The new sustainability story #endcynicism? How? By Pamela Fiehn

Jun 16, 2016

Optimists, doers, dreamers, rebels.

Those are the people we were talking with all last week at the Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego. People who—despite the naysayers, the doubters, the tuner-outers—not only believe but also work hard to show others there’s a better way.

That’s what unites all of us who do this work. We’re all seeking to overcome the barrier of cynicism. Cynicism around the idea that investing in sustainability can make a difference—to our brands and our business results. Often that cynicism exists within our own organizations. Among our colleagues who have other priorities. Busy executives who are focused on meeting quarterly expectations. And employees who have a hard time seeing the connection between their day-to-day work and our sustainability goals.

So what do we do?

We need to shut up.

Stop talking at people, and start listening to them.

Please don’t be offended. (After all, I share your view—we’ve got something important to say!) But so often when we encounter someone who’s not quite ready to buy in, we try to convince them by talking louder. Or by doubling down on proof points. It rarely works.

What we need to do, first, is understand their point of view. What are they worried about? How do they think about the world? What questions do they need answered? When we do that, we gain powerful insight that can help us frame our issue in a way that makes sense to that person. We can start to build a bridge between us.

But here is what’s ironic.

The very last visitor to our #endcynicism booth was an older man with a thick Russian accent. He wanted to tell me about his two patents. One for a more sustainable flooring material and another for some sort of technology for making buildings earthquake-proof. But, he said, it was no use. No one cared. People didn’t want to save the planet; they just wanted to make a profit.

I confess: I wasn’t listening. I didn’t want anything to do with his tale of woe.

And he wasn’t listening to my message of optimism and hope either.

There we were. With the bridge up. The two of us on different sides, unable to reach one another. And what good is that?

Clearly, we all have more work ahead of us to truly #endcynicism. We can start by simply listening to each other. Let’s try it this week and see what happens.

Pamela Fiehn

Pamela's the chief creative inspirer on our corporate responsibility work, and she’s dead set on transforming how the world thinks and talks about sustainability.

More from Pamela Fiehn:

Brand purpose: Getting buyin beyond your tribe

#endcynicism? How?

What it takes to be BRAVE

Next up:

Brand purpose: Getting buy-in beyond your tribe

Spending time with our tribe at Sustainable Brands 2016 in San Diego this week gave us a chance to re-energize and re-connect with the essential elements of brand purpose.

Read on