Contributed by Megan Ray Nichols
Not everyone cares about sustainability. For some people to start caring would require them to change some habits. How can they be motivated to care?
Most of what we do every day is purely habit. We eat meals at the same times of day, we follow the same processes at work and usually listen to the same few music stations. We have an established routine that feels right, and only deviate from that as much as we need to get our tasks accomplished.
Almost everyone can tell you changing your habits and routine is hard. Nobody likes doing it. It gets even harder when you have to make changes that go against the grain of what most people in your life do.
Even so, people do make changes. In the ‘70s, recycling was a hassle. Now, it’s something almost everyone does. Fad diets and food trends make headlines all the time that require people to change how they eat, where they shop and what they spend on food. The key to convincing people to make these changes is obvious. You have to make them want it.
Making an impact
Most of the time, when you start a new fad diet, exercise or whatever, it comes with things to buy. People want to buy stuff because it makes them feel like they have surplus money to spend, even when they don’t. While this is a bad idea for your wallet, it’s a basic component of any marketing technique. People assume you get what you pay for, so anything free seems less valuable. With some creative thinking, this can work to help people become more sustainable.
Another option is to set an example. One of the most significant issues we have with waste in our culture is single-use plastic. That means plastic straws, cutlery, cups and even those individually packaged sauces you get at a fast-food restaurant. This problem is so pervasive, even Queen Elizabeth of England has announced her desire to reduce their useon all her estates.
Most people in England don’t work for the queen, but her ability to lead by example made a big impact. It got people talking and inspired a lot of individuals to make a change as well. Leading from the top down is one of the best ways to encourage people to change without forcing the issue.
Contributing at work
Queen Elizabeth isn’t the only one who decided to forgo plastic. The team that filmed the TV series Blue Planet IIwas so shocked by the increase in plastic in the ocean, they convinced the entire BBC to give up single-use plasticsat all their locations worldwide.
Most companies don’t need to go that far. Instead, they can focus more on convincing their employees to make personal changes. Doing this isn’t quite the same as convincing people to make changes in their personal lives, though. People have set up their daily routines almost entirely for speed and convenience. [Editor’s note: check out this blog’s occasional series on the cost of convenience.] Changes will impact that and could make them feel like they aren’t as productive. To counteract that, you, as an employer, have to take certain steps.
First, you need to make sure your employees care even remotely about environmental issues. Some people are more concerned about them than others so figuring out how much sustainability resonates with your people is important. If most of them don’t consider the environment a top priority, you’ll have a harder time convincing them to make changes.
Offering educational pamphlets or memos is a good start, but it’s best to show people how it relates to their daily lives. For example, shifting weather patterns due to climate change will cause the prices of beloved commodities such as coffee and chocolate to rise. Framing the issue in terms of things that directly affects people is key.
Then, you can start to convince people to make changes, so long as you help make them easy. Set up a recycling bin, but don’t forget to inform the people who pick it up. Get rid of plastic cutlery, but replace it with metal. If you can, install a dishwasher to make things easier. Ask people to stop sending paper memos, and encourage it by adding a line about it to your email signature.
Once you’ve covered the basics, encourage your employees to participate. Ask them for ideas about how your company can become greener, and seriously consider them. When someone gives you a good idea, get them involved in the initiative and let them know how it’s progressing.
Finally, no matter if you’re working with consumers, employees or your friends, the decision to consider the environmental impact of their actions has to be something they make alone. You can offer your personal example, ideas, information, and paths to make it happen, but you can’t do it for them.
Megan Ray Nichols writes the blog Schooled by Science