Monday, October 15, 2012

How We Can Engage Businesses and People in Efforts to Combat Climate Change

Effective communications are crucial to efforts to change behavior and integrate sustainability into a corporate culture. Climate Change is an irrefutable scientific fact, but not everyone is on-board, and many of those who accept the science, are not personally engaged. Effective ecological communications involves more than scientific discourse or economic diatribes.

The business community is at the forefront of efforts to engage climate change. In the absence of government leadership business are leading advocates of sustainability. More than 80 percent of businesses see the wisdom of sustainability, but we still have a far way to go to get businesses fully involved.

Adopting sustainability is a tremendous opportunity. A cost benefit analysis reveals that sustainability is advantageous in almost every circumstance. Growing consumer demand and cost reduction make sustainability a critical issue. For businesses it is not just about adding Cache, it is a matter of survival.

The benefits of businesses adopting sustainability also include: Spurring growth, enhanced brand reputation, improved employee loyalty and morale, increased productivity, attracting talent, increased ROI, reduced dependency on uncontrollable costs like fossil fuels and reducing the impact on the environment

Sustainability is also being driven by supply chain demands. Additionally consumers will punish companies that are not responsible.

It is not overstating the case to say that sustainability saves lives. One study claims that global warming already is causing 300,000 deaths and $125 billion in economic losses annually.

Sustainability is an unstoppable mega-trend, the logic is of sustainability is overwhelming. Companies like Xerox, PUMA, HP, and even smaller companies like Zotos are successfully incorporating sustainability initiatives and reducing their footprints.

The green market is now estimated to be worth $5.27 trillion worldwide and in the next couple of decades the clean energy market alone is expected to be worth more than $13 trillion.

Loss of competitive positioning and public ire are two powerful disincentives that are also driving businesses to embrace sustainability. Simply put, sustainability is a business imperative and for an increasing number it is a strategic priority.

Digital technologies like social media are powerful forces that are also driving sustainability: Popular campaigns can punish irresponsible companies and positive social actions like Carrot-Mobs offer persuasive inducement.

Social media can also be an ideal tool to help with employee engagement. Social media can help with communications that enfranchise employees and the wider public regarding the inculcation of sustainability initiatives and more earth friendly practices.

Using social media can help incorporate sustainability into company’s DNA and core values. A first step involves the issues of engagement and alignment: Ask employees what they want to see and align your objectives.

Above all sustainability requires inspired leadership. But we cannot build consensus with addressing the obstructionists. This means we need to find ways to entice those who are reluctant. This requires an understanding of the nuances of communicating sustainability

To enlarge the reach of our discussion, the climate movement must go beyond preaching economics and explaining science. A successful ecological initiative demands the willing participation of as many people as possible, but not everyone is going to get on board. We need to take aim at those who are environmentally indifferent and hit them with an effective call to action that is about more than just facts.

Research shows that informing people about the expected impacts of climate change had no effect on their positions. We must create a moral imperative that compels us to act. Where science fails, the moral argument is capable of unleashing unprecedented activity. This entails weaving environmental awareness into our codes of conduct

Rather than just a series of actions we must foster a system of belief. Ecological ethics are very effective when integrating sustainability into a corporate culture. Ecological ethics are associated with high standards of morality, integrity, and trust.

Sustainability transcends individual experience because the ethics of environmentalism applies to people around the world and across political and religious cultures. The morality of Green speaks to compassion, and this is where religious and secular ethics converge.

The failure to engage efforts to resist climate change is a moral crisis. To move forward we must embrace the moral dimension of the climate change issue. We need to tap into the deeply embedded preexisting morality of the vast majority of people.

The moral principle we need to communicate is about protecting the Earth. We have a moral obligation to be good stewards of the Earth and all of its creatures and processes. Action on climate change demands a moral movement that urges people to take personal responsibility.

NASA scientist Jim Hansen calls climate change a moral issue on a par with slavery as he sees it, climate change is as an “injustice of one generation to others.” However if we are to effectively employ the moral argument we need to understand some of the basics of human psychology.

Research reveals that the human moral judgment system fails to acknowledge climate change because: Climate change is complex, distant and abstract; it represents an nontraditional type of moral transgression where it is sometimes hard to attribute blame; people have an aversion to guilt; they see the future as uncertain and they fail to identify with victims of climate change. Finally, concerns about climate change are not at present core moral values.

We should focus on communicating the problems that climate change will wreak upon future generations, rather than just the potential benefits. The idea here is that it is counterproductive to focus on “extrinsic motivators” for action on climate change (i.e. economic growth and jobs). According to the researchers, it weakens moral engagement by de-emphasizing intrinsic values and non-materialist motives.

We must use messaging that generates positive emotions (eg: hope, pride and gratitude), rather than negative emotions (eg: guilt, shame and anxiety), shared goals, and positive social norms where pro-environmental action is lauded.

