The Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability
The Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability is Ashridge’s in-house think tank on sustainable development and the implications for leadership, strategy and change in organisations. Established in 1996, the centre leads influential research and thought leadership in collaboration with external partners, and works collaboratively across Ashridge to support Ashridge’s education and consulting work around leadership and change for sustainability.
Ashridge's views on Sustainability
Matt Gitsham, the Centre's Director, talks about topical issues of sustainability, the challenges sustainability poses for leaders and how Ashridge is responding in four short videos. See here for more information.
Developing Responsible Business Leaders
Insights from 24 years of the Prince's Seeing is Believing Programme
This research, conducted by Ashridge Business School and Business in the Community, investigated the factors that accounted for why some business leaders put creating value for wider society at the heart of their work while others don’t, and considers what it is that we need in order to get more of the right kind of business leaders.
The research suggests that getting the right combination of different kinds of life experiences is key to ending up with the ‘right’ kind of business leaders. While everyone’s journey is different, the key themes emerging again and again in the life histories of progressive business leaders are:
- First hand experiences of pressing challenges in society and personal relationships with people experiencing them
- Exposure to influential role models working successfully to address these challenges
- Inspirational support to help relate these experiences back to the world of business
- Working with a peer-group and support network of like-minded business leaders
For many progressive business leaders, these elements in their life stories have come together by chance. For others, it has come through participation in the Prince’s Seeing is Believing programme, a pioneering experiential leadership development programme which for 24 years has combined all these elements in its design.
Leadership in a rapidly changing world
In the past few years, more and more business leaders have begun speaking a new language – talking about, taking action on and defining their success in terms of things that used to be the preserve of political leaders and NGO activists – the contribution their core business makes towards addressing today’s most pressing societal challenges.
This shift in rhetoric is being matched by a shift in action, with many organisations engaging in innovative partnerships prioritising activities that create stakeholder value as well as shareholder value.
This is all the more surprising coming at a time, in the wake of the financial crisis, when negative stereotypes of business leaders are flourishing in public debate.
What does this shift mean for how we think about business leadership? Is there an emerging group of business leaders that are leading in a different way to the generation that went before them? If so, what does that mean for everyone else?See here for more information
The EStAR (Enabling Sustainability through Action Research) project.
The project was the subject of a Visiting Research Fellowship awarded to Patricia Hind by the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USBS).
The research focused on SMEs who were keen to develop sustainability practices, it used an Action Research Methodology to achieve two key objectives:
- To examine and identify the specific attributes of organizations – the structures, processes, cultures and/or resources that are conducive or resistant to the ‘enablement’ of responsible leadership.
- To contribute to the development of a global understanding of the concept of responsible leadership and its links to sustainability.
Unlike ‘best practice’ approaches, this study identified the factors that enabled and encouraged responsible leadership and sustainable strategies in a number of different locations and cultures, it started with South Africa.
The project methodology was an iterative or cyclical process of investigation, involving a volunteer sample of organizational members who shared an interest in enabling sustainability through responsible leadership in their companies. This process was managed by USBS.
We worked with around 8 - 12 Senior Leaders from SMEs. The research discovered the practices which helped to enable responsible leadership within the companies and increase the chances of delivering the sustainability benefits that were intended.
In the first iteration of the ESTAR project the companies involved included:
- A sugar processor and wholesaler
- A conservation trust
- A fruit farm and packager
- A dairy farm, dessert manufacturer and retail supplier
- A publishing company
- A chain of retail chemists
- A social media/technical entrepreneurial partnership.
- An entrepreneurial company using social networking to create event based communities.
The companies ranged in size from 8 – 900, some were family businesses, and all were concerned with creating sustainable jobs in South Africa.
The action research programme started with an opening one-day workshop to set the scene, share an enabling framework and create a communicative space for the project; this was divided into two halves. During the first half of the workshop, the participants began to clarify the problem or challenge that they wanted to address. The second half of the workshop introduced the action research methodology. During this session actionable ‘experiments’ were agreed and outlined by and with the participants.
A member of the research team visited participant companies shortly after the initial workshop, to further discuss and refine their action research plans. Actions, measurements, recording and responsibilities were agreed at this stage in each organization. During the second phase, participants worked in their organizations to investigate and “dig deeper” into the issues identified. They devoted time collecting “data” about the actionable experiments and the changes identified and agreed in step one. This was supported by the research team in two ways; firstly by enabling a structure for data collection, and secondly by keeping in touch and offering support and encouragement. The group came together again, for a final workshop, which was divided into two halves. During the first session, outcomes and experiences were shared. Each company shared its project, the outcomes, their reflections and perceived way forward. Common themes and experiences were drawn out and recognized, as were unique and idiosyncratic experiences. From this workshop we started to formulate some principles of enablement for socially responsible leadership.
Drawing on data from the UN Global Compact-Accenture 2010 CEO Study, Ashridge and EABIS have led an analysis of CEO perspectives on management education for the UN PRME. Key findings include:
- 93% of CEOs now believe sustainability will be critical to the future success of their companies.
- 88% believe educators and business schools need to develop the mindsets and skills for future leaders to address sustainability.
- They believe this is the second most important change that could be made to reach a tipping point where sustainability is embedded in the core business strategies of the majority of companies globally (of a similar order of importance as changing customer demand and the actions of the investment community and government regulation).
- 86% believe their companies should invest in enhanced training of managers to integrate sustainability.
Read the full analysis here
In this the first volume of Ashridge sustainability thought-pieces, some of the principles and big ideas that can help us meet the profound challenges currently facing us all are explored. Perspectives on intelligent growth, happiness and wellbeing, ecological mindset, and relational sustainability are offered.
In this the second volume of Ashridge sustainability thought-pieces, a series of four articles - by Chris Seeley, Sandra White, Myrna Roselind Jelman and Chris Nicols - trace a path from thought to action.
Three articles from Ashridge authors, giving accounts of some of Ashridge's recent work on sustainability with clients. The Converse Sustainability Supplement contains the following articles:
- From Light Bulbs to Light Bulb moments - Creating the conditions for sustainable change
- Changing Conversations in a Changing Climate - Ashridge Consulting's work with the environmental think tank The Green Alliance, supporting parliamentarians to meaningfully engage with climate change
- How to Look Deeper - An overview of a one week workshop led by Ashridge Consulting and Schumacher College exploring profound questions about business: what is it for, and how might it be re-envisioned