Sustainability – bottom up or top down?

By Jill Poet on January 18, 2011

In my work with SMEs, I invariably find that the sustainability journey is very much top down: that is, it is led by the owner / managing director who has personal aspirations in that direction. Similarly, I find it virtually impossible to profile the type of company or industry, apart from the obvious eco-businesses, that is most likely to embrace the social and environmental agenda.

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...

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But according to Vinjay Kanal, his work with the larger corporates shows almost exactly the opposite: invariably it is a small group of committed employees who instigate the change.

So which is best? What do you think offers sustainable sustainability? Do we make the change by being the change or is that a waste of our time if the same is not happening from above?

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One response to “Sustainability – bottom up or top down?”

  1. Alex says:

    Given that the science for sustainability, climate change etc is still under debate and that there are many climate-sceptics still remaining, you are unlikely to find a board room where all members agree on the usefulness and moral responsibility to become more sustainable.

    So, you if you want to make the guys at the top go sustainable, you have to appeal to two things: the bottom line and publicity.

    For the most part, becoming “sustainable” is more expensive than simply continuing with current business practices. So, if they dont believe in the science or moral responsibility, what motivation do they have? If you can “prove” that going sustainable is cheaper long term, the top will be more willing to comply.

    Alternatively, consider publicity. Going green is the “cool” thing to do now, regardless of the science for and against it. Going green can generate positive publicity for your company which can in turn generate new business: good for the company!

    As for who drives the change, I believe it has to be driven by whoever believes in the change. If you are lucky to have a guy at the top who believes in sustainability, great, he can drive the change. If you are the guy at the bottom you are in for a harder time, but you basically just have to convince the guy at the top and then he can drive it forwards.

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