Sustainability is integral to top-level leadership

You could say ‘leadership’ has taken over from ‘strategy’ as a buzz word in design, fuelling opportunities for the industry’s growing bevy of non-executive directors.

Of course, design has always had leaders. Back when aspiring designers sat at the feet of the master, the master was unquestionably ‘it’. But now, with teamwork taking over from the cult of the individual, we need to reappraise leadership.

If design, populated by small businesses, has this need, it was no surprise that the Institute of Directors – the trade body for small businesses – took Inspiring Leadership as the theme for its Annual Convention last week. And it met its promise, as captains of global industry opened up about their management styles.

Interestingly, the IoD could have focused on that other buzz word, ‘sustainability’, and kept the same line-up. For, one after another, its eminent speakers linked leadership with sustainability.

Top act was Todd Stitzer, chief executive officer of Cadbury Schweppes. He not only answered, with conviction, accusations over child obesity, but quoted George Cadbury’s call of 1879 for the company to be ‘a force for good in a troubled world’, citing Bourneville and anti-slavery work in Ghana, over a century ago, as signs of its underlying benevolence.

Microsoft Corporation chief executive officer Steven Ballmer’s slogan, ‘people drive business outcomes’, highlights the importance of good staff. He said achieving screen resolution of a quality that curbs the need for print-outs – and the destruction of forests – could also be a company goal.

Finally, Douglas McCallum, managing director of, plugged his company’s sustainability credentials through its Ebay for Charity site – where Oxfam sold Keira Knightley’s Oscars frock last weekend.

Leadership comes in many guises, but it is inextricably linked to sustainability. If design’s job is to enhance life, we need more commitment to the latter, spurred by the former. These issues concern big businesses, so they should be of burning interest to us too.

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