What sustainability practitioners can learn from politics…
One of the interesting developments in the climate debate over the last month has been the publication of “Risky Business” – an assessment of the economic risks from climate change faced by the US. The three chairs of the project were Hank Paulson (Treasury Secretary under GW Bush), Michael Bloomberg (ex Mayor of New York) and Tom Steyer (a Hedge Fund Manager).
Above and beyond the well argued case for swift action, the really interesting bit is that Paulson and Bloomberg are from the Republican side of the political spectrum, and with a few notable exceptions, Mr Schwarzenegger, the Republican Party tends to argue that climate change isn’t happening, never mind that we should do anything about it.
Rewind a couple of decades and the hot political topic was ‘triangulation’. The idea was that elections are won from the centre ground, so if you assume your supporters are likely to follow you no matter what, you can steal support from the opposition by speaking their language. Bill Clinton was the pioneer, a Democrat who made the Republicanesque declaration “the era of big government is over.” Tony Blair quickly followed suit in the UK, his “New Labour” a shotgun wedding of social democracy and faifree markets – the traditional territory of his Conservative opponents. Tory Prime Minister David Cameron returned the compliment by “hugging a husky” to commit his party to tackling climate change and later making the hostage to fortune commitment to lead “the greenest Government ever.”
The point of triangulation is that if you want to gain the support of the majority of your audience, then there is no point in aiming solely at the people who already support you – you have to speak to the unconverted. Risky Business will resonate with Republicans much more than Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, because Paulson is one of them and speaks their language.
In the same way, if you want to communicate sustainability, you should use the language of the part of the audience which ‘doesn’t get it’ not the language adopted by those who do – and/or get someone the unconverted respect to deliver the message. Classic Green Jujitsu, in other words.
Of course we must also learn from the downfall of many a politician over the years – if you say you’re gonna do it, you’ve gotta do it!