VIEWS: How to Get People to Change (for the Greener): Part 6

Dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter

In the February edition of Inc, authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath (of Made to Stick fame) discuss their new book on change management in an article How to Get People to Change.  It’s a fascinating look at what it takes people to shift their thinking and their actions, and I wanted to look at some of their thoughts in a “green angle”.  What follows are excerpts from the article, with my reflections as a sustainability consultant.

We commonly think that fear is a good motivator, but fear works for only a short time. And this recession has gone on for a couple of years in some parts of the country. So when we try to motivate people, we need to find feelings of hope and optimism.

Remember the movie An Inconvenient Truth, and how it swept over the United States and marked a huge turning point in our nation’s awareness of the perils of climate change?  It turns out that the movie was great at giving us a sharp slap to the face (metaphorically speaking of course), but not great at inspiring change.  The doom-and-gloom scenarios presented by Al Gore didn’t really make the case for responding to climate change.  People were shocked, but then went back to their every day lives—just check out the latest surveys showing that fewer people believe that climate change is real today than they did two years ago. 

People need something to run to, not just something to run from.  As you think about a sustainability strategy for your organization, make sure it isn’t just about “reducing greenhouse gas emissions” or “using less water”.  Put a positive spin on it – how many trees will you save by going paperless?  How much money will you trim from the electricity budget by installing computer power management software?  How many more hours will employees spent at home with their families instead of commuting, when they have the option to telecommute once a week?  Find the positive. 

As sustainability consultants, we often work with clients that are approaching sustainability from a “have to” perspective.  Walmart is knocking on their door, saying you have to lower your greenhouse gases.  Investors have filed a shareholder resolution, saying you have to implement a supplier code of conduct.  Customers are asking for it, saying you have to pursue third party “green” certification. 

We work with clients to address stakeholder needs, but also balance that impetus with finding internal motivation.  What can employees rally around in this sustainability journey?  It’s where high-impact issues meet high-enthusiasm that the most amazing things are accomplished.