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How to Launch a National Dialogue on Sustainability

Business can help citizens become informed, inspired, and engaged in a national dialogue about sustainability.

Last year, NBS’s Leadership Council asked: How can businesses help Canadians become informed, inspired, and engaged in a national dialogue about sustainability?

“Canada succeeded in making recycling an accepted norm in the home in the late 1990s,” said Debbie Baxter, Chief Sustainability Officer of LoyaltyOne. “What are the tools we can use and the leaders we can engage to ignite people’s commitment to cycling, carpooling or responsible consumption?”

This month, NBS will release new resources that answer this question. The resources describe civic dialogue, a way to build broad-based agreement and commitment around complex and controversial issues. Civic dialogues have been used to set priorities for national-level agendas on issues such as energy (e.g. the Dutch National Environmental Policy Plans), and to address issues at regional and local levels (e.g. Canada’s Alberta Climate Dialogue).

Businesses can achieve broad sustainability goals by participating in civic dialogue. Civic dialogues can also help businesses understand customers, build brand and market and change the rules of the game.

NBS’s resources, authored by Dr. Thomas Webler, describe:

  • The value for business

  • Different models of civic dialogue

  • Key steps for effective engagement

  • Different ways companies can be involved, from leading to participating in a dialogue

Figure: Preview of upcoming report on civic dialogue. Drawing by Jennifer Shepherd, Living Tapestries

Movement toward sustainability happens in three stages: awareness, shared understanding and action.

Stage 1: Awareness. People must have some familiarity with and interest in an issue before they will consider becoming more involved.

Stage 2: Shared understanding. Civic dialogue builds shared understanding by developing knowledge about the issue and promoting appreciation of others’ perspectives.

Stage 3: Collective action. Shared understanding enables action, which can take many forms, including multi-stakeholder partnerships, social movements, voluntary agreements and government action.

NBS’s civic dialogue resources will be released in March 2014.

Cobb, R.W., & Elder, C.D. 1972. Participation in American politics: The dynamics of agenda-building. Allyn and Bacon: Boston, U.S.

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  • Maya Fischhoff

    Maya Fischhoff is the Knowledge Manager for the Network for Business Sustainability. She has worked at NBS since 2012. She has a PhD in environmental psychology from the University of Michigan and has worked for government, business, and non-profits. She also covered the celebrity beat on her college newspaper. Working for NBS allows her to combine her passions for sustainability, research, and journalism.

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