What qualities define

A Climate Leader?

At Sustain 6 our mission is to accelerate sustainable transformation by empowering all employees to be climate leaders. The reason for this is simple; EVERY company’s most powerful resource is its people. If your people aren’t actually on board and engaged in sustainability on both a personal and professional level, the ability of your company to achieve authentic sustainability is unlikely. 

So this begs the question: what qualities define a climate leader? There’s a laundry list of good leadership traits that includes: empathy, creativity, determination, organization, patience, accountability, trust and transparency, but in the context and needs of the climate crisis we focus on 3 key qualities that are most impactful:

1. Knowledgeable


It’s hard to fix a problem if you don’t understand it. Good leaders don’t need to know everything, but they need to understand the basics and where to look when they don’t know the answer. With climate change, understanding the relative value and impact of solutions (new and developing) for a particular situation (such as your own home or business) is important in tackling the problem efficiently.  There are a great number of excellent and free resources that can get anyone up to speed quickly. Some of our favorites include Project Drawdown’s Climate Solution 101 course, SDG Academy, Climate Interactive’s online climate simulator Enroads and the ever useful tool for addressing climate deniers at Skeptical Science. Knowledge is most definitely power. 


2. Lead by Example


MarkRoberBillGatesOur actions, both large and small, show others what is possible and serve as a key motivating force. You don’t have to be Elon Musk or Greta Thunberg to make an impact; our small authentic actions can exert a powerful influence on our colleagues, friends and family members. Who doesn’t respect a do-er and go-getter? Here’s one small suggestion: invite friends to your next cookout that’s “plant-based” with Impossible or Beyond Meat burgers or dogs. They’re better than you think and will be sure to spark some lively conversations and further action. Check out this great video featuring Mark Rober, former NASA engineer and Apple product designer, prepping an Impossible burger for a hungry Bill Gates. 


3. Good Communication


Al Gore

While actions do indeed speak louder than words, good communication is critical in accelerating broader engagement on sustainability in our businesses, homes and communities. While most people recognize that climate change is indeed a real problem, there is not enough discussion about smart actions we can take now. Share your knowledge and actions through whatever means you like whether it be one-on-one conversations, group meetings or social media.Two helpful tips on good climate communication: 1) Stress the co-benefits of sustainability including better health, reduced pollution, improved biodiversity, financial savings and energy independence. 2) Avoid “silver bullet” thinking; there are a lot of factors in play with climate and no one solution such as planting trees, EVs or carbon taxes will solve it all. Bonus: Regardless of your opinion of Al Gore, here is a textbook example of a great communicator in his Ted talk: The Case for Optimism on Climate Change


Sustain 6 StoolSo our 3-legged stool of climate leadership rests upon knowledge, leading by example and communication. While fully developing these skills can take a lifetime (or more), most people can cultivate these skills readily if there are two other factors in play: intention and support. And this is where businesses can play a key role.  Not only do they have organizational depth and resources (the support), they have an extensive workforce that really wants to get more involved in sustainability both professionally and personally (the intention). This concept of “employee sustainability engagement” is somewhat novel, but it’s starting to gain traction beyond the traditional environmental stalwarts like Patagonia. 


In one prominent example, Deloitte recently announced an initiative to train all 330,000 of its employees on climate. Deloitte Global CEO commented “Deloitte’s climate learning program is a powerful tool to unlock the climate ambition of our most valuable asset and superpower—our people.”  ClifBar offers subsidies for its employees via its Cool Commutes and Cool Homes program while Goldman Sachs and Biogen offer their employees subsidized community solar. This is a great start, but when we look at these programs from the perspective of our 3-legged leadership stool, they are missing a larger opportunity to more fully engage their employees. Sustain 6 was built to help these companies and their employees understand the climate crisis in real-life and human terms because at bottom the climate crisis is a human-caused problem. While good policy and sophisticated technology are necessary to solve the crisis, these alone are not enough. We need good leadership at every level and around every corner. The desire is there and the urgency is there. It’s time to get this done – the race is on.


– Steve

Steve Quirk Co-Founder and CEO

What qualities define a Climate Leader?

By Stephen Quirk

Sustain 6 CEO

April 11th, 2022
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