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Marketing and Comms
How to Get Beyond the Choir in Sustainability Conversations

In the words of John Ehrenfeld: “Sustainability is the possibility of human and other life flourishing on the earth forever.” But how many conversations actually lead to flourishing? A workshop on Monday afternoon, day one of SB ’15 San Diego, addressed the ever-present problem of “preaching to the (sustainability) choir.”

Facilitated by Jason Jay, Director of MIT Sloan’s Sustainability Initiative, and Gabriel Grant, PhD Candidate in Leadership and Sustainability at Yale, this three-hour interactive session focused on building constructive dialogue between those who prioritize pressing social and environmental issues with those who don’t. Jay and Grant helped over 70 participants identify common pitfalls of advocacy for sustainability, get “unstuck” in conversations that matter, and create pathways toward authentic communication with others.

Technology was brilliantly employed in the session through a texting platform that created word art diagrams from participants’ answers. Ultimately, participants silently committed themselves to changing their patterns of thinking and transmitting knowledge.

Questions to consider when attempting to influence behavior change around sustainability include:

  • With whom is there a specific conversation or relationship that you want to transform?
  • What do you really want? What is your old way of being in that conversation, and what is a new way of being that is available to you out of this work?

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Jay and Grant’s research aims to focus on conversations that are challenging, uncover the process of finding pitfalls and making pathways around the pitfalls — the two are co-writing a book and conducting research via interviews. At the end of the day, generating buy-in for your sustainability passions requires engaging effectively, inspiring and empowering others to join your pursuits.