Ben advises leading businesses on how to align their purpose and strategy with the transition to a sustainable economy. He specialises in developing best-practice for how to develop and integrate a sustainable purpose into an organisation. He authored the ‘Leading with a sustainable purpose’ report that captures practical insights from four leading businesses. He was also on the steering committee of PAS 808, the first ever BSI standard for a sustainable purpose-led organisation. He draws on over twenty years of experience as an organisational development consultant, eleven of which were with the international not-for-profit Forum for the Future.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Higher Education Digest, Ben shared his insights on how disruptive technologies such as AI can help organizations accelerate their climate and sustainability commitments to investors and customers, his career trajectory, biggest stress reliever, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
How can disruptive technologies such as AI help organizations accelerate their climate and sustainability commitments to investors and customers?
As we rapidly develop consistent ways for companies to report on their dependencies on nature and society, technology can also help companies to disclose and demonstrate how they are delivering their purpose and protecting their dependencies on nature and society.
Ben, please tell us about your background and areas of interest.
I started out in organization development, helping big businesses to lead change. For the last fifteen years I’ve focused on helping businesses to lead on sustainability. Recently that has included how corporate purpose and sustainability can practically come together. As well as publishing CISL reports on the subject, I also contributed to the first ever standard for a sustainable purpose-led organization. I’m also interested in how we can provide a sustainability narrative around abundance and flourishing, that provides a real alternative to the mainstream narrative that its consumption, money and power that makes us happy.
As Director of Business Strategy at CISL, what are the challenges you see facing your sector right now? How can we overcome those challenges?
As I mention in a recent blog, many leaders have an organizational purpose and sustainability goals, but are struggling with how to implement them. It’s what I call the ‘how gap’. They face several headwinds, ranging from the complexity and uncertainty of how trends like climate change and inequality will impact their organization, through to not knowing what ‘good’ looks like for an organization and where to start. Also, organizations aren’t used to playing a role where they are reshaping their wider system to create new sustainable value propositions. So, they aren’t sure who to influence and partner with or why. Our recent Business Transformation Framework seeks to address some of these challenges by setting out what good looks like across twelve business transformation enablers. This can help leaders to understand their current performance and inform future aspirations and plans.
In your opinion, what role does technology play in enabling sustainable solutions, and how is CISL harnessing technology for positive change?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution has a key role to play in delivering a sustainable future. We know a lot about the key systems that need to change (such as food, energy and cities) and what they need to change to (net zero, circular and socially inclusive), but we ‘re figuring out how to transition those key systems. Technology will be a key enabler to unlock these new value propositions, such as net zero, electric integrated transportation systems. The Digital with Purpose report sets out four key roles technology can play in this transition:
- Connect & Communicate- Connecting people to each other and to critical information.
- Analyse, Optimise & Predict -The development of insights from data, and the use of those insights to drive process efficiency and infer the future;
- Monitor & Track -The real-time, extensive observation of the world and its natural and man-made systems.
- Augment & Autonomate -Provision of an ‘active bridge’ between digital and physical, from simulation through augmentation to the creation of autonomous systems.
Collaboration and partnerships are essential in addressing sustainability challenges. Can you discuss any collaboration or partnerships that CISL has engaged in to drive sustainable innovation and create a positive impact in the industry?
Convening leaders is an important focus area for us. For example our Aviation Impact Accelerator brings the best minds together from across the industry and University to seek breakthrough solutions to decarbonize aviation.
How does CISL promote employee engagement and awareness in sustainability practices? Are there any employee-driven initiatives that have made a significant difference in advancing sustainability within the company?
For us, sustainability is central to everyone’s job, from convening leaders, through to education and research. We also have a green impact group that create and implement ideas to make our highly sustainable head office and working practices more sustainable.
In your academic or work career, were there any mentors who have helped you grow along the way? What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
I’ve been fortunate to work with some great leaders, such as Jonathon Porritt, who have taught me a lot. One of the best pieces of advice was to ‘assume you’re right’. In other words, trust and test your instincts and don’t be held back by doubting yourself or imagining other people’s criticisms.
What is your biggest stress reliever?
I’m a keen swimmer and find it a great way to release stress and start the day.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
I hope I’ll still be working with leaders to develop and shape the norms and practices needed to create a sustainable future. I would also like to help shape an alternative vision and story for a sustainable future, that focuses on enabling people and nature to flourish, with a greater focus on internal goods such as creativity and character, rather than the current focus on external goods like money, consumption and status.
What would you advise to new sustainable leaders on where to start?
Invest in clarifying and following your personal purpose. This can include proactively building your internal and external networks to test and build ideas. And of course, attend one of our excellent courses!