Climate Mindfulness: Why Inaction Might Be What Our World Needs Now

Earth Day, Ocean Week, Plastic Free July, Sustainable September — it’s almost as if the invisible architects of the sustainability ‘award season’ made a backroom deal with the Hollywood associations 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 for it, while onlookers entertain the spectacle.

Let’s face it — the sustainability movement today is fuelled 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, and 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?

To do this, I am advocating 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 for the taking of thoughtful actions against it.

Today, I’ll help you take a step back and explore what it takes to be climate mindful. Let’s — gently — dive in.

Is your organization a Captain, Navigator, passenger, or just A Stowaway?

My first recommended dive into the realm of Climate Mindfulness is introspection into the organizational context you find yourself in. Are you actively cognizant of the strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and structural barriers of your workplace? Are you making decisions and recommendations with those in mind?

It can be empowering to actually put a name to the circumstances in which you operate, and then decide how to internally advocate for purposeful actions accordingly. From my personal experience, I find that one can typically characterize organizations into one of four distinct personas, when it comes to their tendencies towards any given sustainability issue: 

  • Captains: The issue is important to both the brand and the company’s leadership. Captains are early adopters of genuine & 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, and 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 about the issue in order to maintain social currency.
  • Stowaways: The issue is not important to the leadership and 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. Decisively incorporating this awareness into your work is a first and critical step back from knee-jerk reactions towards ‘climate mindful’ strategic planning. 

Quit the sustainability hamster wheel and find your VANTAGE POINT

In one of the earliest sessions I had with my mindfulness coach, 
we explored the idea of emotional resilience, and I was introduced 
to a framework about that concept that I find valuable to this day.

Imagine yourself in a high-rise building in the center of a bustling city. Some days you’re on the first floor, where the noise from the busy street can be deafening. Other days, you’re a little higher up, with a view of the horizon but the chaos can still be heard in the background. But then, there are days you find yourself at a vantage point on the top of the whole damn thing, and your view 
of the landscape is far-reaching, unobstructed, and crystal clear.

The demanding calendar of ‘sustainable business’, ranging from conferences and coalitions to environmental days and marketing campaigns, can often make you feel stuck on the ground floor. While there, no amount of effort feels adequate, doubt starts to creep in, and slowly but surely, you feel paralyzed by the hamster wheel that constitutes much of corporate sustainability today.

I know how it feels because I’ve been there, and a mindful pause 
was what helped me break free and elevate myself above the mayhem. And from that ‘climate mindful’ vantage point, you can breathe. You can fully process the urgency of it all and discern real intentions from fake FOMO. You can find the mindspace to compare options against others. You can internalize if a certain step is something we simply “ought to” take, or something we actually “want to” take.

You can build the courage to radically reimagine your purpose strategy, based on a clear view of reality.

Be Greater Than the Sum of Your Biases

I have seen, on many occasions, that decision makers will favor action on one altruistic cause over another because of their personal connections to the issue. This is understandable, of course, as we humans are emotional and ‘predictably irrational’ beings. However, the result is that some important social and environmental challenges become disproportionately overlooked by those who call the shots.

At rePurpose Global, we recognize that some of these biases have played into our hands rather favorably. We know that plastic waste is an issue that is both visual and visceral. Imagery like tangled marine life, or waste workers picking through heaps of trash, makes the issue incredibly relatable. While on the flipside, memories of otherwise pristine beaches, lakes, and oceans tap into an emotional connection for many, especially those of us who’ve had the income and time privilege to actually indulge in them.

Nevertheless, I am NOT advocating for the impossible — for people to cleanse themselves of all prejudice. However, a mindful attempt to embody Wu Wei, step outside of your own ego, and be a neutral observer to those biases can be emboldening.

First, it can help you become acutely aware of where your purpose has originated from, and that acknowledgement can empower you to lean into those experiences and authentically advocate for issues close to your heart.

Second, the exercise might help you to understand where your colleagues stand, and align everyone onto 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 the legacy of our time at Org XYZ to be?” can provoke empowering steps to the genuine creation of a collective purpose.

With all of that said, be aware: even after you embark on a journey to embrace Climate Mindfulness, the orgnizational limitations, the year-round award seasons, and the personal biases will only carry on its course and hold onto its impact, business-as-usual.

But 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.

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