Bringing Green to the Masses and the Masses to Green

Jim jubelirer pic ecoAmerica friend, Jim Jubelirer, wrote a great piece in which he synthesized the various studies that have come out on people's attitudes and behaviors toward environmental issues (including ours). He goes on to discuss how deniers use cultural, ideological and other tactics to undermine climate solutions advocates. He recommends using targeted messaging based on values based research (like the American Climate Values Survey) to shift audiences.

Posted Nov. 30, 2009
By Jim Jubelirer, Sustainable Futures

struggle to create support for a more prosperous, sustainable future is
similar to the landscape of a modern Presidential election: the winner
will be the one who has the most appeal with the soccer moms and Joe
6-packs in the middle (of the country and in the middle of the
political spectrum.) Not all people are created equal and rigorous
attitudinal research (fancy word for analyzing the data from surveys)
can identify explanations for ways that people are different. Let’s
explore a segmentation scheme based on people’s attitudes and awareness
of environmental issues and purchase proclivity towards green products
and service. These segments are my synthesis of the major public
opinion polls on the subject. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post that
will go into more detail about the best public opinion tracking polls.)

  • True
    Green – the archetype is the Birkenstock-wearing, Prius-driving,
    vegetarian, although that caricature is a bit shallow. True Greens skew
    older, female and educated and are motivated by both personal and
    global concerns.
  • Light
    Green – Light Greens care about the environment and have some knowledge
    of conservation and responsible consumption. They are less willing to
    pay a price premium or go out of their way to buy green, but will
    reliably shop green if all other things are equal.
  • Light
    Brown – Light Browns are motivated by pragmatic concerns and will only
    buy an environmentally preferable product if other features/attributes
    perform well.
  • Dark
    Brown – Dark Browns rarely make environmental considerations in their
    purchase decisions and/or don’t really care about larger, more global
    concerns. Dark Browns skew older, male, and predominantly vote
  • Deniers – actively seek to deny the reality of global warming and strongly resist all environmental messaging. For instance, “Global Warming’s Six Americas”
    found that 7 percent of Americans believe that global warming is not
    happening, is not a threat to people or nature, and strongly believe
    that it does not warrant a national response.

is easy to blame large polluters who have been supporters of
conservative groups that spread disinformation about global warming.
One of our cultural memes is “Well, Big Oil/Coal/Wall St. have the
politicians in their pocket and they just do what they want.” It is
important to realize that Deniers may be motivated by ideological
concerns (shrink government, lower taxes, etc.) or political concerns
(working to make Democrats look bad or weak) and not only by economic
concerns. Whatever their motivations, Deniers use well-understood
tactics of public persuasion based on Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt
(FUD). The reason why it is so important to understand the FUD strategy
is that it is particularly effective with the Light Browns, who are
already biased towards a world view based on personal sovereignty that
doesn’t respond to a traditional green appeal.

Swing Voter is important because the base in each party is not large
enough to win the election. In the same way, the Swing Buyer is
important to a company wanting to grow a sustainable business because
the Greens (at least the True Greens) are not a large enough segment
upon which to build a major brand.

of the key factors for making genuine progress in environmental
protection is to create messages that resonate with these specific
target audiences. This task will require identifying the key values of
the “swing voters” (those who don’t have a strongly held position) and
mounting an aggressive attack against the deniers. The deniers have
been successful in promoting the view that global warming is a hoax
because they find a receptive audience in those who really aren’t sure
about the science, or don’t know whom to trust. Countering the
well-funded industry of global-warming deniers will help to help push
consumer demand for environmentally sustainable goods and policies.

is doing some of the best research to uncover people’s deeper
underlying values and motivations. They conduct a series of research
studies that provide information and insights to advocates who want to
increase the effectiveness of their efforts. The
American Climate Values Survey
is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn techniques and messaging
that increase public support for environmental protection. The ACVS is
a huge survey (240 questions!) completed by a nationally representative
sample of 1700 people and was last fielded in April, 2008. While public
perceptions have evolved in the past year and half, the ACVS still has
great insights. Some of their key findings include:

The single biggest indicator, by far, of Americans’ feelings about
global warming is their political affiliation (guess which way that

• Education is strongly correlated with acceptance of the reality and responsibility of global warming

Men and women have some very different perspectives on the climate
crisis: Women are more likely to believe global warming is real,
harmful, that we need to do something and that addressing it will have
benefits. Women also have a more positive view of being environmentally

Of all the attributes tracked by ACVS, the one with the least
differentiation was income. Controlled for education, there really
isn’t much difference at all between the lower income groups (<$50k)
and the higher income groups (>$100k).

ecoAmerica partnered with Strategic Business Insights to use the Values and Lifestyles (VALS) system,
a groundbreaking segmentation model that goes beyond demographics and
attitudes to offer an understanding of the underlying psychological
motivations of different groups of Americans.

troubling finding from the VALS research in the ACVS study was that
relative to other VALS surveys, the ACVS had a high percentage of
people responding, “I have no idea” to survey questions. These response
rates likely indicate:

• a low level of interest in global warming

• lack of engagement because a need for simple answers cannot be satisfied

• an abdication of responsibility because they feel overwhelmed.

clearly we have our work cut out for ourselves to fight against the
deniers’ FUD strategy and general apathy and overwhelm to create
messages that work. Check out ecoAmerica’s site to learn more about
their work and the programs they are involved with.

Jim Jubelirer is an experienced
consultant, speaker, fundraiser and funder. Jim’s specialty is helping
companies improve their performance while reducing their environmental
impact. He has a proven record of business development for
enterprise-level consulting and is a recognized expert on sustainable
business practices and customer experience strategies.

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