Why inaction might be what our world needs now

Climate mindfulness can help prioritize genuine change.

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Earth Day, Ocean Week, Plastic Free July, Sustainable September… it’s as if the invisible architects of the sustainability award season made a backroom deal with Hollywood and said, ‘It’s our turn after you finish up.’

Every organization (including ourselves) — from brands and non-profits, to startups and elected officials — line up to profess their love for the planet and vow to do more. Meanwhile, onlookers entertain the spectacle.

Let’s face it — today’s sustainability movement is fueled by peer pressure and the currency of FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. 

On the bright side, social pressure drives change and holds organizations accountable. 

On the dark side, demands for immediate wins lead to short-termism. Actions often appear more designed to save face than create genuine change.

Under this frantic influence, how can decision-makers find the focus to gracefully elevate from an agitated atmosphere and chart out big-picture purpose blueprints?

I advocate for slowing down before speeding up.

I call this climate mindfulness: a state of nuanced awareness and acceptance of the intricacies of our climate crisis that is necessary to take thoughtful actions against it.

Relevant Sustainable Development Goals

My first recommended dive into climate mindfulness is introspection into your organizational context.

Are you actively cognizant of your workplace’s strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and structural barriers? Are decisions and recommendations made with those in mind?

It can be empowering to name the circumstances in which you operate, and then decide how to internally advocate for purposeful action. 

From my personal experience, one can typically characterize organizations into four distinct personas when it comes to their tendencies towards any sustainability issue: 

  • Captains. The issue is important to both the brand and the company’s leadership. Captains are early adopters of genuine and profound actions and take the opportunity to communicate those efforts as a market differentiator, emerging as thought leaders.
  • Navigators. The climate crisis and other social issues are important to the leadership’s ethos. Navigators are guided to take action by their innate sense of the right thing to do — more so than any great concern about broadcasting it externally.
  • Passengers. The issue is not core to the business, but social pressure and a dose of FOMO force the brand to publically showcase their concern to maintain social currency.
  • Stowaways. The issue is unimportant to the leadership. Stowaways — consciously or otherwise — make no attempt to address it. 

Your organization may not be a captain on every sustainability issue, but consider what role you can play to steer your team towards the desired quadrant. 

On many occasions, decision-makers favor action on one altruistic cause over another because of personal connections to the issue. 

This is understandable, as we humans are emotional and ‘predictably irrational’ beings. 

However, some important social and environmental challenges can become disproportionately overlooked by those calling the shots.


Thoughtful action

I am not advocating for the impossible — for people to cleanse themselves of all prejudice. However, a mindful attempt to be a neutral observer to your biases can be emboldening.

First, it can help you become acutely aware of where your purpose originated from.

This acknowledgement can empower you to lean into impactful experiences and authentically advocate for issues close to your heart.

Second, the exercise might help you understand where your colleagues stand, and align everyone on the same wavelength. 

To work through this, you can facilitate discussions and reflections that tease out a purpose manifesto for your organization. 

Questions like ‘Why did we take this step again’ and ‘What do we want our legacy to be?’ can provoke empowering steps to a genuine collective purpose.

With all of that said, be aware: even after embarking on a journey to climate mindfulness, the organizational limitations, the year-round award seasons, and our personal biases can create a whirlwind effect, obscuring this newfound awareness.  

Only when we slow down and actually think through what it truly means to speed up, can we perhaps avoid prime-time knuckle fights and turn surface-level urgency into mature, thoughtful action for the betterment of us all.

Go Deeper

An earlier version of this piece first appeared in rePurpose Global’s newsletter Planet in Progress.

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Peter Wang Hjemdahl

Co-Founder & Chief Advocacy Officer

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