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The Sustainability Leadership Collaborative:  Supporting local government in developing leadership for sustainability

The issue

Faced with increasingly complex problems and reduced budgets, cities, towns and regions around the world are adopting policy frameworks that place the concepts and values of sustainability at the centre of their policies and programs. Local governments are re-envisioning community through integrating the social, environmental and economic well being of their citizens.

The challenge

To execute sustainability effectively requires the careful cultivation of an organization-wide sustainability mindset. This presupposes a change in organizational culture beginning with the establishment of a new approach to leadership; an approach that recognises the need for leadership at all levels of the organization. The individuals needed to support and implement this change must possess a far-reaching set of leadership skills and behaviours. Not only do they need a deep understanding of sustainability, but they must also have the ability to think systemically and innovatively, work collaboratively and be able to influence, lead, communicate and make effective, game changing decisions.

This is a complex challenge. Leaders will have to strike a balance between maintaining stable, predictable municipal services, and innovating to achieve sustainability goals..

Developing sustainability leadership capacity

Each municipality faces its own challenges and operates in a unique environment which is why a generic sustainability leadership program cannot meet all your needs. The Sustainability Leadership Collaborative offers a custom-designed process tailored to the needs of each organization and their community..

Through an intensive two-day workshop, the Sustainability Leadership Collaborative will work with municipal staff (human resources, communications and engagement professionals, sustainability practitioners and senior managers) to incorporate local issues and knowledge into the design of a leadership curriculum that meets your needs. This unique, 'upfront' design process enables the municipality to identify and build upon its own assets and those of its community, thus creating greater capacity for continued learning and development.

Sustainability leadership development focuses on deepening participants understanding of sustainability issues as well as strengthening the skills, values and behaviours required for its delivery. To accommodate these themes, the process integrates design thinking competencies (such as innovation and collaboration), with the more technical aspects of sustainability as they apply to the services and operations of a municipality (provision of water, waste, housing or the alleviation of poverty). Rounding out the competencies is strategic stakeholder engagement.

This program has been designed to capture and respond to the unique challenges faced by public sector leaders as they strive to create value for their citizens.

The outcome

The output from the workshop is a sustainability leadership program framework specific to the municipality, taking into account local values, goals, strengths and needs, as well as existing learning resources.

For more information, please contact Pat Gordon, Cities Network Director, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This approach is inspired by the work of Metro Vancouver. In 2010 Metro Vancouver developed and launched a sustainability leadership program within its organization. The framework developed by Metro Vancouver is the foundation on which we base our work. We are grateful to Metro Vancouver for their support in sharing their innovative practices with us.

Co-creating: a service of Sustainable Cities International

Sustainable Cities International, in collaboration with leadership development consultants, is offering a service to municipalities that will help build leadership capacity amongst their staff and within their community to meet their sustainability goals. The service is grounded in the concept of co-creation which ties together two elements; design thinking – a methodology increasingly used by businesses and less frequently by the public sector to build personal and organizational capacity for innovation and; strategic citizen and stakeholder involvement (both in policy design and implementation). This ‘human centered’ approach to innovation is the key to creating sustainable futures; for a product, a service, an organization or a city.

Through an intensive workshop, the consultant team will work with municipal staff (human resources, communications and engagement professionals and sustainability practitioners) to incorporate local issues and knowledge into the design of a leadership program. This unique, ‘upfront’ design process enables the municipality to identify and build upon its own assets and those of its community, thus creating greater capacity for continued learning and development.

Recognizing that training professionals is not solely about deepening the understanding of sustainability issues but is equally about strengthening the skills and values required for its delivery, the process seeks to integrate design thinking competencies (such as innovation and collaboration), with the more technical aspects of sustainability as they apply to the services and operations of a municipality (provision of water, waste, housing or the alleviation of poverty). Rounding out the competencies will be strategic stakeholder engagement – a good practice undertaken by most municipalities.