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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Difference Between Caring And Prioritising

"People care about a lot of things. Family, friends, health, the environment, having fun. If we were to ask just about anyone if they place importance on any one of those things, the answer is likely to be a resounding “yes”. Therefore, when it comes to the environment, it is easy to say “yes, environmental issues are important to me”. And we probably mean it. However, the reason that many voluntary environmental behaviours appear to have such slow uptake, compared to the concern expressed by the public, is that they often require sustainability to be prioritised over some other consideration.
Every decision requires, by definition, some kind of prioritisation process. Do we stay home and study, or go out and party? Do we choose the quick route or the scenic one? Decisions concerning the environment are no different. Do we buy the cheap one or the local one? Do we choose the speed of a car or the eco benefits of the train? The benefits represented by the various choices are all valid to us at some level. Nobody likes to waste time or money. Hence, the futility of gauging the importance of environmental issues by asking people to “rate how concerned you are about the environment”.
Several studies have done just that, and by and large the results show that people do care about the environment. A 2008 McKinsey survey found that “87 percent of consumers worry about the environmental and social impact of the products they buy”. In 2010, the Australian Food & Grocery Council (AFGC) found “80% report that they are actually thinking about environmental issues when shopping”. Taken on their own, these numbers suggest that people are overwhelmingly in support of environmental initiatives. However, when it comes to actually doing something about it, people are reluctant to go out of their way. The McKinsey study found that no more than 33% of the consumers in the survey say they are ready to buy green products or have already done so. In the AFGC research, 13% of shoppers reported that they had purchased a product “just now” because of its environmental features.
So, what goes wrong? What explains the gap between 80%-plus concern and action as low as 13%. The answer could well lie in the realm of priorities and values. Although the AGFC survey found that 80% of people were thinking of green issues, we would probably find at least as many were thinking of price, quality, convenience etc. In other words, thinking about an issue is different to making a decision based on that issue above all others.
The gap between overall concern and priority is demonstrated by the findings of research into Americans views of the top priorities for the federal government. Almost half (44%) of those surveyed believed that environmental protection should be a “top priority” for 2010. However, this ranks the issue as 16th out of 21 issues surveyed, well below the economy, military and terrorism. The issue of global warming came dead last.
So, what do people value? Analysis of 500 responses to the MVQ, a values questionnaire created by Awake, shows that on average people allocate 66 points to the environmental value, out of a potential total of 100 points. This places environment as 19th out of 22 values measured. The top 5 values people report are insight, integrity, independence, family and fairness. So, while people would probably say the environment is important to them, there are 18 other more important things competing for their attention.
Back to the AGFC survey mentioned above. When it comes to prioritising environmental factors, only 14% of respondents said they are willing to compromise on cost, while a mere 6% will compromise on convenience. However you look at it, that makes it a tall order to convince people to pay a bit more for locally sourced, less processed products.
It is for this reason that our job as sustainability promoters is not to get people to care more, it is to get them to act more. It is unlikely that we will have much impact if we set out to change peoples values, by moving environment up the values ranking. For a start, we would have to consider the question of which values would we like to see moved down the priority list. Family? Integrity? It seems more promising to demonstrate how the eco-friendly option can meet the values people do hold strongly, so they are not forced to compromise on things dear to their heart. So it is worth considering, for instance, how can the green option meet the Family value (a cleaner, greener future?), or the Integrity value (match my actions to my environmental concerns?).
The more we can demonstrate to people that green choice will benefit them, not just the environment, the more likely it is that they will be prepared to make it a priority".

"Exercise of the Month – The Art Of Prioritise

We often talk about our intention to make something our priority in the future. Unless we are able to increase the overall time and resources we have available to us, any increase in priority in one area of our lives needs to be accompanied by a reduction in the priority given to another area.
1. List 3 things that you are planning to make a priority in the next 12 month (e.g., getting fit, saving money, getting into nature more)
2. For each of those priorities, what do you need to place a lower priority on? (e.g. Partying, watching TV, working extra hours at the office)
Deciding what we are going to make a priority is only half the job – we also need to be explicit about what we are going to invest less of our personal resources in. Next time you hear someone (especially a politician) talk about making something a priority, try asking them what they are going to de-prioritise!"

Source: Awake
Awake provides psychology-based services to support the development of sustainable behaviour in individuals, groups and organisations. Visit for more info

To find more articles in this blog from Awake click on the 'Behaviour Change for Sustainability' tab.

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+