10 kinds of people: Sustainable practitioners and the guzzlers

Posted on July 26, 2007


The world is made up of 10 kinds of people: those who are sustainable practitioners and those who aren’t (OK, old computing joke). Suggesting that there are only two groups is clearly far too simplistic, but we need to know where people are so that we can work with them for the better.

The fourth item on the CfS Agenda is to work towards an understanding of current levels of sustainability:

4. Develop an understanding of the current status of sustainability (values, awareness, knowledge, skills & behaviours) of all our stakeholders (students, intake, stakeholders, staff, graduates, professional/trade connections and our respective Iwi partners).

How might we describe people’s sustainabilityness as a basis for computing education for sustainability? What matters is both perceptions and actions. The Accountability21 report identified that the majority of people recognised the issue (in that case of climate change), but didn’t know what actions to take (my review).

In Integral Communications for Sustainability Barrett C. Brown describes five ecological selves. He then describes different methods of communicating with these groups. The “EcoGuardian”, for example can be described as:

Eco-Guardian, romantic ethos, respects Nature; return to lost ecological, paradise; “tribal”

their ‘hot buttons’ in successful communication are:

Refer to traditional rituals, ceremonies, icons; reference mystical elements, superstitions, magic; appeal to extended family, harmony, and safety; honor blood bonds, the folk, the group, taboos; rely little on written language and facts; use storytelling, emotions, drama, songs, dances, imaginative 2D images

The “Eco-Warrior” by contrast can be described as

Eco-Warrior heroic ethos, Conquer Nature; reject civilization; fight “the system”; macho

and is excited by:

Demonstrate “What’s in it for me, now?”; offer “Immediate gratification if…”; challenge and appeal to machismo/strength; point out heroic status and legendary potential; be flashy, unambiguous, reality-based, and strong; use simple language and fiery images/ graphics; appeal to narcissistic tendencies

In a different approach, although old, Dunlap and Van Liere’s (1978) New Environmental Paradigm is widely used. This environmental attitude survey essentially seeks to establish the extent to which people agree with this set of statements:

  • We are approaching the limit of the number of people the earth can support.
  • The balance of nature is very delicate and easily upset.
  • Humans have the right to modify the natural environment.
  • Humankind was created to rule over the rest of nature.
  • When humans interfere with nature it often produces disastrous consequences.
  • Plants and animals exist primarily to be used by humans.
  • To maintain a healthy economy we will have to develop a “steady state” economy where industrial growth is controlled.
  • Humans must live in harmony with nature in order to survive.
  • The earth is like a spaceship with only limited room and resources.
  • Humans need not adapt to the natural environment because they can remake it to suit their needs.
  • There are limits to growth beyond which our industrialized society cannot expand.
  • Mankind is severely abusing the environment.
  • What is not clear is how these attitudes are related to a person’s professional roles and actions.

    We need to develop a measure that can be widely applied (to students and other stakeholders) in order to drive CfS curriculum planning. In addition to getting a scope of actual curriculum areas (Green RFPs, Energy management and so on), we need to come to an understanding of people’s perceptions regarding sustainability. Once we have a feel for the characteristics of groups of our student body we can sensibly address their learning.

    This means we need a system to investigate understanding of sustainability, beliefs about sustainability, current actions and change agents, understanding about the role of sustainability in their future careers. As part of this, we need to consider current understandings of discipline specific areas – what, for example can we assume about naive understandings of ethical priorities.

    What else do we need?