But sustainability can be seen as sundry to those not in the field. When we allow ourselves to be caught up in compliance and limited by language, we disconnect from the reason we’re in this profession: because we care. We come to work conditioned to compartmentalise, to stick all our personal beliefs in a box, and leave our values at the door – instead adopting a corporate profile of ourselves. We use KPIs, SMART objectives, policies, visions, and missions as a framework to present our personal passion and values. We all need metrics, but are we working too hard to be professional?

To paraphrase the CEO of Interface, Ray Anderson, “when you shut up shop, what have you really achieved?” Ray was unhappy with the idea of his thriving business leaving behind a legacy of waste and accumulated carbon, so put steps in place to ensure that Interface was creating a positive contribution to the world in 1994 with his focus on ‘Mission Zero’. When you lock up for the night, can you honestly say the same?

Don’t get me wrong: KPIS, SMART objectives, policies, visions, and missions all have their place - but as a means of influencing an organisation’s purpose, they will never work. In fact, they’re more likely to further cement your current business trajectory than change it.  And yet the same people who respond to KPIs will undoubtedly have a personal environment story to tell, and a way in which they connect with the wider world, whether it’s hiking, fishing, or playing golf. Sometimes, appreciating nature really can be a walk in the park.

The focus on heavy corporate language speaks solely to the head, not the heart.  Yet the art of storytelling in business can create a far greater catalyst for change and is far more interesting, exciting, and (if done properly) magical.

So, how can we push values to the forefront of the sustainability profession, and help others to connect with our personal sustainability stories? I’d love to hear what you think.


About the Author

Tim Balcon is the CEO of IEMA. He has previously been CEO of Energy and Utility Skills (EU Skills Group) which encompasses the National Skills Academy for Power and Chief Executive of GWINTO (Gas and Water Industries Training Organisation) and a Non-Executive Director on the Board of Ofqual. With considerable expertise in education, professional skills and leading organisations across multiple sectors including energy, utility and education, Tim is leading IEMA towards achieving its brave global ambitions. Joining in 2013, he has since created a new vision for IEMA of “transforming the world to sustainability” and has implemented a number of changes, leading to both greater value for IEMA’s members and a stronger, more influential market position for the global organisation.