Friday, February 12, 2010

How to engage the public and change the world

Lately I have been spending time with iTunes U and UC Davis (University of California) online lectures. I was listening to Tom Bowman who was talking on marketing sustainability and getting real change in how people act. The following stats are from the US, but apply to Canada as we are similar to our southern neighbours.

84% of the population thinks that climate change is bad and 60% are very concerned about it. There is also 11% of the population who doesn’t care about climate change, sustainability, or the environment (Fox News types). Bowman suggested that it’s high time that we stop fighting with this minority and focus on the 30% of the population on the fence. Another interesting fact is that 18% of the population is actively involved with promoting sustainability. This is the third largest group right after pro-life/pro-choice. This next fact is what I found the most interesting.

Bowman said that humans say one thing and do the other. A study looking at environmentalist and neoconservative types found that while they have very different view about the environment, sustainability, and climate change; when it came to action both groups were the same. There is a disconnect between what we say and what we do. On that note, he listed some of the reasons why people aren’t acting on sustainability and climate change including: life is good today, we can’t solve it, change is uncomfortable, it’s confusing, and “I recycle already”.

Many older people think back to the 1970’s fuel crises when they were told that the future would be uncomfortable and unpleasant if they reduced energy use. Today this is not the case. We can live comfortably and sustainability. Bowman gave some suggestions on how to frame the issue of sustainability and climate change.

-Focus on threats to society, not individual
-Link the threat to opportunities and the efficacy of action
-Create a clear, concise framework of understanding
-Focus on changing social norms
-Demonstrate the efficacy of personal-scale, family-scale, and business scale action

Going back to practicing what we preach, it is more important to change people's behavior than it is to change their ideas. Point in case: a mega-church in the US wanted to improve energy efficiency in their operations. They didn’t tell their church membership at first as the membership didn’t want to be labeled as environmental socialist, and would have likely opposed becoming environmentally friendly. After the church finish their energy saving program, they told their membership who were shocked to find that you could be good to the environment while not giving up on comfort. The church saved millions of dollars.

Bowman gave some ideas on how to better engage the public with the message of sustainability. Mass media is good at targeting lots of people, but the message gets lost in the noise. Getting people involved in an interactive setting is the most effective way of engaging the public and effecting change, but normally these kinds of events have a limited amount of attendance. He suggests that we need something in the middle like a traveling Sustainability Expo that can engaged many people in an interactive setting. Check out the Bowman's website for more information.

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