America at the Tipping Point?

By Robert M. Perkowitz

We have a new congress, support from prominent corporate leaders, sustained media interest, and even President Bush talking about “the serious challenge of global climate change.” America might be close to an environmental tipping point.  We need just one more thing – public support.

Surveys after survey, including a Pew poll conducted January 10-15, 2007, consistently indicate that while Americans indicate broad concern about the environment, that concern remains shallow.  In spite of the significant increase in funding for America’s environmental NGO’s, twenty years ago the environment ranked as a top 10 concern, now it’s rarely in the top 20.

ecoAmerica, a non-profit consumer marketing and research organization, conducted the American Environmental Values Survey to better understand the reasons why the public’s professed desire to protect our natural resources has not translated into greater personal and public policy action.  Using sophisticated psychographic modeling, the AEVS goes beyond issues to understand Americans’ environmental values in a broader context, including leverage points and competing priorities.

Of the eleven summary findings from the American Environmental Values Survey, the most important might be the limitations of a unified communications strategy.  No common environmental issue or message appeals universally to Americans.  In fact, what’s relevant and compelling to a Baptist in Birmingham may ‘turn-off’ a suburban mom in Phoenix or a college student in Boston.  Building an environmental values majority requires targeted messages and communications methods.  Other findings from the AEVS, including gender and socioeconomic differences, and especially the concession of economic benefits by environmentalists are also insightful.

Using consumer research techniques enables AEVS results to be linked to numerous robust consumer databases, enabling more effective definition of audiences, messaging and messengers.  ecoAmerica is using this information in their own campaigns, such as the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, and to help other environmental organizations make their campaigns and outreach more effective. By making environmental protection more tangible for the American public, they are helping translate the current momentum into long-term sustainable support.

For more information on ecoAmerica and the AEVS, visit www.ecoAmerica.net.

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