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Leading green doesn't mean red versus blue

Scott De Marchi

James T. Hamilton
Scott de Marchi and James T. Hamilton are the authors of You Are What You Choose: The Habits of Mind that Really Determine How We Make Decisions (Portfolio, 2009).

As debate continues about the impact of the Copenhagen climate accord that emerged from December's UN summit, media reports often refer to the partisan divide in the US Congress over climate-change legislation. When the House narrowly passed a climate change bill in June by a vote of 219-212, only eight Republicans voted in favor. When the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted in November to send the climate change bill to the floor, the vote was 10-1, with all 7 Republican members boycotting the vote.

Despite the party divisions over climate-change legislation in Congress, the fact is environmentalism is not a red or blue issue. If you're trying to lead your organization to adopt greener production methods or develop greener products, you don't need to know your managers' or customers' party identification. Know that acting to protect the environment is an urge that crosses parties and political identities.

In our book You Are What You Choose: The Habits of Mind that Really Determine How We Make Decisions, we explore how people approach decisions in similar ways whether they're in the supermarket, on the highway, or in the voting booth. We call the way that people make decisions their TRAITS, an acronym for Time, Risk, Altruism, Information, meToo, and Stickiness. In trying to predict who recycles, we find that understanding how a person makes decisions is more important than their political party in predicting who is likely to bring the recycling bin to the curb.

Recycling involves paying a small "hassle cost" today for a benefit that will come far in the future. The benefits of recycling, in terms of reduced landfill use and pollution generation, are spread across many people and areas. We find that people who generally place a higher value on the future and care about others are much more likely to recycle.

We measure the degree that people think about the future through choices such as whether they go to the dentist, exercise, and think about resale value when buying a car. We capture a person's Altruism by whether they give blood, donate to local charity, and believe in jury duty. Part of the meToo factor that we capture measures whether a person has a strong network of family and friends they are connected with. Looking at how people make decisions as shoppers and neighbors, we find that if you're focused on the future, high on Altruism, and enjoy spending time with others, you're a recycler.

There is also a subset of people who consistently try to live green. They buy recycled products, reduce energy use, contribute to environmental groups, and even volunteer for environmental causes. Finding these hard-core greens is not just a matter of looking at their party identification. If you want to find out who is living green, you should look at who places a high value on the future and takes altruistic acts in many areas of their lives.

Living out an environmental identity involves learning about products and policies. Though recycling is not information intensive, we find that predicting who lives a consistently green lifestyle is a function of their taste for Information. The more books a person reads and more types of information sources they use, the more likely they are to buy recycled and reduce energy use. The meToo factor also comes into play, though this time with a political twist. Among people who look to the decisions of others for guidance, Democrat are more likely to support a green lifestyle than Republicans.

One result of the Copenhagen conference is renewed attention to what leaders in the private and public sectors can do to lead greener organizations and produce greener products. While the battle in Congress will be described in partisan terms, leaders should remember that for most people, most environmental decisions are not red or blue. The people who are more likely to live green are people who are altruistic and focused on the future. Shopping for recycled products and turning down the thermostat has more to do with blood drives and dental appointments than trying to elect a Democrat or Republican to Congress.

By Scott de Marchi and James T. Hamilton

 |  January 15, 2010; 5:47 AM ET |  Category:  Decision-making Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Instead of having us speculate, why not put some examples or surveys or...some investigative work.

Posted by: sarahabc | January 15, 2010 7:36 PM

CONSERVATION is derived from 'conservative' and it was large estate and timberland owning republicans who conserved/preserved large wilderness tracts; many of which have been given to land trusts.

For example, if it wasn't for Rockefeller, there would be no ACADIA national park with its delightful network of carriage roads.

From Teddy Roosevelt to Nixon(EPA) America owes a huge debt to conserving Republicans.

It's the URBALS (urban liberals) who are the real hate mongers when it comes to environmental protection.

Posted by: Common_Cents1 | January 15, 2010 12:28 PM

I don't believe all elected Republicans (as individuals) are against reasonable climate-change legislation. I do believe that they, as a Party, are against sucessful legislation that would support the Obama presidency.

I rather wish the Post would do a series on "Leadership" that would address the Republicans' insistance on throwing out the baby with the bath water, and why they think any sane electorate would return them to power with that policy.

Posted by: shadowmagician | January 15, 2010 10:51 AM

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