Author: Julian

Celebrating female leadership on International Women’s Day

Celebrating female leadership on International Women’s Day

Meet members of the LQ community who are inspiring inclusion

To mark International Women’s Day and embrace its theme of ‘Inspiring Inclusion’ we’re sharing the stories of five amazing women from the Leaders’ Quest community.

Renewable energy systems and community empowerment

Dr. Arwen Colell is an energy policy specialist, and Co-Founder and CPO at decarbon1ze GmbH

Arwen discusses the importance of educating and empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their energy consumption and to encourage community participation in building a resilient energy system.

Empowering marginalized leaders

Shivani Mehta is, Executive Director at CORO INDIA

Shivani talks about CORO’s mission to create a world free from discrimination and marginalization, emphasizing their efforts towards inclusivity and promoting leadership from within marginalized communities.

Artivism and immigration

Rosalia Torres Weiner is an artivist at Red Calaca Studio

Rosalia explains her work which combines art and activism to document the stories of underrepresented communities. She emphasizes the importance of her work in telling the stories of others in order to broaden people’s perspectives.

Transformational thinking in prisons

Jessica Taylor is Executive Director at Chance for Life

Jessica discusses her work at Chance for Life, where she and her team teaches transformational thinking inside prisons with the aim of effecting systemic change in communities and systems.

Women’s rights and the untapped potential of seaweed

Gudrun Hallgrímsdóttir had a long career in Icelandic politics, and worked at the United Nations UNIDO in Vienna.

Gudrun talks about her research into Icelandic seaweed and its potential to revolutionize nutrition and medicine, alongside how her activism has helped to shape national policy for the benefit of women.

Reducing carbon footprint and promoting inclusion

Natalie Kind is  founder of Dunamis Clean Energy Partners

Natalie shares the company’s mission and its commitment to inclusion by training and hiring from the local communities, with a focus on underprivileged and underrepresented groups.

Working with the global LQ community

We are grateful to work with such an incredible community of hosts who help to open up new perspectives for leaders in all walks of life. 

To read more about how we work with our hosts, take a look at what we do…

The renewable energy of inclusion – and how it can power business

The renewable energy of inclusion – and how it can power business

Darya Shaikh

I’ve noticed that when things in the world feel particularly fragile, we tend to look for ways of avoiding conflict. There are so many painful and complicated issues that seem to be demanding we take a stance or form an opinion. Yet, there is more evidence that the risk of getting it wrong far outweighs any benefits of engaging at all.  

One thing that feels clear, however, is that the pressure on leaders across sectors to respond to these societal tensions and geo-political conflicts is only going to grow. So, as I’ve learned over my years facilitating across contested spaces, conflict is unavoidable.

I’ve been working with companies following the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7 and subsequent War in Gaza to help leaders navigate the intense emotions and deep challenges showing up across the workplace.

More often than that, I’m partnering with DEI teams to deliver this delicate, nuanced work. But leading through conflicts and crises is the responsibility of all leaders. Not because of any moral imperative – that’s not what this article is about. Rather, the quality of inclusion and generative conflict across organizations ties directly to the health and resilience of your business.

Conflict avoidance vs generative discomfort 

My biggest takeaway in doing this work is that the default corporate culture of niceness and acting like a ‘workplace family,’ where conflict avoidance is a stronger skill than working through generative discomfort, is inhibiting the true power of inclusion and is one of the biggest risks to business success. 

Of course being nice is a prerequisite for inclusion, but true inclusion requires much more from us. It requires us to go through difficult things together. Instead of looking for safe spaces as the hallmark of inclusion, we should be creating challenging spaces, where there is psychological safety for real conversations about the things that matter in the world and in business.   

I’d like to share some learnings from our work at Leaders’ Quest, and some of the ways we help people acquire the tools and language to better foster inclusion.

Why now?

The intensity of the current geo-political situation has brought our attention to which voices get heard when there are multiple powerful, and seemingly conflicting, perspectives. The same principles apply within businesses, and skills which used to be considered ‘soft’ such as deep listening, empathy, and seeking out different perspectives, are now top leadership competencies.

Inclusion is about making sure people feel like they belong in a system; providing access to the tools and information they need to act from a place of belonging and shared value. I think of it as a design principle for resilient systems. When the force of inclusion is released, it’s powerful: catalyzing radical collaboration, and transformative innovation.  

Meaningful inclusion (as opposed to performative inclusion) enables organizations to be more efficient, decisive, courageous and healthy. Organizations are more connected and in flow – and inclusion becomes a renewable resource inside the organization, rather than something that takes energy from it. 

But while inclusion is a non-negotiable in terms of future-fitting culture and weathering disruption, there is sometimes an aversion to conflict within organizations that erodes the potency of what it could really foster. 

To move beyond this, we need to build our collective capacity and courage. Our work is focused on equipping people with the language and tools to engage and the space to build a deliberate leadership practice fit for the future.

