Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
– 1997 Apple Computer, Inc
The above from Apple's iconic The Crazy Ones' ad campaign, narrated by the late Steve Jobs, demonstrates how innovation used to 'belong' to set individuals within a business. Fast-forward 26 years and innovation is no longer siloed in the strategy or creative team, but part of every employee's job description at most companies.
Similar to innovation, sustainability is no longer exclusively in organisations' specific teams, being rather the focus of businesses and boards as climate change is increasingly driving investor behaviours. Huge swathes of people are now responsible for 'sustainability' with roles such as Head of Sustainability or Chief Sustainability Officer appointed at record rates, alongside more bespoke roles like Sustainability Engagement Director: hello LEGO.
While the big, hard hitting changes such as decarbonising are hard to abate critical supply chains and integration of new technologies like hydrogen will truly shift the dial when it comes to tackling climate change, collective effort across business can also make a difference.
As a society, we're standing on the shoulders of giants. The ones 'crazy' enough to look into the future, to innovate and see how technologies such as generation (wind farms, solar farms), storage (pumped hydro and batteries) and feedstock/fuels (hydrogen, biofuels and synthetic fuels), could be used to sustain life as we know it. Scientists and engineers around the globe continue to do the heavy lifting, but we can all help in lightening the load.
The average adult spends one-third of their life – 90,000 hours – at work. While it's not yet possible to enact change while sleeping, we can reframe people's contribution and choices to tackling climate change – no matter their role.
Businesses should create movements that matter within their organisations and moments of impact with their employees and customers.
Closing the gap from the top
The tightening of UN and government commitments and financial controls show that 'net-zero' targets can no longer merely be a PR exercise.
Failure to transition operations is not only costly, it's not sustainable with pressure coming from all sides. Climate quitting, although not new, is on the rise and leader remuneration tied to sustainable performance continues to gain traction.
Capital markets are maturing with a focus on mainstreaming sustainability, from financing for nature to sustainably-linked loans that tie the interest charged on debt facilities, to pre-agreed sustainability targets aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Elsewhere, accountants and lawyers are including climate change clauses in contracts.
These are great examples of sustainability as strategy in action.
Making moments at work matter
We need to walk the talk, embedding sustainability into methods, mindsets, and ways of working.
While the aviation industry continues to tackle its carbon footprint, pilots aren't waiting for industry- wide changes and are applying their own measures to reduce carbon emissions. From deliberately using less power for take-off, taxiing with one engine instead of two, maximising cruising altitudes and taking advantage of winds. These small steps are occurring together with the big strides, including reimagining plane design, where and how they fly, and the fuels they use.
Designers are taking purposeful work one step further, pushing for sustainability aligned innovation or life-centred design – where natural systems are considered stakeholders alongside people. Software juggernaut Salesforce describes the planet as a 'key stakeholder' – adding sustainability as a core value to making all employees and departments accountable. Making sustainability part of everyone's job would foster a shared sense of ownership and action.
Kanter's Sustainability Sector Index shows a clear value action gap between people's beliefs and behaviours. Brands can nudge customers towards more sustainable choices through pre-experience, intention, and post-consumer care. So, why not nudge them towards better, more sustainable outcomes? Patagonia's integrated marketing is one example.
If the internet were a country, it would be the sixth most polluting country in the world. By choosing a host provider that has publicly committed to using 100 per cent renewable energy; sizing images properly; and only incorporating lines of code where needed, we can all do our part.
Designing work people love and designing for people, planet and profit should not be mutually exclusive. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson talks on how we can find our own climate purpose at work, in our existing roles and networks, regardless of whether your role has sustainability in the title or not. Think about what you are good at, what brings you joy and what you can implement in terms of climate justice and solutions. In the overlap is your climate contribution, and part of your daily practice.
The power of bringing it all together
However, for any change, big or small, to be sustained there must be the scaffolding and structure to make it stick.
What if every organisation irrelevant of size, allocated 3.5 hours out of every person's time over a year to incorporate some kind of sustainability learning – such as the SDGs – this would create great information alignment.
What if tax breaks incentivised companies to greenskill their workforces, potentially applying a 'national curriculum' to existing roles – rather than creating more job plans to achieve the same? Unilever, through their U-Work program allows people to work on assignment by retainer, while keeping corporate benefits; and U-Renew gives staff the opportunity for learning sabbaticals to pursue new skills or purpose driven experiences.
Existing offices could become circular community hubs for food waste disposal and clothing drop offs for charities. Bed Down repurposes and activates empty car parks into homes for the night for the homeless across Brisbane.
What if policy was sequenced to further incentivise public private collaboration – signalling joint problems into possibility initiatives generating further revenue and investment while saving the planet? From JFK to more recently the report from Climateworks and CSIRO, shows it's possible to create a purposeful contribution irrelevant of role, company or industry.
What if we took an innovation lens to sustainability – by bundling beneficial concepts together to create more impact? Combining modern methods of construction (MMC) used on the temporary expansion of a major Victorian ER, with additional planting could not only make a climate impact, but a societal impact too.
Some of these things are happening in silos, but we need to scale. We need to stop relying on individuals with sustainability in their job title to solve the climate problem alone, and start considering how we can support them to achieve the speed, scale and societal shift needed to succeed.
Sharing accountability for sustainability across whole of enterprises is no longer the crazy way of the future, but the way of the here and now.