Happy Green Year, Maybe

I can’t take my eyes off it. Colors swirl seductively like dancers in a sultan’s seraglio, inviting me to follow them as they float around the  continents, wisping dreamily through millions of acres of forest, thousands of miles of oceans, imposing mountains and crowded cities. This could be a kaleidoscopic LSD trip from the ’60s, but it’s not. Like so many beautiful things (poison dart frogs, Medusa, the word “carcinoma”) this is a vision of death, specifically of the world coming to a dirty, smoking, ignominious end. But maybe it contains a tiny kernel of hope for us as well, on how we can start to arrest the decline and fall of the human race.  

I’m looking at a NASA visualization of the accumulation and dispersal of carbon dioxide around the world. You can see it here. Those dreamy diaphanous swirls are actually ruthless anaconda coils of gas, choking our planet and setting it afire. The cognitive dissonance between their lyrical beauty and the mortal danger they represent makes me very uncomfortable. I want to enjoy it and yet I cannot. This is the most engaged I have been with the notion of global warming. And therein lies the spark for marketing to step in. 

I have spoken at great length in these columns about how we communicators and marketers can help effect behavioral change in consumers and more importantly, in large corporations, institutions and even governments. The unfortunate reality is that global warming seems to be an abstract and faraway notion and our brains are not designed to handle those kinds of notions very well. One solution is to turn an intellectual notion into a sensory experience. I was a smoker for many years and I started to slow down after seeing a simulation of cigarette smoke literally burning alveoli in my lungs to a crisp. The “you’re toast” message was delivered not by my cerebral cortex, but by my reptile brain which is all about survival. When your reptile brains speaks, you listen, and I did, although it took me a while. 

In much the same way, a glorious lava lamp of death may not stop us from driving cars, or eating meat or turning up the thermostat right away, but over time, with repeated exposure, just like any successful campaign, we may find our behaviors changing without even being aware of them. A study at the University of South Dakota found that when gas prices rise, road fatalities go down ( so get ready for killer roads brought to you by under $50/barrel gas). It’s not as visceral as money, but showing the environmental cost of our actions visually can have a similar effect. 

In that spirit, here’s a resolution for all of us interested in marketing a greener lifestyle. 

If you really want people to make more enlightened decisions, help them. By showing them the good or bad effects of their decisions. For example, scientists, activists and writers like Elizabeth Kolbert in her recent article, “Stone Soup,” argue that the increasing levels of meat consumption around the planet present multiple threats to the environment, including massive use of fossil fuels, as well as cattle emissions and mass clearings of forest to create pastures. Surely, there has to be a way to make that come alive for aficionados of cheeseburgers? How about a little animation of a burger patty emitting methane? If it worked for “Dumb Ways to Die,” it can work for the greenhouse effect. Which, if you think about it, is the dumbest way to die. 

And on that high note, let me wish you all a very green and profitable new year.

2 comments about "Happy Green Year, Maybe ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Michael Selz from Hummingbird Strategy, January 14, 2015 at 11:33 a.m.

    I think we do need a clarion call, Benny. I read last week that the FDA is exploring doing an expanded nutritional panel that not only provides calories, fats, sodium, fiber, etc., but also the environmental impact of a serving, such as methane produced, water and land required, etc. What's astonishing is how much more "expensive" beef is than other animal proteins, in these terms. But I think the beef lobby might have something to say about this...

  2. Benny Thomas from Rise&Shine&Partners, January 21, 2015 at 1 p.m.

    That's a great point Michael. "Triple bottom-line thinking" illuminates the real cost of goods that we consume and it can shift consumer behavior - if, as you say, the lobbies let them.

Next story loading loading..