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Archive for the ‘Communication Strategies’ Category

It started with a tweet:

tweet_lamarguerite05

Twitter is great that way. I know of no better forum for validating one’s seemingly universal thoughts and feelings. Yesterday, I got seized with a severe case of eco² panic. Eco like green. Eco like economic. Images of CO2 going nuts, and us still not getting our act together, despite almost daily global warming alerts. And the specter of another Great Depression, only worse this time around.

Thank God, Franke was there to tweet back prompto to shake me up good:

tweet_lamarguerite04I must say, I felt a bit ashamed for having given into “defeatism”.  Imagine if all the citizens voiced out their secret despair as I did. That would be the end of it. Even Bill’s chiming in and lecturing Barack, telling him he’s not hopeful enough. Yes, we can. And we shall. Still, I could not let go completely of the reality of my malaise.

tweet_lamarguerite03That was a pretty wishy-washy tweet. I wasn’t even sure where I was going with it. Until Franke’s response:

tweet_lamarguerite01

Thank you, Franke for gifting me, us with your such a wonderful image. Now, whenever I start feeling blue, I will imagine a green window, opening to a new landscape of windmills, and solar farms, and electric cars, and workers going about their green jobs . . .

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I can’t quite remember what the ad was about – but I was struck by the images, and mostly what I felt watching. The outdoors, a person reaching out for a fruit, in a tree. My reaction was, sweet! . . . and boredom. It failed to grab me. I stopped to think, and wondered, is that how I feel, genuinely, with nature imbued narrative, usually? And my response was, yes . . . and maybe others are too?

Contrast this with the excitement from my friend, after he had just come from watching the Waste=Food documentary:

When I heard him talk about the Chinese story, and also Nike’s revolutionary process for making eco-friendly shoes, I wanted to learn more.

In the search for a more sustainable world, we humans may be more impressed by stories of  our own ingeniosity, than nature’s goodness. Technology, creativity, and news seem like a potent recipe for effective green communication, worth using over, and over again. Not so, bucolic scenes, and the romanticization of our natural world.

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McKinsey just released a must read for green marketers. ‘Helping Green Products Grow‘ outlines five steps businesses need to take to sell green products successfully. Most of it is common sense. Still there were a few surprises, most notably in the area of consumers’ awareness of most concrete actions to reduce global warming:

These findings present enormous educational opportunities, not just for green marketers, but also for environmental educators, hoping to make a difference in greenhouse gas emissions. Bloggers, journalists, teachers, environmentalists need to turn up the volume on eating less beef, improving home insulation, and driving more fuel-efficient car, less often. These are all concrete actions that citizens can understand, and that also can help them save money, particularly during these hard economic times.  

Here are the five steps, with selected some highlights:

1. Educate consumers:

Because consumers are largely unaware of green products, a business that sells them must see itself first as an educator, not a sales machine. Our study shows that more than one-third of the consumers who want to help mitigate climate change don’t really know how . . .

2. Build better products:  

Consumers will not think better of green products until companies make them equal to, or better than, their conventional alternatives. It’s no surprise: most people value performance, reliability, and durability much more than ecological soundness. . . .

3. Be honest:

To rebuild public trust, companies must come clean about the true environmental impact of their products and their attempts to reduce it, and many will need to address historical concerns about specific products or operations . . .

4. Offer more:

Companies must ensure that consumers understand the financial and environmental returns on their investment in green products, for they are more willing to try new ones-especially those that cost more-when they find it easy to track the savings . . .

5. Bring products to the people:

Having decided to buy green products, many consumers encounter a last hurdle-finding them-either because manufacturers don’t keep up with demand or advertise where they can be bought, or because wholesalers and retailers don’t stock them or display them prominently. Biofuel enthusiasts, for example, must often drive out of their way to fill up . . .

I will end with my usual rant. Buying green stuff is good as long as it translates in net carbon reduction. Otherwise, we are all better off following the old conservation adage of, ‘reduce, re-use, recycle‘. 

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I have been thinking, a lot, lately, about the difficulties surrounding green communication. And wondering why it has been so hard to engage citizens persuasively on critical issues such as climate change, or biodiversity loss, or deforestation, or the looming water crisis. It is a no brainer that the happy survival of our species depends on a timely resolution of those issues. Yet, we are taking action at snail pace, collectively. It occurred to me that we may be dealing with a problem of confusion of levels. Let’s take climate change for instance. 

