Sustainability Is The New Mindset

Sustainability is the new mindset, with great power comes great responsibility. Insights on defining systems thinking, the CEO mindset, how to define responsible leadership for 2030... We are covering it all.

Nilüfer AktaşContent Editor

April 24, 2022
6min read

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

What kind of leadership is needed to tackle the biggest social and environmental problems of today? What is the role of leadership to drive positive change in our economic models and social systems?

Leadership is about movement and action, but how we describe and define leaders is just as important in understanding their impact. You can be a bold or charismatic leader, or an emphatic one, these are typical and relatively common traits we see in our leaders today. Being a responsible leader is different however, because it comes with a choice; the choice to go beyond just assuming the power of a leadership position, but also rising to take responsibility for the consequences of that power.

Applying decision making power to equalize social systems and narrow gaps in living standards can be an extremely positive outcome for the global community, but also requires collective action. Today’s leaders will be defined by the choices made in these decisive moments, to change the systems and structures that govern society for the greater good of all. But to do that, we need to be equipped with the right tools and perspectives around to embrace the concept of systems thinking.


Defining Systems Thinking

There are many definitions of systems thinking, but Wikipedia summarises it well: Systems thinking is a way of making sense of the complexity of the world by looking at it in terms of wholes and relationships rather than by splitting it down into its parts.

Systems thinking is straight forward, but to get serious about it we need a methodology, practice and compassion when analysing our problems. When we transfer the paradigm into the business world things get complicated as the foundations of creating a business is largely for profit, benefiting a specific group of stakeholders engaged.

The challenge is a big one, where decision making power must be leveraged in favor of stakeholder capitalism rather than shareholders profits. To bring about this change, actors are increasingly ambitious in trying to influence leaders across the executive suite in their decision making.

So how do organisations like the European Innovation Committee deal with systems thinking? Why do NGO’s like the BMW Foundation and Schwab Foundation, sister organisations of WEF, pour their resources to the dissemination of responsible leadership? Below is an example of the fellowship programs they organise to find and bring forward change makers in organisations.

image source: BMW Foundation

The CEO Mindset

The role of the CEO is changing, they are expected to deliver short term results as well as long term goals that are in line with society’s well being. This is a major dilemma, can it be achieved? Absolutely, but it is not easy.

It is about being part of a broader system that, if we can contribute to positively, raises all boats. As CEOs are taking on the systems-value view, they acknowledge that no business can succeed in a vacuum and long-term success requires collaboration with others. This marks a shift from transactional to more relational engagements.

“Know your impacts, favor improvement, and share what you learn,”

Advise Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley (Chouinard & Stanley, 2012).

It is important to note that CEOs see this shift in perspective as business sense, not corporate philanthropy; Businesses that take on the systems perspective gradually move away from customer centricity and needs towards systems centricity and needs. Some major challenges in doing this we have identified are:

  • LEADERSHIP WITH INTEGRATION –  Are we making a real impact or are we just serving the status quo?
  • REGENERATION – Regenerating our broken selves, broken systems and environment. How do we incorporate these elements without green washing? How do we encourage biocultural diversity by acknowledging the land, people, cultures and more
  • CONFRONTING SILENCE – Being brave enough to bring depth to conversations around sustainability; What are the conversations that are not happening? How do we open the field to everyone and give a sense of belonging and participation?


Systems transformation and collaboration in line with the ambitions of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals can only be achieved with a new lens for responsible leadership, in which leaders drive disruptive change within and beyond the four walls of the firm and broader ecosystems.

Leaders are called to step up action and course-correct the private sector’s contribution to Global Goals. To accelerate progress in corporate-level decisions, we have identified some critical requirements for leaders:

1.      Favour immediately commercially viable options less to propel the economics of sustainability in the long term, pioneering systems change.

2.      Proactively drive market demand for sustainability, encouraging sustainable behaviors and demand, making sustainability accessible for all.

3.      Build cultures of responsibility and sustainability, taking sustainability personally. Leaders who are genuine in their concerns for society and the planet are most effective in driving sustainability and business performance

4.      Act as catalysts to set expectations and embed purpose-driven mindsets through their strategy, organization and people.

5.      Know the issues and engage in a science-based leadership with them, driving the adoption of science-based solutions

6.      Extend responsibility to ecosystems: broadening responsibility to suppliers and industry peers, while lifting up industries through the sharing of best practice.

Digitopia believes and invests in the ‘’Systems Thinking” paradigm through its new service line – The Sustainability Maturity Index.

We want to help leaders tackle the greatest dilemmas in their line of duties by offering a structured and digital framework to assess their sustainable maturity level, realise their risks while developing a capacity to grasp opportunities and be the responsible leader of their tenure.

To do this we provide a smart, holistic evaluation matrix called the ‘Sustainability Maturity index’ built on 6 dimensions that embraces the whole sustainability concept, laying the foundational elements of transparency for greater inclusion and diversity.

We strongly urge leaders and all change agents to try our new service and be equipped with a powerful ally to drive green and social change in their ecosystems.

This is the perfect opportunity for us all to take sustainability personally, being the leaders we want to see. Responsibility may often fall to executives because they have more power to create change, but sustainability can’t wait for others to reach the conclusion by themselves.

We need to act today to take ownership and responsibility as leaders at every level of the organisation. So let us, by getting in touch today.