What are unconcious biases and why do they matter for sustainability?

A bias is something, that we believe to be true, but in reality it might not be. These biases can relate to our own perception – how we see ourselves and how we think to see ourselves. They can also relate to how we see the world around us in relation to ourselves and how we think to see it relation to ourselves.

Does our own reflection hold true to what we believe is true? Who we think we are , whether what we enjoy, follow or do holds as good or bad? And if not, would rather believe so?

Biases can be harmful, if they lead us to making false ideas or assumptions about ourselves and others, but also if they support prejudices or stereotypes. Think about not “looking young enough” to be a reporter, or too old to try out something that could bring joy to oneself. – You are likely not too old and your qualities as reporter shouldn’t be determined by your age.

Now, we could think about getting rid of biases, but that is more difficult to do, because many of them are hiding in our unconciousness. This means that we are not aware of them, until we are made aware. Freud, the psychoanalyst, believes that most of our unconciousness is repressed and only through disinhibation, one finds what holds most true to themselves or can live a life most concious.

Because most biases are manifested deep within ourselves and thus, our environment, we are more likely to accept our biases, or even support as oppose to change them. – Change and awarness can be scary!

Making us aware of biases is difficult, because it changes the way we view ourselves and others. It can also make life or actions difficult, if awarness in unconcious biases lead to an understanding, that a situation needs to change, while there may be limited resources to do so. Resources can relate to emotional capacity, a support network , but also financial, technical or knwoledge capacity on a firm level. On the other hand, being aware of biases can support better decision making and because of that can help in creating valid opportunities for ourselves, businesses or societies.

What are some example for unconcious biases?

One of the most known biases is the “confirmation-bias“. It relates to a belief that you hold close i.e. believing that the product you bought or produced is sustainable. To confirm that, you are looking for a support network that verifies that. You’d less likely look for critiques, because you want your product to enter the market and stay there. For sustainability innovations, this can be a challange, because the system, in which the innovation is embedded has huge influences on its success or failure. While shoes made from recycled ocean plastic sounds great, plastic continuesly needs to be produced. On another note, an entrepreneur may think that technology only, will save the climate, when literacy in terms of language and technical vocabulary are just as important to run such innovation. Think about how many people in this world still don’t have access to education.

Another bias could be a belief or practice that has been followed for centuries, but does not hold true anymore. An example is the idea of it being normal to work 8-10 hours a day and that part-time work is only for parents or people in need. In reality, part time work can be for everyone. It gives more energy, time to be human and research from Denmark shows that people working 6 hour shifts are just as efficient; They are more happy , more productive and possibly more innovative.

Another bias might be cultural. An example is the perception that one can only find fullfillment in life, if one has a family, including a child and a house. In reality, this does hold not true, families can be diverse and different people can seek different types of fullfillment that holds true to their own beliefs and values. Even single parents can be great foster parents, but the perception still persist that a child needs ” two parents”. A consequence is that many children , who could have a loving “one parent” remain in the foster system.

One may also support a knowledge- bias; believing to know everything or believing that knowledge is fixed and not able to change. Most likely it is because science advances and different people have different forms of knowledge based on experiences, education and other valid factors. While in fact, carbon-neutrality is essential for this the human race to sustain, resolving war and other social conflicts, might as well be just as important.

Why do unconcious biases matter for sustainability?

Sustainability is more then CO2. It’s about a society that thrives, a society that promotes well-being and social justice, a society that can make concious choices and thus, lives to its fullest potential. This is only possible if biases are being made aware of. These biases can relate to businesses that aim at doing good, but may unconciously engage in social or greenwashing. They may also relate to consumers who cannot make accurate choices, because they believe in certain biases. Besides consumer and producer choices, biases can also support discrimination and other mental health discrepancies that can negatively effect the individual and society on short as well as long term.

Why should we be learning more about it?

With more attention and P&R being done around “Sustainability”, other just as important issues such as social injustice, prejudices or discrepancies between the rich and poor are regarded less. Removing more biases, or learning to explore them for ourselves and others, can help to create a society more critical, more prone to change, more likely to work together and more ready to thrive. [Of course it can also help to save governmental and business cost] 😉

Resources

Learnings and inspiration from my own psychoanalysis that follows Freuds method of exploring the unconciousness (and biases).