Three Tips for Effective Sustainability Conversations

Sharon Ede
2 min readJan 6, 2024

originally published 2 February 2012

Have you ever had a conversation about sustainability and found that people tend to get angry, dismissive, argumentative or go into denial?

Global Footprint Network, whose work involves communicating the often hotly-contentious topic of ecological limits and what this means, developed these guidelines, based on the work of Marshall Rosenberg’s ‘Nonviolent Communication’.

Why not try these tips for effectively starting and maintaining a conversation on these issues?

#1 — Start A Conversation

Tell the person about your worry and ask for their advice:

‘I wonder what I can do about…what’s your advice?’ ‘What would it take for us to…’ ‘What makes it so hard to talk about…?


People are honoured to give advice if the question is sincere. Making the issue personal is more genuine and interesting.

Pre-empting fears reduces potential resistance, and breaks the confrontation by making the person you are speaking with part of your team. Focus on the heart — what people are feeling and needing — rather than getting caught up in analyses, diagnoses and judgments.

#2 — Keep Conversation Alive By Avoiding Conversation Stoppers

Avoid Why? which moves people into the defensive. Instead ask ‘can you explain to me how you got to this conclusion?

Avoid No! instead say ‘how does this connect to (your idea)?’

Avoid ‘Yes, but…’ instead use ‘yes, and…’ or say ‘yes I hear you say…and at the same time I observe…’

Never hear judgments, just needs and feelings.


Using ‘why?’, ‘no!’ and ‘yes, but…’ negates, judges and moves the conversation into an inquisition or cross-examination mode. Agreeing or disagreeing brings you back into judgment mode. Reflect back what the person you are speaking to says, so they know they have been heard.

#3 — Keep Conversation Alive By Intensifying Conversation

Enjoy listening: ‘That’s interesting, can you tell me more?’ Ask for examples.

When people challenge you, hear it as an unmet need and answer accordingly.

You can show compassion if you try more to understand than to be understood.


Conversation intensifiers affirm your interest, and encourages and welcomes the contribution of the person with whom you are speaking.

Do you use any of these techniques in your communication approaches? Have they made conversations unfold differently?



Sharon Ede

Regenerative Cities Activist | Circular Economy Catalyst | South Australian Government | Award Winning Author | |