How to Get People to Change (for the Greener): Part 1


In February 2010, SSC President, Jennifer Woofter, commented on points made by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (of Made to Stick fame) in an article featured in Inc., How to Get People to Change.  In the article, the authors discussed their new book on change management and Jennifer thought that it was a fascinating look at what it takes for people to shift their thinking and their actions.

What follows are some excerpts from the article, as well as her reflections as a sustainability consultant:

One of the main mistakes is when leaders come up with a new vision but never translate that broad analytical vision into something people on the frontlines can actually execute. I was talking to an entrepreneur who wanted his employees to have a "mindset of customer service." But if you're an employee, when you hear that, all you hear is buzzword, buzzword, buzzword, jargon, jargon, jargon.

Ahh, this could not be more pertinent for the “green” crowd.  Think back to your last conversation—around the water cooler with your climate-skeptic colleagues, or networking at that small business happy hour.  Consultants pitching their wares and inside sustainability champions make the same mistake again and again.  We throw around terms like “sustainability” and “systems thinking” without providing any kind of common context.  Hell, even the term “green” is vague. 

Is it any surprise that we see people nod (and perhaps even agree with us) and yet behavior goes unchanged?  Companies create broad GHG reduction goals, but employees have no idea how to implement them.  Consultants provide slick reports to clients, who quietly place them into a drawer and go about their business.  Green teams create vision statements that speak compellingly of holistic change, but never get traction with the company decision makers. 

While there are many reasons that change doesn’t happen, buzzwords and jargon are certainly one of the main problems.  I challenge you to look hard at the language you’re using to convince people of the importance of sustainability.  Can you explain all the concepts in a way that people on the frontlines can execute?  If not, go back and practice on your loved ones…they have no choice but to sit patiently and listen.

Next time: dealing with stubborn people.  Really, really stubborn people.

This summer, we're giving sharing the best articles from the SSC website, going back eight years. The article above was originally posted on February 11, 2010. We'll be back in September with all new content. In the meantime, if you're interested in learning more about SSC, or working with an SSC consultant, please contact us!