It is hard to engage people with fear alone. Research reveals that positive approaches are much more effective. Fear and pessimism detract from the goal of communicating the importance of ecological action. Decades of research shows that appeals based on fear can cause denial and mistrust. Fear alienates people who most need to be brought into the discussion

We need to use inspiring facts about the environment. In the business context we need to help people understand that sustainability can promote team spirit, as well as enhance a companies position. Research shows that approaches based on hope work far better than fear. Effective approaches stress the values of community good feeling and of progress.

Positive narratives may be our best hope for fostering desperately needed environmental action. Facts alone are insufficient.

As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “I too would fain set down something beside facts. Facts should only be as the frame to my pictures — they should be material to the mythology which I am writing.”

We need to craft a message that is both factually accurate and emotionally appealing. One of the most universally appealing messages we can communicate is the idea that we are part of the web of life that surrounds us. Countless creation myths describe our origins and speak to a harmonious relationship to the Earth. Portraying the Earth at the center of a hopeful narrative.

A number of movies, documentaries and books reveal that an appreciation of the Earth's biodiversity is now part of pop culture. We need an environmental narrative that can augur change on a grand scale and shift the way we relate to the Earth. Ultimately, the goal is to craft a mythology which weaves us into the fabric of the natural world. If we understand that we are one with the environment, we are far more likely to act to improve it. Fundamentally, we must come to the realization that what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves

While extreme weather is making it easier for people to see the tangible impacts of climate change the pace of change is painfully slow. The industrial revolution took 200 years; the sustainability revolution will need to take a tenth of that time.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for sustainability advocates is to remain hopeful in light of increasingly dire scientific warnings. We must cultivate the audacity to believe that we can step back from the precipice because without hope, there will be no action

Like all major socio-economic revolutions the acceptance of climate change takes time. Attitudes towards climate change, must go through various stages before the bitter truth can be inculcated into the public psyche.

Organizations and individuals who are confronted with facts about global warming have been thrown into what is known as "a cycle of acceptance."

This is an extrapolation of the well known process first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. The Kübler-Ross model is commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief, it is also referred to as the Cycle of Acceptance. In essence it involves 5 steps:

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Depression
4. Bargaining
5. Acceptance


People are at different stages when it comes to climate change. While some are still stuck in the denial phase, there are others who feel hopeless and depressed due to the slow acceptance of the need to combat climate change. Understanding these stages can help people and organizations to accelerate the completion of the cycle of acceptance.

Businesses need to understand how to communicate sustainability. Effective communications change behavior, while information alone does not always lead to action. Attractive campaigns make sustainability interesting without being superficial.

While marketing can also help to communicate sustainability nothing can replace the dedication and sincerity of a sincere environmental advocate or a capable green team. Passion is is infectious.

20 Characteristics of Effective Ecological Communications
  1. Elaborate strategies which are concrete, clear, realistic and achievable.
  2. Avoid information overload
  3. Strive for thematic unity
  4. Establish what we need to measure and how this will be done
  5. Establish timelines with clear milestones
  6. Set targets including strategic objectives and actionable plans
  7. Continually measure and evaluate the communications
  8. Seek feedback, then document and report this evaluation.
  9. Make the plan and the assessment metrics available (Transparency)
  10. Tailor all sustainable communications to the culture in which they are being launched
  11. Make sure that the program contains incentives, recognition and/or reward programs
  12. Announce the program and schedule an inaugural event
  13. Coordinate communications to inspire and motivate change
  14. Employ educational efforts that help people understand how their individual actions can make a positive impact.
  15. Remind people that individual actions multiplied many times make a difference
  16. Promote the program with regular communications and updates
  17. Disseminate the ecological message widely
  18. Empower people at the local level
  19. Encourage friendly competition
  20. Provide opportunities to participate and collaborate
One example of successful enfranchisement come from the late Ray Anderson. His Sustainable Legacy at Interface involved employees in their Mission Zero® journey. Many of their early successes came from enterprising employees.

In 1995 Interface began a program to drive waste reduction efforts at their factories known as Quality Utilizing Employee Suggestions and Teamwork (QUEST). It’s an employee-led system to define and Using cross-functional teams of employees with shared goals allows for different perspectives and ideas to surface. Inviting new thinking and allowing permission to fail creates an abundance of positive risk takers.

As a result of their employees’ contributions, Interface has achieved a 41% reduction in waste cost per unit, resulting in $438 million in calculated avoided waste costs since they began in 1994.

To be successful companies must communicate effectively. They must inculcate a shared morality and develop core values like responsibility, honesty, and fairness. Above all they must be authentic and genuine.

A well articulated Green message should evoke ties like those one has with trusted friends and family. For businesses effectively communicating an ecological message can represent the difference between success and failure. Effective communications are also critical to being able to marshal the critical mass of support required to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

For businesses the commitment required to engage sustainability is onerous and should not be undertaken lightly. However, successfully communicating an ecological message is of paramount importance in our urgent efforts to reduce our impact on the planet.

© 2012, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

Related Articles
Crafting a Positive Environmental Narrative
Pessimism is Impeding Environmental Advocacy
Building Support for Action on Climate Change Before We Reach Tipping Points
Why We Need to Reach American Climate Change Deniers

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