Releasing the power of inclusion

I’d like to share my three takeaways from this work:

  • Engagement is crucial and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Even if you don’t get it right, have the difficult conversations. There is a transformative power in listening to someone without judgment and there are simple, effective tools like Marshall Rosenberg’s structure for nonviolent communication that help people to create these important spaces. We’ve been working with teams and companies to facilitate sessions that allow people to connect, question and engage with deeply challenging issues ranging from Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia to the future of Democracy.
  • We need to go to the edges of our comfort zone and create generative conflict to move towards inclusion. This is an individual and organizational muscle that must be exercised consistently. We’ve partnered with incredible leaders from across our global community whose lived experiences grant them wisdom about how we go through contested space. They include CORO based in India and Chance for Life based in Detroit (at the end of the article I’ve included a link to learn more about their work). 
  • Ownership across teams and leaders is fueled by inclusive cultures, where people have permission to lead and where empowerment is woven into the incentives and processes, not just the lexicon. Organizations have an opportunity to accelerate inclusion by looking at where there are structural and procedural barriers. It shifts the ‘burden’ of inclusion away from the individual and signals to your workforce that an inclusive culture, where people have access to what they need, is a business priority.  

The head, heart and hands of inclusive leadership

Inclusive leadership requires a mix of awareness, skill and courage. Sometimes I describe the capacity building work we do as falling across head, heart, and hands. We give people access to information so that they can build their knowledge in spaces that are non-judgmental and allow for curiosity to match convictions. We connect people to their shared humanity and activate their compassion, even when facing issues or perspectives that they deeply disagree with. And we have a duty of care to provide leaders with the tools to show up skilfully in situations of heightened tension and conflict. 

At Leaders’ Quest, the experiences and wisdom of our community play a huge role in the journey towards inclusion. If you’re interested in hearing from some of them, visit Celebrating Female Leadership on International Women’s Day.

It can sometimes be hard to describe what we do at Leaders’ Quest. One of the things that we do with deep skill and care is help leaders have better conflicts about the things that deeply matter – as individuals who want to be good ancestors for our children to business leaders looking to do good and do well. The skill of inclusive leadership and value of generative conflict will only appreciate in our challenging, yet beautiful world. 

More about what we do

At Leaders’ Quest, our community plays a huge role in the journey towards inclusion. If you’re interested in hearing from some of the incredible people in our global network, and how their work fosters inclusion…

The seven practices for radical collaboration

The seven practices for radical collaboration

Leaders’ Quest, Reos Partners, TED Countdown, and the Climate Champions Team joined forces to create “Radical Collaboration to Accelerate Climate Action: A Guidebook for Working Together with Speed, Scale, and Justice.

The book defines ‘how’ to implement radical collaboration in seven inter-connected do’s and don’ts that are intended to produce movement and learning, and therefore the potential for fast, big, and fair results. It achieves this by bringing together 100 experienced climate practitioners from around the world, who summarize their guidance around bringing people together to tackle systemic challenges.

Take a look at these high-level points to see how you can intentionally engage in radical collaboration:

Play your role

Scan the landscape. Many types of actors are taking many types of actions—political, economic, social, cultural, technological— to address the climate crisis. You can’t and don’t need to do everything. Look at what others are doing to see the most useful role your collaboration can play as part of or in connection with existing efforts. Consider your ambitions and capacities to discern how your collaboration can enrich and strengthen this complex ecosystem. Being clear about your role will help your collaboration and the larger climate movement advance with greater speed, scale, and justice.

Decide how your collaboration will play its specific role—and how you will play your individual role within this collaboration— using your head (your strategic and systemic assessment), your heart (your passion and commitment), and your hands (your learning, from your own experiences and those of others, about what works in practice). Don’t start a new collaboration just because you prefer to do things your way or under your brand. Egotism, duplication, fragmentation, and competition limit quality and impact.

Don’t ignore your inter-dependencies with what others are doing. Unite when you can and differentiate when you must. Don’t get distracted by what you think others ought to be doing. Focus on playing your role well.

Find necessary allies

To be able to overcome the many inevitable obstacles along the way, you’ll need to collaborate with people who share the same goal and have diverse and complementary capacities. Include people who are living with and understand the problem you’re trying to solve, and who have the will, energy, and capacity to deliver solutions.

Working only with the people you are comfortable with—whom you know and like—won’t get you far. To be able to act with speed, scale, and justice, you need to work with different and disruptive others (often including people you might see as opponents or even enemies) and to centre marginalized and impacted people.

You can’t and don’t need to work with everyone: choose the allies you need to be able to play your collective role. As you gain momentum, you will be able to enrol a broader group of allies. And as your collaboration grows, you’ll need to recognize and manage the permanent tensions among speed, scale, and justice.

Collaborating requires you to agree on some things but not on everything. You need to agree on the direction you are heading and the minimum standards for travelling together, but not necessarily on the path you will take. Don’t waste time trying to collaborate with people who don’t want to advance or who want to head in a different direction.

