Welcome to the very first edition of Green Stories. We’ll be looking at people who are making a difference in the environmental space, profiling their views and discussing their work.
First up is Vince Schutt, founder of Enviromentum. He’s a data geek and focuses on helping people adopt environmentally responsible behaviours through motivational interviews. This is part 1 of a multi-part interview and we’re talking about Vince’s personal journey and his deep appreciation for data literacy.
The data in a McDonald’s drive-through
Akhil: Let’s talk quickly about your own journey Vincent. When I speak to you it’s quite obvious that you’re a data-centric guy. How did you nurture that? Do you have a data science background?
Vincent: I’ve always been data oriented. I just have an analytical mind. Even when I got my first job at drive-through in McDonalds when I was 18, I was focused on optimization. I kept thinking, if you don’t have enough meat stored up in the cabinet, then what you’re looking at is you have to pull all the meat down, you got to dress up the sandwiches, and wrap them up. If you don’t have the meat pre-prepared, you could never ever accomplish all this in a 90 second drive-through. That was me as an 18 year old.
I have an analytical mind who could see the numbers within the people. At the same time, I have always been a bit of a trainer. I understand human cognitive factors in an innate level.
Enviromentum has been delivering programs focused on environmental education and outreach since 2015. Their work helps Canadians find their own motivations for Environmental Stewardship, and feel confident in their ability to share their successes with their networks.
They apply proven techniques from behavioural change science to motivate people to adopt environmentally responsible behaviours. Drawing from the health sciences, they have built programming drawing from evidence-based interventions like Normative Feedback and Motivational Interviewing.
A capable Homer Simpson
How did you start off in data sciences? Did you do your undergrad in it?
No. I took a lot of different college courses. Like many people, I was young and immature and I really wasn’t ready for college. So I ended up joining the US Navy. They brought me on as a nuclear reactor operator. I was a new electronics technician on submarines, based out of Pearl Harbor. The experience got me even more data oriented. Because there’s a way to operate the reactor plant that’s safe and a way that’s not safe. Those things are governed by data. A big element of nuclear reactor protection is me sitting in a chair watching it. Without me sitting in a chair, there’s no way you can demonstrate the reactor is protected.
You were a capable Homer Simpson.
Yes! In fact, the creator of the Simpsons, Matt Groening, did the exact same job I did in the military. So, Homer’s job is almost autobiographical for him.
Vince is a Co-founder of Enviromentum and an experienced sustainability consultant, trainer, facilitator, and “science guy”. Vince has Bachelors of Science in nuclear engineering technology and a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in consulting. He is trained in Motivational Interviewing, and has conducted Climate Conversations™ with hundreds of young people. Vince has also provided skills training workshops for hundreds of environmental activators in the United States and Canada. His areas of expertise include: root-cause analysis, behavioural change science, human factors and sustainability, metrics and evaluation, and workshop design.
Lies, damned lies, and statistics
So now you’re in a space where you’re combining all your training, analytical mindset and knowledge. What was fascinating for me was what you said when we met last time on how companies present data depending on their own angle and agenda. What’s a good example, and what’s a bad example of how green info is presented right now for you?
The first thing I would say is “there’s lies, damned lies, and statistics.” That’s really the starting place. We have to realise that numbers can be manipulated so easily. One of the most valuable things that we have to protect us from a false world view is our existing world view. That becomes a bit problematic when someone doesn’t have a highly developed sense of critical literacy or a highly developed gut check or understanding of their world view. This becomes one of the biggest challenges that you have.
I can say these following statements, and both are true:
- Natural gas is the fastest growing energy source.
- Renewable energy is the fastest growing energy source.
Now, both the statements are accurate. How is this possible? Well, the answer becomes how do you determine growth? One is the fastest growing in the number of megawatts being added to the grid (natural gas) and the other in the percentage of growth in terms of megawatts added to the grid (renewables). Both statements are being used for public campaigns, and both are taking the numbers and twisting them to create something to say when I’m growing, I’m supposed to be growing so you should buy more. So, invest in renewables/natural gas because it’s the fastest growing.
In other words, the numbers should be understood along with the why.
Find Part 2 of the interview here!