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5.2.1 Information and Useable Knowledge

Ultimately, if it is to be adopted within a larger social system, people must be aware that the innovation exists. Awareness is part of the knowledge stage of innovation dissemination (Rogers 2003). People become aware through mediated and interpersonal communication channels. Justin Zeulner, former Senior Director of Sustainability and Public Affairs, became aware of what sustainability entailed after coworkers started asking why the Trail Blazers were not more actively recycling, his senior management asked him to learn more about sustainability, and he began attending sustainability summits. Knowledge, interest in learning more, and the perceived importance of adopting the innovation become important during the persuasion and decision stages of the process. Justin explained that as Trail Blazers staff started getting more energized about recycling they began coming to him and saying,

Hey, what are we doing with that? I've got to throw that away but I don't want to throw it away. What do I do with that? So I said, 'I don't know, why don't I find somebody that takes used blinds and builds something else out of them' and it slowly evolved into 'why are we using these cleaning chemicals? Why don't we use greener? Why don't we think about the lighting?' It was so exciting to keep doing all of that and pretty soon I started realizing it was connecting personally to the values that I was raised with. And I started just loving the connection and I started educating myself more and more, going to summits and conferences, meeting great people like Allen Hershkowitz at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and getting a chance to hear about what is really going on globally.

5.2.1.1 Where Employees Learn About Sustainability-Related Issues

In their study of how environmental champions convince and enable organizational members to turn environmental issues into successful programs and innovations, Andersson and Bateman (2000) found champions frequently scan multiple information sources and this active scanning increases the likelihood of a successful championing episode. Attending industry and environmental conferences, reading periodicals, and working with consultants were particularly important information sources. Others gathered resources from national and state environmental groups and from competitors. In one Fortune 100 organization, Craig and Allen (2013) asked those employees who rated themselves as more knowledgeable about sustainability and who perceived their company to be more involved in sustainability initiatives where they became aware of information about sustainability. Professional/industry associations, faith-based institutions, and customers were three important information sources.

I asked my interviewees to identify information sources they turned to when seeking to learn more about sustainability. The Urban Sustainability Directors Network was mentioned by my interviewees from the cities of Fayetteville, AR, and Portland, OR. Small businesses receive information from groups such as WasteCap Nebraska and the Missoula Sustainability Council (see Sect. 3.3.2.3). Paul Hawken's The Ecology of Commerce (1994) set Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface, on a new course. Action Plan: Identify the information sources you use to learn more about sustainability; seek to expand these sources.

An organization's external environment is brimming with sustainability-related information, ambiguity, and uncertainty. Many of our information seeking actions occur to help us create orderliness from a chaotic information environment. As individuals we construct, rearrange, single out, and ignore features of our external environment. Through talk we then modify and transmit this order as we work together to formulate goals, plans, and strategies. The same process occurs when we attempt to manage our intraorganizational information environment. In his sensemaking theory, Karl Weick (1969) identified how organizational members construct meaning, search for patterns, deal with surprises, and interact as they seek a common understanding which allows them to take action, especially in the face of high risk and complex situations (Dervin and Naumer 2009). Three important concepts in sensemaking theory are enactment (we focus on parts of our environment), selection (we decide how to act in the face of ambiguity), and retention (if an action works we retain it). Sensemaking theory provides the theoretical basis for several studies mentioned in this chapter (e.g., Benn et al. 2013; van der Heijden et al. 2012).

 
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