Negotiate pragmatically with your allies about the value of allying. Discuss explicitly and openly what you are aiming to accomplish together; what each of you, given your particular resources and constraints, can contribute to the collaboration, and what each of you needs from the collaboration to be able to make this contribution. Don’t expect selflessness or purity.

Build collective power

Your collaboration needs collective power to play its role in effecting systemic transformation. This requires recognizing and bringing together the different types of assets that each of you can contribute—authority, money, technologies, ideas, followers—to grow your individual and collective capacities. Exercising power together, fairly, is required for speed and scale.

Expertise and hierarchy can help you decide what to do and to get it done. But when some powerful allies use their power over others — forcing things to be the way they want them to be, whether through imposition, exclusion, co-option, or divide and rule— they undermine the collaboration. If you push people around, they will be resentful and angry and will push back, and you will get slowed down or stuck.

For your collaboration to build power and to hold itself accountable, you must make decisions fairly, involving not only the allies with more power but also those with less.

Invest in building a transparent and equitable governance process and a strong and resilient team.

Work your differences

The primary reason collaborators get stuck and do not achieve speed, scale, or justice is that they aren’t able to work productively with their differences and disagreements. Your collaborators face different realities, opportunities, and constraints, and so have different positions, perspectives, and powers. This diversity can help you see more clearly and navigate better through complex and confusing terrain.

These differences also produce disagreements and discomfort. Often people enter a collaboration convinced that they are right and others are wrong. You can’t erase these differences and you don’t have to: usually it is possible and necessary to advance together in spite of, even because of, such continued differences.

If you insist on complete agreement and alignment, you will not be able to advance. Acknowledge your differences openly, keep the role your collaboration is playing in sight, and continue to look for better ways to move forward. Agree on what you can and must, and keep moving. Work together deliberately and patiently to build your relationships, understanding, trust, agreement, and impact.

Discover ways forward

In playing your role within the complex climate ecosystem, the way forward will rarely be clear or straightforward. It is not a highway: you can’t clear away the obstacles and make a straight road before you start.

The only way to advance with speed, scale, and justice is through rapid, disciplined, iterative experimentation. The climate crisis creates pressure for decisive and definitive action, but advances will not always be linear or predictable. Take small steps quickly to learn through trial and error what works, and to build your confidence, capacity, and momentum.

Transformations are usually messy and unclear, especially when we are in the middle of them. Be prepared for confusion, crisis, failure, frustration, setbacks, and disappointment. When these occur, pause, sense, and try something new.

Be open to changing course. Share what you are learning to help others advance more quickly. The weather affects your journey and you can’t control it. Your context will keep changing and presenting new obstacles and opportunities. Seize the moment when you can.

You won’t be able to know or agree on a perfect solution before you start. You can only advance through acting and building momentum, and so pragmatic progress matters more than perfect promises.

Share hopeful stories

People won’t move forward together without shared stories of realistic hope. They need narratives and maps about where they are, where they are trying to get to, and why it is important that they move.

People usually don’t like being told what they must do, so share stories that your allies understand and want to be part of. Recognize the diversity among the people you are collaborating with and those you want to engage: scientific and economic explanations will resonate with some people, and empathetic human narratives with others.

Certain storytellers will be more credible with some people than with others. Don’t expect one language to work for everyone.

Demonstrate possibilities through examples and evidence of success and progress. Acknowledge risk and admit mistakes. Construct plausible scenarios of the future, bad as well as good, to enable people to see more clearly where they need to go and to act more confidently to get there. Adjust your narratives and maps as you advance.

Care for yourselves

A healthy movement towards a healthy future requires healthy people. The way you show up affects what you can do. You won’t be able to move with speed, scale, and justice if you don’t take care of yourself and your companions. We all need support. This seventh practice enables the other six. Acknowledge the uphill.

The climate journey is long and hard. Many of your fellow travellers—especially those with less power and privilege—are suffering, traumatized, and frightened, torn between resignation and rage. Many face immediate threats to their livelihoods and lives. Collaborate empathetically and fairly, recognizing that different collaborators face different realities and have different resources and constraints.

Progress requires purposefulness and persistence, but if you just keep pushing on and pushing others, you will produce burnout and breakdown. Build a network of mutual professional and personal support. Help one another through the rough patches. Inattention to yourself—forgetting about yourself, or identifying yourself only with your work—creates defensiveness and rigidity. Self-awareness, humility, and generosity are required for openness and creativity and therefore for impact.

Take time to stop for refreshment, reconnection, relaxation, reflection, recovery, and renewal.

Celebrate your victories and honor your losses. Cultivate dignity and courage. Be kind to yourself and others.

View the full radical collaborations guidebook

Download the complete book.

