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Sustainable Transformation
Research projects
Individual sustainability leadership (EPCA)

Sustainable Transformation

Individual sustainability leadership (EPCA)

Research on the nature and benefits of individual sustainability leadership, drawing on expert opinions, best practices and existing literature.

Type project Sustainability leadership
Project partners European Petrochemical Association (EPCA)
Duration April 01, 2019 - December 01, 2019

Global challenges for companies

Business is a key player in helping to address the current global economic, cultural, social and ecological challenges and meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals give companies the tools to address the global challenges we face today, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. Although the Sustainable Development Goals give companies the required information to address global challenges and although many CEOs declare sustainability a top priority, hire a sustainability officer and commit hours of management time to their cause, companies struggle to make real progress.


'The vision of 15 sustainability experts on individual sustainability leadership'found that just 2% out of 318 global companies surveyed met or exceeded their sustainability goals, while 81% settled for ‘dilution of value and mediocre performance’ of their sustainability programs. Often, the difficulties frontline employees encounter when implementing new sustainability strategies are overlooked. Besides, employees regularly feel forced to choose between sustainability targets and business targets. This indicates that execution – driven by strong leadership on sustainability – is a crucial requirement today.

Illustration benefits individual leadership in sustainability

Since 2015, EPCA is actively engaged in the promotion of Talent Diversity and Inclusion within its sector as a source of competitive advantage and a key enabler of sustainable growth. The goal of this research is to illustrate the nature and employee benefits of individual sustainability leadership and to gather more evidence on how this can help to attract new talent and develop them into future leaders. Through 15 interviews with top-ranked sustainability leaders we explore the areas of interest through predefined key questions with the possibility to diverge in order to pursue an idea or response in more detail. The output of this research will serve as input to the ‘Talents of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow’ session during the EPCA 53rdAnnual Meeting 2019 on the theme of Sustainability Leadership.

Support companies sustainable leadership

The research project has the following deliverables:

  • Defining characteristics of individual sustainability leadership
  • Showcasing best practices of individual sustainability leadership within and beyond the chemicals industry
  • Gathering evidence of organizational and employee benefits of individual sustainability leadership
  • Delivering a research paper/report (with a minimum of 20-30 pages)
  • Delivering 2 blogs and one e-infographic

The joint research showed four factors to consider while engaging in leadership for sustainability: a formal or informal sustainability role and the state of information leadership is built on, either rational or emotional, resulting in facts-based or emotions-based leadership. An organization operates in a complex reality where there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to individual sustainability leadership. However, the best results can be found when the individual role and state of information align with the 5 individual characteristics and 5 individual competencies distilled from our research. Additionally, we presented EPCA with the 5 most important employee benefits, barriers and enablers of individual sustainability leadership.


  • Supplying EPCA with the knowledge needed to attract new talent and develop them into future leaders for sustainability
  • Shifting the focus from organizational to individual sustainability leadership
  • Capturing the key characteristics and competencies of the individual sustainability leader
  • Identifying the appropriate enablers and existing barriers to individual sustainability leadership
  • Showcasing the most important employee and organizational benefits of individual sustainability leadership

Result: future leaders in sustainability

The joint research will focus on enabling EPCA to attract new talent and supplying them with the knowledge needed to develop their talent into the future leaders for sustainability.

Download the final report of this research project

Click here for the executive Summary

Click here for the infographic

More information?