VIEWS: How to Get People to Change (for the Greener): Part 4

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.

One of the most basic mistakes that psychologists have documented is that we tend to blame people and their personalities for problems and ignore situations. One of my students, a director at Nike, thought of herself as a very open manager. She had an open-door policy, but when she asked for feedback, she learned that her staff thought she was a bad communicator.  After talking with her team, she realized the problem was the way her desk was set up. When an employee came in and sat across from her, her computer was right in the middle. She got distracted when e-mails showed up. After she rearranged her office so she would have to turn her chair away from the computer when an employee came in, she immediately got positive feedback. By fixing that environment, she fixed the problem.

I see this problem a lot working with clients.  Take the issue of recycling.  Companies often complain that employees don’t take advantage of recycling opportunities, throw up their hands, and admit defeat.  Instead, we recommend they try three simple things before giving up (or investing in anything expensive):

  • Make recycling bins more accessible.  Instead of a single, central location for recycling, give each employee a small recycling bin to keep at their desk.  People will do what’s easy, so make it easy to recycle at the point of disposal.  Put recycling bins every place you might want to throw something away—the copy machine, the bathroom, the kitchen, the conference rooms…you get the idea.
  • At employees’ desks, swap out large trash cans for smaller pint-sized versions.  Smaller trash cans make employees notice how much trash they are actually generating—and that awareness is a key part of changing employee behavior.
  • Add clear and concise information about what can (and cannot) be recycled in easy-to-access places.  A summary chart posted above the kitchen recycling facilities, a simple sticker on the office recycling bins, and a more comprehensive resource available on your organization’s intranet is a great mix.

The next time you’re up against a green problem, look for a solution that makes it easier for people to change.  Often, just making the green option more convenient will result in a noticeable difference!