The 4 Principles of Creative Sustainability

As the world cries out for help from every possible direction, how can sustainability get creative to solve the problems that matter?

Cat Hirst
Cat Hirst
Oct 13, 2020 · Unlisted

The climate crisis, ecological breakdown, civic unrest, and searing social inequalities are not tomorrow’s problems. They are today’s emergencies. Covid-19 is revealing just how damaged our world is; and is accelerating the most pressing existential threats to our businesses and species.

To rise to this challenge, sustainability can no longer be stuck in a ghetto solving technical problems. It has to become a force for creative problem-solving, team empowerment, and purpose-led innovation at the beating heart of the organisation. We call this Creative Sustainability.

The primary role of Creative Sustainability is to future-proof the business models and delivery models of an organisation. This is to ensure the enterprise has:

  • A long-term license to operate from both citizens and politicians
  • A sustained commitment from investors because it is guaranteed to be part of the future
  • Outsized customer and employee loyalty as new generations enter the market

A shift from Conventional to Creative Sustainability

As we shift into Creative Sustainability, we see a number of clear differences in positioning, approach, engagement, and storytelling. Here’s just a few of the changes required in the shift from conventional to creative sustainability:

  • Sustainability shifts from a sideline activity to being central to growth and a license to operate
    By unlocking the power of purpose — a genuine contribution to society — sustainability can cease to be just a valued activity which sits separately to key conversations, and be placed at the epicenter of the organisation and at the core of the growth agenda, co-creating key decisions across strategy, marketing, HR and commercial operations.
  • Sustainability shifts away from incremental targets to leading on the boldest of ambitions
    By igniting passion and creativity across the organisation, a set of bold ambitions are co-created to deliver net-positive impact and go far beyond the status quo of year-on-year targets for reduction and arduous methodologies
  • Sustainability shifts from minimising footprint to maximising possibilities for positive impact
    Sustainability optimises the positive impact of the business and delivery model (whilst continuining to manage the footprint), strategically transforming the enterprise with vision.
  • Sustainability shifts from reports, strategies and targets to activating the hearts and minds of everyone in the organisation
    Sustainability becomes a people-powered force that the entire business is empowered to deliver, and is alive in everyone’s hearts and minds, and not just a data-driven pursuit
  • Sustainability shifts from being driven by ‘technical’ experts to being driven by pioneers of change
    Sustainability as a career track becomes respected within the business as a path to senior leadership and mastery of systemic thinking, business transformation, and innovation, rather than peripheral to the business.
  • Sustainability shifts from being disconnected from creativity to a prism for transformational innovation
    Sustainability becomes known for next-practice innovation processes and tools to activate ‘intrapreneurs’ to crack the problems that matter in new and unexpected ways.

The 4 principles of Creative Sustainability:

And here we summarise the 4 key principles of Creative Sustainability:

  1. Powerful & inspiring
    Sustainability ignites the purpose of an organisation and galvanises it to deliver lasting, positive and exponential change.
  2. Strategic & visionary
    Sustainability ensures the organisation reaches maximum impact as quickly as possible with ambitious net-positive vision within the business strategy.
  3. Open & enabling
    Sustainability activates and empowers the hearts and minds of everyone in the organisation to be agile and impactful in all that they do.
  4. Imaginative & co-creative
    Sustainability ensures the organisation solves problems that matter, that cannot be solve by existing best practice, in innovative and insightful ways.

The language of Creative Sustainability

And to drive those principles into action, we need a new lexicon — one of creativity, vision and imagination, that takes people on that journey with the pace, motivation, and momentum we need.

To show how the language must shift, take a look at this handful of examples:

  • Minimise / reduce becomes restore / rejuvenate / regenerate
  • Best in the world becomes best for the world
  • Competitive becomes collaborative
  • Compliance becomes creativity
  • Limiting becomes empowering

Leadership skills of Creative Sustainability

Creative sustainability calls us to step us as leadership individually and collectively. We must be:

  • Possibility-focused
    Be fully aware of the threats, not getting stuck on complaints and compliance­, and minimisation and tech specs, but instead propelling the organisation forward with elevating stories and inspiring leadership.
  • Connected & empathic
    Unlocking future-forging insights into the pain points of emerging stakeholders and building coalitions across multiple networks to resolve them collaboratively.
  • Creative & curious
    Unleashing ideas that drive forward product, process, and people innovations that accelerate the path to net-positivity and generate long-term exponential value (profit) and impact (purpose).

… and we must support others to be the same. It is not easy times. As we sit at our kitchen desks, balancing all kinds of new challenges, we must continue to stay true to the leadership skills that makes us the change-makers we are.

Be purposeful. Be Bold. Be Creative.

To find out more, download a copy of our briefing on Creative Sustainability now.

I am a director and co-founder of FutureMakers, a purpose-driven consultancy that exists to help businesses future-proof themselves by shifting towards a fully sustainable, and ultimately regenerative, enterprise.

We provide a pioneering pathway to support your transition to a regenerative business, ensuring creative sustainability is built into your purpose, strategy, culture, and innovation approach.

We Are FutureMakers

Ideas on the reinvention of sustainability as a force for transformational innovation toward a regenerative economy

Cat Hirst

Written by

Cat Hirst

Co-founder and Director of FutureMakers and an expert in sustainability, innovation, leadership and in the delivery of people-based change programmes.

We Are FutureMakers

Ideas on the reinvention of sustainability as a force for transformational innovation toward a regenerative economy