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2.4 We Must Reframe the Issue

Societal discourses influence how individuals think about environmental issues because they create frames for us. Frames are unconscious structures in our brains that include semantic roles, relations between roles, and relations to other frames (Lakoff 2010). Frames are “schemata of interpretation that help actors reduce sociocultural complexity in order to perceive, interpret and act in ways that are socially efficacious” (Goffman 1974, p. 21). These structures are physically realized in neural circuits in our brain. What this means is that when we hear a certain word, that word opens up an entire set of related ideas and the relationship between ideas, as well as often directly connecting to the emotional regions of our brain. A for-profit organizational frame might include top management, employees, goals, quarterly profits, products, and stockholders. So, given this frame, when we hear goals, this might lead us to think in terms of quarterly profits, and if there are limited profits, this may stimulate emotional stress for those charged with showing profits. Sustainability is a powerful framing word because it opens up a set of connected frames.

People trained in public policy, science, economics, and law often appear to believe that if you just tell people the facts, they will reason through to the right conclusion, but if the facts don't make sense in terms of the listeners' frames, they will be ignored (Lakoff 2010). Complex facts must be communicated strategically in order to activate frames people understand. It is through shared frames that thinking takes place, coordinated discussions can occur, and problems can be addressed. These shared frames define what is or is not an appropriate action. But with the impending climate and resource threats we face, few people have a system of cognitive frames in place that will help them take action. If a hearer doesn't have a frame in place, communicators must carefully build up those frames. Some new frames are being built such as the regulated commons (e.g., cap-and-trade efforts, carbon offset credits) and the economics of well-being (e.g., the happiness index).

What we need is a reframing of the human–organization–environment interface. We need a new vocabulary and series of discourses spoken by a complex array of actors, including governments, local authorities and communities, citizens, corporations, and those who speak on behalf of nature. This is climate communication in the global public sphere (Bortree 2011). Symbolic systems (e.g., language) play a major role in the maintenance and change of social order. Frames can be charged by critical communities and social movements that create and advocate for alternative field frames (Brulle 2010). Critical communities are small groups of critical thinkers who help each other develop a set of cultural values different from the larger society. These alternative frames allow us to analyze problems differently, offer different solutions, and can create an alternative map for action around which individuals can mobilize. Social movements spread alternative frames and seek to generate political pressure to implement institutional changes based on the alternative worldview they support. For example, Al Gore's 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, helped shift the public perception of climate change. Public awareness resulted in pressure on corporations since they were portrayed as a key cause of climate change and environmental problems (Walker and Wan 2012).

Working to Reframe the Issue: Protect Our Winters, the Green Sports Alliance, and the NRDC With the support of his management team, Auden Schendler at Aspen/Snowmass worked to help create a movement in 2007 around Protect Our Winters (POW). He said:

What we are doing mostly focuses around the work to protect our winters where we are trying to say, 'Here is a constituency that could be the core of a social movement. It is 21 million people who are avid, engaged, influential, sometimes famous, often wealthy, that could become the core of a social movement on climate. So we are working very hard on that effort and engaging others for support, not just individuals but corporations, brands, trade groups—that is the big push.

Justin Zeulner and the Portland Trail Blazers were active in helping create the Green Sports Alliance. Justin suggested I interview Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist with the NRDC. These three men are among the many who are working to spark new discussions and actions around the organization–environment interface. Allen told me:

There has been a cultural shift that is ongoing. The objective of my work is to instigate a cultural shift in expectations and behaviors as it concerns our relationship to the planet. We need a cultural shift in the way that people think about their relationship to the planet. That's why I am working with sports, for example, or the entertainment industry, with cultural elites. That is the most important thing we can do—get a cultural shift in the way people think about the planet.

Allen had been working with the sports industry since 2004 and that work appears to be paying off. In the NRDC report Game Changer: How the Sports Industry Is Saving the Environment (Henly et al. 2012), the authors describe how all the professional sports league commissioners have made commitments to environmental stewardship and are actively encouraging their league teams to incorporate sustainability-related measures into their operations. In 2013, 15 professional North American stadiums or arenas had achieved LEED green building design certifications, 18 had installed onsite solar arrays, and almost all had or were developing recycling and/or composting programs. Of the 126 professional sports teams, 38 had shifted to using some renewable energy, and 68 had energy efficiency programs. All of the large sports concessionaires had developed environmentally preferable menus for at least some of their offerings. All Jewel events, including the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NBA Playoffs and Finals, the MLS Cup, the US Open Tennis Championships, and all of the league All-Star Games, had incorporated greening initiatives into their planning and operations. All leagues were educating their fans about environmental issues, especially recycling and the need to reduce energy and water use. League efforts had resulted in millions of pounds of carbon emissions being avoided, millions of gallons of water being saved, and millions of pounds of paper products shifted toward recycled content or eliminated altogether. In light of this activity, it was interesting to read Ciletti et al.'s (2010) investigation of how 126 professional sports teams across four different leagues communicate about sustainability on their websites. Most downplay economic issues and highlight social issues. Although some teams communicate about sustainability on their website, others do not, and communication about environmental factors varied by league. Speaking of sports, Allen told me:

These are the mainstream cultural arbiters of our society. Sports is a trusted network. It provides a trusted network where people have refuge from political debates. The (playing) court says yes climate change is happening and it is real and we have to do something about it. That information is not offered in a political context but more from the context of a trusted network—sports, non-partisan, non-political. Overall, 13 % of Americans follow science, 63 % follow sports. And it is not Democrat or Republican, it is not male or female, or Black or White. You know it is everybody. So you have professional sports doing things that address global climate change and biodiversity loss and water scarcity and recycling. The change is in the best interest of the marketplace. The things that the environmental community have been asking for so long that now are becoming mainstream.

 
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