Why you’ve got to embrace tribalism in Sustainability
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.