Sustainability Maternity

Today’s post is from Dwayne Baraka, friend of 6heads. Dwayne is the author of Making Sustainability Matter, a part of the DoShorts series of guides for Sustainability Professionals. He is a speaker, consultant, thinker and strategist on sustainability. You can go along to his book launch and cadge a glass of wine on Wednesday 2 April, sign-up here:

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I was preparing for DoShorts webinar on Materiality that took place last week, when someone accidentally said Sustainability Maternity, instead of Sustainability Materiality. I laughed, and then started to think about what Sustainability Maternity might look like.

(If you missed the webinar, which was the most popular one DoShorts has run to date, you can watch it here.)

It brought up images of gestation and nurturing that feels familiar to me and many people I have observed working in the field. So often it feels like sustainability is such a delicate thing – like a premature newborn in an oxygen crib. We don’t ask anything of it other than to survive.

But as sustainability grows, we realise that it is a robust thing – bumping its head and scraping it’s knees and carrying on regardless. Even the odd broken bone or bloodied lip doesn’t slow it down for long, so long as it has a safe place to be nurtured and comforted. And it’s also still vulnerable to becoming victim to the adults around it – both physically and emotionally. Adults forget how much bigger, smarter (, nastier) and stronger they are.

For the ‘worst’ of the adults, failure isn’t an option. One failure leads to a barrage of abuse and a threat to shut down any activity that might lead to growth, wisdom and strength. And I suspect many of us have seen sustainability get thrown out because of one failure, instead of encouraged for its successes.

If the child Sustainability is to grow into a full functioning adult, then perhaps Materiality is something of the toddler years. Sustainability professionals need to parentally (maternal and paternal) nurture it through this next phase. As Sustainability increases in relevance to the business, it will need encouragement and permission to fail (occasionally).

Of course the webinar was something of a promo for my new book, which is all about how materiality can help organisations do better at sustainability. But this Maternity image isn’t leaving me just yet. Of course, I’m not sure that I have fully unpacked this analogy yet, but I’m certainly going to entertain it for a bit longer.

In any case, I agree that the focus on correctly identifying the most relevant sustainability impacts will help to enshrine Shared Value as a Minimum for companies. Hopefully shared value is akin to other childhood years, with much greater adult things yet to come.

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“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.

I’ve lost almost 300 games.

26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.

I’ve failed over and over again in my life.

And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan


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