While we are all concerned by climate change, the locus of action for that broad problem, does not lie in the individual citizen’s hands, but rather with executive entities that deal with global issues: international organizations such as the U.N., legislative and policy making agencies such as the Senate, and Congress, and the Presidential Cabinet, and environmental watchdogs such as NRDC, or the Sierra Club. 

As a citizen, I cannot control climate change, hence appeals to my conscience, and admonitions to take action, do little other than make me feel guilty, powerless, and frustrated. Instead, I want to be talked to in terms that I can relate to my normal, everyday life. Exercising my rights as a citizen and voting yes on new laws to mitigate climate change, yes. Participating in a New Deal on climate and energy, and joining the green work force, yes. Buying green products at no extra costs, why not? Reducing my energy consumption, to stretch my shrinking budget, absolutely. 

Of course, there are always exceptions. Individuals with a highly developed conscience, who are willing to take on the challenges of the world, and act as beacons of consciousness for the whole. These are a minority, however.  

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I am learning lots from email exchanges amongst our green mom bloggers’ group. This week, the question was raised of how to cast the greening of Thanksgiving under a fresh new way? I latched on to the ‘fresh’ part of the question and voiced that we were past the “10 Tips to a Greener Thanksgiving”. One of the moms disagreed. 

I agree that it’s boring, but I think people still need to hear the basics sometimes.  Repetition might be the only way to help people realize they are capable of making small changes.  It may take years of hearing this stuff for my husband’s family to realize that buying “local” doesn’t mean running out to the nearest Harris Teeter for their prepared turkey and fixings all packaged up in nice little plastic containers!!!

Our exchange highlights a much bigger issue. Three years since the release of “An Inconvenient Truth”, what are the most effective strategies to spread the green message? As green communicators, are we to continue as usual, with our various how-to bits, or are we to adopt radically different approaches?

The advertising people tell us we are to pay attention to the following factors for effective communication:

  1. First is recall, or the ability for people to remember the message
  2. Second is persuasion, or the effectiveness of the message in persuading people to change their behaviors
  3. Third is repetition, the number of time a message is impressed upon people’s minds; we know repetition contributes to recall
At stake in our green discussion, is the issue of persuasion. If we are going to drill a green message into the reluctant citizen’s mind, what should it be? Realizing that the same citizen is currently up to here with worries about his or her financial future. This is why I no longer advocate green admonitions. The way to go in my book, is through the connection with economic concerns. In other words, do not talk green. Instead, explore ways to save, and to survive in our dicey economy.

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Maybe I will change my mind about the “we” campaign?

Their latest “Oil and Coal” ad is getting at the main issue, at last:

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When I wrote about the opportunity to align desired green behaviors with individual needs and wants, this is what I had in mind:

Different people will rank these needs and wants differently. Using myself as an example, the primary motivators for me to bike more, are fun and convenience. If I was in a lower-socio-economic group, where making ends meet was the primary issue, I would probably pick money. If I was a mother of young children, the bonding potential would work best. Etc. 

Seems like a no brainer to me! The question is how come so few green marketers and environmental communicators think along those lines? The last time I read something that made really sense to me, was in Steve Bishop’s article, “Don’t Bother With the Green Consumer“. He uses a bike example as well! :) (I also refer to Steve’s article in a recent post I wrote for the Huffington Post)

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In their new paper, Where does biodiversity go from here? A grim business-as-usual forecast and a hopeful portfolio of partial solutions”, just published today in the Online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Paul Ehrlich and Robert Pringle, two researchers from Stanford University, propose a “hopeful portfolio” of seven strategies, to remedy the global biodiversity crisis. One such strategy involves getting biodiversity onto the cultural radar screen. Here it is – I have highlighted suggested actions -

