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How to Become a Sustainability Leader

Leaders are traditionally defined as individuals who influence their environment and their colleagues through their actions, attitudes, and characteristics. Charming. Inspiring. Inspirational. Affirmed. Communication skills. Traditional definitions of leaders and leadership use all of these words.

By implementing sustainable practices, we improve the quality of people’s lives while safeguarding the natural ecosystems and resources that sustain human well-being.

Sustainability and leadership

We are facing a global, environmental crisis that will likely make the next four decades the most influential in human history. We must act decisively and thoughtfully to meet this vast challenge, and we require individuals with experience in the role of leadership in such a scenario.

This resource explores definitions of leadership, explains why leadership is needed to ensure sustainability efforts succeed, and explains how Bard’s sustainability masters programs provide the next generation with leadership education.

Leadership is the cornerstone of sustainable efforts

Environmental issues are a looming global crisis that no one can ignore. As a result of the 2015 Paris Agreement, global awareness and cooperation in combating climate change have entered a new phase. In most nations and large corporations, environmental threats are being addressed and sustainability supported.

The traditional leadership model emphasizes a strong personality cult around a particular leader or individual. People like Mahatma Gandhi and Jeff Bezos, Indra Nooyi, and Steve Jobs are examples. Leaders tend to possess certain personality traits or inborn qualities that are associated with this type of leadership.

No, We Need Shared Leadership

According to academic research and experience in the area of sustainability, an alternative leadership model is essential to dealing with 21st-century challenges.


Sustainability professionals should know how to cultivate shared leadership competencies from a recent article published in Sustainability: The Journal of Record.

There are occasions where shared leadership is manifested due to a convergence of three factors:

Orientation. The direction of a project is determined by the goals and strategies stakeholders agree upon.

Coordination. Coordinating resources between stakeholders is how stakeholders achieve alignment.

Having commitment. Stakeholder commitment occurs when stakeholders are willing to sacrifice for the common good.

To create radical change toward sustainability, communities, organizations, and individuals must commit to it. The ability to affect change for the better in the world through the power of shared leadership is essential for career success in sustainability.

Leading for sustainability: The Corporate Desire for Sustainably Leading Leaders

One of the main reasons we require a new type of leadership model is that sustainability challenges are “wicked” problems, which have a high degree of complexity, a high amount of conflicting information or opinion, numerous interconnected factors, among others.

As companies hire for specialized sustainability teams and departments and improve their sustainability awareness across the board, they are increasingly putting a focus on hiring high-quality sustainability specialists.

A sustainable way of thinking about business is vital to a company’s long-term growth, popularity, and profitability. For this transition to be successful, they need leadership that is familiar with the shared leadership model, as well as the ability to face complex or “wicked” challenges with comfort and flexibility.

The Sustainability Community: How to Succeed

A relatively small but growing community of sustainability practitioners, it tends to be very supportive. Bard’s MBA program is incredibly unique and has an incredible community.

Despite the intensity of the residency model, deep relationships develop… The program also happens to be community-led, aligning well with how sustainability has shaped the field more broadly.

It is an inclusive, tight-knit community. Our global challenges force us to devote time, talents, and attention to a common project, which includes helping and supporting each other.

It is important for a leader to rely on his or her network of people for assistance, support, and resources. In networking, you build a team of people interested in your local and global sustainability challenges,

and who are passionate about your work. It is simply the ability to make a change that powers a power network; power is the ability to make it happen.

Start developing your network now if you want to work in a sustainability-related field or role.

How to Grow Your Sustainability Network:

Offer to assist those who are influential in these fields.

Seek out graduate programs that emphasize leadership development and professional growth.

How to Expand Your Sustainability Network

  • Get in touch with the powerful people who are working in their fields and offer assistance.
  • Get involved in a diverse community that incorporates all the facets of life: art, story, intellect, resources, hierarchy, etc.
  • Seek out graduate programs that emphasize leadership development and professional growth.


Sustainable Development Crash Course

Let’s go through the principles of sustainability together. Get a glimpse of what Bard’s Center for Environmental Policy could teach you in two weeks.

Leaders who are developing professionally:

Leaders need to recognize their own potential for leading a flourishing world in the context of sustainability. As a resource, it needs to be developed, managed, and we need to understand our motivations and drivers.

Weekends C2C. Participants in these communication-intensive weekend retreats will gain skills in policy, politics, and business so they can become future sustainability leaders. In addition to professional and educational opportunities,

graduates of these workshops join a national network. Fellows at the Center for Global Citizenship are leaders with a vision for a better future. Boosting their career is our mission.

Internships for professionals baked into the curriculum. All students complete a four to a six-month, high-level internship during their second year at the university, across the country in Washington DC; internationally in Thailand, South Africa, and Geneva;

and close to home in the Hudson Valley. An internship can lead to a job between 30% and 50% of the time. Internships are important for graduates’ resumes, and they play a key role in building career networks.

