I recently got an e-newsletter from the Sierra Club with a subject line that told me there are 6,000 things I could do to “pitch in for America.” It was a reminder to me about focusing communications and knowing your audience. I don’t want so many options, and neither do most people. And the pitch is so vague I almost trashed the e-mail without opening it. Turns out, the pitch was for MLK Day service events—it would have been better to let me know that, and direct me to events in my area. Even if I couldn’t volunteer, I might be curious about what my neighbors are doing.
Archive for January, 2009
Changing behavior is tough—as anyone who’s ever tried to follow through on a New Year’s resolution knows. That’s why when you do get people fired up to change, you want them to be able to act on that impulse right away.
This poses a communications challenge for some sectors of the green economy. The point arose recently during a roundtable discussion at CALSTART’s Jan. 14-15 Target 2030: Solutions to Secure California’s Transportation and Energy Future conference that asked, “Is the consumer sufficiently motivated to cut transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions? What more should be done to motivate the consumer?”
The real question in many cases is, are we ready to motivate the consumer?
John DeCicco, Environmental Defense Fund senior fellow for automotive strategies, made the point about cutting-edge clean fuels and vehicles. Many of these are proof-of-concept “science projects,” he said. “I really fear talking them up, and doing education before they are available. I fear we’ve squandered a lot of public good will by trying to market things that are not going to be available until years from now.”
The same is true of some options that are technologically ready: We need to promote public transportation—and make sure it can deliver by investing in it. We need public policies that so strongly favor transit-centered growth that it’s irresistible, enabling people to live in locations that allow reduced driving. And so on.
A lot of hype attached to products that may or may not become available as advertised only breeds consumer cynicism (think computer vaporware) and tune-out. And bad experiences with poorly supported current options can sour people on some of our best approaches for a long, long time.
Motivating people is hard enough; don’t disappoint them when they’re primed for change.
People in the trenches of remaking the way we live along more sustainable lines know that everything—transportation, community planning, energy sources, buildings—is related. (Thanks to Thinkshift client Joe Stagner, director of Sustainability and Energy Management at Stanford, for drumming this into my head.)
People who make policy have lagged behind in recognizing (and more importantly, acting) on this truth. It appears that might be changing, though. At CALSTART’s Target 2030: Solutions to Secure California’s Transportation and Energy Future conference earlier this month, John Barna, executive director of the California Transportation Commission (not normally thought of as a visionary agency), had this to say:
“The traditional thinking is, our goal is to build more, to allow more vehicle miles traveled. If we shift our thinking to person miles traveled, we’ll get to different solutions.” All the relevant state agencies, he said, “need to migrate to metrics and outcomes defined by actions and behaviors. It’s really about changing behavior. … We need to start talking about people and moving people, so transportation planners can start understanding it’s … about people. It’s not all about building. A measure of success is that the CTC could be renamed the California Sustainability Commission.”
Unfortunately, policy on the federal level still seems stuck in past—despite all the talk of change. California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, just back from a trip to Washington, reported, “I heard from D.C. staff that they’re ready to go on climate change legislation and a new transportation bill, but they don’t think the two can be linked because it’s just too hard. It still looks as though air quality and climate change will be off in some small ghetto in the transportation bill.
“It’s too depressing to contemplate,” she said.
Indeed. Those of us who understand the importance of looking at the whole picture need to start pressing our representatives to do it.