Published 3 years ago.
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Image: Forrest Gump | Paramount Pictures
"If you’re going to do something great, why not spread it around? Why not be a catalyst and amplify the impact exponentially?" — Daniel Aronson
This post is adapted from a June 1, 2020 interview podcast, "Acting on Your
by The School for Humanity — with Valutus founder Daniel Aronson.
I have a bit of a thing about catalytics, about how to be a catalyst — I think
about it, write about it, and talk about it. A lot. (Sometimes people tell me
that I can’t go a day without mentioning it. They might be right!) If that seems
a little much, I get it — but I believe we have no choice.
In our field, where every step in the direction of sustainability can be a
challenge, anyone taking a step forward is very welcome. But not all such
steps are created equal. Some move a single company forward, while others are
more like the scene where Forrest Gump looks back and realizes there is a
crowd running with him. Both are great, but right now we need a lot more of the
This came up in an
I did for The School for Humanity
podcast last month, when I was asked
about the difference between those who do things and those who bring others
along. It’s a critical distinction, and I thought it would be useful to
reproduce it here.
Daniel Aronson: The short version of this is that an implementer is
someone who does something good inside their own organization; in particular,
something over which they have direct control. Like, if you're working with
manufacturing, and you improve the sustainability of your manufacturing, lower
your energy use, waste and so forth. That's good. And you should be proud of
that good work.
The problem we have in this particular field, and this particular planet that
we're on, is that there aren't enough leaders doing the things they need to do
inside their companies — not enough to get us where we need to go in time to
achieve the Global Goals
to mitigate climate change by 2030, and so forth.
For example, there are thousands of large companies around the world, tens of
thousands; and tens of millions of medium-sized companies around the world, and
about a thousand of those have committed to setting science-based targets for
reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
That's a very small percentage and, of those who have committed to do so, only
around half have actually set the
so far. And that’s just the beginning.
Obviously, setting targets is a good step, but you have to also meet the
targets. And what has become clear through research that Andrew Winston did,
and through looking at the Science Based Targets
initiative and so forth, is that we're not
moving fast enough as a planet.
Now, there are two things we can do about that. We can despair, and think we're
not going to make it. That's not my choice. My choice is the other option, which
is to take those leaders and help them to bring others along faster. That's
what being a catalyst is, definitionally: It's influencing someone over whom
you don't have control.
A sustainability person inside a company can be a catalyst. They probably don't
have control over purchasing, but they want to influence purchasing. Same thing
with manufacturing and so forth. But within the span of organizations, a leading
organization — a Nike say, or a Walmart — can influence others to speed
up their progress. And that's what we need. We need catalysts inside and outside
organizations if we're going to get to where we need to go in time.
DA: A leader can be someone who is either being a catalyst or an implementer
but is doing a really good job.
There's nothing wrong with somebody who is at a company that's already gone to,
That's great. That's ahead of science-based
and ahead of emissions reductions that we need and so forth. But let's say you
have a company that has a relatively small carbon footprint — it's mostly office
buildings or minor research labs or something — then your being carbon
is only a small part of what’s needed (although it's great and you should be
commended for it).
What we need from leaders is not just to be good implementers but to be great
catalysts, to bring your industry along, to bring your neighbors along too. To
bring along businesses that aspire to be like you.
Think about a small company like Patagonia: It’s very small when compared to
firms like Nike or Walmart, or Target. And yet, they influence companies in
their industry and outside of it, too. They influence companies and leaders who
just want to be really good for the world — regardless of industry, location,
and so forth. That kind of catalyst leadership really amplifies their effect far
beyond just being a good internal steward of resources.
Look, being a sustainability leader is hard, and making a real difference is
hard. If you’re going to do something great, why not spread it around? Why not
be a catalyst and amplify the impact exponentially?
That’s why we all do the work we do, to make the biggest difference we can. And
being a catalyst is a critical part of that.
Published Jul 24, 2020 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST