May 1, 2008
One recent morning, I had an interesting dialogue with my 8-year-old son before taking him to school. We were completing a homework assignment, which involved reading a story to a parent prior to reading it in class. It was an excerpt from a McGraw-Hill reading textbook that discussed endangered plant species.
Everything went well until we got to the following paragraph: “Plants disappear when humans destroy the places where plants live. This problem can happen when people build new roads, factories, or homes. Plants and trees can also disappear as land is cleared for other uses.” Hmm.
Not one to let that kind of statement pass, I asked him, “Do you think this means that people shouldn’t build new roads, factories, or homes?” He pondered that question for a minute and said, “No, people have to live somewhere don’t they?” Mission accomplished.
What struck me about this dialogue was the fact that at the tender age of 8, my adorable little boy was being programmed to view issues in a certain way. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in keeping the planet intact for future generations. Our family draws posters for the local Earth Day contest. My kids help sort trash into the recycling bins. They know we use strangely shaped light bulbs to be more energy efficient and that Mom and Dad are debating whether the next family car will be a hybrid. I want my children to value the environment and am more than happy to start them on that path. I’m just a fan of telling the whole story — not just a single chapter.
What worked during this simple morning conversation holds true when the roles are reversed. As we engage stakeholders in conversations about the aggregates industry and sustainability, we benefit from hearing dissenting opinions and embedding those concerns into our own views.
While I researched this month’s feature on sustainability, I came across one brave company that invited the very man who successfully battled permitting for one of its sites to sit on its sustainability panel. After discussing the invitation with his NIMBY peers, he took the company up on its offer, attended panel meetings, and even made a presentation to the group.
What was the outcome of this olive branch? On his Web site, the gentleman noted that while he went into the process with a certain degree of skepticism, he was duly impressed with the company’s efforts to reduce its carbon dioxide footprint and admitted during his presentation that a company cannot be blamed for producing materials the public demands. Blogging back to his peers, he reported: “I came away convinced that we need to keep pressure up on such corporations, but that there are many people within them who want us to do this, and who actually rely on us to help hold their ethical polices in place.”
Sounds like the beginnings of a mutually respectful relationship, and that’s a goal for which we all strive.
Now, I can’t wait to hear what my second-grader’s teacher thinks of his classroom discussion.