How to deal with a climate sceptic
When I originally came up with the concept of “Green Jujitsu”, it was in the context of ‘dealing with difficult people’ in The Green Executive. Difficult people from a sustainability practitioner’s point of view are those who reject the whole idea that man is having a negative impact on the planet.
Now the natural habitat of the climate sceptic is blogs and below the line comments on newspaper websites. And as long as they stay there, repeating their zombie arguments ad infinitum, they’re not doing any harm.
But it can be a real nightmare if you get one in your organisation trying to obstruct your sustainability efforts, throwing half-remembered snippets of rubbish they’ve read about where the Romans grew their grapes into the conversation. As soon as you knock one argument down, they’ll bring up another and another until they land on something you can’t answer on the spot and then they’ll triumphantly say “See?” You can’t win.
So how do you deal with sceptics? The Green Jujitsu way is…
- Get highly visible buy-in from the leadership – sceptics will have to feel very confident to go up against the CEO;
- Design the process to get people involved in the development of the strategy – then lots of people will have a stake in the results and peer pressure will sweep sceptics along;
- Ask people why (not whether) they think the business should take sustainability seriously – they end up selling it to themselves;
- Ask sceptics directly for help if possible. If they’re an accountant, ask for help on carbon accounting etc;
- Choose your language to suit your audience. A sceptic may respond better to “risk management”, “cost efficient” or “brand enhancement” than to “save the planet”;
- Don’t try to explain climate change science to employees – you’re just asking to get bogged down in “How come Mars is warming?” type nonsense;
- Don’t preach. Ever;
- In your employee engagement, ask teams of people to think of ideas to green their area of business. This makes it directly relevant to their day job and resistant to “none of my business”;
- Create peer-pressure by running competitions between departments or teams;
- Make sure everything (language, imagery, tone, process) is aligned to the prevailing culture in the organisation, so the sceptic can’t denounce it as tree-hugging.
In my client engagements I have worked with a couple of thousand employees, but because I use Green Jujitsu I have only ever had a couple of sceptics try to cause trouble – and they failed to disrupt the process.