TED Countdown announces membership of its Vision Council and new corporate members of the TED Future Forum

TED Countdown announces membership of its Vision Council and new corporate members of the TED Future Forum

TED Countdown, a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis co-founded by Leaders’ Quest and TED, has welcomed Joshua Amponsem, Olivia Lazard, Omnia el Omrani, Rayne Sullivan and Riddhima Yadav to its Vision Council. They join Jim Hagemann Snabe, Gonzalo Munoz, Habiba Ahut Daggash, Manish Bhardwaj and LQ Ambassador Nigel Topping as advisors to Countdown. 

Since the launch of TED Countdown in 2020, the initiative has:

  • Generated more than 270 million views across 230 original pieces of content focused on climate solutions.
  • Raised $1.3bn in philanthropic giving for climate solutions in collaboration with TED’s Audacious Project.
  • Convened more than 3,000 attendees in person at major global summits and smaller focused events
  • Hosted more than 1,000 TEDx events across the globe.
  • Produced multiple original films, including one airing on PBS stations around the U.S. 


In 2024, TED Countdown will continue this work with new events and media projects focused on topics like the future of food and the role of AI in solutions for climate and nature. It will continue to focus on advancing business-led climate solutions through the TED Future Forum, a community of companies committed to sector-leading action to transform the global economy.

LQ and TED are thrilled to welcome new member companies to this year’s cohort. The full group for 2024 includes: CEMEX, Circ, COFRA, Danone, Ford, W.L.Gore, Interface, Maersk, Mars, Northvolt, Ørsted, RHR
and Siemens.

These companies come from diverse industries and are all committed to the green transition for the long haul. In 2024, Forum members will come together for peer-to-peer learning and curated events focused on the role of business in driving sustainable transformation. 

“TED Countdown is founded on a spirit of radical collaboration,” said Lindsay Levin, the Head of TED Countdown and the Founder and Chair of Leaders’ Quest. “We will only crack climate change by working together — across business, social activism, policy and science.

“We are thrilled to have accomplished new advisors join our Council and, through the TED Future Forum, to partner with companies who are committed to the difficult journey of transitioning their companies to a cleaner, fairer future.”

Tapping into active hope and deep realism

Tapping into active hope and deep realism

As each new year rolls in, Jayma is known to choose a word to serve as her North Star for the journey ahead. This year, we are both also drawn to a phrase that our colleague and mentor, Bill Sharpe, has shared with us: deep realism and active hope.

Looking out at the start of 2024, it can be easy to slip into the despair of our daily news feeds. Yet beyond the disheartening headlines, there is also evidence of incredible progress — both globally, and within the communities and organizations around us.

At the global level, we’ve seen significant reductions in the past year in child mortality and the number of those living in extreme poverty. We’ve made big leaps towards eradicating diseases like polio, and we’re seeing exponential change in renewables and electric vehicles at rates faster than predicted.

At the regional and local levels, we see inspiring leaders who are innovating courageously to make progress, often under the radar and in the face of great odds. This includes people in the Leaders’ Quest community with whom we are privileged to spend time, learn from and call our friends:

  • In the face of unimaginable loss and trauma, the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) is a coalition of over 160 organizations — including tens of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians — that is working to build cooperation and mutual understanding. ALLMEP’s community of leaders is meeting this moment with deep empathy and the conviction that peace is possible. Experience some of their stories from the field.

  • Akshaya Patra is an organization based in Bangalore that prepares and delivers two million meals to children in 20,000 schools across India every day. The team applies a sense of mission to build the world’s largest school lunch program, showcasing purposeful ambition and innovation at scale to combat food insecurity and malnutrition.

  • Sweden-based Northvolt is a global leader in battery technology that is using its capacity for innovation to transform supply chains and transportation. Emma Nehrenheim, Northvolt’s Chief Environmental Officer, is working on delivering the world’s greenest battery. Her TED Countdown Talk in Detroit last July is an inspiring summary of what’s possible through clean energy, and how we can vastly reduce environmental impact while powering the future.


These stories demonstrate how facing the truth of our circumstances does not negate hope, but fuels it. We highlight these not to detract from the conflict and crises we face collectively, but to remind ourselves that human beings can accomplish extraordinary things when we choose agency over despair. Drawing from the insights of author Joanna Macy, Bill Sharpe defines hope as ‘the belief that in acting from our own sense of human integrity we are creating the possibility of a wider pattern of human renewal around us’.

Our intention for 2024 is to use deep realism and active hope to guide our choices at LQ. We see it as a leadership muscle to build daily – to stay awake to the challenges in the world, while seeking out examples that demonstrate extraordinary change is possible and is happening around us every day.

Using Three Horizons for climate resilience

Using Three Horizons for climate resilience

Carolina Moeller

Solutions to long-term threats, such as climate change, require business leaders to think beyond the typical two or three-year planning time horizon. But, how is it possible to look further into the future when there is so much uncertainty about what the world will look like in 10 — or even 20 — years’ time? 

The Three Horizons framework is one of the tools we use at Leaders’ Quest to help business leaders have better conversations about the future and move from short-term to long-term decision-making. In this article, we share the example of how Leaders’ Quest worked with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to facilitate a Three Horizons conversation with its member companies to explore adaptation, climate resilience and new mindsets.  

