Purpose of the study: The purpose of this paper was to investigate who should and can act as change leaders in South Africa to affect environmental sustainability. Research design and methodology: A qualitative research paradigm was used, in particular an exploratory and descriptive approach where the aim was to identify who should and can act as change leaders, and to describe their leadership styles and qualities necessary to increase organisational environmental sustainability. Purposive and snowball sampling was utilised. The criteria for inclusion in the sample required that the environmental sustainability leaders interviewed were on a senior environmental management level and actively involved in environmental sustainability issues in the workplace. A final sample of 13 leaders from different sectors, in both the private and public sectors in three provinces; Gauteng, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape in South Africa, were obtained. Data was collected by conducting face-to-face, email and telephonic interviews and analysed using content analysis and the constant comparison method. Trustworthiness was ensured as the participants were identified through an Internet search and their positions in the organisation could be confirmed on their website. Their environmental sustainability actions were outlined in their annual reports on their websites. Research findings: Most participants chose well-known leadership styles associated with change such as visionary, transformational or charismatic. Change leadership qualities could be related to the personality traits of the participants, relationship- or entrepreneurial orientated. No conclusive evidence was found whether females are a better choice in driving organisational environmental sustainability. Research limitations: The sample was only limited to large South African companies, which are obliged to report on their environmental sustainability actions. Other business forms and smaller organisations were not included in the sample as most of these organisations do not have to report on environmental sustainability actions. Practical implications: When choosing leaders to drive environmental sustainability, leaders that display a change leadership style should be chosen. The change leaders chosen to drive environmental sustainability, should have the desired personality traits, be relationship and entrepreneurial orientated, so to obtain commitment from subordinates. Contribution of paper: This paper contributes towards the body of knowledge with regards to which leadership qualities and styles could be utilised if organisations wish to implement environmental sustainability actions in South Africa or any other country for that matter.
Keywords: Change leadership; environmental sustainability; Leadership qualities; Leadership stylea