Making Sustainability Visible: Why It’s Important

making sustainability visible

When you think about changing a habit in your life, whether the habit is related to physical health, sustainability, or even your on-line habits, there are two paths you might take regarding the change: making it very visible or largely invisible. Here’s the difference:

  1. Very Visible: You announce to friends and family that you’re trying to make a change. Perhaps you even update people on your progress and the associated challenges via social media. You essentially give your community an opportunity to share in your change process and progress.
  2. Largely Invisible: You start doing something differently and keep the effort largely to yourself. You may respond to questions if someone asks about the change, but you do not go out of your way to make what you’re doing public or visible to any audience.

Most of my life I opted for the second path – keeping changes largely invisible. I chose this route mostly because I tend to be a private person. But years of efforts to promote sustainable practices have taught me that the first option, making change very visible, is the much more effective choice. When you make your efforts to change visible, you not only increase the odds that your efforts will be successful for you, but you also increase the likelihood that others will be inspired to adopt similar changes.

Increasing Sustainable Practice Visibility Increases Success

The science behind this is two-fold:

  • For the person trying to make a change, being transparent about their efforts will increase the likelihood of success.  For example, when we tell a friend that we intend to go to the gym four times a week, we’re more likely to go. When we announce to colleagues that we’re going to bike to work over the summer, we are more likely to follow through. Success is more likely here because we’ve made a public commitment, and humans strive to behave consistently with their public commitments. People do not want to be called out for being inconsistent. The term “flip-flopper” is never praise! So when I tell people that I’m going to do something, the chances are that I’ll follow through.
  • For those around me, when I make my actions public, I can influence their actions. Humans are social creatures and much of what we do is based on the cues we get from our peers. So if my friend Amy tells me that she’s reducing water usage at home, it can prompt me to think about my home water use. Alternatively, when I don’t know that any of my friends are working to save resources, I assume this issue isn’t important to them (to us) and I act accordingly.

Visibility is incredibly important relative to sustainable practices because so much of what we each do to be sustainable is not public. I turn off the water when I brush my teeth, I shut off lights and equipment before I leave rooms at home, but no one else is there to see me do any of that. Unless I share what I’m doing – unless I make it visible – my friends have no idea any of this is happening, and my sustainable practices have no influence on their efforts.

Cool Choices Programs Help Organizations Make Sustainable Practices Visible

Because visibility is so important, transparency is a cornerstone of our program efforts. When business and organizations implement Cool Choices employee engagement programs around sustainability, participants can see what everyone else is doing to be sustainable. For example, Bill in the mail room can see what sustainable actions Beth, the CEO, completed yesterday and today. Very often participants are surprised by what their colleagues are doing. In fact, folks had no idea others were doing so much! That peer-to-peer insight helps fuel additional sustainable actions and deeper energy, fuel, and resource savings. As I realize that my peers are taking action to reduce their resource use, I’m inspired to do more too!

Almost daily I tell sustainability professionals to look for opportunities to catch people doing the right things, and then celebrate those efforts and actions. This is about visibility. I’m encouraging them to make sustainability more visible by reinforcing practices for the person doing the right things, while also encouraging others to follow. Sustainability professionals should also look for opportunities to make their own efforts more visible. Be the example that can inspire change around you!

Learn what sustainability professionals and Cool Choices program participants think about our employee engagement programs today! Learn even more about making sustainability visible by viewing our on-demand webinar, Making Sustainability Visible: Why it Matters

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