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Sustainability - the Real Challenge Lies Within



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Jonathan Diederiks

Jonathan Diederiks maintains that achieving sustainable outcomes in business has far less to do with processes and management training than with individual human empowerment and emotional intelligence.

The author is a development specialist, working with Danida on national and regional initiatives that promote sustainability.

Integration is a cornerstone in achieving sustainability. Yet, despite an abundance of sustainability templates and methodologies on what to do and how to do it, we're not 'getting it right'.

This is evidenced by the myriad of initiatives, both locally and internationally funded, utilizing both local and international experts, that just can't seem to put it together in a package that's sustainable, either during implementation or after, or both.

As the international response to the threat of climate change moves from words to action, and the implementation of policy, the consequences of not getting it right loom large.

Obviously, issues related to the appropriateness of outcomes, the dynamic nature of the context in which the initiative occurs and the commensurate needs for flexibility and creativity are some of the more critical factors necessary to promote and/or facilitate sustainable outcomes. But why, even when all the tacit ingredients are present, does sustainability elude us?

The most substantial barrier facing sustainability is the inequities in human nature. I have seen well-conceived processes fail and shoddy ones succeed purely because of the personalities involved - any process is, after all, people-dependent. It's often the motivation behind a decision that's more important than the decision itself.

For sustainability to break free of the panacea mould, there must be an understanding of its implications, its potential, its benefits and its needs. The presence of expertise and/or knowledge doesn't mean there's understanding. Add to the equation, power, greed, politics or just plain ignorance and things become distinctly messy. Sustainability espouses the antithesis of these, yet it's often expected to arise from within them.

An ethical system can provide a compass. So what are considered credible ethics? Universally accepted ones are honesty, dignity, respect and cooperation. But equally important are people's priorities, desires, needs, perceptions, and what motivates and inspires these.

Those with tainted motivation and questionable ethics are often protected by the veil of bureaucracy so evident in a plethora of structures, departments and institutions that it is difficult to engage with them proactively.

The methods most appropriate to create or nurture real understanding centre around increased self-awareness: an inner journey that promotes reflection and introspection. How do we define ourselves and how do our values impact on the prospect of sustainability? How does the individual rediscover passion and dedication?

Many individuals prioritize integration within the context of their organizational mandate. This is pre-determined by the vision, policies, etc of that organization, which indirectly constricts the open nature of engagement required for sustainability to occur.

Authenticity is an imperative for realizing sustainability, and the individual will be the sole determinant for the success or failure of an organization. But what is authenticity? It's a combination of ethics that motivates us to carry out our professional responsibilities in a manner that instils an attitude and decision-making process whereby our choices are made on the 'greater good' principle – in this case, the promotion and facilitation of sustainability.

Of course, external tools are vital to organizations. Management training and project management are important, but even more important is empowering a person from within as a precursor to providing the external tools for executing their responsibilities more effectively.

Achieving this requires the promotion of emotional intelligence growth facilitation, which – in turn – requires identifying the individuals as the most significant asset to any business and focuses on developing their future skills, competencies and understanding by harnessing their emotional abilities and attributes. This allows them to better grasp their responsibilities, the implications related thereto and the context within which this functioning is to occur. It capacitates them to utilize external tools (management and skills development courses) appropriately and to maximize the potential benefits thereof by providing that intrinsic link between themselves and their work.

A cornerstone of emotional intelligence growth facilitation is constructive discontent. Constructive discontent refers to the ability of people to disagree constructively, knowing that the critique is given and will be accepted openly and without prejudice. It promotes a sense of professional freedom and creates an atmosphere of mutual discussion where both the person doing the 'criticizing' and the one being 'criticized' understand that the criticism is motivated and underpinned by that set of credible ethics mentioned earlier.

We need to remember that discontent and conflict heighten recognition of what really matters to us and what we're willing to fight for within an organization and personally. Open dialogue about areas of frustration and irritation can identify relationship blocks, excessive costs, wasted time, injustices, poor quality and under-efficient initiatives and processes.

Emotional intelligence growth facilitation aims to:

  • establish a culture of proactive and participative engagement, as well as future orientation, that will enhance an individual's role within the organization through improved communication, positive feedback and a systems approach to initiate behavioural and attitude change;
  • facilitate the development of a holistic perspective that both the individual and the organization can identify with, where solutions – not problems – are prioritized;
  • improve individual efficiency and creativity by tapping into innate potentials; and,
  • achieve a balance between thinking with one's heart and with one's mind.

Before there can be an integrated approach to sustainability within an organization, it must exist within the individuals who constitute that organization.


Further information
Jonathan Diederiks, Environmental Programme, Danida, Royal Danish Embassy, PO Box 11439, Hatfield 0028, Pretoria, South Africa. Fax: +27-12-3427620. Email: jondie@um.dk.

Acknowledgement
This article has previously appeared in the Journal for Convergence (PostNet Suite 141, Private Bag X7, Parkview 2122, South Africa, fax: +27-11-4471469) and is reproduced with permission.

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Tiempo Climate Newswatch
Updated: April 12th 2013