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Overcoming Objections to Sustainability: Integrate Sustainability into All Roles

This lesson is a part of an audio course Overcoming Objections to Sustainability by Aurora Dawn Benton

In this lesson, I will address a toxic behavior that destroys many noble corporate initiatives. The "it's not my job" mentality comes from those who have a narrow view of their role and responsibility within an organization.

Sometimes this is part of a deeper blame game going on between people or departments. Rather than shared accountability, there is a tendency towards finger-pointing.

This stems from the reality that most organizations experience communication challenges. I've been in many organizations where people who sit 5 feet from each other do not know what the other is working on or what their department really does. When you do not know what value a person or department adds to the organization, it is easy to dismiss or blame them.

The antidote to this is to integrate sustainability initiatives into as many departments as you can. Naturally, integrating sustainability into roles means integrating it into many traditional human resources and department functions and activities. For example, sustainability should be part of pre-shift and stand up meetings, department and team meetings, job descriptions and recruitment, performance reviews and advancement criteria, job shadowing and other development efforts. These can all be challenging because of the official channels you have to go through, but it's necessary if you want to make sustainability integral.

When I train organizations on food waste reduction, I present the US Environmental Protection Agency's Food Recovery Hierarchy. For each of these categories, I give my clients a variety of solutions they can implement. But most importantly, I emphasize how food waste reduction is the job of everyone in the organization. Sometimes when I bring up food waste with someone I'm just beginning to work with, I'll get the response "oh, you'll need to talk to the Chef." But, as you can see in this visual, food recovery and waste reduction span many departments. I help them see their role in preventing and handling waste.

One of the most important things you can do to get past the "it's not my job" syndrome is to start a green team. There are many terms you can use for this group; it does not have to be called a "green team", but it does need to be a group that represents every department, every hierarchical level and as much diversity as possible. It's vital that this cross-functional team include different voices and perspectives.

As I mentioned in an earlier lesson, I have helped start more than 150 green teams, so I am aware there are challenges you may have to overcome. Here are a few obstacles you may face.

Green teams are often volunteer-based, so it can be tough to get people to go above and beyond.

In some industries, language barriers present real recruitment challenges. There are other cultural and background factors that can create barriers, but language can seem like an insurmountable hurdle because communication is so fundamental to the process.

In global organizations or even small local businesses in certain industries, such as hospitality, schedule differences can be an impediment to gathering a green team together.

In any organization, there is always competition for how resources will be allocated. It may be difficult to convince the right people that the green team requires certain resources to achieve their goals.

One of the most commonly mentioned deterrents people face in driving workplace sustainability is lack of executive support.

And similarly, staff apathy can be a hindrance. If your peers don't seem to share your interest in environmental or social issues, it can feel like a lonely journey.

The list I just reviewed may seem daunting, but the great things in life worth doing are rarely easy, so overcoming these challenges does require persistence. It also helps to partner with human resources or one or two executives or influential staff members who share your passion for sustainability. Stay positive and stay focused on the vision for a sustainable future. It's totally worth the struggle. I have known many green team champions who started with a team of two and little by little, others began to believe in the vision too and joined the effort.

As you work to gain approval and support for your great team, here are just two of the many benefits you can share with those you are trying to convince.

First, many organizations are likely to have heard from stakeholders, whether internal such as staff or external such as customers or investors, that they should do something in regard to sustainability. But it just has not yet bubbled up to the top of the priority list. By starting a green team, you can show them how you are stepping up into this role to fill a need that already existed.

Second, many report that before starting the green team they only interacted with others in their department or who were similar to them in age, race, background, etc. but once they started the team they bonded and collaborated with others, they had never known. A green team is conducive to a healthy and collaborative corporate culture. This can foster innovation and improve employee morale and retention.

At the end of the day, one of the most vital steps to forming and leading a green team is to provide inspiration for employees to join and contribute. In the next lesson, we will focus on the principle of inspiration and overcoming a variety of employee-related excuses.

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Written by

Aurora Dawn Benton