Our capitalist economy, together with low education levels, create a huge rift in most organisations between good intentions or policies and shopfloor adherence.
Many organisations today have environmental/sustainability policies in place, which give voice to the senior management’s commitment to environmental responsibility. Often environmental management systems are implemented to attempt to measure and legitimize this (e.g. carbon audits and credits or ISO14000).
Companies who still do not have these are falling way behind and will undoubtedly have to play catch-up at some point soon. However, the harsh realities of the South African economy and populous is unlike many of the more sophisticated, developed countries who have socialist economies, highly regulated environmental standards and a relatively well educated population.
Ours is a tough, cut-throat, capitalist economy, where environmental legislation, enforcement and support is still in its infancy, and education levels are extremely low. ‘Doing good’ has many more implications here alongside the struggle to survive.
Conscientization of the workforce
This gap lies in the conscientization of the workforce, so that every single employee becomes an ambassador for ‘going green.’
- Most people do not make the link between what they do on a day-to-day basis and the contribution they are making to the collective human impact on the earth’s ecosystems. Modern day humans are far too ‘addicted’ to the myriad of luxuries available at the flick of a switch and are far too narcissistic in their focus on short term needs gratification. We call this state ‘unconscious naiveté,’ where people don’t know that they don’t know, and are ignorant of the real impact their wasteful actions are having on the planet and the effects these actions will have on future generations.
- By exposing people to the realities and the ‘inconvenient truths’ about ecological degradation, we aim to bring people to a state of ‘conscious naiveté,’ essentially where they now know how much they don’t know and realize that change is required and that each person has to play his/her part.
- Through teaching fundamental global sustainability principles and demonstrating how they can be applied rather simply on an individual, day-to-day basis, people move swiftly to a state we call ‘conscious actions.’ From this point they start to think more carefully, critically evaluating their current practices, become more conscious of the source and contents of the stuff they consume, become mindful of where the stuff they throw away ends up, and they start considering alternatives (i.e. the 5 Rs: Refrain/replace, Reduce, Repair/reuse, Recycle, Restore/rehabilitate/rescue).
- Depending upon how many of these light-switch moments they have and how long they take, will determine how quickly a people elevate themselves to the next phase which we refer to as ‘Enlightened Actions.’ Here decisions and choices are made constantly and naturally with these fundamental sustainability principles at the forefront of their minds, and all their resultant actions are consistent with these principles.
The outcome – innovation or greenwashing
As we elevate up this inverted pyramid we find in fact that the range of options expands as our creativity and innovation increases. It is only at this point where the senior management’s policies, systems and strategies can be successfully rolled out with the buy-in and support of the entire workforce. Case studies around the world have repeatedly demonstrated that where this conscientization process was allowed to happen, the degree of involvement and innovation was dramatic, and where is did not take place adequately, ‘greenwashing’ was the result.
A person skilled in ‘conscientizing’ people, would be able to tailor workshops to suit the different learning requirements of different groups, run specialist workshops based upon the same fundamentals for highly specialized people (e.g. sustainability for Technical Specifications Managers, Buyers, Merchandisers, etc.), senior and middle management and general staff, to ensure consistency throughout the value chain. Self motivated champions then need to be put in place representing the staff spectrum to ensure changes are implemented and that the well-meaning policies are translated into right actions.
By Steve Jacobs