Put A Positive Spin On It
May 3, 2012
Colleagues sometimes call me a Pollyanna because I tend to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. One of the things that I’ve learned from the behavioral literature, though, is that perspective matters—research confirms that we are influenced by expectations. (And as an aside to those curmudgeon critics, studies also indicate having an optimistic perspective can affect life expectancy.)
Two headlines this week—arriving at my desk the same day from the same e-newsletter source—caught my attention:
Public, Executives Doubt Companies’ Environmental Commitment
Recent Surveys Show Greater Acceptance of Sustainability by Business
The first story reported the results of a survey on the 2012 Gibbs & Soell Sense & Sustainability Study while the second was about an MIT Sloan Management Review analysis of corporate sustainability programs. In the first story readers learn:
In the survey, 21 percent of business executives said their company employs a team of individuals dedicated to sustainability, up from 17 percent in 2011 and 13 percent in 2010. But 34 percent of executives say no one at their company is responsible for “going green” initiatives, up from 25 percent in 2011.
While the second story reports:
most survey respondents say sustainability is on their companies’ management agendas to stay. What’s more, a substantial portion of respondents say their companies are profiting from sustainability activities.
These divergent views intrigued me so I dug a little deeper into these stories and found that the dismal findings in the first study are less dismal when put into context. While 34% of business executives surveyed said that no one was responsible for sustainability, the other 66% described a specific chain of responsibility—either a team, a C Suite lead, etc. That means most executive respondents said that their companies had put sustainability on the agenda.
But that’s not the headline. (Ironically, the same Gibbs & Seoll study also measures consumer and executive perspectives related to the media’s propensity to report bad news over good news relative to sustainabilty.)
I note this because it matters whether or not we think we are making progress. Seeing the glass half full is empowering while seeing it half empty and leaking is not.
Dr. Robert Cialdini, a noted expert on persuasion strategies, has written extensively about how news highlighting the negative—from suicides to stealing—can spur more of the behavior highlighted. As noted above, perspective matters. When we talk about high levels of waste we suggest that waste is the norm, which means it is more acceptable for me to waste—because, after all, everyone else is doing it.
It is easy to feel despair about scale of climate change issues relative to the impact of our own actions. The despair is exacerbated, though, when we ignore progress and focus instead on only the bad news.
One small act we can all take to move environmental sustainability forward is to share the positive. Everyone is not doing all that they can but many companies—and many individuals—are doing amazing things every day. And showcasing those efforts will help to encourage more folks to do more. Cool Choices salutes all of these incremental steps because, as we like to say, little actions add up.
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