How to Be an Eco-Advocate Without Coming Off as a Freaky Green
“Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory”
~ Emily Post
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve wanted to advocate for something but just didn’t know the best way to approach it?
If your wanna-be advocacy is anywhere near the Eco-Zone, you’re likely conscious as coming off as that Freaky Tree-hugger type. Or the Crazy Left-Wing Hippie. Or even the Armageddon Doomsday Greenie. Fear not though! This post will help you find angles and approaches for engaging people in sound, logical and appealing ways that benefit you, them and this little planet we all call home.
In a wonderful display of honesty and transparency, my friend Lynn (from the amazing blog, Upcycled Love) shared some of her trepidation when it came to eco-advocacy in the comments of the Leave No Trace: At Work Edition post. We went back and forth a few times talking about some strategies and tactics for approaching people and it occurred to me that others might be in the same situation.
My experience has always shown that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for many things in life, including being a champion for the environment. Whether it’s in business, parenting or navigating town politics, you have to more than one tool in the toolbox. It’s like Batman: He always seems to have the right tool for every situation, right? Same thing applies here.
Build Your Foundation
Before approaching the actual situation where you can flex some advocacy muscle, it’s important that you practice some of the cornerstones of a great conversation:
- Be present. Focus on the person, not what’s going on around you. Look them in the eye and don’t let your body language tell them you’re thinking about what you’re going to do after this conversation.
- Listen deeply. Listen and digest what the person is saying, don’t just passively hear the sounds coming out of their mouth.
- Respect opinions. You might not agree with them, but respecting others’ opinions and positions goes a long way towards building your credibility as someone who is level-headed and fair.
- Be knowledgeable. Know your stuff. Be well-read on a subject. Know the arguments and counter-arguments to the point you’re trying to make. Stick with the facts, not pumped-up hearsay.
Choose Your Approach
Again, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t get you far. Your approach should fit your personality. If it didn’t then you might come off as not being authentic or true. Your conviction and message might be seen as acting or over-zealous posturing. You should also consider the person you’re trying to reach — What is he or she like? What do you know about them (family, kids, where they live, what hobbies they have, etc.) that might give you insight on how to connect?
What follows are a few different approaches you might consider starting off with:
- The Situational. Let’s say you see a friend/colleague throwing their plastic bottle in the trash instead of recycling it. Or perhaps they are buying a coffee and not using a re-usable coffee mug. Or even using reams of paper to copy that big presentation for the boss. You’re well-read enough to be able to say, “Hey, I was just reading a story about this massive island of plastic in the Pacific… isn’t that amazing? What do you think?” Or “Can you imagine that it takes 500 years for styro-foam to break down?” [Note: Link to a PowerPoint file]. Use a source other than yourself to broker the conversation and open that door with the person.
- Appeal to Their Practicality. Everyone likes to save money, right? I’ve found that many things that are considered green or simple are also cost-effective. For instance, most coffee shops give you a discount for using a re-usable mug. Or spending a bit more up front for better material/quality (e.g., glass storage containers instead of cheap throw-away plastic ones) will save you money over the long run. If you can use neutral angles (angles that don’t come across as leaning too far one way or the other, like saving money) to start the conversation, folks are likely to be more receptive. You’re delivering the green/sustainable ‘package’ with a ‘wrapping paper’ that everyone will like.
- Call Yourself Out Before They Do. This one works best with a bit of humor or comic relief thrown in for good measure. Around my office, I’m known as “Captain Planet”, not because I’m a Green Caped Crusader, but because I’m out to prove that sustainable business practices are good not only for the environment, but the company’s bottom line as well. Many times I will lead in a situation with something like, “We’re saving trees today by not making copies of this presentation…” People laugh, but at the end of the day, they get it. And with time, I’ve seen behavior change. People know that if I’m in a meeting with them I’m going to call something like that out.
- Make an Emotional Connection With Their Heart. Underneath all that stuff many of us hide our true personalities behind, we are all human. And because of that, the core of our beings are built on love and compassion. Deep down inside, there is a part in all of us that cherishes the beauty and sacredness of Life because we ourselves come from that place. This fact gives you the ability to build a bridge between your own (com)passion for an issue or cause and someone’s innate goodness of heart and mind. So the next time someone utters, “They’re not going to develop that land because we need to protect a [insert species here]?!”, you can let your heart lead you in a discussion on the importance of biodiversity for all living creatures who call the Earth home.
These are only a few angles you might try. Each situation is unique so try different approaches. With time and practice it gets easier to do.
What’s your experience with advocacy (environmental or otherwise)? What approaches have helped you connect with people in rational ways that get results? Any big no-no’s in your book?
If this post helped you, please consider sharing it with your circle via Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to The New Pursuit to get future posts delivered right to you. Thanks so much for your ongoing support! While you’re here, you might also like:
- Catalysts: Find One. Be One. Change Your World
- Challenging the Throwaway Culture of Convenience
- Minimalism, Mindfulness and the Moral Imperative of a New Earth Ethic