Beth Slaninka

Last week people across the country celebrated Earth Day by planting trees, picking up litter, and making pledges to do more to protect the planet. But what happens after Earth Day?

An article in The Washington Post titled “The problem with Earth Day? Human psychology,” cited behavioral research that even people with the best intentions of protecting the planet often fall back into old, less environmentally friendly habits once Earth Day is over, or they offset one environmentally friendly action with other carbon-intense activities.

Change can be hard, but it doesn’t have to prevent action. In previous blog posts, Nexight’s Patrick White has provided some change management tools and techniques that can help bring about lasting change. One of these tools identifies sources of influence in a person’s life—including personal, social, and structural—to show what affects a person’s motivation and ability to act. This makes it easier to see what is encouraging or hindering change.

The model below shows how Earth Day creates several positive sources of influence on personal, social, and structural motivation and ability that drive action on that day. Resources, information, structure and support are all provided on Earth Day and it empowers people to act. It becomes harder to sustain activities throughout the year as other influences come into play, such as work demands, changing peer expectations, and lack of available tools and infrastructure.

Influence Mapping-Environmental Action

As I did the mapping, I realized why it is relatively easy to take action to protect the environment at Nexight—the company has put in place permanent social and structural influences that  drive year-round action. Nexight is an environmentally-conscious firm with a policy to “operate in a manner that is protective of the environment,” and the company has put in place the tools and infrastructure to help us meet this policy.

Each employee has a box for paper recycling at their desk, and we have receptacles to recycle plastic bags, plastic, glass, cardboard, paper, and batteries. We also have a company compost container in the kitchen. Our lights are on motion sensors to reduce waste, and we have a representatives on the building’s Green Team to share our ideas for improvements and to explain new building initiatives to the rest of the company.

That’s not to say we can’t do more.  The company often revisits our environmental efforts to see where improvements can be made and what more we can do. By creating positive influences on social and structural motivation and ability, Nexight has made it possible for us to sustain environmentally-friendly activities throughout the year, not just on Earth Day.