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Making Green Change Easy

July 13, 2011

Going Green requires change. We must change the way we think and act as individuals and we must change the systems, processes and procedures we use as organizations. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, as research consistently reports that personal and organizational change efforts fail 50% to 80% of the time.

For example, consider for a moment, someone at work who tomorrow hears about your commitment to reduce waste and reduce your energy usage by 50%. What is going to motivate them to do this? Of course many of us are motivated to try and do the right thing and to reduce waste, reduce our negative impact on the environment and save the organization some money. However, even after you have communicated your intentions to do something new, your organization's existing reward and recognition systems, measurement systems, structure and culture will all be influencing that person to do what they have always been doing. That is what those organizational systems are set-up to do and they usually do a good job of it.

The change process begins when we signal our intentions to change, and start to create sensitivity to, and a sense of urgency for, the need to change. Whether we are changing individuals, groups and/or entire organizational systems, awareness of the need to change is a necessary first step and communication is the key to achieving this. In order to enable change to take place, you must provide massive amounts of information, as well as new skills, new systems and structures, and sufficient resources to motivate people to behave in new ways.

A basic premise in social psychology is that behavior is always a function of both the person (e.g., their personality and genetic inheritance) and the situation (e.g., the social and physical environment) in which they live and work. In other words, people do what they do because of who they are and where they find themselves. While an individual's personality does have an effect on their behavior, the situation or social environment also always plays a part.

These elements of the social environment at work are powerful determinants of behavior in organizations. Reward and recognition systems, measurement systems, organization structure and culture are all situational or internal environmental factors that have profound effects on peoples' behavior. There are so many situational factors reinforcing the status quo in organizations, that making change happen requires serious changes to enabling processes (i.e. facilitating structures) that are well defined, well funded and well supported in order to change both the person (e.g. how they are thinking, what they know) and the situational impacts on them (e.g. reward and recognition systems, measurement systems, organization structure and culture, project plans, role models, communications, resources).

This is the core problem with making the change to a Green Organization successfully. We make a decision to reduce energy and wastage and then communicate that decision to people, and nothing really changes because all of the existing facilitating structures and enabling organizational processes (for example, reward and recognition systems) remain focused on other things. We get what we measure and reward in organizations and unless these systems are also changed and the new ways of thinking and behaving are embedded in the organizational culture, changes will falter and fail.

Change requires continual senior management support, especially in the case of implementing changes to make workplaces more sustainable because without senior management commitment and grass-roots efforts and passion, it will not happen.

The 'lesson' for us is that if we want the changes we have committed to making related to reductions in energy usage and waste, for example, to actually happen, we must focus on the following three things at the start:

  1. Gaining top management support while ensuring they do not 'micro-manage' and not define how change are to be made.
  2. Ensuring appropriate expertise and resources are available, while insisting technical experts are not in charge of the changes.
  3. Finding, educate, train and support some local (i.e., grass-roots, shop-floor, users) who will act as change 'champions' who actually manage the decision-making process, drive the change implementation process, and ensure coordination with both top management and technical experts.

You need to get peoples' attention and then focus that attention on the new ways of thinking and behaving. This takes serious energy, effort and resources. Changing your strategy, implementing a new IT system, and changing work practices, policies and procedures all need time, money, personal energy and effort. The same is true with the move to a Greener money-saving and environment-saving workplace.

If you want more information on how to make the change to Green actually happen, contact James Carlopio, our organizational and personal change expert at EcoBizCheck at info@ecobizcheck.com. James is a professor at Bond University's School of Business, Technology and Sustainable Development. He has written five books on organizational change, strategy and managerial skills, along with dozens of scholarly articles in international journals. He has consulted to organizations across Australia and the USA and helped them make changes happen for over 20 years.

By Carolyn Wall, EcoBizCheck

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