How to deal with a sustainability pessimist

5 12 2012




All programmes, whether sustainability or not, that require change may encounter a pessimist of some sort. They may be highly vocal or apathetic, but for the team leading the programme, recognising the underlying reasoning for their behaviour can provide helpful insight into your communication strategy and how it may need enhancing.

Many people don’t like change and may be fearful of your programme, but don’t assume they are just being stubborn or arrogant for the sake of it; they’re often revealing personal concerns or fears. For example:

  • They may not understand the benefit of the change for the organisation. When we’ve run recycling programmes the objective is to increase waste separation (so as to increase recyclable value), but many may not understand why everything can’t go in the same bin. So you have to explain more about the ‘why’ of doing it than the ‘what’ they need to do.
  • They may fear the change will impact upon the status quo. Will your new lights mean they can’t see the computer screen as well? Or will changes to the heating make them feel colder? So you have to explain how this investment will help the environment they work in.
  • Maybe they fear your change could expose them as foolish. This is often the case with property or caretaker staff. Your energy saving programmes can make them feel they have managed the building badly in the past. So you need to explain that you are engaging the people rather than the building and that you need to work together.
  • Maybe they don’t want to be connected to a failed programme, so keep their distance until it seems to be working. Finance are often guilty of this kind of behaviour, not showing open backing until the programmes is clearly seen to be working. So you need to promote the success stories often to draw them in sooner.

In running sustainability programmes you may encounter many challenges like these, but don’t be downhearted. Most people are keen to adapt to change if they see the benefits it brings. The key is to make sure you have promoted it sufficiently, spending more time on ‘why we’re doing it’ rather than on ‘what they have to do’.




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