Pivoting towards environmental, economic and social sustainability

Six things business leaders can do now to future proof their business

(Part 1 of 6)


New opportunities after 2020


 COVID-19 has brought unprecedented social change and hardship for many people. It also delivered an unrivaled opportunity for leaders and businesses to pivot towards new opportunities if they embrace the right approach.

In this blog series, we explore the top 6 attributes and behaviours that enable leaders to embrace the COVID crisis as a way to redefine their businesses for the better. At the heart of this series is the belief that a fundamental turn towards sustainability is happening, which, as we will explore throughout the series, does go hand in hand with long-term economic recovery.


Using a crisis to reinvent

Throughout history, we have observed leaders who took the opportunity of a crisis to reinvent their businesses for good. One of the most well-known and dramatic reinventions may be ‘Netflix’, who innovated themselves from a DVD rental service to the market-leading streaming service. They did this during the biggest financial crises of our lifetime in 2008.

The year 2020 signifies not only the year of a global pandemic but also the 10-year countdown to the crucial year 2030, in which the European Green Deal demands ambitious targets to be achieved:

  1. At least 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels)
  2. At least 32% share for renewable energy
  3. At least 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency


In every dining room and boardroom in the world

The European Green Deal focuses primarily on climate and energy but also on social and economic sustainability. In essence, any businesses working towards being ‘sustainable’ need to consider that achieving a ‘net-zero’ or ‘true-zero’ standard in terms of emissions and waste cannot be done at the cost of its economic stability and, therefore at the detriment of its employees, suppliers, and partners.

Confidence in customers, employees, shareholders, and investors

The events of 2020 may form a crucial platform for businesses and society to pivot towards all three areas of sustainability and catapult ‘Sustainability’ into every dining room and board room in the world.  This year has created a unique window of opportunity to reinvent and pivot with clear action, embracing the opportunity to create confidence in customers, employees, shareholders, and investors.

Let’s look at the first of the Top 6 Things to do to pivot towards environmental, economic, and social sustainability:

Adaptive leadership

When you lead a business towards fundamental change, you need to find adaptable leaders and invest in this talent. When a business needs to react and change quickly, successful leaders act in a manner that is consistent with the principles ‘adaptive leadership’.


Leadership that focuses on soft skills

Technical skills score low, soft skill score high.

To understand this in the context of pivoting towards sustainability, Arvensis Partners has interviewed over 30 senior sustainability professionals in travel businesses. The aim was to understand what leaders consider the top skill to be in order to succeed as a senior sustainability leader in a travel company.

Our research has found that the top-ranking skill that emerged is excellent ‘stakeholder management’. This encompasses communication & persuasion via story-telling and active listening. This forms a crucial part of the skillset of adaptable leaders and confirms that Sustainability leaders have to be adaptive in order to succeed.

Adaptive leaders are willing to experiment and learn from experimenting. Leaders with this mindset experiment, fail & learn, and then experiment again until they find a solution to a problem. Adaptive leaders are not scared of failure and instead, embrace ‘failure’ as an opportunity to learn and improve. This is a crucial part of being to respond to any crisis.

Adaptive leaders do not believe in top-down leadership. Adaptive leaders allow the surfacing of ideas and solutions from all levels and parts of the organisation. In turn, businesses that operate this way keep ideas fresh, employees buy into change easier and the culture of the company remains young. These companies’ brand propositions allow the next generation of customers to continue to re-engage over and over again. To achieve this ‘freshness’, adaptive leaders often invest in a ‘digital mentor’ from either outside or inside their organisation. By picking someone who is generationally the most distant to them, they open up their mind to a different point of view that may be crucial to execute a successful pivot and crisis response. Maybe we will see ‘Sustainability mentors’ emerging over the coming months and years as businesses are embracing the importance of a pivot towards sustainability and beyond that, towards regeneration.

Adaptive leaders hunt for the best talent. Companies who pivot and adapt well, always consider the importance and complexity of attracting and retaining top talent. Talent attraction carries a high cost, time, and effort. In order to pivot all businesses, no matter how large or small, have to have a solid talent attraction and retention strategy keeping engaged with the communities adjacent to them and be able to respond quickly to emerging needs for expansion or replacement.

In order to use 2020 as a platform for change, business leaders and their teams should become more familiar with the principles of adaptive leadership. Becoming skilled in adaptive leadership will enable individual leaders to have a greater capacity to respond and to create an environment that all stakeholders and employees feel valued and valuable within.

The Harvard Business Review has published many articles on adaptive leadership. Their most recent article on this topic can be found via the following link: https://hbr.org/2020/09/5-principles-to-guide-adaptive-leadership

If you wish to discuss the principles of Adaptive Leadership with our consultants and understand how it can form the basis of a pivot towards becoming a leading, sustainable business, you can get in touch via email here.


Arvensis Partners is the only executive search & advisory firm for Sustainability and ESG talent with a vertical focus on travel & transportation, energy, clean invest and NGOs. Our teams also deliver strategic searches for leadership positions in cleantech / emerging tech markets.