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Sustainability Transitions Beckon Organizational Transformation

While incremental change is nothing to turn our noses up at, becoming a truly sustainable organization – in every sense of the term – requires transformation.

Please, don’t get me wrong; incremental advances toward sustainability can, in fact, help and are certainly better than doing nothing (no matter what some critics may say). Nevertheless, at this critical juncture, we need as many organizations as possible striving to embed sustainability into their DNA, which is no small feat. It is a transformative process propelled by comprehensive individual and organizational change strategies.

Who likes change? Raise your hand.

To be honest, I previously never understood why most people were resistant to it. My insatiable appetite for knowledge has continually led to change and growth, so why wouldn't everyone want it? Naive, yes, I know.

Change is difficult, the failure rate is high, etc.

However, during my undergrad (and again in my graduate studies), I encountered one of the simplest yet most important concepts I would ever learn:

"People don't resist change, they resist being changed."

One of many valuable lessons provided by Peter Senge, systems scientist, author, and senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management.

This simple phrase will forever live in the forefront of my mind. Not that it provides a magical solution, but they say, 'knowing is half the battle.' Therefore, in knowing that people do not like being changed, we can restructure the transformation process to be an inclusive learning endeavor instead of imposing top-down command-and-control agendas. Still, much easier said than done.

An in-depth understanding of how to effectively create lasting individual and organizational change is foundational to cultivating a sustainability-oriented culture.

Transformation to Cultivate Sustainable Systems

An in-depth understanding of how to effectively create lasting individual and organizational change is foundational to cultivating a sustainability-oriented culture. Change management – as overused a term it might be – is underpinned by a suite of concepts that are extremely valuable in driving successful sustainability transitions in organizations. This, of course, is not without exceptions.

Likewise, many tools and methodologies exist for identifying sustainability challenges, raising awareness, and generating initiatives. But, at the very core of it all, there is one fundamental component that must change for transformation to occur and sustainable systems to prevail – behavior.

For leaders, this means retiring a top-down approach, developing a future-focused strategic vision, considering the influence of the organization's activities on society and the environment, and embracing experimentation (and the failures that come with it); all behaviors that are contrary to historical (antiquated) business models but, nonetheless, critical to organizational transformation.

Moreover, leaders must furnish communication, collaboration, and feedback mechanisms to ensure employees are actively involved in establishing and executing the transformation agenda from day one through implementation and beyond. After all, these are ultimately the people running the business.

And finally, effective practices that emerge from successful initiatives must be embedded in day-to-day processes and normalized in the organization’s culture for transformation to continue over the long term. Adaptation will then become commonplace and facilitate agility across the organization, which is advantageous for tackling sustainability challenges or any other matter requiring a business to shift gears quickly.

There are no shortcuts

Though you've likely ascertained this from the article's contents to this point, I just want to make it vividly clear; there are no shortcuts to organizational transformation – even if you have long-standing success and an excellent corporate culture. Developing and executing a new sustainability-focused strategic vision and transformation agenda takes time, resources, collaboration, and most importantly, the right mindset.

There has been no time in human history more critical than now to be proactive, take transformative action and cultivate a sustainable society. The future depends on it.

Check out Guidelines for Successful Organizational Transformation for a brief overview of process and mindset essentials.


I am a systems-thinking future-focused strategy & management coach striving to share knowledge on and propose solutions to the risks we face in the present and potential future state of our world. I am passionately driven to work collaboratively with organizations and aid them in developing sustainability mindsets and roadmaps to increase their adaptability, resilience, and long-term sustainability. If your organization has yet to take its first steps toward future-proofing, please don’t hesitate to contact me at to discuss how we can get you started or schedule a free consultation here.


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