Interview with Salt Lake City Sustainability Director
Vicki Bennett is the Sustainability Director for Salt Lake City, Utah. With a degree in Chemistry from UC – San Diego and Executive MBA from the University of Utah, Bennett has worked on environmental issues for more than 25 years. That included Environmental Management Systems and international environmental consulting.
Grist interviewed her last year, and it was an insightful read.
Two things stood out:
- The contrast of a fundamental religious group being progressively environmental. Many environmentalists would assume that Mormons would be anti-environment, but Vicki details how their conservative values and historical context for settling the area make them fantastic stewards. This is a great example showing an important insight: there is an environmentalist in each of us. If you can learn read the cues and speak to them directly, you can influence anyone.
- Vicki lifted the veil with her comments about how the city tapped into Mormon, conservative ethics for environmental change. Here is a snippet from the full interview.
Q. That’s a nice thought, but Utah is a deep, deep red state. How do you go forward on these issues when the Republican Party right now denies climate change and is dead set against environmental regulations?
A. When you’re talking with someone you have to frame the issue in ways that will show them the benefits in terms that they’ll understand… In five years, we met the Kyoto goals by reducing our municipal operation climate footprint. We can talk about that climate footprint in Salt Lake and that’s very acceptable.
If we work with other, more conservative cities, then we talk about air quality issues and reducing vehicle miles traveled and the benefits of energy efficiency to minimize how much electricity we’re using and reducing the amount of oil and heating fuel and natural gas we need. It has the same outcome — to reduce people’s use of carbon-based fuels.
I was at a meeting with a group of mayors — one of them, a very conservative Republican, made the comment to me, “Well, I had an energy efficiency audit done on my business so I could save money.” And I said, “That’s great. That’s exactly what we want to hear.” And then he looked at me and said, “Yeah, and I reduced my carbon footprint.” I just about fell off my chair. That’s a lot of how we have to do it. It’s just a framing.
Vicki spoke directly to the importance of how we frame environmental issues in conversation. It is absolutely key to influencing behavior. Without using an approach tailored to that unique individual, our odds of persuading for the planet drop dramatically.
Of importance, Vicki had something many of us don’t. And I’m not just referring to her feminine energy, which is in short supply these days.
She has a title with some authority.
Being Director of Sustainability for a large metropolitan area doesn’t hurt. However, one does not need an MBA and a Director title to influence. If you can do the following, you can also be seen as an authority:
- Maintain integrity – by being a stand for your cause without making someone wrong, and
- Build trust – by finding common ground and shared values.
Do you usually assume religious groups will be opposed to your ideas/campaigns?
When might they be your ally?