What is the Three Horizons Framework?

Three Horizons is a framework that helps leaders to extend the standard two-to-three-year decision-making horizon to 10, 20, or even 30 years into the future by using three perspectives (or simply say three horizons) which are:

  • The first horizon is the dominant system at present, or, ‘business as usual’.  We rely on these systems being stable and reliable. But as our world changes, aspects of business as usual begin to feel no longer fit for purpose. 
  • The second horizon is a pattern of transition activities and innovations; people trying things out in response to the ways in which the landscape is changing. 
  • The third horizon is the long-term successor to business as usual.  It grows from activity in the present that introduces completely new ways of doing things which turn out to be much better fitted to the world that is emerging.


At Leaders’ Quest we work with the second and third horizon. In the ‘messy middle’ of the second horizon, we help leaders figure out the gap between what’s not working today and how to win in the future. In the third horizon, we unlock inspiration, mindsets and culture shifts required to create a bold ambition for the future. 

How does it work?

Leaders’ Quest recently hosted a hybrid Three Horizons workshop for WBCSD and its member organisations. The topic was climate resilience, and the purpose of the workshop was to help leaders expand their thinking from mitigating against climate change (H1) towards adapting to climate change (H3). 

What’s the difference between mitigation against, and adaptation to, climate change? 

We need to recognize that we’re in a climate emergency — and that business needs to act urgently in providing solutions and accelerating a clean transition. 

Climate mitigation can be viewed as removing harm. For instance, mitigation involves reducing emissions or enhancing sinks of greenhouse gases (GHGs), so as to limit future climate change. 

Adaptation is how businesses can survive the impacts of climate change. For example, a manufacturing business may see an emerging risk of not being able to use as much water in its manufacturing process in the future and so it needs to change. 

Mitigation and adaptation are not binary choices. We know that climate change is happening now–we see the effects all around us. It is crucial for businesses to set and achieve their net-zero targets and also take the leap to adapt their business models as needed.

Applying Three Horizons to climate resilience for businesses

In our workshop, it was widely accepted that businesses need a climate change mitigation strategy, however, many find it difficult to prioritise adaptation due to the uncertainty of climate risks and a lack of understanding about the likely return on investment.  

We used Three Horizons to work through emerging threats to the participants’ businesses and to create pathways towards adaptation. A pathways approach allows for flexible progress towards a visionary goal and a shift in thinking that empowers leaders to create strategies that unlock long-term value creation – not just mitigation. 

For example, food companies might think about shifting to seeds that require less water or acquiring climate-resistant land. Companies reliant on large amounts of data storage could consider climate-ready data centres, and companies with physical offices in coastal areas might consider partnerships with cities to build resilient infrastructure.  

The impact that adaptation could have on climate resilience is sizeable: A study from the Economics of Climate Adaptation estimates that 40-70% of losses expected by 2030 as a result of climate change could be avoided through adaptation. 

Helping leaders prepare for the future

Three Horizons helps teams and multi-stakeholder groups to move beyond incremental action to systemic change that supports long-term value creation. 

Any leadership team can apply Three Horizons to any challenge or emerging risk.

Leaders’ Quest regularly hosts Three Horizons Facilitator Trainings. Join a growing global network of change-makers, including policymakers, researchers, business leaders, consultants, conservationists, philanthropists, activists, and community leaders who are using this transformative framework to drive positive change. Register for the trainings.

We mean everyone: Bringing adversaries into the climate action conversation

We mean everyone: Bringing adversaries into the climate action conversation

Lindsay Clinton

New York Climate Week is upon us and it’s hitting like a stack of bricks (which, incidentally, is what my schedule looks like this week).  

Everyone is buzzing about Apple’s new sustainability video, and kudos to Apple — the production quality, Octavia as Mother Nature, Tim Cook front and center on this topic — so much of it is brilliant (what’s not so brilliant is a business model based on planned obsolescence).

There’s also buzz — or is there a word for a bunch of simultaneous sighs? — about the Global Stocktake, one focus of this year’s COP, which is an effort to evaluate the progress that each country has made since the Paris Agreement. Adam Elman at Google assembled helpful summaries for you to review. TLDR: We’re not meeting the emissions goals set and there is a fast-closing window to avert the humanitarian crisis.

And then there’s COP28 itself — who’s going, who’s boycotting, whether it’s been co-opted, whether there’s any value for civil society to attend anymore, etc.

So, lots of buzzing and hemming and hawing. And, yet I also hear crickets. Pause, quiet. Do you hear them too?

That tinnitus is the sound, or lack thereof, of all the people who could care less about Climate Week, who don’t even know it’s happening, who are probably busy making deals to advance the continued use of fossil fuels, while we sit and talk about the intricacies of regenerative agriculture.

