How to mentor sustainability

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Written by Anthony Chadwick on 27 July 2022 in Opinion
Opinion

Sustainability is a word that is bandied about by politicians and business people, but how do you attain it? Anthony Chadwick explores how to pass on experience 

 

Let’s get real here – sustainability isn’t just about the business’s carbon footprint, it encompasses, waste management, resource use and biodiversity.  Even larger organisations overlook some of the basics.  Smaller businesses often think that sustainability is for the big boys – and achieving carbon-neutral status is going to be expensive.
 
So, if you’ve already got all the ducks in a row and you’re now looking at mentoring another business through the process to sustainability, you’ll need to polish up a few skills.
You’ll need a plan
 
Mentoring isn’t formal training.  A mentor’s role is to be a sounding board and guide.
 
When I started on this journey, I spent a long time looking at what was the best tool to going carbon neutral and for a small business, everything looked difficult and cumbersome.  I’ve learned a lot along the way and, if you’re planning to mentor someone through the process, I expect you have too.
 
There will be times when you feel like throwing in the towel and there will be times when you will celebrate their big wins with as much enthusiasm as they do
 
All businesses won’t fit into a box, so whoever you mentor isn’t going to do it the same way you did. However, you do need a framework to work within, so you cover all the bases.
 
This can be as simple as a checklist or if you’re more inclined, a mind map to act as your guide when you get into the mentoring process.  After all, you have an end goal for this – and to quote from Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: Which way should I go? 
Cat: That depends on where you are going. 
Alice: I don't know. 
Cat: Then it doesn't matter which way you go. 
 
This plan is not there to shoehorn your mentee into doing things your way, it’s a guide for you to ensure they haven’t overlooked or failed to explore options that may be exactly what would work for them.
 
We worked with a company called Eco Offset and found it to be a reputable carbon trading firm, but it’s not the only one and different businesses have different values at the top of their company ethos. Encourage your mentee to research their options.
 
You’ll need excellent communication skills
 
While mentoring is a step beyond coaching, you do need to have excellent listening skills and first-class questioning skills.
 
At the beginning of the process, you’ll need to find out not only where your mentee currently is in relation to sustainability, but also their beliefs about it, their understanding of what it means and how much time and effort they’re willing to put in. The level of investment they have in the process will affect the buy-in they’ll get from their team.  

Questions are often the answer!

If you know how to ask good questions, you can help your mentee to ‘get’ the sustainability bug. Some of the things they could do are relatively simple but may need their staff to be educated to apply them.  or instance, separating waste to make it recyclable or choosing to meet virtually instead of incurring the cost and fuel that a journey would take.
If you’re working with a framework, asking good questions will help you – and your mentee – to tick many of the boxes. But your expertise will guide them by asking questions like:
 
Do you turn all your electrical appliances off at the end of the day?
Who is responsible for switching off lights when they leave the premises?
Do you use energy-saving lightbulbs and timers?
What are your suppliers’ environmental credentials?
How do you deliver goods?
Do you need company vehicles – and are they already or planned to be electric?
 
Rather than tell your mentee what they should be doing, they’ll be more invested if they are the ones who provide the information and formulate their plan as a result. By all means, share your experience, but encourage them to research alternative options too. 
 
You’ll need to be patient and resourceful
 
Sometimes you’ll feel like the sole cheerleader for a team that isn’t trying their hardest, but part of your role is to encourage, guide and point your mentee in the right direction. There will be times when you feel like throwing in the towel and there will be times when you will celebrate their big wins with as much enthusiasm as they do.
 
It can be tempting to do a spot of research and send your mentee off in a very specific direction – but then it’s your solution, not theirs. If they do a bit more digging they may find something that is much better for their business than your suggestion.
 
Mentoring for sustainability isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve cared enough to do it for your business, it’s an opportunity to pass on your experience to the next companies who aspire to run a sustainable company.
 
Anthony Chadwick is founder and CVO, Alpha Vet International
 
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