Why is leadership important for Environmental Management and promoting sustainable practices? Leadership skills are the driving force of change. Producing behavioural change is 80% about leadership and 20% about management. In most change efforts, those percentages are reversed. We continue to produce great managers, we need to develop great leaders (Kotter, 2006).
National, provincial and local organisations, including government departments and private companies currently confront challenges such as the need to adapt to a changing climate, design of sustainable food systems, reinvention of cities for sustainability, development of markets for ecosystem goods and services, implementation of renewable energy systems and the protection of vulnerable species as well as the protection of vulnerable communities from environmental injustice (Gallagher, 2012). This requires that political, scientific and economic leadership is developed to help tackle these issues and lead a way in finding solutions and managing the outcomes.
There is an increasing focus on environmental issues, with many new regulations (especially within South African legislation – eg. National Environmental Management Act) as well as systems for implementation and mitigation of environmental impacts. These systems should be employed by all organisations operating within South Africa with the aim of moving from compliance to gaining competitive advantage. Government organisations have created an enabling environment for effective environmental leadership through the development of world class policies and regulations.
Some private organisations have also contributed to environmental leadership in the South African context, some of which include Nedbank and Woolworths to name a few. The private sector tends to be the where innovative concepts reflect the challenges of tomorrow, creating and balance between economic, environmental and social imperative (Greene, 2006). Whereas, the public sector is central to the role of providing enabling conditions and supporting sustainability in both the private and public sector as well as with NGO’s (Forum for the Future, 2010). It is therefore important to address leadership, whilst accessing lessons learnt from both the public and private sector.
Environmental leadership has a focus on influencing people to jointly and creatively confront challenges with an emphasis on collective action. These are with the aim of addressing environmental problems like climate change, by motivating human beings to have a concern for society as a whole (Dietz, Dolsak, Ostrom & Stern, 2002). Here the ultimate purpose would be to mobilise individuals in an organization or group of organisations to realise a vision of long-term ecological sustainability. Potential leaders or change agents, from any organization as well as from any age group can have an influence on mobilizing individuals.
So, will you endeavour to build you leadership skill set to be able to cope with the myriad of challenges that you will inevitably face in your career and especially in working towards achieving conservation goals and sustainability? Will your next item on your to-do list be a course on leadership or a book on leadership?
-- Janavi Da Silva - GreenMatter Programme Manager