Sustainability Leaders Forum: 'What makes a sustainability leader?'

31st January 2020


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On 12 December 2019, IEMA Fellows and full members, together with other experienced sustainability professionals, gathered for the biannual Sustainability Leaders Forum at AECOM headquarters, London.

The session, 'What makes a sustainability leader', considered how, in the face of slower national engagement on sustainability, cross-sector alliances between cities, regions and businesses have become an opportunity to ramp up leadership for sustainability and promote more integrated sustainability values.

Marc Jourdan, IEMA policy and engagement lead, and host David Smith, AECOM's technical director in business sustainability, provided welcome remarks. Next, IEMA's interim chief executive Toby Robins celebrated IEMA's growth and stressed the need for leadership to support a sustainability profession that represents everybody.

Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor of London for the Environment, delivered the keynote remarks on the value of collaboration. She explained that “London is part of international initiatives such as C40 and the WeMeanBusiness coalition to show what is possible and gather momentum“ so that it can achieve its plan to become a zero-carbon city by 2050.

“If you find an opportunity to intervene, stick with it and don't be diverted“

IEMA chief policy advisor Martin Baxter then moderated a panel discussion. Jane Davidson, ex-minister for environment, sustainability and housing in the Welsh Assembly and introducer of Welsh Future Generations Act, stressed that “if you find an opportunity to intervene, stick with it and don't be diverted“. In-session live polls revealed that most attendees (31%) agreed with her and believed that authenticity was a key attribute, followed by personal resilience (21%) and the development of partnerships (17%). Other panellists included Tom Knowland, head of sustainable energy and climate change at Leeds City Council, and Louise Nicholls, vice chair of the IEMA Board. Tom stated: “you need stealth and a lot of persistence to know your way around your organisation and obtain results“, while Louise spoke about the need to “make science simple for others to understand and engage their hearts and minds“.

When asked which attributes they would identify as the highest priority for improving personal leadership capabilities, most audience members (26%) said that emotional intelligence was a key parameter, followed by great communication (19%) and strategic thinking (19%).

The next IEMA Fellows roundtable discussion, to be hosted by WSP in Manchester on 25 March, will seek to build on the outcomes of this session and work towards an insight briefing for IEMA members on the importance of collaboration for sustainability leadership, due for release later in the year. More information has been included in the IEMA Fellows newsletter; in the meantime, IEMA Fellows with an interest in participating in the session should email Marc Jourdan at [email protected]

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