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Leading Change toward Sustainability: A Change Management Guide for Business, Government and Civil Society

A growing stream of research shows that the adoption of environmental and socially sustainable technologies and practices are, at a minimum, cost neutral and often save private companies and public agencies substantial sums of money while increasing market share, reducing risk, increasing employee productivity and stakeholder commitment. It is no surprise then that an increasing number of organizations have embraced the idea of sustainability in the last decade. However, despite lengthy discussions about what to do and which new technologies and policy instruments to implement, many of their initiatives have failed, leading to wasted resources, frustration, and cynicism.

Based on Bob Doppelt’s three years of research on both private and public organizations in the U.S. and Europe, LEADING CHANGE TOWARD SUSTAINABILITY:A Change-Management Guide for Business, Government, and Civil Society (Greenleaf Publishing, October 2003) is an easily readable book on how to transform organizations to successfully embrace sustainable development programs. Crammed with recommendations, case examples, interviews, and checklists, Doppelt demystifies the sustainability-change process by providing a theoretical framework and a methodology that senior executives, agency directors, low and mid-level staff, and community leaders will be able to use to craft and implement a practical, achievable, and inspiring plan to set their organizations on a path toward sustainability.

According to Doppelt, implementing sustainable business practices is about much more than the technical, financial, or political—it’s about the human factors. Doppelt found that the key missing ingredient in the adoption of sustainability measures is organizational and cultural change. Sustainability measures require a paradigm shift from the traditional linear “take-make-waste” economic model to a circular “borrow-use-return” system. The shift in production model requires a transition from a mechanical, patriarchal management style to an integrated, whole systems approach to management. These fundamental changes in operations and organizational design often require substantial changes in culture. Doppelt found that in most organizations achieving culture change toward sustainability requires interventions in two key areas— governance systems must be altered and exemplary leadership must be provided.

Doppelt identifies seven key interventions to overcome the seven most common “blunders” companies like Norrm Thompson Outfitters , Interface, Starbucks, IKEA, Niel Kelly Company and others have used to launch and sustain their ongoing and successful (but incomplete) sustainability-change initiatives:
• “Change the dominant controlling mind-set” of the organization that devalues the environment, workers, and communities through the imperative of sustainability
• “Rearrange the parts” of the organization to change how it operates by organizing diverse new teams
• “Alter a company’s goals” so they include the environment, employees, & community
• “Restructure the rules of engagement” by developing new source-based strategies
• “Shift the information flows” so that sustainability-based information is available to people at all levels regarding sustainability
• “Correct the feedback mechanisms” of the organization so that workers can continually learn the effects of their choices and how to improve
• Finally, after the previous interventions have been completed, “adjust the parameters” of the organization to align employee performance criteria, incentive and reward systems, and policies and procedures with the goal of achieving sustainability

“Few of today’s laws or policies address the interactions among the elements and processes of ecosystems or the interrelationships between ecology, commerce, communities and culture,” writes Doppelt. LEADING CHANGE TO SUSTAINABILITY is an important tool in understanding what is sure to become a more urgent problem in the 21st century.