How to get more people to act sustainably? Don’t talk about sustainability.

Here’s a very good, clear articulation of how to get more people act in a more sustainable way.

Caroline Fiennes of GlobalCool breaks people into three groups (called Value Modes) based on their broad motivations:

First group. People who care about things that are quite proximate to them.   Their primary concern is the safety and security of myself, family and nation.  Like rules and big into community.

Second group.  Primarily driven by the esteem and respect of others and therefore need to demonstrate their success.  So, big into fashion and social networks.

Third group.  Primarily interested in their intellectual and ethical imprint.  Interested in ideas and others even if they’ve never met them or are never likely to meet them.

So, who does the existing sustainability narrative talk to?  The third group and the third group only, of course.  It’s effectively missing out two-thirds of the population.  Talking about glaciers melting and people on the other side of the world just doesn’t connect those in the other two groups based on what they value.  They don’t really listen.  So, what to do?  She goes onto to give a couple of great examples of health advertising – e.g. communicating that you shouldn’t take Crystal Meth because it ruins your teeth is more appealing for people for whom appearance is important (the second group) than talking about how addictive it is.

Her point, which is obvious but very well made, is that you need to talk to people about what they care about in a way that engages with them as a means to do what you want (the obliquity strategy).  The health people don’t care what they need to say in order to get you to not take Crystal Meth, just that you don’t start taking it.  They’re happy not to talk about health in order to get people to be more healthy.  As she puts it – the important thing isn’t why you act in the way they what you, just that you do act.

Taking this to sustainability  an example of an ‘Accidental Environmentalists’ are kids who want to go to school on their micro-scooters because this is more fun than being in a car.  This has lead to an appreciable drop in car journeys in some areas of London.  You would never say to them that what they are doing is ‘green’.  But it is.

Commercial marketers have known this forever – they never talk about their agenda (we want to make more money) they just talk about your agenda – ‘You want to be popular?  Buy our product’.  And in doing so, we make more money.

She gives a bunch more examples and there’s loads more good stuff on their website, but in summary – to get more people to act sustainably, don’t talk about sustainability.  Simple really.

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4 thoughts on “How to get more people to act sustainably? Don’t talk about sustainability.

  1. scillagrace says:

    Hmm. This strikes me as manipulative. I care about this, you care about that, so I want to trick you into doing something I want by appealing to something you want. Can’t we just be honest and compassionate and appreciate what each other wants? You may be able to manipulate in the short term, e.g. while it’s fun, but then that isn’t sustainable in the long term. In order to appeal to a long term value, you must deal with the understanding of ideas.

    • Manipulative, yes. But then, that’s marketing though. Companies want to grow and they will say what they need to say in order to encourage you to buy. Be it an ipod or a loaf of organic bread. You could say that is being compassionate because you are giving people what they (believe) they want?! But you’re right, this is short termist and isn’t sustainable in the long term. Which is what the WWF Common Cause work is all about.

    • HonoH says:

      1972年,日本著名歷史學家 井上清 Kiyoshi Inoue 寫了 《釣魚島的歷史解析》 一書,該書再版為書名 《釣魚島歷史與主權》。

      在該書中,井上清寫到:

      1971年11月,我初次去冲繩旅行,在那裏收集了許多關于釣魚群島的歷史資料,1972年初,我又利用到西歐旅行的機會,去英國海軍資料館查閱了英國海軍繪制中國南部、臺灣和琉球方面的海圖,航海日志以及探險記錄。

      眾所周知,釣魚群島自明朝以來就是中國的領土 – 井上清寫到日本及琉球在1867年以前實際上沒有一份釣魚群島的歷史文獻。

      與日本及琉球方面正相反,中國有許多關于釣魚群島的文獻資料。

      至少在16世紀中葉,釣魚群島就有了中國名字。如釣魚島、黃毛嶼、赤嶼等等。

      井上清幾乎是在日本有影響力的歷史學家當中唯一一個敢于尊重事實,堅持說釣魚群島屬于中國的 – 這樣絕無僅有的一個例證。

  2. scillagrace says:

    Thank you for the reference to WWF’s strategic work. Addressing the values debate and holding advertisers accountable is a good step, I think. “That’s marketing” seems like a passive stance. Marketing is whatever we allow it to be, whatever we tolerate or respond to. I, for one, think it has become too intrusive, too influential, too powerful a force in this society.

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