By Gloria Lombardi

The opportunity and responsibility to improve the community is very much at the fore of leaders’ minds. The concept of sustainability can impact, and benefit, every area of business. But changes have to be made; companies in the future will need to operate in different ways to today. Attracting and retaining staff who understand their personal impact upon the economic, cultural, and environmental aspects of society will be ever more important.

Leaders will naturally see sustainability as an opportunity to strengthen their business. They will face a high level of complexity though, and colleagues will have to broaden their knowledge and skills to look at problems in a different way. Charity work will continue to be an effective way to engage people beyond their day-to-day role. The big challenge will be to develop a sustainable approach that creates value for the business, as well as for society.

James111But more needs to be done, according to James Murphy (pictured right), founder of Engage International, who is launching a new global initiative for employers to assess the opportunities of becoming a truly sustainable company. The Culture, Innovation and Sustainability Project (CISP) is an international partnership network that will offer a variety of unique volunteering experiences across the globe. Currently in beta, the platform will officially kick off in January 2018.

MARGINALIA spoke with Murphy to explore CISP and its promise to reach ahead into the future of work. In this interview, Murphy shares his views on sustainability, the role of employers to create shared value by partnering with charities, and millennials’ appetite to work towards a fair society. He offers insights into the fundamental need to create a culture of learning, and offers examples of organisations that are already realising the potential of sustainable activities.

Gloria Lombardi: Considering the new global initiative, the Culture, Innovation and Sustainability Project (CISP), how do you define ‘sustainability’?

James Murphy: Sustainability is a complex concept. When people hear the word, many might immediately think about the environment, and to an extent they would be right. Environment is obviously a very big part of it.

But sustainability also includes the economy and society. In 2009, green economist Molly Scott Cato spoke about the ‘Three pillars of sustainability’, in which both economy and society are constrained by environmental limits. Similarly, in 2006, WM (Bill) Adams wrote about ‘The Future of Sustainability: Re-thinking Environment and Development in the Twenty-first Century’ [PDF; 250KB], interlinking the environment with social and economic aspects.

The most often quoted definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

If we look at society as a whole, the biggest challenge we face is to create a more sustainable future. The housing market in London, for example, is becoming unsustainable. With the way it’s going, our grandchildren will never be able to afford a house.

So, sustainability is anything that we do in our lives, which consciously goes towards developing the conditions of the future. That includes creating more jobs, or fairer financial stability, or better opportunities for unprivileged people, such as homeless people.

GL: What’s the role of employers towards sustainability?

mil22JM: People go to work for many reasons; to earn money, to better themselves, to have a sense of belonging, or to work towards a common purpose. If employers can create meaningful experiences that enable their employees to reach their goals while also contributing to a more sustainable society, it will be one of the most valuable gifts an employer can give.

Research points to the fact that millennials prefer to work for organisations that are socially responsible. Volunteerism is a pronounced behaviour amongst millennials, and companies should make such charitable involvement part of their engagement strategy. The Japanese have the term ‘ikigai’, meaning, a reason for being.

Debashish Sengupta, CISP’s partner and author of the upcoming book, The Life of Y: Engaging Millennials as Employees and Consumers, argues at length how young workers have a very high concern for sustainability issues, addressing societal challenges in their areas of deepest concerns: for example, resource scarcity, climate change, and income inequality. He points out that millennials are not only concerned about sustainability issues much more than the previous generations, but they also want to do their fair bit to improve things and make a personal impact. These claims are credibly supported by studies explored in Sengupta’s book.

So, employers have a great opportunity to engage their employees, and improve their company culture, while also improving society.

GL: What’s the link between sustainability and innovation?

sustainabilityJM: The Fourth Industrial Revolution, combined with other socio-economic and demographic changes, will transform labour markets in the next five years. It is estimated that it will lead to a net loss of over 5 million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies. That is 7 million lost and 2 million created.

