Whether you're an environmentally-missioned organization like TreePeople, a mega-brand that's incorporating sustainability into nearly every aspect of your business (think Unilever, Ikea), or one of 24% of Americans who worry a great deal about climate change, per Gallup, you've probably encountered baffling resistance in getting people to engage in more sustainable behavior.
An example of such astounding environment neglect was the December Republican debate, where the only mention of climate change was a snide remark by Ohio Gov. John Kasich about COP21. He said the recent Paris conference should have been about terrorism, not the environment. This seems to be a reflection of the Republican party, in which only 20% view climate change as a very serious problem, according to Pew Research.
Fortunately, a higher share (45%) of the overall U.S. population does see climate change as a very serious problem, but there's still plenty of room to grow. Not to mention climate change is only the 14th biggest concern of Americans, behind issues like the economy, healthcare, and unemployment.
It may be impossible to change the minds of the staunchest Republicans. However, as Naomi Klein points out in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, even those of us who say we're concerned about climate change often come up with excuses for not making substantial behavioral changes.
So I propose the following tips for engaging consumers and our neighbors in action:
Use Optimism to Overcome Paralyzing Fatalism
In the classic Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy shares a case study of the Indian Cancer Society, which had the challenge of changing attitudes of fatalism towards cancer that led to few people getting check-ups. Ogilvy's agency developed an optimistic campaign entitled “Life After Cancer ... It's Worth Living”, which led to increased check-ups. Given the potential severity of climate change (i.e., the end of humanity), it's easy to be have a stern and doomsday tone, but showing good outcomes from action may reduce complacency.
Gamify Saving the World
Gamification was 2013's news, but is still very applicable. In Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, she draws light on massively multiplayer online games like Halo, in which 15 million players took on the goal of collectively amassing 10 billion alien kills. Online forums shared tips on how to save humanity. Once the goal was reached, gamers worldwide celebrated their joint effort and made a new, more ambitious goal of 100 billion alien kills. Imagine if this energy and collaboration was channeled towards combating CO2 emissions!
Stand Out by Offering Selfie-Worthy Experiences
There are a bajillion cancer-related philanthropies and fundraisers competing for attention. Through the clutter, Movember has risen to great success by creating a unique and fun experience. Movember is not just about doing good, it's about growing a mustache, dressing up in costume, and, most importantly, taking a photo (or bunches) of yourself and plastering them on social media, further raising awareness and interest.
Promote Culture Co-Creation
The most successful brands are creating culture, but in an age where anyone can grab a camera and put their own mark on culture, brands need to not just spit out new culture in hopes that consumers adopt it, but give consumers a framework to help create it. One of the things that contributed to the meteoric rise of Ice Bucket Challenge was that it gave people not only a new experience and a challenge (i.e., game), but the opportunity to express and promote themselves.
Wear Your Sustainability for Others to See
Another classic, Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, references the principle of social proof which states that the more we see people around us engaging in a certain behavior, the more apt we are to view that behavior as correct. Tapping into the self-tracking data movement, where people track their health and fitness data and share for the world to see, a new app/wearable concept called Worldbeing would track users' carbon usage. It would also serve as a visible social proof that sustainability is the 'correct' behavior. There's probably only room for a couple enviro-wearables on the market, but there is opportunity for brand owners to provide consumers with ways to track and post their environmental contributions made via the brand.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go take a selfie while recycling and see how many likes I can get.