consequences of biodiversity loss and climate change. More recently, a series of IPCC reports have laid bare the scientific evidence that catastrophe looms unless we instigate “rapid and deep” cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

Corporate leaders are recognising that the non-financial costs of doing business could threaten their license to operate. Further, investors, customers and employees are ready if not anxious for change. Countless organizations have now set net zero greenhouse gas emissions targets, an increasing number have committed to science-based targets, and many more are in the process of doing so . There will be no shortage of people calling for a just transition and holding leaders to account.

Sustainability has moved from the fringes of corporate life to the very heart of strategy. This is not just good for the environment, it’s good for business. We can already see how the energy transition is spurring extraordinary creativity in renewables; how cleantech innovations such as hydrogen electrolyzers, new battery technologies and carbon capture and storage are creating new markets; how climate-smart agriculture technologies are improving yields in emerging markets most affected by climate change while helping reduce emissions.

At Spencer Stuart, we are proud to play an active role in accelerating change, both within our firm and by partnering with clients to discover and develop leaders who will help them achieve their sustainability goals and broader commitments.

Solving climate change and preserving biodiversity will require what Hubert Joly calls “the end of zero-sum leadership.” It will demand vision, ambition, creativity and collaboration. It will test the ability of leaders to operate outside their normal frames of reference, since the level of impact necessary to effect lasting change goes well beyond what any organization can achieve on its own.

It will also require ingenuity, optimism and a deep regard for our planet. I’ll leave the last word to Rachel Carson: “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”