I’m on my office’s “green team,” which brainstorms ways to create more sustainable habits and business strategies. I’m proud that my company has established some of the most aggressive sustainability goals in my industry.
Sometimes this experience has been disheartening. They care about the planet, but they don’t believe in their personal ability to make a difference—and they want it to be easy. Most people are not willing to take on inconvenience, effort and cost for a vague, indefinite goal.
Most people, for example, believe we need automotive technologies that are less polluting and less reliant on oil-based products. But most people won’t buy a hybrid unless they can measure a direct fuel savings that’s greater than the car’s incremental cost. Most people agree that supermarkets should not give out plastic bags, but few remember to bring their own reusable bags. Our attitude is, “Hey, it’s not me . . . it’s the system.”
The system is a collection of individuals. Systems change when their parts change. When consumers demand fuel-efficient cars, automakers will make them. When consumers refuse plastic bags, stores will stop using them. Systemic change is cumulative, so every person tips the scale in the direction of his or her values.
My “green team” is often blinded because we have already decided to take positive actions for the planet. We need to expand the team to include those who don’t believe they can—or simply don’t want to—change.
We can start by recognizing we are all human and all have limitations. But when one of us says, “it’s not me . . . it’s the system,” the response should be clear. The system is us, so how do we fix it?
3 GREEN QUESTIONS
Three things to think about when considering your own greening goals.
1.What do you stand for? Consider your values and decide what you are willing to stand for.
2.What behavior do you want to model? Research shows that people decide how to act based on the people around them (even complete strangers), so you are probably more of a role model than you think.
3.What kind of future do you envision? Psychologist Roy Baumeister refers to willpower as “the moral muscle” because it defines our ability to deny ourselves what we would like in the moment for a future objective that is for the greater good. Thinking about the future you want to create—for yourself, for your family, and for humankind—can help develop your moral muscles.
JEREMY McCARTHY Is director of global spa development and operations for Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Read more of his writing at psychologyofwellbeing.com.