For decades, conservationists have appealed to aesthetics as a principal reason to conserve wild areas and species. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the 13-billion-plus beholding eyes of the world are drawn to many things that are hostile to biodiversity: large families, tractors, treasure, pavement, goats, and Cadillacs, to name a few. The processes of economic and infrastructural development help to divorce people from the natural world. Moreover, although outdoor recreation and ecotourism are still important parts of many lives in rich countries, biophilic impulses seem increasingly swamped by other stimuli. In the United States, the rise of electronic media has coincided with a 20-year downturn in National Park visitation, after 50 years of steady increase. Recent findings indicate that similar declines in contact with nature are common to developed nations worldwide. Such trends will not be reversed and the biodiversity crisis will not be resolved until nature can rival virtual reality as a source of entertainment, intrigue, and inspiration. Janzen offers a compelling analogy: as books are uninteresting and useless to an illiterate person, so is biodiversity uninteresting and useless to a bioilliterate person. People keep what they use, and increasing bioliteracy would enable more people to find uses for biodiversity. Demand for ecotourism and perceived ‘‘existence values” would increase and, with them, biodiversity sustaining revenues. In a world of stingy appropriations for conservation, we have a wonderful academic literature on how to maximize returns on conservation investments. But we have spent comparatively little effort figuring out ways to create a world of biodiversity fanatics and conservation voters, where conservation resources would presumably flow more freely. The earlier in the developmental process comes exposure to nature, the better the odds of inspiring devotion to biodiversity and its conservation. It is a rare conservationist who did not encounter nature as a child. Every one of us can go to elementary schools to show pictures of animals and plants and tell funny stories about ecology. The teachers will be happy to have us. More ambitious people might think about how to finance and institutionalize school field trips to natural areas. Those of us who work in the tropics can do these things there, too. Clearly, we can also use other strategies. One method is to appropriate the very technologies that are currently enforcing the divide between people and biodiversity. Biodiversity is increasingly on the World Wide Web via projects such as the Encyclopedia of Life and Wikispecies. But we can do more. We can upload science and nature shorts to YouTube and contribute our knowledge to Wikipedia and its offshoots. We can post our lectures online. We can work to add ecological dimensions to online virtual-reality platforms and video games like Second Life, which currently has 10 million registered accounts. These are obvious ideas; many more are possible. There is hope here. Online sales have helped to revitalize classical music which is like biodiversity in that its devotees have long been predicting and lamenting its demise. Some have argued that the key to widespread biodiversity appreciation is the ability to know immediately what is what in nature. Janzen believes that this requires a comprehensive library of DNA barcodes along with a handheld, nanotechnological, field-portable sequencing device. We are hopeful about this dream, as well as any other means of achieving the same end. Profound social transformations are not impossible or ‘‘unrealistic.” Shifts happen. They have happened in our lifetimes. We all know these terms: segregation, Iron Curtain, apartheid. ‘‘Anthropogenic extinction” belongs on that list. More than anything else, the long-term future of biodiversity will be determined by our success or failure in helping to precipitate such an overhaul in popular perceptions of nature and what it means.

My way of getting biodiversity onto the cultural radar screen is to blog here, and on other blogs, and to link back to this post in my comments on other blogs. Also to tweet, and digg, and stumble, as much as I can about the topic. What can you do?

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Why do the efforts of biodiversity groups such as Conservation International receive less attention than climate-change studies, though they are equally crucial? This question from Tom Friedman has been on my mind. After all, I am just as guilty as the rest of my fellow bloggers. I can only remember once writing a post recently about the bees

That biodiversity suffers from a PR image, was confirmed by a November 2007 Gallup Survey, on “Attitudes of Europeans towards the issue of biodiversity”. Published by the European Commission, the survey reveals that, only 35% of Europeans know what biodiversity mean, and most see no immediate personal impact of biodiversity. It also shows a lack of understanding of the causes and consequences of biodiversity. 

How would you fix this problem?

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In my mailbox, this morning, news from my friend Luc Hardy, on his latest expedition in the Artic:

An international coalition of children exploring the high Arctic witnessed firsthand the latest dramatic development of climate change on Tuesday, July 22 as a huge chunk of ice was observed drifting off the Ward Hunt Island main ice shelf, forming two ice islands totaling 20 square kilometers. The children, assembled as The Young Ambassadors of the Arctic, are part of the Global Green USA and Green Cross Pax Arctica ’08 expedition.

I have followed from a distance, all the media reports on the Arctic front. My friend’s mail brings that reality closer to me, somehow. Climate change is no longer some abstract, future notion. It is happening NOW, and I feel moved. Turning global warming into  a personally relevant issue continues to be a challenge.

This morning’s experience with Luc’s email, confirms the power of word of mouth in persuading people:

Something to consider for the “we” and “Together” campaigns . . .

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