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6 Sustainability Silos and How to Break Out of Them

By Sharon Chen
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When it comes to our climate challenge, it is important to build networks and find ways to take large-scale action together. This article breaks down six common obstacles to collective action, and we detail ways to overcome them.

1. The functional silo: Universities, corporations, and organizations are busy with their own activities and don’t know what others are doing. Cross-collaboration, sharing of resources and ideas, and working together to solve our problems will go a long way towards solving our climate challenge.

2. The groupthink silo: It’s easy to get locked into one mindset. For example, campus dining halls looking to source more food locally might think they are the only ones on campus with this priority, and might be unaware that the science department is also looking to start a campus farm. By working together to ask questions and find solutions, we can do much more than we can alone.

3. The temporal silo: We might think that climate change is too far off for us to worry about. Immediate priorities may take precedence over medium- and long-term issues, to our own detriment. We can overcome this disconnect by emphasizing what is local and personal, and by focusing our communications on simple steps that we can take in our lives to affect positive change.

4. The problem/solution silo: People often think that the climate change problem is so big that it can’t possibly be solved. The idea that the climate challenge is too big and outside of our control is a problem in and of itself: we prefer to spend our time and energy on problems that we think are solvable. To overcome this, we need to focus on local, relevant stories and solutions; be positive; and start small - we can all take steps in our everyday lives to improve our world.

5. The political silo: The climate issue is not a Republican or Democratic problem – it’s a people problem. We need to learn to be comfortable with discomfort and conflict, and work together in spite of personal and political differences.

6. The us-versus-them silo: There is a tendency to stereotype the opposition; this, however, does nothing for collaborative, productive work. Instead of being defensive about one’s own position, or simply ignoring those who disagree, it’s better put yourself in the shoes of your audience, and frame the climate issues in terms of their own values.

By being aware of these problems in perception and taking steps to overcome them, we can do much to meet our climate challenge.

Can Sustainability Pros Break Out of These Six Silos?

Bill Hatton | Triple Pundit | December 29, 2015

Silos occur naturally in organizations, and companies struggle to get information out of a silo and into a broader organization. A lack of information on sourcing, for example, can cause a company to wake up one morning and find out a supplier has used conflict minerals or child labor. It’s not intentional, but the information was hidden from decision-makers’ views.

One of the biggest reasons for the corporate social responsibility (CSR)/sustainability movement was to open up silos and collect data across entire organizations and supply chains. It was step one: Let’s just find out what we are doing. Then this information is compiled in corporate responsibility reports, so all stakeholders can learn what is happening across the organization.

Lesson learned

As the sustainability and CSR movements progress, one lesson people are learning is that even these CSR reports (and the people who create them) can find themselves in a silo. Investors, for example, want financial reports. The CSR report can easily be seen as “nice to have” instead of “need to read” — even if stakeholders in fact really need to read the CSR report to get a full assessment of the material risks a company faces.

Sandy Nessing, managing director of sustainability and EHS strategy and design for American Electric Power, offers her company as an example: “The investor relations team said that the analysts and investors were grabbing the sustainability report for their disclosure on environmental performance and for the climate and policy positions.” That’s why American Electric Power has gone to an “integrated” report — combining the sustainability/CSR reporting and financial reporting in a single report.

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