Leadership with Commitment to Sustainability

Authored by: Vivek High School: Aditi Kaushik & Suryaveer Suri

Leadership, a concept that has existed throughout time but one that is constantly changing, adapting, evolving right alongside the human race. From kings, to dictators, to elected heads, over the years leadership has shifted from individualistic to collaborative; from exclusive to inclusive. Recently however, the concept of ‘youth leadership’ has started playing a major role in current affair and politics. The youth today mostly perpetuate a democratic nature of government and actively engage in the political landscape. But that’s not the only sphere that they have been found to be active in. A growing awareness and a sense of environmentalism now plays a critical role in the ideas pursued by the younger generation. Therefore, at Vivek High School, we researched how the youth perceives leadership now, with an added focus on commitment to sustainability.

This research project led us to the conclusion that a lack of sustainable policies and changes in our world could lead to problems that affect us all, regardless of man-made borders. In our discussions, we resolved that our generation must keep in mind not only the needs of the present, but also those of the future. In our current times of global-warming, excessive pollution, dying ecological habitats, and the novel coronavirus pandemic, what is essential is that leadership models are based on sustainability.

The first step in the research process was understanding the concept of sustainability. There are several facets of sustainability. Firstly, sustainability does not only refer to the environment, it also refers to the lives, standards of living and needs of the people. When taking this into account, commitment to sustainability becomes a far more complicated subject considering that the very factories and businesses that majorly contribute to environmental destruction are also the source of livelihood and financial resources for a large number of people across the globe. Secondly, the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the world into disarray with unemployment rates spiking, economies taking a hit, and several countries displaying a severe amount of unpreparedness (the United States of America surprisingly leading the list at the time of writing). This consequently introduces a third element into our research, that is, politics. And lastly, the increase in pollution levels in most nations across the globe has proven to be a pressing concern that cannot be ignored any longer. Sustainability is therefore dependent upon humanitarian aid, economic stability, political ideologies, and environmentalism.

Sustainability is multi-faceted. Companies need leaders who can balance the pressure of short-term and long-term goals and priorities and incorporate ideals centered on improving social and environmental issues. A shift in a company’s priorities brings about a change in their employees’ livelihood. Through sustainable leadership at all levels, the changes necessary for creating a better and more egalitarian society are much more likely to occur. Sustainable leaders set strategies and ensure the delivery of results that meet the triple bottom line of social, environmental, and financial performance. When leaders do not follow models of sustainable leadership, there are consequences.

Sustainable leaders should consider all stakeholders, and not just shareholders who exist to financially benefit from selfish resolutions. Taking into account the example of former president, Donald Trump, we not only observed him back out of the Paris Agreement (with over 190 signatories) touting ‘hindered economic growth for the United States’, we saw the consequences of his actions. Raised carbon emissions across the world, especially from developing countries dependent on monetary funding from the USA. It took one decision from a global leader to undermine years of effort to reduce global warming.

Our second step in the research project was to tackle three questions: Why is this generation needed? What can this generation do right now? How can our generation promote our ideas?

Why is this generation needed? The first question proved to be the easiest to answer. As students (young adults) the future will eventually fall on our shoulders. With our generation aware and willing to work, and the future leaders of the world conscious of the consequences of their decisions, leadership and sustainability could go hand in hand. Sustainable choices provide security.  However, these choices don’t just rest in the hands of one person, one leader. They rest on the shoulders of every citizen in the world. To consciously choose a path that may not be as comfortable, or as easy, as many are wont to do is in itself a feat of leadership that must be commended.

What can this generation do right now? Being young does not equate to being incapable. Spreading awareness, encouraging people to make ecological choices, starting the change with our own actions, introducing clubs and extra-curricular activities aimed at sustainable development are all ways to help. The impact may be small, yet a small change is always better than none.

How can our generation promote our ideas? When it comes to convincing others to listen, a good leader always leads by example. Leadership after all, begins in your own backyard with strong role models leading the way for others to join. That the world is changing and will continue to do so is undeniable. But progress for the sake of progress, with no consideration towards the long-term impact on humanity and the environment is in contrast to healthy, sustainable growth.

Our research eventually led us to one final conclusion; a commitment to sustainability is only viable if it goes hand-in-hand with leadership. The world is now a Global Village, with every action having consequences that affect people continents away. And it falls upon our shoulders to remember that as we emerge as the imminent leaders of this world; for one to live in a developed society; all must play their part in developing and sustaining that society.