With the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico continuing to unfold before our very eyes, more people are talking about the health of the environment and issues of sustainable living. How can we live our own lives in an environmental responsible way? How can we support others in doing the same? Social marketing can help! And there is one person who stands out as a giant in the application of social marketing principles to issues of environmental sustainability: Doug McKenzie-Mohr. Doug, a conservation psychologist, created the "specialty" of community-based social marketing. I had the opportunity to chat with him in person last week when he conducted a workshop in Charlotte, NC for the Clean Air Works! and the N.C. Air Awareness programs. Here are some of the take-aways.
I. Many Behavior Change Programs are Information-Intensive--And They DON'T WORK.
They rely on one of two two theses: 1) Information brings about attitude change, which brings about behavior change; 2) Economic self-interest--if I learn that an action is in my financial self-interest, I will choose this alternative. Five decades of social psychology research on the connection between attitude change and behavior change have shown that there is virtually no relationship. Similarly, a review of programs designed to appeal to economic self-interest did not find change above the level of that in control groups.
II. We Continue to Use Information-Intensive Approaches for Several Reasons.
- We under-estimate the difficulty of behavior change. We see that advertisements for businesses seem to work, and assume they will work for our environmental (health, safety, etc.) issues. However, the behaviors associated with these issues are more complex than buying decisions.
- Expediency. We've always done it this way. It's the path of least resistance.
- Relative ease of developing messages, versus other interventions
- Lack of proper evaluations. We tend to evaluate outputs (e.g., number of media buys), not outcomes.
III. What works, of course, is the social marketing approach because of its emphasis on the barriers and benefits the target audience associates with the environmentally sustainable behavior! Doug noted that barriers and motivators differ by behavior, and need to be determined for each behavior.
IV. When selecting target behaviors, look first for one-time behaviors people can do (e.g., wrapping the hot water heater in insulation, switching from gas to electric lawn mowers). However, most transportation solutions involve repetitive behaviors (e.g., taking ligth rail every day). Prompts and gaining commitments are two tactics that promote such behaviors. (And among commitments, verbal commitments are the weakest, while written commitments, made in front of others are the strongest. Who knew?!)
V. Some other "goodies."
- Doug thinks Australia has done the best job of applying social marketing to sustainability issues. They sought buy-in at high government levels. Positive experiences using CBSM to address water-scarcity issues generalized to other environmental issues.
- Three sustainability-related iPhone apps: Twavel; Seafood Watch; Billion Acts of Green.
- Doug's website, www.cbsm.com, has an embarrassment of riches! Case studies, articles, strategies and a forum. You can also download at no cost, his book, written with Bill Smith, Fostering Sustainable Behavior.
Are you working on green behaviors? Give your project some legs, and use community-based social marketing.