How can you convey the importance of sustainability to someone who is in disbelief? What should you do when someone is unconcerned about the environment and you want to convince them otherwise? In their foundational article on the challenge of going green, a collective of environmental advocates and business writers reflect on the perceived limitations businesses face. Their article indicates that a lot of organizations fear the dichotomy that you have to either “help the environment and hurt your business, or irreparably harm your business while protecting the earth.” This is simply not true. Environmentalism is more accessible than business leaders or resistant family members may initially believe. Here are some quick tips to help you navigate challenging conversations around environmental ethics and the urgent need for sustainable thinking.
Understand The Power of Rhetoric
Whenever you want to convince someone that your argument is credible, keep in mind the various modes of persuasion and rhetorical devices you can use. The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle came up with three core rhetorical approaches to help us understand how persuasion works in others:
- Ethos: appealing to character or credibility and building trust
- Pathos: appealing to emotion or sympathy for your cause
- Logos: appealing to logic and reason
Keep these rhetorical tools in mind during your conversation and examine how they can benefit you.
Consider Your Audience
Before making your argument, you must first consider who you are trying to engage with. Who is your audience? What are their values and potential roadblocks or concerns around environmentalism? What is holding them back from engaging in sustainable practices? The more adaptable your approach is, the more successful you will be.
Trying to convince your boss?
- Walk your employer through a cost-benefit analysis for going green
- Explain the competitive advantage of engaging in sustainable practices
- Talk about improved brand awareness and public recognition of social responsibility
- Create a responsibility matrix that clearly outlines who is responsible for each action item in your proposed plan
- Propose that the company invests in ISO certification or LEED GA certification training for team members, which could lead to increased efficiency and improved quality management
- Help your boss understand the critical success factors and risk management perspective
- Remind them of the increased potential for ongoing customer loyalty and retention
Trying to convince your family or friends?
- Be mindful of your tone
- Try to be approachable and amicable
- Assess whether or not they have concerns about unemployment rates and certain jobs being negatively affected by environmental regulations or standards
- Address any concerns they may have about the carbon tax or the rising price of gas
- Be considerate of their knowledge base and listen to where they are coming from
- Remind yourself that pressure and guilt are not effective means of persuasion and can often lead to avoidance or denial
- Support them through any cognitive dissonance they may be experiencing
- Remember that your friend or family member may have a hard time reconciling their actions or limitations with their desire to protect the planet
Trying to convince yourself?
- Prioritize your own continuing education so you are armed with the facts before formulating and committing to your beliefs
- Sign up for environmental courses to equip you with foundational knowledge and to help you understand the fundamental connections between sociology, engineering and environmental science
- Contemplate how you can personally navigate climate anxiety since it is a roadblock that can hold people back from environmental activism
“Science always uses metaphor.”
– James Lovelock
Environmentalist and futurist James Lovelock is best known for coming up with the inspiring but uncertain Gaia theory. Beyond this theory, his words are a useful reminder that storytelling and figurative language are at the forefront of scientific understanding. For example, we personify the earth to encourage a more compassionate approach to environmental politics and industrial regulations. The use of metaphor and storytelling can help convince a broader range of people to get on board with environmental concerns and sustainable efforts. Consider for a moment what Hollywood can teach us about environmental studies through popular films that centre on environmental catastrophe and perseverance. Your friend or family member may not be willing to listen to a scientific or rhetorical argument, but they could be willing to open their eyes and ears through the power of metaphor.
Maintain Hope and Stay the Course
You may not be able to convince another person to abandon their previously held beliefs or to change their mind overnight. But the more you know, the more equipped you will be to have those challenging conversations and provide people with useful resources to support your cause. You do not need to have all the answers on your own, so long as you keep an open mind and cultivate an ongoing hunger for knowledge.