GEMI Emerging Sustainability Leadership


Provide a safe space for experienced and emerging corporate sustainability leaders to connect and learn from their peers, share experiences in managing and leading through ever increasing pressures facing sustainability leaders today, and develop capabilities required to lead sustainable business into the future.


Create a forum that crosses both sectors and experience levels, enabling newer sustainability leaders to learn from experience while more experienced leaders can gain fresh perspectives and insights. The forum will focus on the emerging challenges that all sustainability leaders face, including building the right sustainability strategy for each particular business; making the business case; identifying, enlisting and engaging senior champions; goal setting; mentoring the next generation; and engaging with key stakeholders including investors.


The community of corporate sustainability leaders is facing four acute, overlapping challenges:

  • Outside each business, the world is composed of more and more complex issues. Many environmental, social and governance issues are getting more attention as well as overlapping in complicated ways. Increasing climate change pressures involve substantial community issues. Increased attention diversity, equity and inclusion issues draws in issues of environmental justice and the distribution, not just the level, of environmental costs and benefits. Pandemic issues and work-from-home issues add new complexity to long-standing issues ranging from ergonomics to e-waste.
  • That outside world is filled with a wider, more informed and more articulate range of stakeholders advocating for or concerned with those issues. Expectations are getting both broader and higher: stakeholders care about a wider range of issues and while raising the bar for business commitments to address those issues. Stakeholders who historically have been more passive, such as mainstream investors, are raising their concerns and their voices – while often being unsure of what they really expect. Customers and suppliers are looking to their business partners for solutions. Media and NGOs give more attention and visibility to reporting and ranking schemes that impose additional burdens on business. Communities are demanding more participation in key decisions that affect them.
  • Within many businesses, the demand for sustainability responses leaves little time for strategy and preparation. Increasingly, Boards of Directors are looking for clear commitments on complex issues, and demanding performance against the expectations and metrics of outside stakeholders. Corporate sustainability teams risk being backed into reacting, including making commitments that may be difficult to fulfill.
  • Many corporate sustainability teams face these challenges while coping with limited resources, uneven access to senior management, high turn-over and even generational change in leadership. The pandemic has only accelerated the long-term trend in downsizing corporate staffs, while creating new demands for corporate resources. Experienced leaders face new challenges, while new leaders face expectations that tax their experience and internal networks.

What will the GEMI Emerging Sustainability Leadership Project Do?

The project will help leverage the unique perspectives of two different groups, while addressing their urgent needs. Experienced sustainability leaders have great insight to offer in terms of how they have addressed issues in the past, build credibility and access in their companies, and evolved their programs from being reactive to being truly strategic. However, they face issues and stakeholders that are different than in the past. Newer sustainability leaders lack the experience of others, but bring fresh perspectives and insights and, in many cases, deeper understanding of and alignment with emerging stakeholders and issues.

The project will:

  1. Convene a broader set of current and emerging GEMI leaders and Project participants to workshop the content, including creating a safe space to share areas of interest and concern.
  2. Based on that content, convene 3-5 working sessions, one per topic, to identify key themes, challenges, lessons learned, and resources.
  3. Publish and communicate widely the results of the workshop and then identify specific objectives and potential collaborative partners that can help support the needs of GEMI ESL participants comprised of both GEMI Members and Project Participants.
  4. Identify 1-3 key emerging challenges shared across industries for evaluation of collaborative project(s) in 2022+.

How will the GEMI ESL operate?

The GEMI ESL will be led by GEMI members and supported by GEMI’s staff with the support of Scott Nadler, Nadler Strategy LLC. Please contact Steve Hellem at shellem @ or Scott Nadler at senadler @ to learn more about how to get involved.