In 2023 companies are feeling pressure to make positive social and environmental changes and are tasked with activating their workforce to help move the needle. As stakeholders are calling for measurable impact ESG and CSR teams have to move beyond communication and into action.
The intersection of psychology and sustainability provides valuable insights to understand how our minds interact with the environment, how we perceive climate change, and how we can motivate individuals and organizations to promote sustainable practices.
WeSpire CEO & Founder Susan Hunt Stevens sat down with Renee Lertzman, Founder of Project InsideOut.
Meet the Speakers
Susan Hunt Stevens, CEO & Founder @ WeSpire
Susan Hunt Stevens is the Founder & CEO of WeSpire, an award-winning employee experience technology platform focused on engaging people in ESG initiatives. She was named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year for New England, a Boston Business Journal Woman of Influence, and to the Environmental Leader 100 list.
Prior to WeSpire, she spent 9 years at The New York Times Company, as a consumer marketing and digital executive. She has an MBA from The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, where she was named a Tuck Scholar, and graduated with high honors from Wesleyan University.
Dr. Renee Lertzman, Founder @ Project InsideOut
Dr. Renee Lertzman is an internationally recognized psychological researcher and thought leader. She is renowned for her pioneering work bridging psychological research with sustainability, creating an impact on climate change through her insightful tools for organizations.
For over two decades, she has aided organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, Google, and the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team integrating behavioral, social, and innovative design sciences to ignite social change. As a published author and journalist, her writings on the intersection of psychology, environment, and culture have been featured in prominent publications like The New York Times, The Guardian, and Bloomberg CityLab.
The Power of Environmental Psychology
Environmental psychology provides a unique perspective on sustainability. As Renee Lertzman asserts, it is a "blended discipline" that combines the best elements of social sciences, humanities, and environmental sciences.
By understanding how our minds interact with the world around us, we can better navigate the emotional landscape that accompanies environmental engagement, enabling more effective action toward sustainable change.
- Environmental psychology blends social sciences, humanities, and environmental sciences.
- Understanding our mind-environment interaction helps navigate the emotional landscape of environmental engagement.
Develop an Emotional Connection using the Window of Tolerance
The "window of tolerance" suggests the range of climate information that individuals can absorb without feeling overwhelmed. The term originally comes from the field of trauma therapy, referring to the emotional and physiological state where a person can comfortably process their experiences. To promote sustainable actions, it is important to keep our messages within this window, creating an emotional connection without triggering anxiety, helplessness, or apathy.
- The 'window of tolerance' refers to the range of climate information an individual can comfortably process.
- Sustainable actions can be promoted by keeping environmental messages within this 'window', ensuring an emotional connection, without triggering anxiety.
Navigating the Emotional Landscape of Sustainability Using Attunement
There is a natural tension between the urgency of climate action and the potential for inducing feelings of anxiety or helplessness. Acknowledging this emotional complexity is key to engaging employees effectively in sustainability.
This challenge requires what Lertzman refers to as "the skill of attunement" – understanding and responding to the emotional states of others. It involves empathy, emotional intelligence, and an awareness of the complexity of human responses to environmental issues.
People often experience simultaneous conflicting emotions towards environmental issues – for instance, concern about climate change coupled with resistance to lifestyle changes.
- Balancing the urgency of climate action and potential anxiety requires the skill of attunement.
- People often have ambivalent feelings toward environmental issues. Acknowledging this emotional complexity is essential for effective engagement.
The Role of Leaders in Promoting Impact Engagement
To lead the charge on impact engagement, leaders need to understand their employees' emotional landscape regarding sustainability and create a psychologically safe space for discussions. Encouraging employees to share their thoughts, fears, and aspirations around sustainability can lead to more significant buy-in and participation in sustainability initiatives.
Lertzman highlights the importance of diversity within sustainability teams. Different perspectives and backgrounds can help organizations recognize blind spots, fostering more effective strategies.
- Organizations should create a psychologically safe space for sustainability discussions.
- Diversity within sustainability teams can help recognize blind spots and foster effective strategies.
Following the Lead of Successful Impact Programs
There are organizations leading the way in integrating psychology with sustainability. IKEA, for instance, was one of the first companies to join the inter-development goals work. It was lauded for embracing both the inner and outer work of sustainability – dealing with systemic issues and individual behaviors. Nike, too, has integrated these principles into its sustainability strategy.
- IKEA and Nike are leading organizations in integrating psychology with sustainability.
- Successful sustainability strategies address both systemic issues and individual behaviors.
By leveraging psychological insights, we can engage individuals and organizations more effectively in sustainability, fostering meaningful, lasting change.
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