This is the first in a series of articles about the critical successful factors required for individuals and companies to achieve financial, social and environmental transformation through sustainable development. This first post discusses key competencies required of the Chief Sustainability Officer and previews the six sources of influence in changing behavior that will be covered in subsequent posts.

In only 25 years sustainability has become a major priority for companies and governments. But it isn’t easy to change behaviors. Reducing carbon emissions, conserving water, and protecting occupant health requires a commitment to change and investing the resources to make it happen.

Chief Sustainability Officer

Enter the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). They are the leaders of the company’s sustainability efforts. Their job isn’t always easy when there is a cap on the CSO’s budget and only indirect authority over the functional areas needed to achieve results and/or limited staff to implement sustainability strategies and tactics.

CSOs occupy a central role in pushing for transformation in business operating systems, procurement, success measures and human behaviors.

As sustainability leadership continues to emerge as a specific career path, companies are focusing on developing a set of key competencies needed for success. At Paladino, after 20 years of working on sustainable projects, we have identified these three broad areas of competency:

  • Abundance: Abundance assumes that any successful change initiative must contain an upside, a state of abundance. Sustainability does not imply scarcity. Sustainability leaders need strategic thinking skills, the ability to create a compelling vision and develop innovative solutions to achieve results that create abundance, such as a healthier work environment and reduced carbon emissions. In Verdantix’s research Who Should be the Chief Sustainability Officer, industry experts cited the CSO’s ability to achieve business transformation as the most important competency.
  • Analytics:  Results must be measurable – financial, environmental and social. CSO’s must demonstrate the benefits of sustainability to CEOs, investors and customers. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification is an obvious metric but there are others as well, such as increased revenues from customers who want to do business with green companies.
  • Attitude: Being a superhero in sustainability is as much about attitude  — or soft skills — as it is about technical ability. In ISSP’s recent survey report, Sustainability Dynamics Drive Professional Growth, strategic influence, communication and leading change were reported as more important than hard skills.

Six Sources of Influence

As Paladino’s resident human behavior expert, I would argue that a CSOs ability to be successful is directly linked to his/her ability to influence change. Leaders often fail to execute successful sustainability strategies or programs because they bet on a single intervention to create transformation, rather than a diverse arsenal of influence strategies.

Influencers succeed where others fail because they know complex problems are rarely fed by a single cause but rather a conspiracy of causes. According to Vital Smart’s Influencer Model there are six sources of influence. As described in this video, they are: personal motivation, personal ability, social motivation, social ability, structural motivation and structural ability.

Leaders who understand the science behind behavior change and apply a sophisticated change management strategy targeting the six sources of influence are 10 times more successful in their efforts to influence system-wide change.

Over the coming months we will discuss each one of these sources in more detail and provide practical implementation tips we’ve used with clients to achieve rapid, sustainable change.

Julie Honeywell is Vice President, Talent Management, at Paladino and Company.

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