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Overcoming Objections to Sustainability: Imagine a Vision of the Future

This lesson is a part of an audio course Overcoming Objections to Sustainability by Aurora Dawn Benton

Closely related to customers not being willing to pay for it is the notion that shareholders and other influential stakeholders will not support it.

Shareholders are a vital stakeholder and cannot be overlooked as critical if sustainability is to be truly integrated into the organization. If you are at a non-profit, you might encounter similar objections from donors or board members. In fact, a non-profit tend to have a social or environmental mission, to begin with so it's very easy to fall into that "we're already doing it" trap I covered earlier.

In general, this is shortsighted and short-term thinking at work. We live in a world where returns are measured and expected in shorter and shorter increments of time. We can see evidence of this in periods where unemployment and poverty rise at the same time stock market indices are going up.

The good news is there may be a trend towards more holistic triple bottom line thinking when it comes to pitting shareholder value against other, potentially or seemingly conflicting priorities. Some marquee CEOS have, in recent years, declared the importance of the triple bottom line. The jury is still out on this because these same people profit greatly from rising stock prices, not from improving sustainable outcomes. It is easy to be cynical when it comes to trusting that those with power and money will vote in favor of social and environmental returns. For this and other of these common objections, one piece of advice I have, for your own sanity if nothing else, is to try to stay positive. See the signs of hope and progress rather than dwell on the examples of disparity and inequality.

You have the opportunity to instill long-term thinking by following some of the earlier recommendations covered in previous lessons, such as building a business case and focusing on why. To spur long-term thinking, you can cast a vision. I challenge you to write a press release imagining a future outcome. What would be the announcement your organization could make in 1 or 3 years based on a change you are trying to implement now. This can be helpful to share with others, so they see realistic and outward benefits that come from sustainability investments and programs.

While it's tradition and tempting, don't just listen to the money. Shareholders are just one of an ecosystem of stakeholders whose voices and opinions matter. You should balance the influence of any of these by having representative voices from all. Learn what each considers a worthy vision and galvanize their support by aligning your vision with theirs. Again, there's that theme of alignment.

I'm not saying you can please everyone, but the more input you consider from diverse perspectives, the more successful your social and environmental initiatives will be. Stakeholders you should invite to the table include communities impacted by your operations, customers and potential customers, employees and contractors, vendors and supply chain partners, government agencies, non-profits and other institutions that are affected or may lend expertise and insight. Remember that your industry and competitors are also stakeholders. There are opportunities to have pre-competitive gatherings to collectively agree on sustainable goals for the industry.

Well, this wraps up our list of 10 leadership principles to overcome objections. There may be more you will uncover and practice along the way. Please find me on social media and share your experiences and challenges with implementing sustainability at Astrapto Academy.

In the final lesson, I will summarize the top 10 list and give some final thoughts on driving sustainability based on your position.

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Written by

Aurora Dawn Benton