It’s challenging to find like-minded colleagues who share your passion for the environment in a sea of status quo.
When my kids started kindergarten I was keen to connect with other parents who share my environmental values. I thought this would save me from lamenting rising gas prices on the playground, getting odd looks when I bring my own plate to the school barbeque and explaining our ‘no presents but your presence’ birthday parties. And hey I figured when I was ready to start a green initiative at the school I’d be set for supporters.
Being an observer, I watched for cues from kids and parents to see who might be a good fit. I eyed the girl eating bulk dried fruit and stalked her parents to identify their transportation preferences. When I saw bike helmets and mud-splattered legs I knew I’d found new friends.
Maybe you’d rather not practice the slightly creepy act of stalking your co-workers to uncover how they commute or what they eat for lunch?
Ask your colleagues what they do outside of work
Instead, use nature as a conversation catalyst.
Dr. Steve Schein, author of A New Psychology for Sustainability Leadership, interviewed sustainability leaders to understand why they care about leaving the world better than they found it. A common theme was that leaders had spent time in nature, often as kids. I’ve found a similar connection. When I ask people why sustainability is important to them they often begin by talking about spending their childhood in nature and that they continue to value getting outside regularly.
Talk to your colleagues about their summer vacations and what they did on the weekend. When you find stories of beach walks, mountain hikes or lazy days on the water you’ve revealed a potential ally.
Start a weekly nature walk
Finding the time to have these conversations between meetings, deadlines and managing your team can be tricky. Instead, you need to carve out time to have deeper conversations with your team members, other managers or senior staff.
If there’s a nature trail or two close to your workplace start a weekly lunchtime walk.
Madeline Sloan, Sustainability and Wellness Coordinator at Lorna Vanderhaege Health Solutions, recently started a weekly lunchtime nature walk with her co-workers. “Convening and engaging in and with nature is refreshing for your mind-body-soul, and doing it together builds community within your organization,“ said Sloan. She found that the benefits of nature walks with colleagues goes beyond building relationships.
“Convening and engaging in and with nature is refreshing for your mind-body-soul, and doing it together builds community within your organization.“ ~ Madeline Sloan
Sloan's sentiment that spending time in nature is good for our body and mind is backed up by research. For example, researchers in Japan studied 280 participants across 24 forests and found that a 15-minute forest walk lowered their cortisol (a stress hormone) along with their pulse rate and blood pressure. Walking in a concrete urban environment didn't have the same effect. There’s more and more research to support the benefits of time in nature to your productivity, mental well-being and physical health. The Nature Principle by Richard Louv offers a wealth of information and inspiration.
Conversations are easier when they happen consistently and without distraction. I can’t promise you won’t talk about gas prices but over the weeks I hope you'll develop a rapport and begin to support each other as you make a difference. Put up a sign and post to your internal mailing list that this week, at lunch, you’ll be walking in nature.