Conversations About Sustainability

I am very lucky to live with people who are broadly on the same page that I am. But many people live with others who don’t think about sustainability all that often. Others may even come up against a brick wall when trying to talk about what’s best for people and our planet. So, how can you have conversations about sustainability with those who don’t necessarily want to listen?

Whether it is ‘green fatigue’, resistance to change, or simply engrained habits, there are plenty of people out there not talking about sustainability at all. But it is very important to keep the conversation going.

Here are a few tips to help you have constructive conversations:

First of all – listen. Even if you don’t agree with someone, it is important to listen to what they say. A conversation is two-way. Make sure you don’t fall into preaching when trying to talk about the things that really matter to you.

Next – know your audience. Think about who you are talking to – their likes, dislikes and interests. Consider how you can find common ground to build on. Bring in topics that are of interest to those whose behaviours we would like to change. For example, if someone is really, really into fashion, perhaps you could talk about some cool new sustainable designer you’ve discovered. If someone loves their cars, ask them what they think lies ahead for the car industry… find an ‘in’ and you can often have far more constructive conversations.

When trying to teach people about sustainability, ‘show, don’t tell’ is often an important principle.

But when you do give information, make sure it is centred around clear, science-based facts and statistics. It is normal to have a strong emotional response to the problems we face. But strong emotion is rarely a good driver for change. (Try to converse without any hyperbole, or too many statements designed to elicit an emotional response.)

Let conversations flow – and don’t bring everything back to sustainability or the environment. Sometimes, combatting green fatigue means coming at things from a different angle. For example, you might mention to someone reluctant to change how certain steps could save them money, or make them healthier, rather than just focussing on the ‘green’ agenda.

Emphasizing how steps are not limiting freedoms, but actually helping individuals take back control can help encourage people to make the necessary changes. As can including everyone in the process – with a collaborative rather than dictatorial approach.

People don’t change overnight. And people will always disagree. But kitchen table talks are really important. By keeping the conversation going, we can alter opinions and change behaviours one small step at a time.

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