Illuminating the Climate Era Mindset

Anna Triponel

December 8, 2023
Our key takeaway: Human action is critical to any climate action ahead. What then do we need to do to ensure that people are leveraged as change-makers, as we advance at speed? This is all the more important as people’s confidence and optimism in our ability to address the climate crisis is low. In a study conducted by BEworks, 40% of individuals felt helpless when thinking about climate change, and 51% felt there were so many environmental actions, they didn’t know where to start. The good news is that we know how to proceed to turn this around: the study finds a very strong relationship between optimism on the one hand, and a creative mindset on the other. Therefore: “[c]reativity is a crucial building block of the Climate Era mindset, predicting people’s level of motivation and effort in taking on the climate challenge. Hope can be a catalyst for change.” It so happens that having a creative mindset has multiple benefits that are necessary for climate action: creative thinking leads to (1) future-oriented thinking, (2) open-mindedness, (3) perseverance, and (4) opportunity spotting. Call to action: is your organisation putting in place the measures needed to foster creative mindsets amongst your workers? Three areas to pay attention to: (1) team composition, (2) team dynamics and (3) leadership. The report also discusses the link between creative mindsets and organisations that are actively tackling climate change: individuals with a creative mindset tend to be found in organizations where sustainability is important. Note to companies: retention of creative mindsets is now another reason to prioritise bold climate actions.

BEworks published ‘Propelling Climate Action: Illuminating the Climate Era Mindset’ (November 2023). The report acknowledges that “[u]nderstanding people is key to making the kind of impact needed within organizations, nations, and the world.” Therefore, “[i]nsight into how people think and behave, and how our environment and culture can influence that, will help sustainability experts, design thinkers, policymakers and beyond unlock solutions that propel more impactful climate action.” The study “set out to understand the mindsets of those willing to act, where to find them, and how to empower them in the workplace.” It is based on analysis of responses from 2290 individuals working full time in an office-related job in the United Kingdom, United States, United Arab Emirates and Japan.

  • What do people think about the climate crisis? (1) “People’s confidence and optimism in our ability to address the climate crisis is low.” When thinking about climate change, 40%  of individuals feel helpless, and 51% feel there are so many environmental actions, they don’t know where to start. While countries vary, overall confidence and optimism in humanity’s ability to mitigate the effects of climate change is low. Accordingly, “communications and strategies to take … on [climate change] must be reflective of the specific beliefs within nations to win hearts and minds and engender action from citizens.” The study finds that “[o]ur judgments and decision-making are fundamentally influenced by our emotions and beliefs. Hope and efficacy (our belief in our ability to have a meaningful impact) have been found to be key drivers of pro-environmental behaviors. As such, low confidence and a heightened sense of helplessness may be demotivating.” (2) People believe not enough is being done by corporations, government and citizens. Few people believe their own companies are taking major climate action (29% in the UK, 25% in USA, 8% in Japan and 50% in the UAE). People largely feel that their country’s public policies and efforts are falling short. “People recognize that there is an urgent, collective need for action and believe that no single entity (government, corporations, citizens) holds sole responsibility for what needs to happen. Everyone needs to do more. The challenge with this perspective is one of a diffusion of responsibility. Because everyone needs to do more, there is a risk that people will defer taking action to others.”
  • Who is ready and willing to act? (1) “Creativity is a crucial building block of the Climate Era mindset, predicting people’s level of motivation and effort in taking on the climate challenge. Hope can be a catalyst for change.” The study finds “a strong relationship between optimism and a creative mindset.” Optimism leads to “higher creative self-efficacy; higher creative identity; higher likelihood to engage in creative problem-solving at work; and higher engagement in creative pursuits outside of work.” Creativity is not “restricted to artistic expression such as painting or music or that it is related to only specific departments in an organisation like graphic design or advertising.” “Creativity includes our ability to flexibly and imaginatively approach problems— how we see connections and patterns and identify new possibilities.” A creative mindset leads to (1) future-oriented thinking (being able to anticipate future consequences and plan ahead), (2) open-mindedness (being able to let go or suspend old patterns of thought), (3) perseverance (continuing to do something, even if it is difficult or takes a long time), and (4) opportunity spotting (being sensitive to potential opportunities in their work). These four “attributes will be important in overcoming key barriers to climate action, such as our tendency to prioritize immediate needs and desires over future goals (present bias) and our inclination to stick with how we have always done things (status quo bias).” Therefore, the study finds that “[a] creative mindset will be key to taking on the climate challenge.”
  • What kind of organizational culture fosters a creative mindset? “Our organizational culture can enhance or inhibit our creativity and thus our likelihood of making change. Leaders have a responsibility to foster a culture that enables creative mindsets to thrive.” The study finds that “individuals with a creative mindset were more likely to report working for organizations with a supportive culture.” In addition, “[i]ndividuals with a higher degree of creativity are more inclined to believe that corporations can have a greater impact in addressing climate change.” The study describes five characteristics of organisations that attract and empower creatively-minded individuals: (1) Collaboration between co-workers (willingness to share expertise; help others with work-related challenges); (2) Risk taking (employees and leadership not afraid to take risks); (3) Innovation (employees encouraged to try new things; employees rewarded for creativity and innovation); (4) Supportive hierarchy (process for employees to pitch novel ideas to senior leaders; leaders actively solicit feedback from employees) and (5) Organizational support (time to be creative and explore new work-related challenges; support for new ways of doing things).
  • What actions can leaders take to cultivate a supportive culture? The report delves into three areas to pay attention to: (1) team composition, (2) team dynamics and (3) leadership. When it comes to team composition, this entails “[c]ultivating a team that has a diverse range of backgrounds, perspectives, skills, and identities can lead to more creative and innovative ideas.” When it comes to team dynamics, this entails “[e]nsuring team members experience a strong sense of belonging within the group.” This in turn supports them to take risks and express their uniqueness, thereby leveraging the team’s diversity. This also entails creating dynamic team interactions that strike a balance between being both well-connected and disconnected to spark a wider variety of ideas while ensuring cross-learning and bonding. When it comes to leadership, this entails “creat[ing] psychological safety so that people feel free and comfortable taking risks and are not preoccupied with inhibiting innovative thoughts.”

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