Ecological transformation: what are the courageous conversations we dare not have?

Authors: Armelle Stoltz, Andra Morosi et Emmanuelle Aoustin

“Ecological transformation: what are the courageous conversations we dare not have?” On February 9, 2023, Seedlings begins its cycle of Courageous Conversations by opening a space for reflection around the courage needed to initiate authentic conversations within companies, to dare to name what needs to be, and open a real dialogue on the change that’s needed to meet the challenges of the systemic crisis we are facing.

Why speak of courage? The ecological transition requires real transformation, and the scale of the change to be made is massive. No courage, no transformation! Courage puts us into action and allows us to overcome obstacles and accomplish great things.

However, despite the scientific evidence of a tipping point and the urgency to act, what we see is lukewarm actions, unambitious CSR strategies, "compliance" approaches, or declarations not followed by facts... Why is that? Well, it’s because we are afraid… Neurosciences tell us that, when facing a new situation, or one in which we perceive danger, our brain goes in a state of fear: our emotional brain lets itself be carried away by this perception of danger and short-circuits the neocortex where our reason sits, preventing it from thinking and taking a step back. This mechanism prevents us from reasoning and acting rationally.

Fear of uncertainty, fear of not being able to master or control, fear of upsetting our operating methods and our ways of thinking (challenging the business model for example), fear of reactions (those of shareholders or of the parent company, those of colleagues, etc.), or fear of not knowing how to manage such a gigantic project. We are afraid, and it must be said! Because naming our fears is precisely having the courage to say things out loud.

“Courage is a mean with regard to fear and confidence” - Aristotle

Something else that hinders our rationality and prevents change : biases. They slow us down when we should speed up : the loyalty bias to the organization that feeds me and gives me a professional career prevents me from engaging in an uncomfortable conversation; the bias of ego and self-centering that enhances individualism and hinders the appreciation of the common good and of something greater than oneself; the group bias or “crowd pressure”, for example in a leadership team where we “side with the majority”, thus preventing the sharing of singular points of view; or the invulnerability bias that makes us think that our business will not be impacted.

However, as researcher and author Brené Brown shares, to transcend these obstacles, we need to show our vulnerability and imperfections ( i.e. show up as humans !), to let our convictions guide us, to accept being destabilized, to tame discomfort, to open our hearts and express our doubts.

What if feeling discomfort was indeed the sign of actually being in a courageous conversation?

Let’s take the example of this leader who spoke in front of his Leadership Team: “We are facing a real impasse. I do not have the solution and I feel worried about what is happening to us. But I have no doubt that together we will find the solutions.” In business, daring to be vulnerable on questions related to the ecological transition means making it a central and urgent issue, accepting that we don’t have all the answers, and daring to open the debate with all the stakeholders.

Might there not also be taboo words in "corporate communication"? Yet, the choice of words is important to express oneself and to be heard. What if we dared to say the words “degrowth” (and not “sustainable growth”), “renunciation” (and not “frugality” or “sobriety”) or even “radicality” (in the sense of going to root)? To have a courageous conversation is to wipe the slate clean of approximations, euphemisms and political correctness.

Speaking the truth is also "speaking with one's guts", being aligned with one's values and affirming what lives inside us, supported by our convictions and guided by a higher interest, the ecological transition. Let’s connect to meaning, it's a stake for courage.

As a matter of fact, daring to have courageous conversations might be an essential quality to activate the new leadership that’s needed for the ecological transition: questioning what already exists, opening the way for transformation with humility and determination, and without knowing everything that will emerge, letting go of control, rethinking the vision and redefining the regenerative trajectory.

In resonance to this, the participants openly shared what is holding us back from engaging in a courageous conversation on the ecological transition. It may be related to a question of legitimacy, to our own fear of rejection, to fear of being denigrated, or even to a sense of risk-taking as an employee of the company. We also sometimes face obstacles from our interlocutors, bad faith, or the power of traditions when we are told “we have always done it like this!”. There may even be an impossibility of dialogue because, as one of the participants summed it up well, “it takes two to dialogue”! It’s sometimes the complexity and magnitude of the task that paralyzes us: where to start? what are the priorities?

And what mobilizes us? Our deep convictions, the urgency, the love for the planet, “my grandchildren and the responsibility/the care to leave them a livable world”, the collective energy and the need to move forward together, “hearts united!

  • Symbiosis, this association between at least two living beings, often of different species, and which means that they can no longer live without each other, such as the sea snail and the sea anemone. This beneficial cooperation also requires giving up some specificity and freedom. What does it say about our rather individualistic and competitive culture? What does it say on daring to be transformed and enriched by others?
  • Living systems have integrated death into the cycle of life. So for us, what about daring to let go of our beliefs, our systems of thought, our business models, or our economic systems? The biosphere is a limited space and we are interdependent: we will never be able to find solutions if we do not consider the planetary boundaries and the principles of good management of the house (the word economy comes from the Greek “oikos” the house and “ nomos” law or rule);
  • Living systems organize distributed abundance. By consuming and impacting its ecosystem, a species creates co-products for other species: habitats, food, ecosystem services that sustain life. What is the inspiration for us? Thinking beyond reducing our impacts and exploring regeneration!

In this space of profound exchanges, the participants share their questions, their ideas and their impulses:

“I am developing my judgment to sense the right moment, the right circumstances.”

“Daring to debate and confront one's ideas is daring to be vulnerable and agreeing to change one's point of view : am I capable of sufficient openness to listen to the other and give him/her the right to think differently?

“Radicality is an interesting axis: daring to question how profound the transformation is”

“I find it interesting to start with “do you want a courageous conversation?” Asking permission to have courageous conversations is a very beautiful intention; yet companies that destroy the environment do not ask permission from anyone…”

" What about myself? What if I dared to ask myself what I am ready to change inside to build the world which I aspire to?"

The Courageous Conversations take place every second Thursday of the month, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. CET, and alternately in French and English every other month. Learn more about Courageous Conversations here, you'll find articles about past events and registration links for future ones.

A big thank you for this very good moment and these thoughts! Thank you for opening up the field of possibilities! Thank you for this space and your courage to bring these topics to the table! Thank you for this conversation which makes me want to go further in my commitment!