In this guide:
- Meet Richard Profit
- What is a sustainability team?
- What kind of team is needed for sustainability?
- Overcoming the barriers to collaboration
- Action: Things to think about
- Links to articles and other resources
In this episode Osbert asks Richard Profit, Realise Earth co-founder, and a former Senior Sustainability Manager with PepsiCo, to share his experience of creating an effective sustainability team in the world’s second largest food and beverage company.
Meet Richard Profit
Rich started at PepsiCo as a project manager, implementing the environmental management system for their UK logistics operation. Getting a better understanding of the impacts of the operation and then finding solutions started him down the path of increased awareness and wanting to create positive change.
He studied an MSc in sustainability and responsibility, and became an internal change agent, forming a team with four or five colleagues that started looking at environmental sustainability across PepsiCo’s European operations.
Listen to the podcast (above) for more of Rich’s sustainability leadership journey in PepsiCo.
Below are Rich’s key insights and experience on what makes for a great sustainability team.
What is a sustainability team?
At PepsiCo my “sustainability team” wasn’t a formal team at all. It was a group of people who came together – and stayed together – as a community of interest within the organisation. We were a self-supporting network of people trying to affect change.
We worked in different functions across the business, and our roles changed over time, including taking on global responsibilities.
It’s really important to re-think your definitions of ‘team’ and ‘leader’. Because a team can come from anywhere and a leader can come from anywhere.
What kind of team is needed for sustainability?
It comes down to people who have passion and commitment for the agenda. To my mind, it doesn’t matter where they’re positioned in an organisation or their level of seniority.
At PepsiCo, there wasn’t a cohesive plan for the type of team we wanted to be. It was a coalescing and a coming together of people who thought in a similar way, or had a similar purpose and drive to create positive change.
What you’re looking for is people who are high energy, with passion, commitment and enthusiasm for the topic. If you bring them together, you can then refine what it is they work on based on their skill sets and experience.
Although you can inspire passion in people, it’s useful to start with a team who already have passion and commitment because you are working with a highly motivated team right from the start.
Collaboration, trust & empathy
Collaboration within the team is essential. As well as developing a culture of collaboration within the team, you need to try to build a culture of collaboration within the wider organisation. You aren’t going to make much ground without it.
Real collaboration will only develop if the team trusts themselves and trust each other.
A lot of work will be needed to establish and build trust. Trust comes with honesty and transparency and getting over a lot of the individualistic attitudes that can arise in organisations.
But if they have passion and commitment, that trumps those kinds of barriers.
If, as individuals within the team, you can develop strong empathy, that really makes the relationships within the team and beyond more effective.
With empathy you can build the relationships that give you the influence that you need to bring about the changes and make the interventions for positive action that you want within the organisation.
Collaboration for sustainability: What works?
Join other sustainability leaders to discuss the factors behind effective collaboration, and how to apply them in your work.
12:30 – 13:30, Wed 6th Mar, 2024. Read more and register on our events page…
Overcoming the barriers to collaboration
Generally, the bigger the organisation, the more challenges there will be to developing a collaborative culture.
You’re going to face inter-departmental rivalry and silo thinking: You are in the sustainability team, that’s your job. I do engineering or I do sales, or I do marketing or whatever.
A lot of organisations are still blighted by this idea that individual functions are responsible for certain areas. You’ve got to overcome that because all the functions are interrelated and interdependent, particularly when it comes to sustainability.
Personal objective setting and personal goals are also a problem. They’re focused on what that individual delivers rather than what they can co-create and deliver as a team.
You often see it towards the end of the year, people get so focused on making sure they’ve completed their objectives. They’ve got no capacity or scope or willingness to engage in anything that’s not on their list of things to tick off.
Box ticking is not enough
The conventional approach is to make sure that the right people have a sustainability goal within their objectives. Because then they’ve got something they have to tick off that would support your agenda.
But that’s still a conventional approach. It’s still a box ticking exercise.
It doesn’t unlock within them any passion or commitment to actually deliver a sustainable change. It’s just “Yeah, I’ve done that“.
In the scheme of things, it’s not going to make a huge amount of difference.
Disrupt usual patterns of behaviour
One of the things we did at PepsiCo was to help break down these silos and this individualism. We took a post-conventional approach to leadership, which is really about disrupting usual patterns of behaviour.
We would deliberately have meetings in different venues. We’d have meetings at a local farm rather than a corporate boardroom. It created different sounds, smells; we’d go for walks and talks.
This meant was we were able to disrupt power dynamics and the normal decision making processes.
It allowed new ways of thinking to emerge. New types of conversation, new potential outcomes and possibilities, which we could then use to form and create new collaborations, identify new intervention points.
In some cases, this sparked personal passion within individuals because being out in nature they started to see the impact we have on more than just ourselves.
By deliberately disrupting the usual patterns of behaviour we were able to build trust and empathy, to make connections between different individuals and between different functions. This meant they started working and thinking differently.
In future guides, Rich goes into the skills and mindsets needed for sustainability leadership, and offers practical advice about how you and your team can go about developing these skills – and make real progress on sustainability.