Breaking through to the other side

Can we reach those on the outside? Is there any chance of converting them? Admittedly, I liked Apple’s video because it was (finally) something I could share with friends in media and tech who would never read a sustainability report, but who saw Octavia Spencer+Apple and were intrigued to watch something sleek and smart. These folks are starting to wake up to the sustainability opportunity. They are ripe for full-scale conversion. They are ready to be persuaded that working on climate, and creating new solutions is the right thing to do — and it can be fun and shiny and beautiful too.

What we’re not doing well enough yet is engaging on the margins. Which people hold the power but aren’t “awakened” to the cause? Lately I hear frustration from some of the veterans in the climate sphere — who are so fed up that they are refusing to engage at COP, refusing to engage with oil and gas.

I get it. But I’m not sure it’s the right way.  

Two months ago we partnered with TED to deliver TED Countdown, a 750-person invite-only summit in Detroit focused on solutions and opportunities in climate. The convening was part of a continuing effort by Leaders’ Quest to bring in new voices and different actors who can and are contributing to progress on climate. We had some of the usual suspects, like Al Gore, who continues to impress me with his emotion and stamina on this topic, but many more unusual suspects from the world of art and oceanography, biology and shipping.

But I’m talking about going ever FARTHER out on the margins and engaging with people who REALLY aren’t there yet. Who am I talking about? The CEO who appears in the sustainability report alongside his signed statement of how important this work is — who, I come to learn, isn’t really on board when I talk to the CSO. The energy company leaders who have an occasional crisis of conscience but love a robust paycheck and want their kids to be well-set up. The folks who believe that technology will save us.

I don’t think we can give up on engaging these nodes in the system, yet.

Climate action conversations in focus

I had a prickly conversation with a peer over dinner about a month ago. This individual works as an investment banker at a major financial institution, and when the conversation shifted to climate and my work, my peer had a visceral reaction. In a group of 5-6 professionals, I spoke in a straightforward way, without drama, about the need for investments in clean energy and the phase out of fossil fuels as soon as possible. 

This person then countered, with, paraphrasing here: “That’s just unrealistic. We need oil and gas more than you know. The economy would come to a halt without it. And wind turbines aren’t recyclable anyway, and solar panels have to be changed out every two years.” 

I agree on  the need to shepherd an energy transition, but the rest of this rationale is just excuses. The climate crisis is the greatest opportunity of our time to innovate. Despite an ongoing economic reliance on fossil fuels, many companies are having their own reckonings and changing their entire product suite and business models. Governments around the world have committed to net zero, no internal combustion vehicles and no plastics within the next decade or two. We can get there. But not if we sit around saying we can’t. 

My finance friend’s paychecks come from pushing through more and more mainstream energy and chemical deals. And I doubt that anyone has ever incentivized my peer to do otherwise. 

Insights from New York Climate Week

I attended one of the first sessions at New York Climate Week, which featured the former president of Colombia, and Nobel Prize recipient, Juan Manuel Santos, speaking about his own climate  “enlightenment” moment when he had the opportunity to engage with one of the indigenous tribes in Central America. Engaging with the group inspired him to learn more, and the more he learned, the more passionate he became. 

We have to equip people to change their perspective. And I think this friend will with time. Just like we have to believe that we can win the climate challenge, we also have to continue to try to shift hearts and minds, and we can do so by holding space for complex, thoughtful and non-confrontational conversations. For enlightenment, for awakening, and for learning. 

We have been hosting these complex conversations for several years, and will continue to do so next week and at COP. If you’d like to talk about hosting a complex conversation, please reach out directly.

Who wants to be a Chief Sustainability Officer?

Who wants to be a Chief Sustainability Officer?

Lindsay Clinton

My husband asked me if I planned to take our girls to see the Barbie movie. My kids have never had Barbie fever, so honestly, I don’t even think they’re aware of the movie. And yet, I’m curious. Barbie and her manifestations are a symbol of how our society thinks about women, femininity, and even leadership.

Full disclosure, our family didn’t own a single Barbie until late last year, when Mattel debuted a new set of four environmentally-themed dolls. Given my background in sustainability, I was intrigued. What is Mattel up to? 

In Barbie’s long life, she has been many things, but I think it’s not a reach to say that most of us tend to think of her as an unrealistically proportioned woman whose feet seem like they might cramp up at any moment.  Yet, she’s transformed into an astronaut, a dentist, a fashion designer, a floral designer, a rapper, and more. 

Well, did you know that now, she can even be a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)?

CSO Barbie is one of a set of four Eco-Leadership Team dolls that Mattel released last last year: “Do you like collaborating and working with a team to help the environment? You Can Be a Chief Sustainability Officer!” Says the recycled cardboard packaging. 

Yes, you can! 👏 It’s a hugely positive aspiration, and one is incredible to see, not just because these skills are in-demand from employers, but because they’re highlighting career fields where women can come into their own power.  

