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Why Sustainability needs to be sexy

Max Schulze
Max Schulze
3 min read
Why Sustainability needs to be sexy
Photo by Cherie Birkner / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Let’s start by painting a picture to illustrate the problem.

Imagine attending a conference. You see a person in front of the building getting out of an Mercedes S-Class with a driver. It’s a woman in tailored outfit, with every insignia of success - an expensive watch, briefcase and a personal assistant walking next to her. She walks in via the VIP entrance, with the organizers of the conference shuffling to personally welcome her and bring her backstage. Add some security guards if makes you think even harder about the question: Who is that person?

If I ask you this question, likely the answer would be in the following categories:

  • A successful investor (maybe hedge fund, private equity, Goldman Sachs?)
  • A successful entrepreneur or business men
  • A CEO of a large successful company

All having made some money as a measure of success. All celebrated because they turned something into money. The means in most cases don’t matter or are unknown. What matters is the success as measured by the amount of money generated.

Now imagine I tell you that person is the CEO of Greenpeace or Amnesty International. Or any other not-for-profit organization or someone who is trying to stop climate change. How would you feel if that person would look like they are successful and well paid?

Probably you might think something like this:

  • is that what they do with donations?
  • they are probably being paid off by business or a corrupt in some form
  • something must be off!

And why is that? Because we associate the fight for doing something good with anti-capitalism or simply “money is bad” attitude. Many of us believe that the purpose of doing something good and the positive feedback from people should be enough. If that’s true, why are paying CEOs of large companies so much money? Shouldn’t the thanks for the great leadership by tens of thousands of employees and the strong purpose of a corporation be enough for them?

We are not going to overcome the climate crisis with purpose & positive feedback

Now are facing the climate crisis. Which means transforming industries, sectors, businesses, governments. Disrupting the status quo. Pushing against outdated thinking. Most of this work is currently and will likely be drive by not-for-profit organizations. That’s a good thing.

But for them to be successful, they need to be able to hire the best talent and that they need to be allowed to be successful - by the same measure that the CEO of an oil company is celebrated for making a massive profit, the leaders of non-profit organizations needs to be celebrated and rewarded for the impact they are making.

After all, why shouldn’t they? If they are solving a big problem for society at large, why shouldn’t they be paid well? Why shouldn’t they have the same luxuries of success then an investor or CEO that made fortune by exploiting people in a poor country? We celebrate their ability to make money and their display of wealth.

When will we do the same for the leaders of the Sustainability movement?

When will we encourage that people in the field of Sustainability get paid well - the same way people in an oil company get paid well (for something that damages the society)?

I’m included

I decided to write this piece as I continuously find myself in this conflict - with people from across the board. I’m tired of comments such as “oh that’s a nice suit for someone who works in Sustainability, you must have a lot of corporate support”.

Honestly, we do, but they have no influence on our decision making. They support our purpose, without influencing the direction and we have a governance structure which ensures this. And we pay our people well, because changing an entire sector is hard work, people work overtime every day, and they push their own limits constantly. They deserve to be paid well. It shouldn’t be a sacrifice to career or income to work in fighting climate change. Don’t you agree? Don’t you want the very best people to work on the future for your children? On saving the planet?

Maybe you don’t want to work on it yourself. Maybe you want to do something else. It’s all fine. But we need to start valuing people that make an impact the same way as bankers who make a lot of money.



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