The First Step to Sustainability: Breaking Down the Confusion
Posted on August 18, 2023 | in ESG
By Claire DeMarco, Events Marketing Intern
I recently interviewed VelocityEHS experts David Staples and Phil Molé about the different perspectives generations have toward Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and sustainability, and toward past, present, and future actions to address risks such as climate change and its impacts. In these discussions, I learned about three important points:
- The origin of differing generational perspectives toward ESG and sustainability, and how personal experiences often fuel them.
- The impact someone’s age may have on this conversation, in comparison to other factors.
- The importance of effective communication on ESG and sustainability issues that includes, but also goes far beyond, political or market concerns.
The Origin of Different Perspectives
Before discussing the consequences of climate change and other related environmental issues that society is facing today, I asked our experts to explain the foundation for where and why these problems exist. They explained the origin of current environmental problems, such as carbon in our atmosphere and water pollution. Then, we were able to tackle the frequently asked questions:
- Why aren’t we doing more to prevent the devastating consequence of climate change?
- How is it that the same solutions seem so obvious to some, and so unnecessary to others?
In recognizing how polarizing these sustainability conversations have become, David pointed out that the root cause is simply confusion. Phil echoed this point, stating that “climate change gets translated into the realm of politics and political opinion and self-interest.”
Not surprisingly, money is at the center of these issues. When there are constantly different opinions about what is going on in the atmosphere, and who should spend the money to fix it, nobody wants to sign the check to solve a controversial problem.
David stated that a healthy debate can easily turn into a cycle of confusion and misinformation, making the easiest choice to do nothing.
How does our Age Impact our Standpoints on ESG and Sustainability?
When age comes into the conversation, it often further complicates solutions. Since varying age groups have different life experiences, the conversations around this topic differ. This can lead to disagreement and confusion.
The differences that exist between these opinions are very real. “Human nature is not well attuned to dealing with these long-term problems,” said David. “Animal instincts don’t allow us to act quickly to threats that are not imminent”. The disconnect that younger generations often feel with their elders about climate change can be traced back to the fact that members of younger generations have lived most or all of their lives in a world where concerns about climate change and the need to track and manage greenhouse gases (GHGs) already existed, so they had less adjusting of their priorities to do. It’s important to recognize these life-experience factors within our society that can prevent the sacrifices required to save our planet. Phil also pointed out that people can’t directly see the process of GHGs causing climate change the way that they can directly see, for example, the effects of air and water pollution, which in turn makes perception of the reality and potential impacts of climate change harder for them to accept.
“Critical thinking and intellectual honesty are ultimately bigger determinants than someone’s generation,” said Phil, adding that “the most effective tool to successfully act on any issue is the ability to articulate a point of view, present evidence, and work with others toward a goal.” The truth is, whether you are young or old, we can all be climate activists. To dismiss older generations as one side, and group younger generations as the other, defeats the purpose of a democracy that can both learn from its history and embrace new ideas.
Fostering More Productive Future Conversations
According to Phil, we need to rise above this side versus that side conversation, and young versus old. We can no longer address this issue by trying to win the other side over, but rather by learning from our mistakes, adapting previous ideas, and introducing new solutions when they are necessary. Phil noted that there are many ways to get involved from a career standpoint beyond the corporate world. For example, people who want to get involved from a professional standpoint can think about roles in government, at research organizations, at standards-setting bodies like International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), or at environmental and community advocacy groups.
With an issue this pressing, there’s no space for lines drawn across any party, group, or age. There is plenty of room for voices, both young and old, to be heard to help foster a universal movement to improve our planet.