Opinion

How to engage people in building sustainability through empathy?

Timo Järvinen

CEO and co-founder, NayaDaya

14.09.2022

Sustainability is taking responsibility for the effects of one’s own actions – especially the environmental, social and governance aspects. The letters ESG derived from these words are more and more familiar to people in all industries.

However, sustainability should not only be ‘sustainable actions’. Instead, it’s something to which the entire value chain should commit comprehensively. A crucial part of this process is people with their insights, emotions and participation.

If you want to be truly sustainable, you should pay attention to the experiences of your employees and customers. Which things do they consider significant from the sustainability perspective? Are those aspects positive or negative – engaging or disengaging?

Sustainability is not about pleasing people.

To unfold this understanding, you need empathy and the ability to place yourself in the shoes of your employees and customers. Empathy is about identifying emotions and the different viewpoints behind them. Together with data and analytics, empathy is an efficient way not only to understand people but to better target actions and communications.

People may totally ignore things that you believe are sustainable and relevant. In that case, it’s worth considering if those actions are truly required – if they are, you may need to enhance your communications. If people express negative emotions like disappointment, contempt or anger towards something, you should think whether the reasons for such emotions should be fixed or transformed. Or maybe it should be clarified why those actions are necessary even if people don’t like them, to change attitudes and behaviour.

Sustainability is not about pleasing people. Sometimes, we all need to be guided in the right direction. When it comes to sustainability, customers are not always right. Still, it’s arrogant to think that there is no need to listen to people. Sustainability is sharing, participating and learning, making progress and a difference – together. Ignoring people backfires through the loss of employees and customers. Whereas, at best, sustainability is a source of loyalty, competitive edge and growth – a spark for an accelerating positive change and a virtuous circle.

Finland's pavilion at the Dubai Expo

Finland’s pavilion at the 2020 Dubai World Expo resembled a snow-covered Arabic tent. (Photo: Finland Pavilion)

Recently, I have been discussing sustainability with many Finnish companies. Some companies have included it in the core of their strategy, and some are just now taking their first steps. Not many seem to be clearly aware of the nature of sustainability experiences. If you don’t understand those experiences, you do not know your starting point. Even if you have an advanced sustainability strategy, without insight into experiences you don’t know the fullness of your strategy nor to what extent people are engaged in it.

What follows is that it becomes nearly impossible for you to know where to focus your actions and communications to be able to make a difference to people, our planet and your business.

Sustainability is an important element of the whole country brand of Finland. When we explored Finland’s brand at the Dubai World Expo in collaboration with Business Finland, the images that arose the strongest among the people who visited Finland’s pavilion were sustainability, technology, innovations and caring for people.

In Finland, we are developing advanced concepts for sustainability, empathy and science-based data analytics. This knowhow will help companies and organisations worldwide to explore and understand sustainability experiences, promote participation among employees and customers, and build sustainable growth.

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