Changemaker to Guide: A transformation of sustainability professionals

When Dr. Renee Lertzman took the stage at SPC Impact 2022, she asked the audience to think of one word that describes how they are feeling about global climate change. While this prompt is nothing new, it was the first time we were able to see attendees’ real-time responses in the SPC Impact event app. In a ballroom of almost 500 attendees, many sent in an emoticon. Whether it was the upside-down frowny face or the woozy face, all of the attendees of the session could relate to the feelings these emoji faces prompted even with no literary leverage. 

These shared feelings translated into what Dr. Lertzman called the collective transition moment. The moment, meaning the ballroom, the conference, and our overall shared time and space was sacred. It allowed us to talk shop, share openly, and discuss challenges and opportunities in our work. And what exactly is that work? As Dr. Lertzman explained, we are in the business of existential change leadership. And the best way to be a leader is to guide. 

Changemaker Approaches

As sustainability professionals we want to see change, but what kind of changemaker are you? Dr. Lertzman’s Project InsideOut describes a few types of changemakers:

  • The Righter– this type of changemaker relies on ethics and morals to motivate change as well as urgency and action. You should act on climate change because it’s the “right” thing to do. 


  • The Cheerleader–  this type of changemaker depends on positivity and inspiration to support change. We must be uplifting and always avoid negative messaging. 


  • The Educator– this type of changemaker relies on facts and data in hopes that it alone will persuade people to take action on climate change. By focusing on education this type of changemaker expects transformation based on facts only. 


What is a Guide

These three changemaker approaches are not necessarily incorrect, but Dr. Lertzman offers a fourth option: a Guide. A guide listens, asks questions, offers their expertise, opinion, and other perspectives to be a partner in the process, rather than dictate it. A guide engages in dialogue and forms relationships with stakeholders. If we adapt changemaker principles to be more guide-like then more action will take place, more people will feel heard, and more growth will happen. 

“Guiding is a new kind of climate and sustainability leadership.” – Dr. Renee Lertzman

Dr. Lertzman continued on to explain the guiding principles of a Guide: attune, reveal, convene, equip and sustain. By radically understanding people, being compassionate, talking less and actively listening, providing tools and building resources, and lastly, cultivating community, one can embody what it means to be a guide. By following these 5 principles one can achieve a greater understanding of how to drive and foster change, which can be applied to all sustainability professionals. Being a Guide not only helps sustainability professionals maneuver through existential change management but feel through existential change leadership. As the leading voice in sustainable packaging, the SPC embodies what it means to be a Guide. The 5 principles are represented through our approach of “educate, collaborate, and action” and through the support of our sustainable packaging community we are able to continue to help guide members through opportunities and challenges alike.

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