07 Aug 2020

How to transform from an eco-worrier into a change agent


Last summer while on a walk around the neighbourhood my little girl plucked a huge, fluffy dandelion from the nature strip, blew with all her might and made a wish. I guessed she might wish for the fairies to come or to finally be able to do a backflip off the monkey bars like she’d been tirelessly practicing.

‘What did you wish for?’

‘That there would be no more drought.’

My heart fell out of my chest and tripped me over.

I worry about the future and how some predictions suggest that my daughter will be forced to celebrate her 50th birthday indoors because the Australian climate will be inhospitable to outdoor events if we don’t make big change. I worry about the plastic-polluted oceans and the devastating wildfires and the destruction of our rainforests. There is no limit to the worry-fuel. Especially now in the midst of Melbourne’s struggle with Covid-19. The numbers keep rising. Will we ever get out of lock down?

But worry (and the panic it can induce) is futile. It debilitates us. Compromises our immune system. And influences the little people who lean on us as they shape themselves.

At an early age we are taught to remain calm in an emergency. Because panic limits what you can do, it may cause others to panic as well and a second of panic is a second closer to danger.

We’re in a climate emergency. No doubt. And it’s easy (and natural) to panic. Many environmental marketing campaigns, though well-intentioned, use panic and fear to drive their message. They are often unsuccessful because panic induces inaction and even helplessness. Some also interpret this style as fear-mongering and dramatics, further distancing themselves from the issue.

Educate and relate

A better way is to help people gain perspective. Individuals and businesses have limits to what they can do, but these limits shouldn’t mean they do nothing. Often there are gaps in knowledge or awareness of how we can take action. As an example, my job is to raise the awareness of carbon offsetting as one part of the solution today. Another’s may be to educate on clean energy or emissions reduction or fuel switching.

Our collective responsibility in the climate industry is to help people differentiate what’s accurate from what is not. For instance, some believe carbon offsets are a corporate cop out. Read Adrian’s blog to learn why this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, many businesses can’t go carbon neutral today without the use of carbon offsets.

Make it relevant

When speaking to a friend or a child or a [gasp] climate denier, talk about the impact that is relevant to them. Their local environment, the summer fires, the impact to the industry they work in. By bringing the conversation closer to home, people may feel more able (and willing) to help make a change.

Help enable action

I’m fortunate in that I work directly with a company that transforms corporate investment in sustainability into on-ground impact. When your organisation chooses to offset emissions through TEM, your money employs Indigenous rangers to fight wildfires, employs engineers to manage wind farms in Asia, protects rainforests from destruction in South America and beyond. But if you find yourself within a business that might not be forward-thinking enough to commit to environmental action, you might be feeling a sense of despondency. But what if you started a conversation? Or prepared your own business case to support your team taking action? Just the process of making the pitch could be enough to spark interest, and as we know, demand from employees rates highly on an organisation’s decision to embark on a net zero journey. Furthermore, customer sentiment is powerful. Many brands that we work with reference customer demand as a key driver for the business taking action on climate change. Are your favourite brands as sustainable as you’d like?

Sometimes we think our individual response is without impact. Which reminds me of the story about the man who was walking along a beach strewn with thousands of beached starfish. As he walked he came across a young child fervently picking up handfuls of starfish and throwing them back into the ocean.

The man said ‘Child, what are you doing?’.

‘I’m saving the starfish,’ he replied.

The man said: ‘There are thousands of starfish on this beach. How could you possibly make a difference?’.

So the boy picked up a starfish, launched it into the ocean and said: “I made a difference to that one.”

Since my daughter made that dandelion wish I have taken the time to gently educate her on what we, as a family, can do to positively benefit the environment. She knows my job is to help companies be more sustainable but my other job is to help her appreciate nature, respect our resources and tread lightly on the earth because she is part of the future generation that will be impacted by our decisions today and I want her to know that I fought for her tomorrow.

Elise Margaritis is TEM’s Creative Director; dedicated to engaging hearts before heads, obsessed with indoor plants, believes in magic.