Recently, I had to present a guest lecture on sustainability to social entrepreneurs who are attending a college-based adult education program. I am soon turning 65, so I asked myself how relevant my grey-haired experience would be to the lives and business environment of this age group (mostly 25-35), especially on a topic they care so deeply about? And even though I have been on the sharp end of sustainability in fresh produce for 25 years, would I be able to prepare a lecture in a way that would add value to my (young) college audience’s lives?
Considering that these students supposedly really care about the world, I had to dig deep to find words that could embed sustainability in their minds. As I was searching for inspiration with which to kick off my lecture, I happened to glance at my reflection in our dressing room mirror. I was wearing a T-shirt I often wear when hiking outdoors, one that has three words embroidered on it: AWARENESS. RESPECT. CARE.
BAM! Those three words made me look at my lecture in a different manner. The first secret of sustainability was staring me in the face — being aware of nature around you, being respectful to people near and far, and really caring about it.
But that was not enough building blocks for a nearly two-hour lecture. From previous encounters, I knew the question ‘but it is so complicated, where do I start’ would be asked once again. So where does one start once one has made a decision to go on the journey of sustainability? Again, experience provided the answer.
In early October, I spent time in South Africa’s iconic Kruger Park, a natural game reserve of almost 5 million acres of untouched bush where the Big 5 (leopard, lion, elephant, rhino and buffalo) and many other species roam freely. This trip was to install Little Libraries in creches and care centers in impoverished rural areas. I was executing this project on behalf of Jaguar The Fresh Company, a fresh produce business that cares deeply about benefiting the poorest of the poor in the countries from where they source fruit. Good people, doing good things.
On my way back to Europe, I bought a book at the airport by my namesake, a certain Gen. Johan Jooste. Back in 2013, when rhinos were being poached/slaughtered in large numbers, Gen. Jooste was tasked with developing a strategy to combat this seemingly insurmountable challenge that was decimating the world’s rhino population. Over a period of eight years, he rebuilt the game ranger corps of the Kruger Park into one of the best paramilitary conservation forces in the world. Gen. Jooste managed to turn the tide with a strategy that was neither academic, nor scientific, nor complicated. It consisted of just six words: THINK BIG, START SMALL, ACT NOW.
And right there it was — the second pillar of my lecture on sustainability. Create your big dream of what you want to achieve, or things you want to make better. But start small, doing things that you can manage, and that creates a success story in itself. Lastly, don’t wait. Start acting NOW.
For my third pillar, I decided to speak on stakeholders. You see, I believe it does not require special knowledge of the theories of sustainability, CSR, emissions, or SBTI for a business owner to become involved in sustainability. It does, however, require the ability to connect people. And that is the one thing that fresh produce people do exceptionally well.
To really excel in sustainability, one needs to create partnerships and collaborations. Quite honestly, one just needs to create a group of ‘believers’ who can — and want to — work together to make the world a better place. Stakeholders hold the key to a successful involvement in sustainability.
I genuinely believe everybody on earth inherently wants to do good. That being said, not everybody is in a position to actually execute sustainability projects. The secret is to find those individuals in your company or in your business or private network who want to do good things. Then, you connect them, and inspire them with your authentic purpose and brand story.
But before you can start selling sustainability to stakeholders, you need to peel off a number of layers and establish exactly who you are and what your unique story is. It is crucial to answer the following questions and be brutally honest. If you are, you will be able to unlock your big dream, your purpose, and probably an inspirational story that will make your company stand out.
- Three words that describe you.
- Three things in which you have an unwavering belief.
- Three human traits you despise.
- How would your husband/wife/partner describe you?
On the day of the lecture, a magical thing happened. As I ran through the models of ‘Awareness — Respect — Care’ and ‘Dream Big — Start Small — ACT NOW,’ the students became inspired to look at sustainability in a different manner. Not as an issue that is heavy and compulsory, but something that is alive and that one can use with passion in daily business operations.
At the end of the lecture, together we coined our collective purpose: “Giving wings to the goodness of people.” And that, dear readers, is what sustainability is all about.