Let’s Look at Work Is Working with the Environment

February 8, 2017

Gigi Burke

Before you read this article, please take a moment to answer these questions: What is the biggest problem with environmental sustainability? What possibilities exist for environmental sustainability that we have not thought of yet? What did you notice about your feelings or thoughts as you answered these questions? Keep this in mind as you read the rest of this article.

We experience a range of feelings and thoughts regarding the environment. These lead to technological inventions, policy development, and behavioral change solutions to address environmental sustainability challenges. Behavioral change is the most difficult of the three solutions to design and implement because human nature is dynamic and complex. Essentially, environmental sustainability is a human behavioral issue. According to Lillah and Viviers (2014), consideration for the environment has become an important aspect of our existence. Therefore, examining how we work through issues offers powerful insights into developing behavioral change initiatives.

Efforts to change human behavior are based on a problem-solving approach. Problem solving involves identifying the problem, diagnosing the problem, and finding a solution(s). This sounds reasonable, but approaching challenges from a problem-solving perspective shines the spotlight only on what is broken. It follows mechanistic, linear process, which according to Andrew Tarvin can be misleading since not all problems follow a linear sequence. Further, the problem-solving approach assumes that each stage in the sequence must be completed before proceeding to the next stage. This can exacerbate the problem or in some cases lead to creating problems. In addition, it can also engender negative emotions, limit our thinking, and cause us to take adverse actions—all of which impacts our capacity for generating creative, positive, and sustainable solutions.

Appreciative inquiry offers another approach for generating solutions to environmental challenges. It is a change-management approach used in organizational development initiatives. It focuses on identifying what works well, examines why it works well, and seeks to do more of it. Bringing together the two terms to appreciate and to inquire, it is the systemic discovery of what gives life to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most capable in human, economic, and ecological aspects.

It is grounded in asking powerful questions designed to open our hearts and minds to innovative possibilities. This is known as the AI-4-D Cycle of discovery, dream, design, and destiny. The discovery phase seeks to identify and appreciate the best of what is. The dream phase involves using our imagination to envision a better future. Design, the third phase of the cycle, looks at what needs to happen to achieve the vision set forth in the dream phase. Finally, the destiny phase implements the new image(s) of the future.

This strength-based approach to addressing issues and implementing solutions can give appreciative inquiry a Pollyanna perception that appears to ignore the bad and the ugly. It can also be difficult to grasp because it is counterintuitive to Western culture, which privileges rational process for identifying and solving challenges (Zolno 2002). Rather, it opens us up to other means of understanding of what is yet possible (Zolno 2002). This untapped potential can help us produce transformative and sustainable behavioral change.

As you have guessed by now, the first question looks at environmental sustainability from a problem-solving approach and the second question from an appreciative inquiry approach. In looking back at the questions asked at the beginning of the article, what do you now notice about your feelings, thoughts, and ability to generate solutions to environmental sustainability? I invite you to further explore what is working well in the environment, why it is working well, and how you can do more of it through the power of appreciative inquiry to make the world a better place.

Dr. Gigi Burke
is a Coach, Consultant, and Researcher who helps leaders learn to use emotional intelligence to be healthier and more effective in their work lives. She is also passionate about environmental health and sustainability and has worked with environmental organizations to strengthen their leadership capability and advocacy training. She can be contacted at gigi@gigiburke.com.


Lillah, Riyaadh, and Suzette Viviers. 2014. “Does Business Education Cultivate Environmental Citizenship?” African Journal of Business Ethics 8 (1): 5–28. doi:10.15249/8-1-14.

Zolno, Sherene. 2002. “Appreciative Inquiry: New Thinking at Work.” In The 2002 Annual: Developing Human Resources, ed. E. Biech, San Diego: Pfeiffer and Co. https://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/uploads/AI-New%20Thinking%20at%20Work.pdf (accessed 6 February 2017).

Cite as: 
Burke, Gigi. 2017. “Let’s Look at Work Is Working with the Environment.” EnviroSociety, 8 February. www.envirosociety.org/lets-look-at-work-is-working-with-the-environment.

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