Change: Reaching Positive Momentum

Change is hard, but it can also be exciting, motivating and rewarding to encourage and support positive change. Investing effort into making positive changes for our planet is worth every challenge.

Thank you for participating in the Classroom Energy Diet Challenge, and for your commitment to change. Thank you, teachers, for your support to encourage future generations, and their families, to do the same. Your efforts are appreciated, and your impact and influence is needed.

Since returning to Calgary after graduating from the University of Victoria, I have worked in a variety of roles at Shell Canada all with a commercial background. In 2017, I was thrilled to extend my commercial focus with cultural, environmental leadership as lead for the grassroots effort to kickstart our Low Carbon Ambition—a team of passionate volunteers committed to inspiring, innovating, and embedding greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction in everyday activities. I was tasked to understand how we could sustain a low carbon culture in our workplace. I hope you can use what I have learned to support and encourage positive momentum for environmental initiatives in your own home or classroom (once schools have reopened).

Three methods to encourage positive change:

1.   Design systems that reduce the possibility of failure

When we started this initiative, waste diversion bins were installed in the kitchen on each floor in our corporate offices to encourage more composting, recycling, and refundables (i.e. returning cans and bottles that we donate to local charities). However, every employee still had a garbage bin at their desk. Why would someone walk to the kitchen to divert their waste when there was a garbage bin right beside them? Desk side bins were removed and, by design, encouraged people to walk extra steps to put their apple core in the compost instead of the garbage. This was a win-win from a health perspective as well!

A great resource: The book, Nudge, by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, talks about designing systems that encourage better decision making instead of forcing a decision on someone. This concept fits into the energy discussion because we need to use energy, so how can we design ways to make the choice of using less energy easier?

2.   Make it personal and keep talking about it

It can be intimidating to start something new. We found it helpful to highlight other initiatives that were already in place. By highlighting all of the initiatives underway, we were able to show that launching a GHG reduction idea was less intimidating than it sounded. We also found ways to bring the environment into everyday discussions. For example, Shell has a culture of Health, Safety, Security and the Environment (HSSE). However, there was a tendency to only focus on safety at the start of each work meeting, so we started highlighting all aspects of HSSE, bringing environment conversations to the forefront. By talking about the environment more, we think about it more, and it becomes easier to embed positive change into projects by default.

A great resource: An ecological footprint calculator helps calculate the impact of your actions and habits on the planet. Some people may be surprised to learn how many Earths are needed to support current habits. Using this calculator from the Global Footprint Network is a great way to communicate the impact of change.

3.   Test small creative hypotheses often

Changing how society uses and thinks about energy is a daunting task. I love the idea of breaking one large task into of smaller ones and testing along the way see if results are on the right track. Sometimes we fail, but, if we can learn to change behaviour, we can celebrate failures as well as successes. We started highlighting behavioural changes at staff assemblies where employees could win a Low Carbon Ambition Award for trying something different. This helped take away some of the stigma associated with not fully reaching a hypothesized result.

A great resource: The book, How Stella Saved the Farm, by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble.  This book uses a farm to illustrate how making change can happen. It highlights that innovation is about more than having an idea. This resource could be useful for creating sustainable change at home or at your school (when classes are back in session).

Lessons learned:

I gained the knowledge of these three methods through perseverance. Although not all of our attempts to create positive change were successful, our team continued to work toward our goal. My personal motivation continues to stem from my passion for providing more and cleaner energy for the world and that keeps me motivated to keep making change in my workplace, and at home, every day. Do not lose sight of your passion, you are not alone! Every change, no matter how big or small, is momentum in support of a lower carbon world.