Values: The Key to Untangling Eco-Confusion

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Values: The Key to Untangling Eco-Confusion

This is the 5th article in a series of 6 on how to increase your eco-influence by 60x.


After you’ve identified someone’s stage of eco-influence… established strategies appropriate for that particular stage… laser-focused on their eco-personality type… and found out their level of commitment…  you may be thinking to yourself, “What about my cause?  I’m wasting a lot of time learning about them, not getting what I want!”  With that thought, you’ve uncovered a major source of confusion for all environmentalists.  That is the false belief that we know why people act they way they do.

I’d like to spend a few moments pondering the idea that environmental values are at the core of the cultural and societal values this country was founded on.

~ Carol Singer Neuvelt, Executive Director of NAEM

Have you ever met someone you thought was an “environmentalist”, and been surprised to find they didn’t understand a common issue you thought was standard knowledge?

Or have you ever been discussing an issue with a fellow activist and suddenly found yourself in total disagreement on the solution?

Imagine how easy that makes it to experience mis-communication with an “environmentalist-waiting-to-happen.”  These eco-confusions are all-too-commonplace.  And they can derail your ability to influence.

It is easy and convenient to blame these frustrating experiences on the other person’s ignorance or lack of caring.  While at times there is truth to those judgments, that mindset is a powerless place to come from.  What you need is an approach that gives you insights, and tools to act on that insight.

Values-based listening is that approach.

The Environmental Case is the best-selling book on this topic.  I highly picking up a copy at your local book store.  It’s main idea reads:

[D]ivergent problem definitions – stemming from intractable value conflicts – remain at the heart of all environmental battles.

Think about this list of environmental issues:

  • Water pollution, ocean acidification, coral bleaching
  • Air pollution, respiratory illness, climate change
  • Deforestation, habitat destruction, species extinction
  • Soil erosion, pesticides, genetically-modified organisms
  • Synthetic toxins, bio-accumulation through the food chain
  • Peak oil, fresh water wars, access to precious metals
  • Non-living wages, unsafe working conditions, child labor
  • Economic inequity, class warfare, civil rights violations

You likely read this list and had two thoughts that are shared by most environmentalists.

  1. “That is depressing,” and
  2. “You forgot to mention… [x, y, z]”

An additional thought that primes your ability to influence others is this:

I’ve been an environmentalist for [x] years, and consider myself somewhat of an expert.  And I’m still not fully informed on all of these topics.

Even more, I’m not taking action in all of these areas to make the difference I could.  Realistically, who could tackle all of those problems at once?

So, when I’m in conversation with someone who is not was environmental studies major, and does not work in social and environmental industries, how do I connect an issue that I’m passion about with something that is important and relevant to them?

Values are the answer.

If your personal philosophy is like mine, that every person is an “environmentalist-waiting-to-happen,” then it makes sense to go beyond the content of the conversation.  You must look for the underlying context instead.

Values are the reason why one who believes in social justice and resource use (fairness for others) can butt heads with one who only believes in resource efficiency (self-reliance).

Values are the reason why two who support renewable energy can disagree vehemently on policy (positive vs. negative reinforcement).

Understanding this is good news.  Because identifying their values — the context that has them already supporting an issue — is your key to untangling any confusion about their stance on an issue.  And your key to translating your cause into language that they will understand and resonate with.


ecofluencePRO Part 3: Types & Tips go into tons of details that I can’t list here.  It spells out multiple values driving each eco-personality type, where the cross-over is with other types, and how you can use that to translate your own cause into a language they will resonate with.



Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

Check out Adam's new book on Amazon, Audible and Kindle: Sustainable Business in Iowa.

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