The evolution of the sustainability champion

The study and taxonomy of the Sustainability Champion has become unfashionable of late, and there is a curious collective denial of their importance. Below, Sarah Holloway, professional observer of sustainability champions, traces the evolution of this species and provides a simple guide to their identification.

1. Homo inhabilis

The earliest recorded example of the sustainability champion is Homo inhabilis (“unfit champion”).

As with many early examples, there is scant evidence of his existence, though it can be found if researchers know where to look. The kitchen cabinets of some urban offices have been found to feature yellowing posters asking the indigenous population, Homo oblivious, to recycle.

Little is known about Homo inhabilis beyond these scraps of evidence. Researchers believe he was loyal to the elders of his community, and highly respectful of tribe hierarchy and norms. Elders are thought to have shown great interest in distributing money to worthy causes, and this took up a significant proportion of Homo inhabilis’ time.

2. Homo compliancensis

Homo compliancensis represents a clear step forward in champion evolution. He is named for his primary motivation: compliance with national and international regulation.

Until recently, it was believed that Homo compliancensis stayed mainly within his own habitat. However, the recent discovery of “environmental footprints” from this period suggest that he may have explored his environment within a limited range, perhaps as much as once every financial year.

Homo compliancensis appears to have spent much of his time focusing on incremental change – scraps of documents known as Environmental Management Systems can still be found in many corporate computer systems – and that his influence on the work environment was limited to reductions in electricity use and the introduction of recycled paper.

3. Homo securitas viridis

Homo securitas viridis (“the green police”) is the first truly visible example of a sustainability champion, and we therefore know much more about his habits than those of his ancestors.

Following extensive investigation, we know that Homo securitas viridis is the first champion species to have a well-developed sense of morality, and to have used rudimentary weapons (anger, sarcasm and mock disbelief) on members of the related species Homo unsuspectingus who failed to share his ethics. Common transgressions included unnecessary printing, drinking from a plastic cup, and using a car to travel a walkable distance.

Although some experts claim that Homo securitas viridis is now extinct, most agree that isolated examples still exist in many work environments.

4. Homo changeagentus

In some modern organisations, Homo securitas viridis has been completely replaced by a new species: Homo changeagentus. Although similar in appearance to his predecessor, Homo changeagentus has a crucial advantage: the ability to influence change in his environment.

Homo changeagentus carries more advanced weaponry than Homo securitas viridis, the most powerful of which are deep local insight, and an understanding that he cannot change things alone. He hunts strategically, working in partnership with others to pick off larger prey. The most successful examples of this species have managed to capture key tribal elders (“the Board”) and convert them to their cause.

Researchers believe that members of this species have already begun to work with others to tackle complex problems such as deforestation, public health and inequality.

5. Homo futurum

Based on the adaptive capability of sustainability champions, experts predict that a new species is likely to emerge in response to significant changes to the work environment.

Homo futurum (“future champion”) is predicted to have changed his culture to such a degree that significant change is no longer necessary. He will be careful to gain the trust of the other species, including Homo middlemanagerus and Homo stakeholderensis, and be making headway with the complex issues he needs to address.

Most importantly, Homo futurum will continue to scan the horizon for societal trends and environmental challenges to ensure his team is at the cutting edge of sustainability. We look forward to meeting Homo futurum!

This article first appeared on the Dō Sustainability website. Image: The Descent of Man by Newtown Graffiti is licensed under CC BY 2.0