Sustainability Engagement

An old friend and colleague dropped by for a cup of tea yesterday. While our respective kids decanted all the toys in the house onto the floor, we tried to put the world to rights. He was a bit frustrated as he had recently organised a high-brow discussion event on climate change, but despite all the intellectual firepower in the room, the conversation got stuck on one topic: domestic recycling.

We discussed this – agreeing that as recycling is the most obvious change in our home lives in the last decade or two that nods towards Sustainability, so that's why people default to it. We then mulled on how to move the conversation on.

My view is that if you want, say, people to choose more sustainable forms of transport, then trying to persuade them that their current choice is unsustainable is the wrong way to go (I referenced the newspaper column I ridiculed the other week). If you want to get people walking or cycling, then personal health is often the best button to press (I speak as someone who has lost 6kg since Christmas without reducing my cake intake) – along with providing the necessary infrastructure to make those choices more pleasant than driving. Likewise the Tesla approach of EV-as-status-symbol makes electric vehicles aspirational, not hair-shirt shroud-waving.

This is, of course, a form of Green Jujitsu, as we are often better not talking climate change, but the language which appeals to the audience. Cycling is good for you and the planet; it doesn't matter why people do it, just that they do.

 

[As an aside, the conversation getting stuck on recycling at the event may be due to the format and human nature. If you simply open the debate to the floor, then the first topic raised will often dominate the conversation – it's a simple psychological phenomenon. That's why for my engagement, I prefer to use a workshop format and large discussion templates – the format of the template is designed to make sure the participants cover every part of the exam question and not just the first thing that springs to mind. For more on this, check out our Workshop Facilitation Masterclass.]

 

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