Who Are Change Agents of Sustainability?

By David Mazzocco, LEED AP, Associate Director of Sustainability and Projects, The Wharton School

The University of Pennsylvania becomes the first Ivy League school to commit to the American College and University Presidential Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) with President Amy Gutmann’s signature in 2007. A grassroots citizens group implements a municipal climate action plan and achieves their goals ahead of schedule while saving taxpayer money. A corporation meets its promise to eliminate any negative impact on the environment while transforming the marketplace and increasing their profit. These are great successes, but underlying this success is creating and maintaining the momentum for a successful environmental movement.

Who does this? Are they business owners, citizens, employees, presidents? In many ways, yes. More succinctly, they are change agents who act as a catalyst for change. A “change agent” can take many forms. It is not necessarily a singular person, authority figure or entity, but it does, however, require a clear vision and an ability to clearly communicate the vision with others. A change agent invariably involves many traits: passion, networker, driven, communicator, leader. Change agents are willing to be patient, yet persistent, ask the tough questions, be knowledgeable, lead by example and develop strong relationships built on trust. When furthering sustainability initiatives, we are all instrumental in implementing change and achieving a goal. However, recognizing and working with all change agents is critical to the success of any sustainability mission.

The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts, but also the culture and time in which they exist. They are able to see and define the issue but also have the vision and ability towards a solution while inspiring others to support the mission. The change agent is also willing to step out of their comfort zone, taking risk to create reward and creating behavior that brings the future to the present by envisioning the possible and persuading others to help make it a reality.

These are all questions and characteristics we must identify and support as we build a better environmental future. The best leaders may have all of these qualities but they also empower others to be those “change agents.” When you effectively leverage the natural strengths of your team, we achieve greater successes.

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