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.