The Joy of Helping the Environment

What we as leaders can do for the environment and why it creates joy

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BY Joshua Spodek - 01 Mar 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Leaders can help the environment more than anyone, I've come to conclude from countless conversations hosting the Leadership and the Environment podcast.

By environment, I don't only mean global warming. No matter how skeptical anyone is about climate, nobody wants litter on pristine beaches, mercury in their fish, or asthma in their children.

The environmental issues you're used to hearing about--pollution, extinctions, resource depletion, global warming, and so on--are not root problems, but are results. At least that's how my environmental work leads me to see them.

They result from human behavior, which results from our beliefs, motivations, and emotions. Emotions, beliefs, motivations, and behavior are the realm of leadership.

Changing the environment means changing them. If we don't change them, environmental trends will continue. Change them and we may avoid many dire predictions.

Existing beliefs and motivations

Hosting the Leadership and the Environment podcast has led me to countless conversations about people's environmental beliefs and emotions. The most prevalent are

  • "I want to act but if no one else does it won't matter"
  • Guilt

The first belief creates complacency. It's sad. To act against your values, following everyone else is the opposite of leadership.

The second discourages people from even thinking about the issues.

Replacing existing beliefs and motivation with more joyful ones

If acting against your environmental values is the opposite of leadership, people interested in developing as leaders can by acting on their values. With global demand for people to change their environmental behavior, you're bound to succeed.

In other words, environmental leadership today means helping people do what they want. The doing will be hard, but at the highest level, many people want you to lead them in this area.

Leadership is rarely easy, but rarely will you find the odds stacked in your favor for so great a task. Billions of people feel complacent and guilty. We leaders can create meaning and action instead.


For one thing, we can help relieve the guilt. I don't see why anyone should feel guilt for systems past generations created based on beliefs that humans could never affect the Earth on the scale we have.

I can see someone feeling guilty for acting against his or her values, but leaders help people out of such situations. That's our task. Achieving it means helping people act with their values, not in conflict with them.

The environmental task of leaders today

Helping the environment means helping people live by their values.

"By their values" means by what they consider better--as in evaluate. It means helping people create better lives.

For most people change means a period of struggle so our task won't be easy, but the end result will be people living better lives.

There's more to it, but at a high level, I believe the most important task on helping the environment is helping people who care about the environment live better by their standards.

This is servant leadership. It works. When you look at it that way, who doesn't want to help?

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