Students hear from speaker Andy Hoffman

By: Mike Holovak 

Last semester, Duquesne University’s Beard Institute and Sustainable MBA program played host to internationally renowned sustainability expert Andrew Hoffman at Pittsburgh’s historic Duquesne Club. The University and event sponsors Federated Investors and Direct Energy invited Hoffman to speak to several noteworthy Pittsburgh companies about the way people analyze complex issues, specifically through the lens of societal views on climate change.

The speech, entitled “Culture, Ideology and a Social Consensus on Climate Change” was particularly inspired by a talk he had in 2009 with a donor for the University of Michigan, where he is the Holcim Professor of Sustainable Enterprise in both the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Hoffman was under the impression the donor was interested about sustainability, but was taken aback when he was asked, quite bluntly, “Why do you hate capitalism?” After further discussion with the donor, in which Hoffman assured the man that he was indeed not against capitalism, Hoffman realized what led the donor to his assumption.

According to Hoffman, climate change isn’t a pollution issue, but rather a challenge to people’s world views, cultures and belief systems.

“People analyze complex issues by looking at their referent sources,” Hoffman said. “Then they accept the resources they trust and reject ones they do not trust.” Simply put, the donor developed his opinion of Hoffman just from what he heard about sustainability advocates via his trusted news sources and colleagues.

Hoffman, who has published several books and articles on the implications of environmental issues for business, cited several obstacles that one has to overcome to bridge this belief gap, including political ideologies, a trust in the market to solve the issue, and feelings of distrust in scientists and scientific processes.

One example of the variety of world views was offered by sMBA student Rudolph Molero during the Q&A session following Hoffman’s speech. In his native Peru, he referenced a lifestyle called “Pekapu,” in which daily life is intricately linked with the Earth. “Why is there a divorce between humans and the Earth when we are one thing,” Molero asked.

Hoffman believes the best way to overcome cultural differences like this is to find a consensus-based path that moves away from positions and towards interest and values. One must find a common ground with an audience and allow people to accept facts about climate change without violating their beliefs.

While this is no easy task, Hoffman suggested that one should “know their audience” and “ask the right questions,” including “Is CO2 increasing in the atmosphere, and does this lead to global warming?” Additionally, one should focus on “climate brokers” – believers of global climate change that are trusted and have social capital in communities, such as ministers and political leaders.

Much like the discussion between Hoffman and the donor, sometimes the only way to truly enter an honest dialogue is to approach it in a way that asserts logic and facts while understanding that your world view is one of many others. While one may think they may be right, sometimes a discussion is all it takes to get past one’s issues and get to the real issue at hand.

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