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.