Mentors and speakers in a network. With an extensive network of speakers and mentors, the Bard community enables students to connect with talented, knowledgeable individuals in the world of sustainability. Students, alumni,

and faculty from our school participate in The Impact Report podcast, which features sustainability leaders from all over the globe, such as the CEO of a NY City company and a small social enterprise in rural Africa.

Faculty who are leaders in their fields, with extensive experience. A great number of Bard’s faculty members are excellent teachers who are both engaged practitioners. In fact, all of Bard’s classes are taught by practicing professionals who are building sustainable businesses in their day jobs.

Our urban location allows us to pull from an incredibly rich pool of applicants, ensuring the highest level of academic excellence in the classroom, as well as the best possible personal engagement with students.

Survey of 2021 Sustainability Leaders

Over 700 sustainability experts from countries across the globe have participated in this 25th edition, which has been held against a backdrop of unprecedented pandemics.


Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, experts no longer believe it will slow progress in sustainability. Over the coming decade, almost half of sustainability professionals (49%) predicted a decrease in the priority of the sustainability agenda, an expectation that has now decreased to just one-quarter (24%).

A growing number of challenges related to sustainability are of concern. Most issues are ranked as increasingly urgent by experts for the second year in a row. In spite of climate change being at the top of the priority list, concern remains stable.

On the perception of their contribution to development priorities, NGOs continue to perform better than other institutional actors. More than six out of ten experts say NGOs are the strongest contributors to sustainable development. In terms of contributions to sustainable development, the World Wildlife Fund remains the most well-known NGO.

The perceptions of national leadership in sustainability are largely positive among northern European governments. Most experts conclude that northern European governments are at the top when it comes to sustainable development, including Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Finland.

There are a few new entrants to the top tier of corporate sustainability leaders. As far as sustainability leadership goes, Unilever ranks first and Patagonia ranks second among corporate leaders, but the gap between them is narrowing.

It is Brazil’s Natura &Co that has broken into the top three, overtaking IKEA and Interface. IKEA, Interface, Danone, Microsoft, NestlĂ©, Tesla, Royal Dutch Shell, Kering, Schneider Electric, Suzano, and Walmart round out the list of the top 15.

The strongest driver of recognized leadership in sustainable business models and strategies, overtaking target setting and creating a vision for sustainability.

In the current climate, sustainability leaders have emerged as a powerful style of leadership. Several studies have recommended exploring the mechanism and conditional boundaries for sustainable leadership’s significant effect on sustainable performance.

Accordingly, this study will investigate the mediated interrelationship between leadership and performance as well as psychological empowerment. In Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei Darussalam, 369 small and medium enterprises were surveyed using a cluster-sampling approach.

A total of 41% of responses were received. The proposed hypotheses were empirically confirmed using structural equation modeling (variance-based) analysis. This study ran a moderated-mediation analysis using SPSS’s PROCESS Macro. Based on the results of the research,

organizational learning will have a greater indirect effect on sustainable leadership at higher levels of psychological empowerment. We have also included implications and future research directions based on the empirical evidence presented here.

We have so far attempted to examine the coupling between sustainably leading, organizational learning, empowerment, and sustainable performance in this study.

Performance Management

Among business organizations, there is a shift in the way performance is measured. In the past, organizations measured their performance using assets, market positions, and liabilities. The financial performance of businesses is being aligned with their social and environmental performance,

which is known as sustainable performance. Corporate social responsibility has close ties to sustainability as a business strategy. Since the environment, society, and the organization are interconnected, they always drive win-win solutions. Incorporating social, ecological,

and environmental performance into the organization’s process provides a competitive advantage. Those organizations which reduce the negative impacts of their operations on the environment and society will endure long-term success.


In order to reap long-lasting business, organizations must employ sustainable practices. Currently, stakeholders from a wide range of interests are pressuring and praising companies and organizations to fulfill their voluntary environmental and social goals together with their final objectives.

Obtain a sustainable leadership capable of devising strategies, policies, and programs to foster sustainable practices at the organizational and social levels while igniting economic progress. We use sustainable practices to link leadership and management,

as well as green leadership and eco-sensitive leadership interchangeably. In the green economy, a sustainability leader is considered a top priority by a variety of stakeholders. Furthermore, Riseley argues that sustainable leadership plays an important role in cultivating organizational learning.

An organization’s competitive advantage comes from sustainable leadership. Leadership that is sustained creates leadership opportunities for organizations through innovation, continuous improvement, and sustained competitive advantage.

As a sustainability leader, you create an environmental vision by influencing culture and forming interconnections with stakeholders in order to cope with climate change; therefore, you are the driving force for green initiatives and ecological performance at an organizational level.

sustainability leaders also reduce costs and increase revenue potential by increasing organization performance. Leading organizations that are sustainable have proactive approaches that monitor market changes proactively and establish relationships with internal as well as external stakeholders.

Within an organization, sustainability leaders have long-term visions, put an emphasis on green initiatives, recognize sustainability issues, and implement green management systems. In contrast, sustainable leaders focus on achieving optimum performance for society and the environment outside the organization.

Sustainability benefits organizations in many ways, including protecting the environment and ensuring resource efficiency.

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