Do we not care about the Polar Bears?
“Why do people not care?” is a plea I often hear from sustainability practitioners and the wider green movement, usually followed by something like “The ice is melting, the polar bears are at risk! The science is clear, but nobody wants to make the sacrifice! They just want to watch X-Factor.”
This sums up the limited thinking of much of the green movement and indeed too many sustainability practitioners. First we have the “we’re better than them” holier than thou platform, then there’s the distant cause – most people have never seen a wild polar bear – and lastly there’s the sacrifice bit – “feel guilty about this and put on your hair shirt.”
The answer is that the question is wrong. The right question is “How do we make sustainability relevant to people’s lives?”
People are busy – families, work and home all have to be satisfied before anyone can start thinking about other things. But those day to day things – commuting, school run, food, heating, lighting – have a big impact on the planet. So you have to ensure you are engaging with those issues, not evoking guilt over a far-off carnivore.
My Green Jujitsu approach to sustainability at work embraces the fact that people are busy with other things. Instead of trying to interrupt them to talk about what is to many an esoteric issue, it taps right into the immediate concerns, interests and psychology of the workforce. If someone is an engineer, then frame sustainability as an engineering problem. If they are target-oriented, then give them formal sustainability targets. If they are used to following set instructions, then make sure sustainability is reflected in those instructions.
So, why not ditch the trappings of the green movement and think about sustainability from the perspective of your colleagues? The polar bears may be best served by not mentioning the polar bears.