Posted: September 27, 2010

Peter M. Sandman:
2005 Biography for SustainAbility

Between 1997 and 2010, I sat on the Board of Faculty Advisors of SustainAbility, a consultancy founded by John Elkington. In 2005, each member of the Board submitted answers to the same questions that were formatted as our one-page biographies on the SustainAbility website. I’m off the Board now (and off the website), but here are my answers.


Risk communication – which means three things:

number 1
When people are apathetic about serious risks, I figure out how to rouse their alarm;
number 2
When people are upset about minor risks, I figure out how to provide reassurance; and
number 3
When people are upset about serious risks, I figure out how to help them bear their feelings and take effective action.

All three tasks get me involved in organizational development, helping my client become the kind of organization that can do good risk communication – which includes becoming the kind of organization that has a creditable story to tell; and the kind of organization that is candid, apologetic, and responsive about the not-so-creditable parts of the story.


Self-employed – I work a good deal with my wife, Jody Lanard M.D., but I have no organization. (I’m pretty good at exercising influence, but very poor at wielding power.)

Career Highlight

number 1
Creation of the “Risk = Hazard + Outrage” formula.
number 2
Discovery that huge multinational corporations are run by people more preoccupied with their own comfort and ego than with profit. They get angry at critics and often would rather “get even” by continuing the battle than “get rich” by making concessions.
number 3
Discovery that I can be enthusiastically candid about my client’s mistakes without losing the client. (“Wow, let’s sit together and marvel at what a fool you’ve been!”)
number 4
Chance to help alert the world to avian influenza, possibly the biggest worldwide health threat (and yes, I include HIV).
number 5
Creation of, onto which I am trying to dump everything I know about risk communication – so I can have impact without working so hard.

Favourite Quote

Too many – and I’m pushing your one-page limit. Emerson on seeing shades of grey but acting in terms of black and white certainly makes the top-ten list.

Why Faculty Matters

number 1
SustainAbility keeps me up to speed on where my clients need to go – and on the sorts of demands they need to be responsive to.
number 2
I used to work mostly with NGOs. Then I started working mostly with corporations – and really, really needed SustainAbility to keep my gyroscope working. Now I work mostly with public health agencies, and need it less … but I certainly don’t like/admire it less!

Copyright © 2010 by Peter M. Sandman

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