The trade-off: is your mindset holding back your progress in sustainable innovation?

Written by
Emma van der Meulen
On
March 4, 2019

Lately, I have been tossing around the idea of challenging myself to a strict no-flight regime. Nowadays, one can hardly deny that flying is harmless, and since I am quite considerate with the environment in my day to day life, for me, personally, flying would take out the biggest chunk out of my environmental footprint. Additionally, - and that is a big one - “the growth in the number of kilometers per passenger is much greater than the reduction in emissions per passenger. In other words, we fly so much that it is hard to keep up with innovations.” [Werij]  The most logical decision to reduce my environmental foot-print therefore would be to fly less, right?

However, despite my good intentions, and my sprouting awareness about other options, I recently ended up booking a charter flight to Italy after all. Reasons, or excuses if you will,

1. I couldn’t find a comprehensive overview of international ‘environmentally friendly’ travel options. The trains that I did find were too expensive or took over twelve hours.
2. On the contrary, finding a good charter flight was basically a routine, I was able to pull up several flight options within minutes.
3.  “It probably doesn’t matter thát much what I do, there are so many people that are way less environmental considerate, I am merely a drop in the ocean,” which turns out to be a stubborn thought for me.

A question that touches the key of the first rationale is if there is a tipping point for making less favorable decisions? Favoring design, comfort, price or quality of a product or service at the expense of other aspects? I guess, in this specific case, for me there was. Apparently, and unfortunately, good intentions do sometimes give way to a good deal.

This has to do with the trade-off: “.. in simple terms, where one thing decreases in order for the other thing to increase.” Especially in sustainability we seem hang on to this perception. We are inclined to believe that we have to give up something to be environmental conscious. For example, many believe that when producing a zero-footprint product you will end up with higher production costs or have to give in on design or quality. 

However, I truly believe that when fully integrating sustainability in your life or business, you will sure find a way to adhere to high sustainability standards without giving in on other aspects.

I believe that an integral approach to sustainability will redeem the trade-off irrelevant. To understand why, the difference between maximizing and satisficing decision-making is worth mentioning. In decision-making theory, satisficing refers to decision-makers who “.. select the first option that meets a given need rather than the "optimal" solution.” On the contrary, maximizing refers to a decision-making style “.. characterized by seeking the best option through an exhaustive search through alternatives, therewith also incorporating more dimensions than the minimum requirements.” In my case, I clearly acted ‘satisficing’, going for the first travel option that was both cheap and fast. 

I told my colleague about what happened, and he justly challenged me on this. He asked me if I had tried to change my perception about the act of travel itself? He suggested to place environmental costs, the feeling of ‘guilt-free travel’ and the actual experience of traveling (because, let’s be honest: who enjoys being crammed for two hour on a budget airplane?) above the importance of time and money, or at least on equal footing. He thereby takes a multi-dimensional approach to his decision making, trying to incorporate more dimensions than only time and money, therewith maximizing his perception on sustainability.

In the second place, and related to the trade-off, it is worth looking at the notion of Pareto optimality. This concerns a state of allocation of resources from which it is impossible to reallocate, so as to make any one individual or preference criterion better off without making at least one individual or preference criterion worse off. 

This implies that to book progress in one dimension, you will be less successful in another. However, I believe that this notion is only true in a static and unchangeable context. One without innovation.

If you start to abandon the notion of the trade-off, but really integrate sustainability in your way of living, working and way of doing business, you will automatically challenge yourself to be more resourceful in maximizing and incorporating sustainability. 

Additionally, it seems we have a long way to go before we reach a maximized state of Pareto optimality, a state in which innovation and evolution have reached their limits. 

One could even argue that, with the current pace of innovation, we are looking into a future with an unlimited potential for growth and development.

So for now, with innovation on our side, this Pareto optimality can be increasingly stretched and increasingly pushed further, which makes it unnecessary to worry about the trade-off. There is no need to believe that we have to give up on efficiency, design or profit in order to be truly sustainable. We simply don’t live in a fixed and static world. Therefore, I believe that fully integrating sustainability in your business is possible by tapping into the right types of innovation methods. And, if done correctly, your total impact could skyrocket. Then, and only then, you can make your lifestyle and your company truly future-proof!

But how can we break with our previous habits? 

And how can we adhere to an integrative approach to sustainable change, and sustainable innovation? Hang in there, I am just about to explain that one now. Because that is exactly why the second dimension is worth mentioning in this context: the perception we have about our own actions, and the deflation of their importance. 