In my role at Leaders’ Quest I frequently work with CSOs and their CEOs, and so Eco-Leadership Barbie and the Barbie movie have me thinking about the responsibilities of quickly evolving roles like the CSO, and those of the other dolls that Mattel has marketed recently: a conservation scientist with binoculars and a notebook; a renewable energy engineer with hard hat, safety vest, solar panel, and tablet; and an environmental advocate with camera and sign.  

Whichever you are, or aspire to be, these valuable roles are full of paradoxes–just like Barbie! 

Taking the CSO as an example, the common challenges I see in my work with Leaders’ Quest include: 

Five paradoxes of the CSO 

  1. Making the business case when success isn’t always measurable in conventional terms. This is a common challenge for CSOs who are looking long-term and holistically, but being measured on quarterly or annual results.   
  2. Balancing great stories with hard work. I often work with CSOs who are able to garner support for highly visible activity that is good for PR and for the brand, but not for the hard work that happens in the background that makes an incremental but meaningful difference.  
  3. Aligning the priorities of shareholders and consumers. While this isn’t a direct responsibility of the CSO, they keenly feel the pressure that the CEO is getting from the Board, shareholders, and consumers.  
  4. Running too fast or too slow. It’s a balancing act for the CSO to make enough change that stakeholders see and value, but not to go so fast that they lose buy-in from key figures like the Board and CEO. 
  5. Beating the drum, but not too loudly. Because of the economic importance of corporate environmental and social governance (ESG), the agenda has become politicized and risks distracting people from the mission of the CSO.

What strikes me about all of these paradoxes is that they are not about whether a business can become sustainable or regenerative. They are about mindset change:

Are the CEO and Board bought into the benefits of sustainable business and are they prepared to buy-in for a length of time sufficient for a CSO to start making a difference? 

Is the leadership team open to new language, new timeframes and new ways of measuring success?  

Is the leadership team willing to balance highly visible activity like tree planting, with the hard work of measuring and reducing carbon emissions in the background?

Often, the answer is muddled. 

Business leaders understand the rationale, but they’re in what we call the ‘messy middle’ where they’re still figuring out why and how to change. At Leaders’ Quest, this is where our work excels. As one of our recent clients said, our programming offered insights into the ‘inner game of leadership: “It gave me the tools, motivation, and energy to work with nuance within contested spaces in an increasingly polarized world, with far-reaching benefits beyond my professional life.”    

We focus on the internal aspects of change. We help leaders make the inner journey where new insights, mindsets, behaviors, and awareness can grow. This brings a whole new dimension to how we direct our energies towards regenerative business leadership. If you want to hear more, please feel free to reach out to me.

And how about Barbie? Can she also evolve? 

One of the organizations I worked for in the early aughts aimed to put a woman in the White House. The organization, The White House Project, worked closely with Mattel for several years to get a “Barbie for President” into toy stores. Culture change was just as important as training women to run for political office. When any of our young feminist colleagues asked why we were collaborating with Mattel, our co-founder reminded us, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

In the copy that Mattel uses to describe the Eco-leadership Team Barbies, they state, “When kids play with Barbie, they imagine everything they can become.

As she launches her own corporate sustainability career, maybe Barbie offers something meaningful to women and girls after all. 

What’s that smell? (And other questions about the future of work)

What’s that smell? (And other questions about the future of work)

Beth McNamee

It’s estimated that 800,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled in the US alone, and experts say that the gap could rise to 2.1M by 2030. The manufacturing industry is also grappling with its emissions and waste footprint – and the irreversible effects of climate change we are already seeing as a result.

The imperative to change how we make things has never been greater. 

Last week, as part of #tedcountdown I had the privilege of leading a Quest to see firsthand the future of manufacturing in Detroit with LIFT and SiemensIt was an immersive masterclass in change management and leadership at the intersection of people and technology.

Here’s what I learned:

A stronger workforce starts with inclusive skills development

Walking through Detroit’s oldest surviving neighborhood, a juxtaposition of trendy new developments and long abandoned properties, you might be surprised to stumble upon $50 million of leading edge manufacturing research and development equipment. 

In Corktown, Detroit public-private partnership LIFT operates a 100,000 square foot facility where they are shaping new ways to accelerate technology, develop talent and convene collaborators in service of smarter manufacturing. 

Our Quest began with a visit to LIFT’s Learning Lab, a place for local high school students to gain immersive training and certification in high-demand manufacturing skills, such as robotics. They let us try out virtual welding (much harder than it looks!) — which uses VR to teach and practice welding skills and is one of many tracks offered to gain career credentials. LIFT also hosts Operation Next, a program supporting military personnel to transition into manufacturing careers. One veteran spoke candidly with us about the challenge of building a civilian career after 20 years of active duty, emphasizing the importance not just of building skills but also being given chances to apply them. 

LIFT creates career opportunities but it’s up to industry to give chances to a new, highly trained workforce by expanding hiring practices. 

