Posted: 08 Dec. 2020 4 min.

C-suite: Speak up and inspire for action

Topic: Sustainable Development Goals

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing”, said Walt Disney. To act more sustainable takes an extra effort. Business leaders need to inspire for action to get a positive reaction. 

Filipino students turn fruit waste into solar panels that don’t need the sun. US scientists discover that spoilt milk can be used to capture CO2 emissions. UK designer turns old PET bottles into at-home HIV tests.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing”. The quote from Walt Disney pops up in my mind whenever I hear about people who change the world in a more sustainable way step by step. The millennium we’re leaving has indeed been one of talking about – and accepting – man’s responsibility for climate change. 

I want the millennium we’re facing to become one of action.

Many CEOs believe that the purpose of business is no longer just maximizing shareholder profit. CEOs acknowledge the opportunity for competitive advantage through sustainability efforts. And some progress is happening. However, CEOs also recognize that the business community could – and should – be making a far more significant contribution to achieve a sustainable global economy by 2030. 

The world needs C-suite to follow through on this perception and inspire for action. And they need to do this in a different way than we’ve been used to. 

According to the Norwegian psychologist and politician Per Espen Stoknes, negative and fearful communication blocks the human brain to act positively.

Stoknes, who also holds a Ph.D. in Economics, finds that 80 percent of the communication regarding climate change and sustainability has focused on catastrophic scenarios over the past 30 years. Consequently, our brain protects itself, using five defense mechanisms. 

However, it is possible to turn these defense mechanisms into key success factors.

  1. From distance to social. When we hear about climate, we think of something far away from – something out of the realm of our influence and do nothing. However, you make climate change feel personal when you start noticing other business leaders creating a more sustainable business, you slowly want to adapt, thus creating a social norm of positive change.
  2. From doom to supportive. The term ‘burning platform’ has become a common metaphor when business leaders argue the need for change. However, when served too much disaster and losses, we become numb to negative climate changes. But if we reframe climate as being about new tech opportunities, safety, and new jobs, we present a positive and supportive framing for climate threats.
  3. From dissonance to simpler actions. Our brains work like lawyers searching for evidence to support the claims we already have in our minds. We subconsciously disregard facts that don’t support our pre-perceptions and justify actions we know are bad for the climate. By better choice architecture – also known as nudging – we can make climate-friendly behaviors default and convenient.
  4. From denial to recognizing progress. When faced with the threat of climate change, our minds tend to ignore information and continue doing what we’ve always done. Otherwise, we’d have to shift our lifestyle, ethics, and identity substantially. But if we provide motivating feedback on how well we’re doing with solving climate problems, we become motivated to go further in that direction.
  5. From identity to better stories. Many CXOs have a hard time identifying themselves as climate activists. Their identity lies in other values. However, by telling better stories of the heroes and heroines that make real change happen, we can see ourselves in that change. Everybody’s brains love stories.

At Acacia, we are excited about innovation and drawn by the great business opportunities that climate change offers. We are driven by an open-source logic that emphasizes sharing and inspiration. And we make an extra effort to tell better stories about the heroes and heroines in companies we know make a positive change.

A transformation of the kind needed starts with a change of perspectives in our minds. You can be part of the solution. Not only your brain will love you for it. When you start acting, the planet will applaud.


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Bahare Haghshenas

Bahare Haghshenas

Executive director i Acacia

Spørg mig om: SDGerne, Samfundsansvar, bæredygtighed, CSR, innovation Bahare er partner i Deloitte og Executive Director i acacia – the Sustainable Innovation Hub. Hun er specialiseret i strategi og innovation og arbejder tæt sammen med danske virksomheder med henblik på at udnytte bæredygtighed og FNs verdensmål til at overkomme komplekse virksomhedsproblemer.