This is related to a concept called ‘Ethical Dissonance’. “Ethical Dissonance arises from the inconsistency between the aspiration to uphold a moral self-image and the temptation to profit from unethical behavior. [..] Ethical dissonance involves the breach of absolute criteria of right and wrong.”  Breaking with our own belief systems can a negative experience and in some cases even shameful. Therefore, our brains came up with a hand full of different tricks to cope with or even justify our moral wrongdoing.

White lies are a clear example of such ethical dissonance. We justify lying because we believe (or tell ourselves) that lying will benefit the other person more than the truth.

Two other examples, which I both used to justify my decision:

1. Justifying immoral behavior as a means to an end, ‘because I really need to travel from point a to b, and the fast international trains take too long and don’t fit in my budget’.

2. Distancing yourself from the violation by deflating the importance of your own actions, by pointing to other people’s wrongdoing; ‘it probably doesn’t matter thát much what I do, there are so many people that are way less environmental considerate’.

Well played, dear brains, well played! If you are unaware of these little tricks your sub-conscious brain pulls to justify their routine decisions, changing your habits will be a pretty tough nut to crack. But what if you could use those tricks in favor of your own morale? Use them to empower you to break with old perceptions, and really make progress towards true sustainability?

This brings me to the third dimension, which is the fact that booking a flight was such a routine for me. We will come back shortly to the fact that changing my habit was discouraged due to a lack of readily available information and alternatives, since that is a completely different aspect. However, the answer to how you could change your habits is one that is well within your own power.

Since habits are run from the parts of the brain that we do not have conscious control over,the key to changing a habit is to draw a particular act to your conscious decision-making. A good place to start is to change your routine radically. If you break cued sequences, you interrupt your habit and as a matter of course you have to think about another approach to the situation.

For example, in my case it could work to block all the flight brokers on my browser, so when I search for a flight, I am unable to reach the website. Boom! I am conscious about the situation, and can actively consider sustainable alternatives. Another great example, I recently heard about an architect that designed two brightly colored chairs for the board room of a company. A green one, and a blue one. The people that sat in those chairs were challenged to represent the interests of either the planet (green) or its people (blue) du. This actively triggered that particular board to consider alternative dimensions than the company’s interest (e.g. branding, profits and margins).

If you put in place tricks like that, the ‘active’ and ‘conscious’ part of your brains are involved, and only then you are able to actively consider the full range of options besides your routine decisions. Consequently, you will be more conscious about your decision, which will empower you to actively take control over your decision-making. This allows you to break with old perceptions. If I could make a suggestion, breaking with the perception of the trade-off could be a nice place to start.

In addition, after you sparked your consciousness, I want to invite all of you to take on a multi-dimensional approach to decision-making and challenge the maximizer in yourself. Don’t settle for the first option that meets your wishes. Try a multi-dimensional approach, and weigh in the factors of sustainability, and even the ‘guilt-free’ experience as you will, to battle your established perceptions such as the trade-off. 

You will be surprised how much impact you can make, especially if you combine alternative resources, innovation, and out of the box ideas, while letting go of your prepossessions.

Lastly, it is crucial we all stop underestimating the impact a single individual can make. You sure are a drop in the ocean. But a drop can cause a ripple which, in the end, could lead to tremendous waves of change. This brings me back to the fact that, unfortunately, in some cases it is hard to follow up on your good intentions due to a lack of sustainable options. We could, collectively, tackle this problem in two ways.

On the one hand, consumers could spark a bottom-up change, to which some refer to as ‘innovation by demand’. In that case, consumers could motivate suppliers to create a sustainable alternative. When there is demand, supply will follow.

On the other hand, suppliers could take a lead in transitioning towards sustainability, by a top down approach towards sustainable innovation. Let’s be honest, which option do you think a consumer would pick, if the zero-footprint option is as convenient, cheap and easily accessible as the highly polluting alternative? Wouldn't it be amazing to make sustainable choices such a no-brainer for your customers?

Aspiring to become this year’s most sustainable business, and taking the lead in sustainable innovation like one of the 25 companies nominated by Forbes in 2018? I am highly motivated to build a true future-proof society, and I especially believe that businesses should and could take a lead in this transition. Therefore, if you want to have an open conversation about what step you could take towards making your business truly future-proof, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

On
March 4, 2019

The trade-off: is your mindset holding back your progress in sustainable innovation?

