CSR Research Digest – June 2012
This discussion paper summarizes the ideas shared at a Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series workshop event facilitated by author and sustainability expert Bob Willard on February 16, 2012. This paper outlines not only how to ‘win over’ objectors, but also how to effectively present and implement sustainability initiatives through an understanding of the psychological mindsets and principles of organizational change.
- At the TSSS workshop, participants discussed over 30 objections.
- Despite the large number of objections discussed, they can all still be classified into only four categories.
- Objectors indicate that they are too busy, that the sustainability initiatives are not aligned with the organization’s strategic objectives, that the initiatives are too difficult to implement, that there is no pressure from either leadership and/or customers/clients to make these changes, that they’ve already heard too much about this type of thing, that they don’t want to risk their own reputation on unproven ideas, or that ultimately, they’d rather just stick with business as usual.
Weak business case
- Objectors believe that the organization is doing enough already and asking ‘what’s in it for me?’ They may see benefits that are too long term in nature and don’t feel the payback criteria justify the action. They may also be predisposed to reject the business case since accepting it can be seen as admitting to the insult that they have missed out on an opportunity until this point.
Fear of backlash
- Objectors indicate concern that they may face a personal backlash as colleagues see them to be trying to self-promote, or push unpopular ideas. There can also be concern about backlash against the corporation if it is accused of green washing, or if new sustainability initiatives are contrasted with past acts or behaviors (i.e., skeletons in the corporate closet), or that new initiatives are seen as an admission of current or past poor practices, or that adopting such initiatives could lead to a competitive disadvantage.
- Objectors have a mindset that predisposes them to reject sustainability arguments. They may simply not believe that there is an environmental imperative, or they may believe sustainability champions are simply anti-capitalistic. They can state that if such initiatives were of value, they would have learned more about them in MBA studies, or that government would take more responsibility for addressing them (For more insights on the importance of understanding the objector’s mindset.