But there will be new jobs brought about that don’t exist yet. We’ll see job titles like Chief Productivity Officer, Excess Capacity Broker, Drone Manager, Private Industry Air Traffic Control, Medical Mentor, Autonomous Transportation Specialist, Personal Medical Interpreter, Human-Technology Integration Specialist, and Wholeness Mentor, to name a few. Let’s remember that titles like App Developer, or Social Media Director, and even Uber Driver, didn’t exist a decade ago.

Enabling employees to learn new skills will be more important than ever, helping them to stay relevant at work, and for employers to grow their business.

Now, learning, of course, is hard. Learning is a skill. Employers should enable employees to learn by involving them in experiences outside their comfort zone; by helping them to become confident and able to cope in an ever-changing world. It’s not possible to strictly plan for the future, as many of these individuals will be doing jobs that don’t currently exist. The only way to be prepared is for people to learn how to learn, how to adapt, how to be resilient, how to link what they already know, how to work collaboratively, and how to manage distractions. It’s called metacognition, which is essentially learning about learning.

Albert Einstein summed it up when he said “… education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think”.

Most skills can be taught, and I believe that most people with the right training can do most jobs. Often the hardest part is opening our mind to learning new things. But also being given the opportunities. Rather than making people redundant and increasing unemployment, it is far better to retrain them and support them to keep developing inside and outside the business. Because, ultimately, businesses have to evolve as well, or they will cease to exist.

GL: How will CISP support all of this exactly?

CISPJM: By the end of 2020, we are making a promise to generate 1 million pounds for sustainable causes and facilitate 4 million hours of volunteering in the UK alone. But CISP is an international initiative and through our partnership network we want to offer a variety of unique volunteering experiences across the globe.

We are creating a series of partnerships with businesses and charities to help deliver this vision. The official CISP platform, which goes live in January 2018, will feature all the volunteering options. Supported by their employers, employees can simply click on the cause they want to be involved in. Everything in terms of the work performed by the individual is transparent and easily tracked by both the employee, the business, and the charity. The time given by volunteers is entirely up to them and their employer – they decide how much time to commit.

Charitable causes are very personal to people. I may care about homeless people; you may want to work with animals, or cancer charities. It’s entirely personal. Usually, it relates to something happening in your life or something that has happened to you personally. CISP gives all those different charities an opportunity to access volunteering hours from businesses, and for individuals to choose their favourite causes.

Awareness is another important part of what we are trying to achieve. We ask companies to share their stories. The CISP platform will feature all the amazing stories from all around the world from the companies that sign our promise and and get involved on a variety of different topics.

Similarly to the Lotus Awards, which shines a light on great company cultures, a dedicated Lotus Sustainability Awards will recognise the great sustainability work that organisations are doing.

GL: Can you share any examples of sustainable businesses, which in your view embed what CISP is trying to encourage?

group-524470_960_720JM: There are many organisations that support great sustainability projects; I’ve been fortunate enough to personally be involved in some of them. The Big Issue Foundation is a popular charity in the UK, for people who are homeless. They enable those individuals who are excluded from mainstream society and are financially impoverished to take control of their lives and earn a legitimate income by selling The Big Issue magazine.

Working Chance is a recruitment consultancy for women leaving the criminal justice and care systems. By helping ex-offenders to get back to work, Working Chance are not only improving people’s lives, but they are actually reducing what the government spends on prisoners, which is an incredible amount.

Another great example comes from Sengupta’s book. It features a social entrepreneur, Prathaap Bhimsen Rao, who has started PotholeRaja (plays audio) in Bangalore. India has the highest number of deaths due to road accidents anywhere in the world, and Bangalore is the accident capital of India. There is one death every four minutes. Potholes and poor road conditions are a major contributory factor in causing such accidents. PotholeRaja supporters actively fix potholes, with companies such as Bosch, Bangalore-based QwikCilver Solutions and many others involved. Supporting businesses allow their, often millennial, employees to volunteer and work towards maintaining safer roads. So far, the mission has seen extraordinary enthusiasm and support in Bangalore, with huge support from the media.

CISP will launch in January, and we’ve just two years to reach our goal of 1 million pounds and 4 million volunteer hours in the UK. Companies of every size should consider the engagement benefits of having their employees volunteer for causes dear to their hearts.