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The Tipping Point and Accountability

Last night, I was at a networking event chatting with a woman who worked as a behavioral science researcher for an energy firm.  Her job was to research consumers behaviors, and what the catalyst is for moving those consumers to more eco-friendly energy habits.  The conversation turned to why the argument for money saving on energy costs doesn’t work.  Her answer struck me.

“Because there are other things I want more.  I may save $2 on my energy bill if I switch to CFL lightbulbs, but I want take out for dinner tonight instead of spending the time and money right now  looking at a wall of lightbulbs. Or I want to use the $5 I would spend on buying CFLs on metro fare. Or any number of things.  I won’t change them until a group of my friends come over, and I realize I don’t want them to see that I’m not being eco-friendly.  I’m lucky that I have a peer group that’s pre-disposed to hold me accountable for that.”

I hadn’t thought about the influence that peer groups already looking out for each other’s environmental impact can have.  But, now that I think about it, it’s true.

A few years ago, I was a fellow in an environmental program at a small nonprofit.  That job, being surrounded by others striving to live better lives, held me accountable to what I believed in.  I walked more than I rode the metro, I was conscious about water use and electricity use.  I thought hard about throwing things away and tried hard to make sure I was living the life I preached.

Now that I work in an education non-profit, I find that I am not as surrounded by like-minded people.  It’s harder to make it to the farmer’s market, and it’s harder to convince myself that driving isn’t better than walking.  I don’t have that influence of people who might hold me accountable for my actions.

When I think about this in the larger environmental context, I realize that so many people don’t have that accountability – there’s no one to judge them if they don’t recycle.  There’s no peer group to ask why they didn’t x, y, and z.  Even in my own circle of friends, I’m not sure there is enough accountability.  I’m so worried that people will feel judged, or write me off as a treehugging hippie feminist that I don’t try to hold people to a better standard.

But it is a fine line between holding people accountable and being a nuisance.  How do you make  your point clear without sounding pretentious? And what is the tipping point to getting people to take action? Or even just to think more about their actions?

What I’m taking away from all of this, is that I need to be bolder about what I believe in.  I need to re-align my priorities, and lead by example.  I need to be more vocal about why we make certain choices in our house.  I need to be more vocal about why I think this is important.  And I need to writer more forcefully about my beliefs.  I need to find that fire and let it burn for all to see.

What’s your tipping point to action?

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