Lately, I have been tossing around the idea of challenging myself to a strict no-flight regime. Nowadays, one can hardly deny that flying is harmless, and since I am quite considerate with the environment in my day to day life, for me, personally, flying would take out the biggest chunk out of my environmental footprint. Additionally, - and that is a big one - “the growth in the number of kilometers per passenger is much greater than the reduction in emissions per passenger. In other words, we fly so much that it is hard to keep up with innovations.” [Werij]  The most logical decision to reduce my environmental foot-print therefore would be to fly less, right?

However, despite my good intentions, and my sprouting awareness about other options, I recently ended up booking a charter flight to Italy after all. Reasons, or excuses if you will,

1. I couldn’t find a comprehensive overview of international ‘environmentally friendly’ travel options. The trains that I did find were too expensive or took over twelve hours.
2. On the contrary, finding a good charter flight was basically a routine, I was able to pull up several flight options within minutes.
3.  “It probably doesn’t matter thát much what I do, there are so many people that are way less environmental considerate, I am merely a drop in the ocean,” which turns out to be a stubborn thought for me.

A question that touches the key of the first rationale is if there is a tipping point for making less favorable decisions? Favoring design, comfort, price or quality of a product or service at the expense of other aspects? I guess, in this specific case, for me there was. Apparently, and unfortunately, good intentions do sometimes give way to a good deal.

This has to do with the trade-off: “.. in simple terms, where one thing decreases in order for the other thing to increase.” Especially in sustainability we seem hang on to this perception. We are inclined to believe that we have to give up something to be environmental conscious. For example, many believe that when producing a zero-footprint product you will end up with higher production costs or have to give in on design or quality. 

However, I truly believe that when fully integrating sustainability in your life or business, you will sure find a way to adhere to high sustainability standards without giving in on other aspects.

I believe that an integral approach to sustainability will redeem the trade-off irrelevant. To understand why, the difference between maximizing and satisficing decision-making is worth mentioning. In decision-making theory, satisficing refers to decision-makers who “.. select the first option that meets a given need rather than the "optimal" solution.” On the contrary, maximizing refers to a decision-making style “.. characterized by seeking the best option through an exhaustive search through alternatives, therewith also incorporating more dimensions than the minimum requirements.” In my case, I clearly acted ‘satisficing’, going for the first travel option that was both cheap and fast. 

I told my colleague about what happened, and he justly challenged me on this. He asked me if I had tried to change my perception about the act of travel itself? He suggested to place environmental costs, the feeling of ‘guilt-free travel’ and the actual experience of traveling (because, let’s be honest: who enjoys being crammed for two hour on a budget airplane?) above the importance of time and money, or at least on equal footing. He thereby takes a multi-dimensional approach to his decision making, trying to incorporate more dimensions than only time and money, therewith maximizing his perception on sustainability.

In the second place, and related to the trade-off, it is worth looking at the notion of Pareto optimality. This concerns a state of allocation of resources from which it is impossible to reallocate, so as to make any one individual or preference criterion better off without making at least one individual or preference criterion worse off. 

This implies that to book progress in one dimension, you will be less successful in another. However, I believe that this notion is only true in a static and unchangeable context. One without innovation.

If you start to abandon the notion of the trade-off, but really integrate sustainability in your way of living, working and way of doing business, you will automatically challenge yourself to be more resourceful in maximizing and incorporating sustainability. 

Additionally, it seems we have a long way to go before we reach a maximized state of Pareto optimality, a state in which innovation and evolution have reached their limits. 

One could even argue that, with the current pace of innovation, we are looking into a future with an unlimited potential for growth and development.

So for now, with innovation on our side, this Pareto optimality can be increasingly stretched and increasingly pushed further, which makes it unnecessary to worry about the trade-off. There is no need to believe that we have to give up on efficiency, design or profit in order to be truly sustainable. We simply don’t live in a fixed and static world. Therefore, I believe that fully integrating sustainability in your business is possible by tapping into the right types of innovation methods. And, if done correctly, your total impact could skyrocket. Then, and only then, you can make your lifestyle and your company truly future-proof!

But how can we break with our previous habits? 

And how can we adhere to an integrative approach to sustainable change, and sustainable innovation? Hang in there, I am just about to explain that one now. Because that is exactly why the second dimension is worth mentioning in this context: the perception we have about our own actions, and the deflation of their importance. 

