Sustainable Communities: Accelerating Sustainable Practices Across Your Community

Silhouettes of people jumping in the sunset

Communities across the world are committing to sustainable practices. Here in the US, cities large and small are pledging to reduce their emissions, to fulfill the terms of the Paris Climate Accord, and to achieve 100% clean energy.

As we showcased in the first installment of our Sustainable Communities webinar series, communities large and small across the Midwest are doing great work around sustainability. A challenge is expanding and accelerating that work by involving everyone and delivering change at scale.

Make Efforts Visible

Accelerating results is hard, in part because many community members aren’t even aware that there is an effort around sustainability. Too often, our efforts to be more sustainable are invisible to others. Many of our actions that use energy and other resources happen in private: in our homes or offices where no one else sees what we’re doing. Similarly, a city’s efforts to reduce emissions can go unnoticed by the citizens who use city services every day.

At Cool Choices we know it’s important to make actions visible. We encourage you to take and share photos of people doing the right things. In addition, share information about city projects—post an article about the new street lights on the city’s social media pages, hang a poster in city hall that touts the savings as well as increased comfort from the new heating controls, and put up signs about the new anti-idling policy that the school buses have adopted. To achieve aggressive goals, communities will need all of their citizens to be part of the effort. A first step is making sure citizens hear about the benefits generated from past efforts.

Making actions visible is critical. Human beings are social creatures, and we take cues from the people around us. If I can’t see what you are doing, I’m likely to assume you’re not doing anything, which gives me permission to not do anything too. The more your community showcases how others are a part of the solution, the more compelling it becomes for me to act too.

We recommend images over lengthy reports because your target audience is busy people. The easier you make it for people to see that others are acting and the more you show them how they can act too, the more likely you’ll get participation.

Positive Reinforcement is Key

Always focus on what people are doing right. We advocates tend to assume that really scary statistics will prompt change– but that’s not true. Imagine this: if you tell me that 9 of 10 plastic water bottles are not recycled, what do I hear? I’ll hear that it’s not a big deal if I don’t recycle this one bottle in my hand—after all, most aren’t recycled. Instead of talking about that troubling reality, tell me that 80% of the people in my community support local recycling efforts. Because people tend toward the norm, focus on norms that reinforce the actions you desire.

Recognizing individuals or businesses that are doing the right things is very powerful. When you recognize someone for their actions you inspire others to act while reinforcing the actions of the person you recognized. They are more likely to keep doing the right things because you drew attention to them. Positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful tools you, so use it constantly.

Learn More in Our Webinar Series

In our second webinar in the Sustainable Communities series, we’ll showcase some very specific ways to use these principles to accelerate sustainability in communities. Check out the webinar to get more ideas for your own efforts, and if you’ve specific questions, let us know. As a part of our Sustainable Communities webinar series, we’re available for one-on-one consulting and problem solving with communities in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, so we’d love to hear from you.

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