How do sustainability leaders achieve success is driving down carbon?

October 18, 2015

As part of a group project with the Climate KIC Pioneers into Practice programme, we did a research project on 'Leadership in the NHS'. As a group we identified the lack of leadership as a key barrier to the transformation to a low carbon economy, so we decided to look at it in a bit more detail. 


The challenge was to better understand how 'Sustainability Leaders' achieve results in reducing carbon in their organisation and how these successful factors can be transferred to other leaders. We also aimed to offer recognition and support for their work through participation in the MEBC awards


Quantitative research was undertaken comprising an email to c.250 Sustainablility Leaders in the NHS.
Emails were sent via an existing network of contacts using survey monkey and proposing a focus group with the opportunity to shape an new award. The transition tools used included mainly actor analysis to map out the relevant actors including policy makers, financiers, top management and junior staff as well as characterise the sustainability leaders themselves.The actor analysis was used to identify the survey recipients.


Multi-level perspective analysis was used to identify important institutional and personal success factors and actors in each of the levels: Landscape, Regimes, and Niches.


Background material was used to establish the research framework aginst which to analyse the results. The Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL) was used to evaluate sustainability leaders through behaviour and/or task orientated and contextual factors, such as corporate culture, governance structure, political, social and economics. Three pillars of sustainability leadership are proposed by CPSL and consider sociological factors as well as environmental sciences at the same level as personal styles.


Based on an analysis of only 7 No. survey responses the Institutional Success Factors were as follows:
The drivers to support leaders’ achievements are mainly; internal policy framework, availability of funds, relevant tools for assessment and top management support and junior staff.

The Personal Success Factors were as follows; the capacity to compel and persist against complex challenges, knowledge of technical issues in their field, the capacity to communicate effectively and create trustworthy alliances form the profile of a sustainability leader.


Findings were in line with Doppelt (2010) and Quim and Dalton (2010) and Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, (2013).  The seven individuals analysed are deriving knowledge, acumen and encouragement from a rich and complex set of external interactions with their peers, managers and a wide network of stakeholders.

Leadership developmental programmes in the NHS should focus on leader’s proactivity on building learning networks rather than responsiveness to challenges.


There are inspiring sustainability leaders in the NHS whose success factors can be transferred and shared through building learning networks. Recognition for success is not as important as  we initially thought due to peoples' personal profile.


I am looking forward to this research  project being discussed at the ClimateKIC innovation festival on the 29th October 2015 and hope that some follow up can be done so that the interest of Climate KIC in the healthcare sector can be continued into future Pioneer Into Practice programmes.



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