The Inner Work of Sustainability

This post is based on an interview with Russ Watts, PCC, NBC-HWC – lead faculty in the Institute for Transformational Leadership program Sustainability – People, Planet, Prosperity, Purpose

What is sustainability and why is it important? 

It’s the question of our times; For leaders, facilitators, coaches, managers; it seems like we’re all wondering how we can take part in this movement, a movement awareness.  It’s about maintaining a system without further degradation to achieve a net zero. Just the word sustain is to keep this system going. A lot of us in our business systems and economic systems, even our personal systems, are trying to keep or lightly improve what we already have.  What are the systems each of us are a part of?  Internal systems, (for me as a father, husband, person in the world) as well as external systems (the people and social systems, business systems that I am a part of, and this very complex global system).  From the micro of self and all the way out to the biggest macro of this very beautiful complex planet spinning around the sun, we as individuals have the power to make and shift our efforts towards sustainability and regeneration, which is at the center of sustainability, where we use our intelligences and add the elements of listening intently and respectfully so that we can stitch together the broken strands that connect us all, people, animals, nature, culture, commerce and even religions.

What are the Inner Development Goals? 

I didn’t learn about the inner development goals until I became curious about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the United Nations (UN) created to help us as human beings be better caretakers of our social system, each other, ourselves, and our planet.  About a year ago, I learned about the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) which are framed in five different goals:  1) being and self; 2) thinking -how I think and how that process is either helpful & generative or hurtful; 3) relating, caring for others and how I can individually work with and care for individuals – humans, animals and nature around me; 4) collaborating in the complex social systems – our work environment and in our social networks that we’re in; 5) acting – being a change agent in the world and radiating the awareness that we have and then driving change in our in our world.

How does inner work impact the external environment?

I know that I’m limited in being able to help create any sort of healthy growth or healing without cultivating an inner understanding or a deepening of the frameworks I use to interact with the complex system of me, the social systems of me, and the environment. 

I’ll use the analogy of eating. As a health and wellness coach, I often see that when we eat certain things, we have a certain set of outputs.  If I look at all the ways that I eat and I act in the world from different perspectives, I see that certain things that I eat cause me to be energized or tired or have longer energy capsules like proteins.

For me, doing the inner work allows us to have a micro view of each of our actions, to have an inner compass, and apply it to the world around us.  For example, when I am authentic with a particular process and use that excitement, energy, talent, or skill in an area of the world, I can have a greater effect. Without judgment, just being able to say that I do better work over here, I might be able to activate more inside me and outside me.  If I do a lot of that inner work, I’m able to be more effective where I work, how I work, and with the talents, skills, and abilities that I work with.

What are the business benefits?

The word business brings up the idea of profit and loss, and I’m not sure that that’s a framework that’s going to work in its old form into the future. The economic systems that we’ve used in the past are based on growth and they have not taken into account externalities and a lot of those externalities are coming around to bite us. Climate change and how we extracted the things that we’ve needed to have this growth have been one sided. I believe that businesses, in order to stay competitive in the world, need to have a mindset that’s much more complex and that looks at the human systems. I see a lot of businesses right now looking at creating a chief happiness officer in the C suite, a really important role that didn’t exist 25 years ago, as the human complexity of happiness is linked directly to the supply that these humans give to the complex system of business.  Instead of just being paid to do a job, it’s about the flow, the excitement, the agility that this human system has inside the production of a widget or a thought idea out into the world in a competitive way.

As we look at competition globally, I believe that businesses need to more completely or aptly look at environmental use and abuse, as they can either bring about the degeneration of the world or its regeneration. Consumers are shifting and are looking at the systems as much more interconnected. I look at a product that needs to come from Chile in my European or American winter. I would think, wow, can I just do without? Or is the abuse and use that I have on the environment worth it? Generally, I don’t feel like I’m actually abusing, but I feel like I’m taking things from the environment to have a taste, or to have something. My consciousness has been opened up enough to say I don’t want to contribute to the edge- the weight that I am putting on the already taxed system.  

I would like to be somebody who lightens the load, so I’m looking to companies that are doing the work with me, and we’re looking at working for companies that are doing that work. Those businesses are getting better workers and better customers and they have a real edge. They are creating a more sustainable system internally and that is reflecting externally. Businesses that step up for the values that are seen as helpful for people, society, the environment, and our future, not just the bottom line this year, but multiple years and multiple decades moving forward, are the businesses that I believe are going to succeed.

How can we help others be adept in this space?

First, I feel we need to build trust and trust comes first inside ourselves. To be able to inspire and engage others in the process, it’s going to take courage, optimism, and agency. I’m really energized because I’m in a growth state where the ideas that I have are constantly being challenged in a really positive way to be able to act because my old frames are being dismantled to some degree.

The new structures and new views that we are developing currently are giving us possibilities. If we take sustainable actions or regenerative actions moving forward, we have a chance of creating a new set of systems and environments that can go beyond sustaining what we have. It can actually go towards creating a positive healthy environment. We need to challenge what we eat, how we grow, how we ship, and share ideas and items both individually and collectively.

It’s both the inner growth and the inner learning and the influence in larger systems to radiate out into the people who we manage, direct, and those who look up to us for answers.  We have a responsibility to do something. I believe that we all can take that step forward and grow intellectually, emotionally, and I’ll even be radical and say spiritually, feeling that connection to more than just us.  This will help us do the change that’s necessary to help us survive this next growth, this next challenge that’s in front of humanity.

To learn more about how to explore the intersection of inner work and sustainability, sign up for our fall section of Sustainability – People, Planet, Prosperity, Purpose in the Institute for Transformational Leadership

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