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ATD Blog

Preparing Leaders for Sustainable and Equitable Business


Thu Apr 11 2024

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Perhaps more than anyone beyond the executives, talent development professionals have access to a big lever to effect positive change: upskilling all employees across the enterprise and empowering them to integrate even small changes to improve environmental sustainability and social equity. The stage is currently set for ATD professionals to change the world, because they can help corporations solve a major challenge: 83 percent of companies have sustainability and social equity targets, 81 percent of corporate executives have compensation tied to targets, but less than 32 percent have adequate plans to achieve them. So, even as there is a culture war in some countries around mainstream environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues, most businesses, even as they use the term ESG less, are still making commitments to social and environmental improvements.

Why are companies’ actions lagging so far behind their commitments? While it is easy to blame corporate forces, shareholders, or a lack of policy, there is another very real and present challenge—at all levels of the organization, employees have not been trained to integrate social and environmental innovation into their work.


In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, the concepts of sustainability and equity have become paramount for organizations that want to thrive in the future. To prepare leaders for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, it is crucial to equip them with the knowledge, skills, and mindset necessary to navigate the complex intersection of business, society, and the environment.

While growing in popularity, social innovation, ESG, and social enterprise concepts are not yet mainstream at the business and engineering educational centers creating today’s and tomorrow’s leaders. So, how can we build leaders’ skills, knowledge, and capabilities to integrate social and environmental decision making into daily work—especially when these concepts are unfamiliar to many employees?

The best way to build that knowledge is through real experience. To be effective, talent development professionals should consider the following five levers for impact:

1) Identify the business units primed to make the biggest advancement in social equity and environmental sustainability.

More likely than not, your executives, Board, head of sustainability, and head of human resources already know what business units these are. Collaborating with them to focus your training efforts toward these groups can help you identify quick wins.


2) Educate staff on ESG fundamentals and trends.

Every employee should be aware of the ESG-related factors that their line of business intersects with. This includes the areas they positively contribute to and the areas where they have negative externalities. ESG is often misunderstood and overly complicated, but free, simple guides, like the MovingWorlds TRANSFORM Support Hub, exist to help share the core concepts and stay out of the culture wars.

3) Offer real-world opportunities for experience building.

The age-old adage that experience is the best teacher bears repeating and remembering. To help your employees understand what social innovation in business looks like, they should get real-world experience with it. There is no better and more cost-effective way to do this than via skills-based volunteering with impact startups and social enterprises. Collaborate with your employee engagement and corporate social responsibility counterparts to help provide these experiences.

4) Help employees integrate impact into their jobs, regardless of level.


Many employee volunteer programs fall short by only understanding the engagement as a transactional experience. Instead, these experiences can be transformational if wrap-around education and programming is implemented, so employees know that while volunteering, they can learn new concepts and are encouraged to bring their insights back into the business.

5) Create compounding connections.

Multiple business units across your company have the potential to interact with social enterprises. Procurement teams can hire them, innovation teams can partner with them, distribution teams can sell through them, and more. All these touchpoints provide opportunities for education and engagement—not only can you identify business-aligned social enterprises that your employees can volunteer with, but you can also find ways to keep them engaged and connected to help create more business efficiencies, innovations, and opportunities.

The talent development community has immense potential to build the social and environmental skills that business leaders need to fix the social and environmental woes facing the corporate sector. Just imagine the positive impact of ATD members upskilling hundreds of thousands of people on these concepts.

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