Earlier today, I was invigorated and inspired by the words of Richard Gillies, Director of Plan A at Marks and Spencer. Speaking at our webinar with BSR’s Aron Cramer and the Guardian’s Jo Confino on redefining leadership in 2011 and beyond, Gillies referred to the “Sustainability Revolution” that will transform our global society in the decades to come. Like the Industrial Revolution and the Computer Revolution that followed, Gillies noted the Sustainability Revolution will be observed and experienced by many but led by few.

We know that business will have to play an enormous role in the coming transformation, but which companies will stand out and make this change a reality? Consider these five ways your company can take a leading role.

  1. Focus on your core. Make sure your sustainability strategy aligns with your core business strategy and your guiding mission. Don’t treat it as an add-on that exists outside of your day-to-day business.
  2. Lead from the top. Sustainability strategies with buy-in from the top see more success than initiatives that germinate and remain at more modest levels of management. Get your CEO to see the business, brand, and strategic value of an ambitious sustainability agenda.
  3. Engage the rest of us. When the CEO makes something a mandate, as employees, we all pay attention. But when invited to participate in an innovative strategy that means something at the individual level, we take on a new level of ownership. As Gillies said, “Keep it real, relevant, and now.”
  4. Be big and boldand tell the world. Set audacious sustainability goals and make them public. Don’t be afraid to aim high and wonder how you’ll get there. “It’s about moving the market by putting a stake in the ground,” said Gillies. Once you get companies moving toward innovation in an industry or practice area, the status quo will no longer be acceptable.
  5. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Transformative change won’t happen in a vacuum, and inspiration may look very different from what you’re used to. Engage in bridge building and dialogue with unlikely allies to not only envision how and where your company can lead, but to start new partnerships that can have bigger—and more lasting—impact.

BSR will explore the idea of leadership in sustainability over the next few months, culminating in the BSR Conference in early November. We hope you join us in San Francisco to share your ideas and thoughts on redefining leadership. In the meantime, will you be part of the Sustainability Revolution, or will you be watching from the sidelines?