Now that the majority of North Americans believe climate change is real and humans have something to do with it, you’d think the rest would be easy. All that’s left to do is arm us with clean innovation and get out of the way.
If only it were that simple. The populace may be receptive to the message. But listening and nodding isn’t enough. The task at hand is changing behaviors. And behaviors aren’t friends of change, to put it mildly.
Heart attack victims relapse because they can’t kick the smokes and salt. Gym memberships bought January 2 gather dust within a month. We hate change, even if it’s for our own selfish good (or survival). Add the disincentive of changing for the common good, and matters go from sad to worse.
Cracking the elusive code to quell apathy and incite behavior change is a top priority for companies pushing sustainable thinking. Find the secret, and you’ll be signing plenty of autographs.
British Columbia’s BC Hydro’s Power Smart program faces one of the toughest challenges out there: getting people to conserve energy in a market where power prices are incredibly low. Jim Nelson, a senior manager for marketing at BC Hydro. shared tips gleaned through hard-won experience.
"The argument for adopting eco-efficiency and innovation is often sound. But real people aren’t motivated to action by rational arguments." says Nelson. "What we need to understand is that people have other, more pressing, personal priorities."
Hydro has implemented a steady stream of industry-leading ideas, but Nelson believes shiny new objects aren’t enough. "No matter how cool the tools are, energy is a low involvement product. It doesn’t connect with human passion." In fact, Nelson believes Power Smart’s core message—conservation—rings alarm bells in consumers. "Conservation implies doing without, which plays to the worst fears of a society trained to believe more is better."
Compounding the issue for BCHydro is the fact that the vast majority of the region’s extremely inexpensive power comes from hydro dams. This leaves consumers with the impression that they’re already using a green source of power, derailing the argument of perceived environmental benefits through conservation.
"Essentially, we have to convince people to do something they don’t necessarily want to do, without providing them with immediate, personal gratification," smiles Nelson. It’s a very, very tough sell.
BC Hydro has been working on this problem for years, and learning has become expertise. "We’ve turned to sociology and psychology— things like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and cognitive bias research. In the process, we’ve developed assessment tools that have definitely increased our success," says Nelson.
It starts with a fundamental game-changer that any business selling green innovation can learn from: Customers are people. "It sounds simple, but companies fall into the ‘consumer’ trap every day," muses Nelson. "Companies assume people are sitting around waiting to consume their product. And as the product gets more technical, the ‘build it and they will come’ corporate mindset only becomes more pervasive."
The secret, says Nelson, is to disengage from the product-centric perspective, and start looking at your offering with the eyes of a disinterested person "outside the jar."
Nelson believes a powerful first step is to discover where your audience does engage, and meet them there with a point of connection. "You have to find a place and moment where people are receptive" says Nelson. "It can be as simple as aligning with a group they belong to, or convincing someone they admire to present your case for sustainability."
Of course, the message has to resonate. But in BC Hydro’s case, inviting people to help create a cleaner, healthier world—presented in a way that connects with their personal passions—does strike a chord. It’s an empowering message of positive change.
So is acknowledging the humanity of your audience, and aligning your message with their personal passions, the only trick to speeding the adoption of green innovation? Far from it. But it is a first step in an important journey. And for anyone selling green innovation, it’s absolutely vital.
[Image: Flickr user Tim Hamilton]