It only takes one dissenting voice to derail a green business policy, so how do you convince the doubters and drive through a green strategy in the face of opposition? Amy Sims offers some top tips for taking on the bad apples
Over the past few years many businesses have launched green communication campaigns to try and encourage their staff to become more environmentally friendly. But what do you do when you find that not everyone is always eager to take the advice? Yes, there are some bad apples out there in this great green golden delicious world. Not rotten, mind you, just sceptical and a bit stubborn.
At training days run by Global Action Plan for our Environment Champions business programme participants receive a good overview of climate change from one of our workplace programme managers, including how humans contribute to it, and how they can help lighten their own impact. But as predictable as the biscuits and tea on offer is the scepticism served up by some at these gatherings. People have been bombarded with information on the subject of global warming from many sources, some far less reputable than others, and unfortunately some incorrect ideas have stuck, bred and spread.
While the debate around the cause of climate change is pretty much over in the scientific community, and evidence shows that human actions contribute to climate change, people have often heard something or read an item in a newspaper that's made them unsure if climate change is definitely happening or if people are to blame. They can be left thinking "well, how are my actions going to make a difference in grand scheme of things?"
The difficulty with challenging the most common climate change myths is that they have elements of truth to them. For example, there are two misconceptions, in particular, that come up time after time. The first is that cycles of energy from the sun reaching the earth control the climate and in the past have been responsible for ice ages and warmer periods. But scientists know that while the sun is obviously a crucial contributor to planet’s temperature it isn’t solely responsible for warming that’s been seen.
Secondly there is a common view that man made emissions are too small in the grand scheme of things to cause climate change. But while it is true that in the annual carbon cycle only a small amount of emissions are caused by humans, it is also the case that the other emissions are in natural balance and it's our bit that's the extra which seas and land can’t mop up.
The key to challenging these myths is to try and explain the science of climate change, which admittedly is quite complicated, in a way that's easy to comprehend and addresses all the most common misconceptions.
Another problem with the environmental bad apples within any organisation is that they can often be resistant to making practical changes in behaviour, such as switching off computer monitors and limiting their paper use, because they think it is too small an action to make a difference, so why bother? They'll bring up issues like China opening new power stations each week and various polluters they see with much deeper footprints than themselves.
The answer is to practically show how individuals can truly make a difference by demonstrating the scalability of everything. Paper is a powerful example. In a workplace of about 1,000 people if everyone used two sheets less per day it would save a tree every week.
Managers can usually be persuaded by financial savings; even if they are sceptical about environmental concerns they know it makes sense to reduce energy and waste, improve the bottom line and enhance their business reputation. But there are still executives who are resistant to any new green business initiatives.
One of our workplace programme managers had a tough time convincing a facilities manager to change his communication tactics with staff. He had been working for many years providing recycling facilities to the business and didn't think an awareness raising campaign or attempt to re-label the recycling bins would make a difference.
Such inertia is entirely understandable when an exec is close to the issues involved but it also slows down green projects and there is a need to recognise such issues early and encourage people to take a step back and be willing to at least trial fresh approaches.
Of course in every group there are going to be small percentage of people who will never be convinced no matter what you do. Negative voices are quite often loud, quoting stories they've read in the tabloids like energy efficient lightbulbs causing epilepsy.
But the vast majority will understand. Many start as neither sceptic nor tree hugger, they just never really thought about these issues, and are receptive to advice. The key thing is make people understand why you want them to change and then how they can change, and make the whole process as easy for them as possible.
Amy Sims is communication manager at practical environmental charity Global Action Plan.
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