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What to say to people who 'haven't got time' for sustainability

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Over the last decade or so, sustainability has become one of the most used buzzwords in business with many organisations introducing a whole range of policies and codes of practice around it. Of course, caring for the environment and a desire to sustain the world’s resources have been the driving force behind a lot of this concern. However, an additional benefit is that sustainable behaviour often means increased profitability for businesses, as they preserve resources and cut down on waste.

This is all fine if everyone in an organisation is happy to play their part and share the same objectives. Issues can arise if certain members of staff refuse to support the policies and practices that everyone else is sticking to. It also presents a potentially difficult situation for managers who need to find ways to persuade every member of staff to toe the line, hopefully without making it into a disciplinary issue.

Broaching the subject
You should allow time for the message to sink in and for staff to act on it. Some research into habit forming has found that it can take anywhere between 21 and over 250 days for behaviour to change.

Obviously, the first thing to do is to have an informal chat with all your employees about the new sustainable practices and any objections they may have. Once they’ve had their say, it could be an idea to calmly explain why the business has decided to embrace sustainability. De-mystify what this means by showing them some examples of how everyday items dotted around the office play a part in helping it become more eco-friendly – recycled paper, natural cleaning products and even low energy light bulbs, for example.

It may be that they’ve never seen sustainability from the perspective that it actually saves the organisation money. So it could be a good idea to point out that by reducing overheads, it means that there’s more cash spare for employee perks and social events.

Changing attitudes
If you dig a little deeper, you may find that their reluctant attitude is related to the perceived extra hassle that having to do things like recycling will create. If this is the case, it might be a good idea to make this as easy as possible for them – for example, by promising to put recycling bins next to where they work or preparing automated or default programming (printer settings, computer energy saving settings, lighting and heating).

It might also be worth offering an extra incentive for when your staff start to comply with the policies, maybe by upgrading their laptop to a more sustainable model. If they’re still resistant to changing their ways then, unfortunately, it might be time to wave the rule book at them. But, as with most work situations, the carrot’s usually preferable to the stick.

So it’s worth remembering that, just like with sustainability, it’s always best to take the long-term view.

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