Conviction Alone Doesn’t Compel Change

Kimberly Wallis

This month in our ‘Emerging Leaders’ series, we introduce you to Kimberly Wallis, a master’s candidate at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, and a student member of NAEM. This summer she worked on energy issues as an intern with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

These days, a job in the hand is definitely worth more than two in the bush.  No elected official is going to even consider a move that might cost their constituents jobs.  So, convincing legislators in Ohio to invest in renewable energy, rather than in coal, one of their main industries, seems like a hard sell.  Vague statements about ‘the green economy’ and ‘green collar jobs’ aren’t going to cut it with the legislators or with their constituents.  “Maybe I would get better pay at a wind farm,” thinks the technician.  “But I don’t know where these jobs would come from, or how many they would be.  I’m better off just sticking at my old job.”

How many, where, and how much?  Those are the questions the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) tried to answer regarding clean energy jobs in the Midwest states, including Ohio.  It’s hard to convince people to give up the status quo for uncertainty, even if evidence shows that the change will be beneficial, so UCS put resources into erasing some of that uncertainty.  As an intern there this summer, I helped paint a picture for Ohioans of what a different future might look like.

How would the change affect a household’s monthly energy bills?  What would the net jobs increase be, not countrywide but in Ohio?  In short, how would investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency impact the daily life of an Ohioan, and is it worth giving up the certainty of the status quo?

It’s not enough to tell people what not to do.  It’s not even enough to tell them what to do instead.  “Better the devil you know” – and uncertainty is always a devil.  Painting a picture of what the future could look like gives people something to strive for, whether they are in your community or in your company.  It’s the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement – and as the vision becomes more specific and tangible, it becomes more persuasive.

A call to “decrease waste!” or to “reduce GHG emissions!” isn’t going to convince anyone to give up the security of the status quo.  What are you offering them instead, is the question.

When it comes to making the case for new EHS and sustainability programs, what tactics have you found to be most effective?


About Kimberly Wallis

Kimberly Wallis is a graduate student in environmental management at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, where she focuses on energy issues and effective communication. She is particularly interested in how individuals and organizations change.

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