Mission: become unconsiously Sustainable

Those who know a little about educational theory should know about the so-called “four steps” of learning a competence, which in my opinion more appropriately describe the process of acquiring awareness rather than simply learning a notion. Let me explain, while describing the Phases of he process:

  1. The First Phase is that in which a person is “unknowingly incompetent”, i.e. he does not know that a certain competence, or the possibility to do something, exists. For example: a child who has never been confronted with a written text is unaware of not being able to read.
  2. The Second Phase occurs when the child is confronted for the first time with a written text, he realizes that there is something to be done, reading, and cannot. Hence he steps in the “conscious incompetence”: the subject becomes aware that he cannot do something.
  3. The Third Phase is one in which, as a result of the desire born in the previous one, the individual learns a competence. In our example, the child learns the meaning and the sound of the letters, and will practice it consciously to read the words written on the sheet of paper. Here the skills are applied anytime by specific will: we are in the stage of “conscious competence”.
  4. The Fourth Phase happens, in our example, for the rest of life, that is when the person has learned to read with ease, he will automatically read any text that will be submitted without having to recall the knowledge of shapes and sounds of the individual letters. Such is the stage of “unconscious competence”. I would also call it “awareness”, i.e the knowledge has become part of the person itself, who no longer needs any intention to practice it. It is the phase where the benefits of having acquired a certain knowledge are greater.

Let’s see now why this is of interest for us: when we talk about Embedded Sustainability with an entrepreneur or executive, we are talking about a competence, or rather a set of skills and abilities, needed to manage the firm in an excellent and effective way in the contemporary context. For a number of reasons that we will not deal with here, most companies and entrepreneurs are still “unknowingly ignorant” of what Sustainability really is and how it could benefit them. This is, among other things, one of the factors that greatly limit a more convinced and substantial commitment of Companies on the path towards Sustainability and the Circular Economy. Furthermore, many companies that already have some intrinsic characteristics that could be enhanced in terms of Sustainability do not take advantage of them because they lack a sound knowledge on the subject.

Therefore we can imagine a useful path of acquisition of the culture and practice of Embedded Sustainability in a similar way to that of the previous example.

  1. In the First Phase the entrepreneur is unaware of Sustainability – or of being “unsustainable” we could say, of the advantages that it can bring to his own business and of how to put it into practice, embedding it in the decisional and operational processes. At this stage equals that in which the business person has confused ideas about what exactly is CSR, Public Relations, Circular Economy or Sustainability: unfortunately, this is a widespread situation. He lives and manages his own business day by day in a traditional way, business as usual, according to the dictates of conventional management as it is still taught in the most popular business schools. 
  2. In the Second Phase, for some reason, the entrepreneur is awakened, discovering that Embedded Sustainability exists as a model of excellent industrial and entrepreneurial management. He therefore becomes “consciously incompetent” of Sustainability, or “aware of being unsustainable”. The advantages of the Sustainability approach become evident, both on the risk reduction and on the performance improvement side. The Embedded Sustainability Index developed by us of Exsulting has among its own characteristics exactly that of fostering this awareness and the subsequent evolution. In fact, already in the free self-assessment of its own Index, the Company becomes aware of the key elements of Embedded Sustainability and how they apply to their actual activities. Right from this point the Company can begin the journey leading straight to the benefits of true Sustainability, beyond misunderstandings and ambiguities, one step at a time, developing internal long lasting skills.
  3. The Third Phase, that of “conscious competence or Sustainability”, is that in which the Company knows and evaluates itself based on the parameters of Sustainability. Here the focus is on the establishment of a culture and a mindset in processes design that aims to bring Sustainability into everyone’s daily tasks along the entire Value Chain. Ways are found so that in each process the elements relevant to the three aspects of Sustainability, economic, human – social and environmental are evident so that its contribution to the global objectives can be measured. The firm begins to reap the fruits of its commitment, but they are just the “low hanging” ones, the easiest, for the moment. This is an essentially “technical” and “cognitive” phase, in which it is important to maintain concentration and willingness, above all a strong support from the top management, on the objectives and the progress towards their achievement. The consistency of decisions and actions with the objectives and strategies of Sustainability must be constantly verified, because it does not yet arise automatically. This will happen later.
  4. The Fourth Phase is in fact that of “unconscious Sustainability” and the most interesting one. At this stage the culture of Sustainability has pervaded every fiber of the enterprise, becoming a daily practice: its objectives are universally shared, understood and clearly timed. Sustainability drives product, process and business model innovation; it favors integration and partnerships in the supply chain; it inspires staff policies, guides strategic, financial and commercial choices and so on. In practice, Sustainability has become “the job of everyone at all times”. The benefits begin to be substantial, both from a financial point of view, with easier and lower cost capital raising, lower environmental impact and related expenses, commercial advantages with higher quotas, new markets or more loyal customers, a more solid and effective supply chain, improved competitiveness, higher productivity, better managed or offset risks and so on. Finally, thinking and acting in harmony with the strategies and policies of Sustainability has become something deeply rooted that happens automatically, without even the need to choose it. The decision-making processes naturally and spontaneously take into account the key elements for Sustainability, since it is now well-established and natural that following such lines is more profitable and less risky.

In conclusion: Embedded Sustainability as an industrial strategic approach can be exploited at best by developing a set of skills to practice with constancy and commitment until they become automatic. 

If you are interested in understanding more, you can calculate the Embedded Sustainability Index of your Company for free from the Exsulting website https://exsulting.com/en/home and you will benefit from a unique and valuable self-knowledge opportunity, as well as having a useful benchmark to position yourself on the journey. From there you will decide yourself how to continue on the path to Sustainability.