This is related to a concept called ‘Ethical Dissonance’. “Ethical Dissonance arises from the inconsistency between the aspiration to uphold a moral self-image and the temptation to profit from unethical behavior. [..] Ethical dissonance involves the breach of absolute criteria of right and wrong.”  Breaking with our own belief systems can a negative experience and in some cases even shameful. Therefore, our brains came up with a hand full of different tricks to cope with or even justify our moral wrongdoing.

White lies are a clear example of such ethical dissonance. We justify lying because we believe (or tell ourselves) that lying will benefit the other person more than the truth.

Two other examples, which I both used to justify my decision:

1. Justifying immoral behavior as a means to an end, ‘because I really need to travel from point a to b, and the fast international trains take too long and don’t fit in my budget’.

2. Distancing yourself from the violation by deflating the importance of your own actions, by pointing to other people’s wrongdoing; ‘it probably doesn’t matter thát much what I do, there are so many people that are way less environmental considerate’.

Well played, dear brains, well played! If you are unaware of these little tricks your sub-conscious brain pulls to justify their routine decisions, changing your habits will be a pretty tough nut to crack. But what if you could use those tricks in favor of your own morale? Use them to empower you to break with old perceptions, and really make progress towards true sustainability?

This brings me to the third dimension, which is the fact that booking a flight was such a routine for me. We will come back shortly to the fact that changing my habit was discouraged due to a lack of readily available information and alternatives, since that is a completely different aspect. However, the answer to how you could change your habits is one that is well within your own power.

Since habits are run from the parts of the brain that we do not have conscious control over,the key to changing a habit is to draw a particular act to your conscious decision-making. A good place to start is to change your routine radically. If you break cued sequences, you interrupt your habit and as a matter of course you have to think about another approach to the situation.

For example, in my case it could work to block all the flight brokers on my browser, so when I search for a flight, I am unable to reach the website. Boom! I am conscious about the situation, and can actively consider sustainable alternatives. Another great example, I recently heard about an architect that designed two brightly colored chairs for the board room of a company. A green one, and a blue one. The people that sat in those chairs were challenged to represent the interests of either the planet (green) or its people (blue) du. This actively triggered that particular board to consider alternative dimensions than the company’s interest (e.g. branding, profits and margins).

If you put in place tricks like that, the ‘active’ and ‘conscious’ part of your brains are involved, and only then you are able to actively consider the full range of options besides your routine decisions. Consequently, you will be more conscious about your decision, which will empower you to actively take control over your decision-making. This allows you to break with old perceptions. If I could make a suggestion, breaking with the perception of the trade-off could be a nice place to start.

In addition, after you sparked your consciousness, I want to invite all of you to take on a multi-dimensional approach to decision-making and challenge the maximizer in yourself. Don’t settle for the first option that meets your wishes. Try a multi-dimensional approach, and weigh in the factors of sustainability, and even the ‘guilt-free’ experience as you will, to battle your established perceptions such as the trade-off. 

You will be surprised how much impact you can make, especially if you combine alternative resources, innovation, and out of the box ideas, while letting go of your prepossessions.

Lastly, it is crucial we all stop underestimating the impact a single individual can make. You sure are a drop in the ocean. But a drop can cause a ripple which, in the end, could lead to tremendous waves of change. This brings me back to the fact that, unfortunately, in some cases it is hard to follow up on your good intentions due to a lack of sustainable options. We could, collectively, tackle this problem in two ways.

On the one hand, consumers could spark a bottom-up change, to which some refer to as ‘innovation by demand’. In that case, consumers could motivate suppliers to create a sustainable alternative. When there is demand, supply will follow.

On the other hand, suppliers could take a lead in transitioning towards sustainability, by a top down approach towards sustainable innovation. Let’s be honest, which option do you think a consumer would pick, if the zero-footprint option is as convenient, cheap and easily accessible as the highly polluting alternative? Wouldn't it be amazing to make sustainable choices such a no-brainer for your customers?

Aspiring to become this year’s most sustainable business, and taking the lead in sustainable innovation like one of the 25 companies nominated by Forbes in 2018? I am highly motivated to build a true future-proof society, and I especially believe that businesses should and could take a lead in this transition. Therefore, if you want to have an open conversation about what step you could take towards making your business truly future-proof, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Posted by
Emma van der Meulen
On
March 4, 2019