Mindfulness and Sustainability

featured-brave-new-worldToday, I was sitting at a table of AV professionals and I heard a remark about how the weather is really actually consistent year over year, so those people in Washington should go stuff it with this whole climate change business. It was interesting to watch the reactions of those sitting at the table. There was a mix of nervous giggles, polite looking away, big slapping-on-the-back nods and one look of total disappointment (it actually wasn’t me, believe it or not). As for me…I was a mix of emotions but chose to simply listen to him without a response. I felt a bit embarrassed for him that he sounded so political and even a little uneducated. I mean, from NASA to the pope, there is a common consensus that climate change is real and happening.

Have you been in this situation? How have you responded? If you’re reading this column, it’s likely that you fall into the category of concerned and desirable of instituting change to support sustainability. But how do you respond when you’re in the company of our friends who fall on the other side of the coin? Do you get huffy and annoyed about their ignorance? Do you roll your eyes and ignore them? I know I have had this issue in the past, and a solution I’ve come to learn lately stems from the growing movement of mindfulness.

In the last year, I have studied the concept of mindfulness and its impact on everything from physical health to financial investing. More than just meditation, mindfulness can be described as “the process of actively noticing new things. When you do that, it puts you in the present. It makes you more sensitive to context and perspective.” In a business context, as foremost expert Ellen Langer described, it can be applied to work processes. “When people say, ‘This is the way to do it,’ that’s not true. There are always many ways, and the way you choose should depend on the current context. You can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. So when someone says, ‘Learn this so it’s second nature,’ let a bell go off in your head, because that means mindlessness. The rules you were given were the rules that worked for the person who created them, and the more different you are from that person, the worse they’re going to work for you. When you’re mindful, rules, routines, and goals guide you; they don’t govern you.”
So how can you apply this mindfulness to handling that unenlightened soul at the table and even sustainability in general? Well, first, try to hear what they are saying without passing judgment based on your own emotions. Try to neutralize your first, instinctual reaction and maybe shift into asking questions about why they believe the way they do. Perhaps they will pass some wisdom and insight into common misunderstandings people have about climate change. Perhaps it becomes an opportunity to see where there is more education or effort you can impart at an organizational or personal level.

On the greater note of green and sustainability, look closely at how Langer describes the way mindfulness can affect what we have always known and done. When we become aware that we don’t (and shouldn’t) have to apply processes from the past, it frees us up for innovation to occur. What if you were starting a new project from scratch, and reformulated all the processes that you’d always used. Maybe you would dictate that only recycled materials were to be used. Maybe you would declare that your labor would always be 90 percent local. Without the limitations of “this is how it’s always been done,” you may learn some really cool approaches.

In thinking how mindfulness can influence positive change, I think Langer says it best with this story, “Let’s say a student or a worker adds one and one and gets one. The teacher or employer can just say ‘Wrong,’ or he can try to figure out how the person got to one. Then the worker says, ‘If you add one wad of chewing gum to another wad, one plus one equals one.’ Now the boss has learned something.”