Living Standard Research Shows Storytelling Advances the Sustainability Conversation
Written by Calvin Hennick
When George Bandy Jr., chief sustainability officer for Mohawk Flooring North America and winner of the 2018 GreenBuild Leadership Award, began working in the field, he tried to explain his new job to his grandmother. “She said, ‘We paid for all the schooling for this boy, and he got a job doing something called ‘common sense,’” Bandy recalls.
The story illustrates the ways that many people have historically valued thrift and efficiency for their own sake, without requiring a movement to motivate their behavior. Bandy says that the sustainability community needs to find ways to extend its messaging to these people—in particular, to low-income communities and people of color—if it hopes to have a global impact.
“Everybody has been all about generating data. What was lost was the whole social aspect of why are we doing this at all,” Bandy says. “It was a hard conversation to have, because you would be talking about environmental justice, and the impact on communities that people didn’t want to talk about. That same community is becoming the majority of the population. If we’re not talking to them, we won’t be able to succeed in our goals. If we’re only educating 50-year-old males around sustainability, then how are we going to get to our goals around reducing greenhouse gas emissions?”
Bandy says that Mohawk communicates with its employees about sustainable changes they can make that will save them money over the long term, such as switching to LED bulbs in their homes. Framing environmental issues in terms of cost savings, Bandy says, will connect with the commonsense ethos of people like his grandmother.
“What the Living Standard is really talking about is, ‘How do you communicate with people from all walks of life?’” Bandy says. “I always ask this question, and people always look at things differently: ‘If you’ve got to ask a grandmother in a subsidized housing project to choose between a smart thermostat and getting her medicine, what do you think she’s going to choose?’ Those decisions happen every day.”