Talking the Talk vs Walking the Walk
tl:dr: We need accountability but in a positive way. All suggestions should be listened to.
Sustainability work is critically important, right? Most people would probably agree with that statement, but we seem to have a disconnect between words vs. actions. Most things that are critical tend to have dire consequences if we don't participate or comply. Keeping communities safe from crime is highly important. If a crime is committed, the consequence is prison or fines. Paying taxes is important. If one doesn't, bad things happen. We can go down the list of required actions in our lives, and what happens when we don't meet certain standards.
I would say that the absolute most important issue facing all humans on this planet is working on establishing sustainable lives. This includes tackling serious climate change issues, overpopulation in certain areas and declining populations in others, access to resources that will prevent conflicts that could escalate into global wars, and managing our natural AND societal assets in a way that benefits all. This is a huge plate of extremely vital objectives, but we don't act in accordance with that information. The words sound great, but the actions don't measure up. This is a problem.
The vast majority of people in the US have not conducted a carbon footprint calculation of their household. Similarly, most municipalities have not conducted a GHG inventory or established an action plan, whether it be the standard Climate Action Plan or Greenheart's innovative new Municipal Action Plan for Sustainability. It is common practice in these inventories and plans to establish targets for reduction and to use these as benchmarks for goals. The vast majority of these goals have not been met. To make things even more alarming, most communities have never updated their action plans. Very few local governments can claim to have conducted more than one action plan, and many will also lean very heavily on that single action as proof that they take sustainability and climate change seriously.
Yes, it is a small victory that the "talk" is increasing. We cannot deny that more and more towns and cities are in either the "pre-contemplation" or the "contemplation" phases of change. These are steps in a famous model of change created by James Prochaska and Carlo Di Clemente way back in the 70s. I was so close to discussing their Stages of Change Model this week, and I will probably revisit and discuss it in greater depth in the future because it is important to break down and identify how we can implement permanent change for this vitally important objective.
It can be somewhat exhausting to read another critical piece about how we are messing up our world. Why can't I just be happy that change, albeit glacially and reluctantly, is happening? Why do I have to be such a downer and pick on our failures and inadequacies? The reason is that the end result of these important steps of pre-contemplation and contemplation doesn't have any real accountability. Accountability isn't a fun concept to really consider. It is invariably negative in scope. However, without accountability, change becomes much more difficult to occur.
How do we create accountability in sustainability? The easy answer is more regulation, which means more government, which means less support because the idea of more government and regulation isn't exactly a very popular concept. The key is not choosing the stick but selecting the carrot in our motivation inventory. Positive reinforcement needs to be the preferred method to succeed here.
What does positive reinforcement look like when tasking municipalities to stick to their goals and make the necessary follow-ups to ensure objectives are met? This is the question that opens up a world of potential solutions. We must roll up our sleeves and start thinking creatively about out-of-the-box solutions that inspire widespread participation. This is where you come in. You don't need to be an expert in sustainability to understand positive reinforcement and motivation! We need input from all members of society, whether they are novices or experts. Why? Because to be honest, just leaving it in the hands of the "professionals" just isn't working. Let us know how you think we can best encourage significant follow-through and commitment to the existing ambitious goals. Ultimately, we need more collaboration and less finger-pointing, and we at Greenheart Partners intend to walk the walk and actually get insights from anyone who wants to share them. The answers are out there, we just need the humility to listen!