The Industrial Metaverse and Digital Twins are the tech you didn’t know you need to know about

We then moved to a vast production floor to see how Siemens, a leading global technology company focused on industry, infrastructure, transport, and healthcare and one of LIFT’s industry partners, is applying emerging technologies to develop and commercialize products more sustainably, and faster. Drew Whitney showed us how the Industrial Metaverse (or IMV for those in the know) and Digital Twins allow engineers to build and test in the virtual world before any production begins. Imagine testing a car in all kinds of weather conditions but without…the car. They do that here. The reduction of waste — in materials, byproducts, and time — opens up a world of possibilities for the entire manufacturing sector, and offers a path to drastically reduce emissions from manufacturing.  

The Industrial Metaverse is critical to building a more sustainable future – and we need more passionate people who know how to work in it.

Software and robots are not replacing us (just one example)

While technology can do more and more (including teaching itself), people are driving tech’s use. Drew and his team, including mentors who have decades of experience in industry, showed us how expertise is being passed down not just through word of mouth but meticulous documentation in tech systems, supplemented by AI which updates learnings at scale. 

Highly skilled work requires mentorship and apprenticeship. New tech is enhancing, not replacing these activities. 

This work takes a whole lotta love

We rounded out the day in conversation with Christine Longroy, Senior Director of Ecosystem at LIFT and Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens USA… which brings me back to my title: what’s that smell? 

The smell of the production floor is almost an absence of smell — fresh, not sterile, and too subtle to be familiar. Only half jokingly, a participant asked what gave the floor its ‘I can’t put my finger on it’ scent. Likely, it’s simply the result of a clean space and clean production processes. But some of our participants observed the beauty of the production floor, describing what they saw as processes that mimicked nature — so maybe new American industry looks and smells a lot more like the natural world than we’d expect. 

Of course, the questions for Christine and Barbara went much deeper. We discussed the complexity of managing a vast global value chain, the importance of glocalization and frameworks for decision making, and how investment in communities accelerates innovation. Knowing stakeholders where they live and work, knowing what you value as an organization, and learning from experience are essential. 

We need more leaders like Barbara and Christine, who despite the challenges of the world see possibility and hope, who believe in people and innovation, who create opportunities and inspire others to do the same. 

(On that note, I highly recommend listening to Barbara’s podcast, The Optimistic Outlook.)

Conclusion

On the surface, this Quest visit was about infrastructure and technology – but it ended up really being about love, abundance, and optimism. A fun example: At one point, Cathe Reams, Siemens’ Communications Director, generously shared the shoes off her feet so a participant could explore the production floor (talk about walking the talk!).

To anyone serious about change, I leave you with this: You have to see it to understand it. You have to meet the people driving it and ask good questions to adapt yourself. And you have to put people in the center to solve the challenges we collectively face — in industry and beyond.

I’m grateful to LIFT and Siemens for inviting us to step into their world, the future. I hope their work inspires you too. 

Serious about systems change

Serious about systems change

Anne Wade

When I invite friends and colleagues to join me at the TED Countdown summit, I always tell them the same thing: That I find it an invaluable use of time because the three days are highly energizing and I leave optimistic that we actually have the tools to decarbonize our economies. 

This year was no exception. More than 800 people from across the globe came to talk about challenges that are alarmingly real, but where the palpable energy around solutions is also real.

What struck me the most this year was the seriousness with which people are trying to move outside their own individual lanes to understand how entire systems fit together. As we all know, one of gordion knots of tackling climate change is the need to impact all parts of systems simultaneously. My specific lane or lens in this knot is investment and climate finance.

This year at the summit we offered three breakthrough sessions— small group interactive dialogues — on finance. And to our surprise – the finance sessions filled first. A session called “Climate Finance 101” was so in demand that we ran it again. The demand came not from finance folks — but from everyone else: business leaders, NGOs, climate scientists.

Some folks confessed to finding climate finance like a black box — something they know is important but where the jargon and acronyms make it hard to access.

So we talked about finance as tools: What net zero means for the finance sector; how carbon markets fit in; what green bonds are and whether they work. What exactly is transition finance?

We talked about the successes being seen — the number of clean industries that are now profitable and at scale where money is moving easily. And we talked about the challenges — the harder to abate sectors, and in particular the urgent need to shift financing to the global south — why that’s hard and why we must do better.

That so many people showed up looking for better understanding on how money fits into the need for systems change says to me that we are all trying hard to understand parts of the system that aren’t our lane. The we increasingly collectively get that that all sorts of levers need to be pulled at the same time — and that as a part of each of our individual strategy to effect change, we all need to get more comfortable with more levers. That we need to demystify any black boxes out there so business leaders, policy makers, civil society leaders can draw on as many tools as possible as they try and drive us towards a less carbon intensive future.

So, as I promised the folks I invited, the summit was hugely energizing. And I personally left with evidence that we are getting better and better at amassing the technologies and tools that we need — and that we are looking systemically to pull multiple levers at the same time which is key. The tougher, lingering question is whether we collectively will take the tough decisions and use those tools now.