Echo chambers in the sustainability space: it’s time to get out of our bubbles
The space of sustainability overflows with thinkers, opinion leaders, and practitioners. All preaching the way forward. You are probably one of them. One of us.
Everyone wants to have a say, share opinions and accomplishments to influence peers. While the intention is often driven by goodwill, the outcomes very often end up developing an echo chamber.
This article deep dives into what creates these echo chambers. It explores what needs to be done to expand circles beyond the sustainability cosmos.
Belonging to the sexy tribe
I have been talking to hundreds of sustainability practitioners in the past years. This gave me a great perspective on what motivates individuals to make the shift to sustainability-focused positions.
Some are truly committed to the future as being part of their DNA. Another type of people working in the sustainability world is doing so for the status. They are looking for social recognition of their contribution to a “better future”.
In doing so, it reinforces the importance of social validation and recognition from peers. New bees in the space are looking for others to cheer them up. They are looking for the support of more established leaders to help them get the legitimacy they need to build their voice.
By identifying as a “sustainability hero”, these individuals are looking to belong to an emerging class of individuals. They (un)consciously amplify the narrative of the tribe and contribute to growing the circle of the sustainability echo chamber.
Disconnecting from the real world
This tribe of so-called “sustainable leaders” very much operate as a separate entity evolving in a parallel world. When working and acting for a sustainable future, individuals operate alongside peers finding support from those who think alike.
If opinions can differ, the trend is for individuals to evolve in the same direction. This creates a common ground where agreement becomes the main priority. Why challenge perspectives when the common objective is to do good for the world?
This like-minded effect represents a massive limitation for the topic of sustainability to go beyond its borders. It creates a world apart from the masses who are yet to be convinced that sustainability is the priority of our time.
By turning a blind eye to the reality of everyday citizens, we fail at making the exploration inclusive and collective. We create small circles reinforcing biases and creating echo chambers. The intended ripple effects of the message we want to carry to the world are not happening. They get lost in the bubble of our networks and peers.
Going out there to exit bubbles
Everyone wants to connect with like-minded people. But I believe the ultimate goal should be about getting to know other realities. Getting to know what climate change means for people working in the oil industry. Getting to know what equity means for people working in labour-intensive industries.
What if the right answer was actually to go and meet unlike-minded people?
This approach is eye-opening as it brings a wide range of new and unexpected perspectives from the “other side”. It invites us to rethink our narrative, approach, and vision. To challenge our own status quo.
The work that needs to be done is not about convincing the ones already buying in for a thriving future. It is all about building bridges to meet people where they are and bridge them to what the future is calling for.
Convincing a new person that climate change is the issue of our time will always be more powerful than getting approval from peers.
What the world really needs is for us to drop our egos seeking approval and be out there to inspire unlike-minded people to join an open collective. Let’s do it!