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16 August 2017

Food for thought or gut instinct?


I really enjoyed the piece in last week's Guardian pricking the balloon of the 'clean eating' movement whose proponents claim that modern life is killing us. I can get quite grumpy about happy-clappy pseudoscience and how it inveigles its way into everyday life. My local coffee shop proudly presents its 'gluten-free' brownies, even though the vast majority of people who think they are gluten intolerant simply aren't. I asked for one with gluten recently and the poor guy behind the counter looked utterly confused.

But the really disturbing part of the article is the author's anecdote of sharing a stage alongside a qualified dietician and one of the beautiful young champions of the clean eating movement. Whenever either of the first two questioned some of the claims made in the best-selling books of the latter, the audience got aggressive, and they were mocked later on social media. How dare these two criticise something we've invested emotional capital in using mere facts? Read the rest of this entry »

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18 July 2016

Changing Hearts and Minds for Sustainability

world brainBefore the horrors of the last few days, it must have been a slow news period as the Telegraph rolled out another of their 'lycra lout' articles about the village of Great Budworth which claims to be under siege from the two-wheeled menaces. I think one anecdote summarises the story:

"One nearly crashed into my brother's car as he was pulling out of the drive and shouted at him."

Or, translated into objective language:

"My brother pulled out on to a road without looking properly, nearly knocked someone off his bike, endangering his life, and was surprised that the guy was angry about it."

What surprises me is that neither the story-teller, the brother, the journalist or the editor realised the stupidity of this line. I'm sure they're all intelligent people, but they regurgitate this nonsense because it backs up the way they have already made up their mind. This is known as confirmation bias.

As a Sustainability practitioner you will have come across this phenomenon time and time again. The presumption that Sustainability must cost more, despite all the facts and figures you provide. The presumption that renewable energy will never be cost effective despite plunging prices. The presumption that Sustainability is not a core business issue despite the fact that those who do Sustainability better have been shown to make more profit. The 'zombie arguments' from climate change deniers refuse to die for this very reason.

Like those in the Telegraph article, there is no point in trying to confront those 'misconceptions' head on (just have a look at all the Godwin's-Law-breaking arguments on Twitter for proof). My Green Jujitsu approach works on the heart as well as trying to appeal to the mind, by getting people involved in Sustainability using their core skills and interests. For example, it's said that the Netherlands doesn't suffer from this us-and-them battle between motorists and cyclists because almost all drivers cycle as well, so they identify with being on two wheels.

So if you are locked into a war of attrition over a Sustainability issue or project, stop, take a step back and think about how you can make it appealing to your opponents' hearts as well as minds.


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23 June 2016

Why you've got to embrace tribalism in Sustainability

Flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. UK Flag and EU Flag. British Union Jack flag.

I've just been to the polling station to vote in the EU Referendum. And I voted... drum-roll... IN!

But you probably guessed that, not just because I've blogged about it before, but because I'm a Sustainability Professional and Edie has found that 75% of us are voting IN (and 7% are unsure).

If you knew the area I live in, you'd probably guess correctly as it's a very middle-class-intelligentsia neighbourhood, never mind that RemaIN posters outnumber LEAVE by at least 5:1.

If you knew I'm a (sometimes reluctant) Guardian reader then you'd also put money on me being IN.

I'm a bit bloody predictable, aren't I?

On the other hand, if I was wedded to my car and a climate sceptic, you would put money on me voting Leave. And almost nothing would change my mind, certainly not the towering pile of economic statistics the RemaIN campaign has been throwing around with gay abandon.

This referendum, like most elections, will be decided by a relatively small number of people who do not fit neatly into a few rather big tribes. And we tend to listen to other people in our tribes - reading newspapers which reflect our values. In social media this is known as the echo chamber as you say something and just hear the same thing back (I've started trying to break this habit and seek out articles by journalists who are interested in why people who they disagree with don't think like them.) We are tribal.

This tribalism is exactly why most employee engagement fails. Sustainability practitioners talk to their colleagues using sustainability language, images and arguments – and then get a shock when it doesn't register with the intended audience. Green Jujitsu is all about acknowledging the obvious fact that people unengaged in Sustainability aren't (and maybe won't ever be) members of the Sustainability tribe. It's about understanding the other tribe and translating Sustainability appropriately.

The NHS experiment on engaging nursing staff on energy efficiency is a fantastic example. "Switch it off and save the planet" didn't work. "Switch it off and save the NHS money" didn't work. "Switch it off and your patients will get better sleep" did – because the nursing tribe values patient care above everything else.

So accept we are tribal – and work with it.


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26 October 2011

Making sustainability relevant to stakeholders

Everyone who has tried to spread the green message has come up against the wall of indifference. What's wrong with people? Don't they understand the world is in peril? Why won't they do anything?

What happens if you shout louder? People seem to take even less notice. So you start railing against the world - why can no-one grasp the issues instead of you?

The problem of course is people have plenty of priorities and will resist having another one. Yes, they care about the polar bear, but what's that got to do with their paper-pushing or lever-pulling job at Megacorp plc?

It's this gap between global issues like climate change and/or high level concepts like sustainability and the day to day pressures of completing that paperwork or finishing that widget that you need to bridge. And you bridge it not by trying to beat your values into their brain, but by putting that issue into the context of the world they inhabit.

Here are some tactics for doing this:

  • The human interest story: we respond to 'people like us' telling us their story - which is why TV reporters always interview the Western aid worker in famine stories rather than the poor victims (I hate this, but they do it for a reason);
  • Getting people involved in generating solutions: if people work out what this means to their job function, they make the bridge themselves and get a much deeper understanding than you telling them;
  • Tailor training and awareness material for particular job functions. So marketers get trained in green marketing, accountants in the business case for sustainability, product developers in eco-design etc;
  • Tap into any organisational cultural traits. If another issue is a key plank of the culture - eg innovation, health & safety, hygiene, third world development, charitable donations etc - then try to piggy back on that issue rather than trying to create a new plank.

But overall, we have to remember it is about them, not you. This can be tricky - I must admit I occasionally get dragged into a debate with a climate change "sceptic" online and I often forget that others are watching and may give the other guy the benefit of the doubt - particularly if I start batting down the same old tired arguments with a bit too much zeal.

Putting the old ego in the back pocket for a while and getting yourself into their world is the way to win people in the long term.

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