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    Have you ever felt exasperated by your colleague’s unwillingness to recycle? You are not alone. Fortunately, social scientists have developed an understanding of what it takes to make people change their habits. This is a quick review from findings from the Berkeley Office of Sustainability & Energy(University of California), designed to help you improve your environmental messaging.

    Presentation posted via SlideShare: 5 Communication Secrets to Foster Sustainability from Circular Economy Club.


    A great deal of environmental messaging doesn’t work because it is boring or inaccessible. Create ideas that are sticky. Here’s HOW:

    • Surprise

      When things happen that we do not expect, we pay more attention.

    Example: Talking litter bins which say “thank you” have been successful in several European cities.

    • Build curiosity

      Before revealing interesting information, by elaborating a story (“The long journey to the kitchen table: travels of a hamburger”) or asking questions (“How long do you think you could power a TV with the energy saved from a recycled soda can?”).


    • Use images

    Images are easier to understand and more memorable, so focus on impacts that are easy to visualise.

    Example: “a hole the size of a football” is easier to visualise than 11 inches.

    • Get emotional

    If we only target the rational side, there will be no motivation for change (the personal testimony of an island-dweller affected by flooding will be much more effective than projections of 21st century sea level rise).

    • Don’t rely on fear

    – People have a finite pool of worry: they can only handle so much bad news at a time – don’t use too many threatening messages

    – Fear could actually cause inertia – once people understand the crisis move quickly to the solution

    – People need to feel that they have control – couple threatening messages with empowering ones


    • Specificity is key

    Don’t tell people to “save the world”, tell them how. Use concrete language, avoid jargon and ambiguity.

    • Strip down your messaging to one core idea

    Emphasise this.

    • Add credibility

    Use testable credentials and make statistics easy to understand.


    • Identity

    You need to make people feel that they are the kind of person who cares about the environment.

    Example: “Don’t Mess with Texas” ad campaign reduced visible roadside litter by 72%. Here’s how: They used Texan celebrities (like the Dallas Cowboys players) crushing littered beer cans with their fists and declaring “Don’t mess with Texas”, to target men in pickup trucks, who wouldn’t listen to “Please don’t litter”. This worked because it fitted with the truckers’ sense of identity.

    • Focus messaging on an individual

    Use “you”. Put statistics in quantities per person.

    • Highlight losses, not gains

    So highlight the money people will lose if they don’t insulate their house, rather than the money they will save if they do.

    • Go with the crowd

    People want to act in accordance with social norms. Therefore, do NOT use negative norms that describe what is commonly done (ex.: “75% of people leave lights on when not at home”). This can be counterproductive.

    • Avoid the ‘the boomerang effect’ when using positive norms

    Example: If households are given information on their energy use relative to neighbours, those who are above average get a “sad face” and reduced their energy demand, but those who were below average get a “smily face” and end up using more energy. Be careful with those.


    So much environmental messaging gives the impression that we must make great sacrifices to avoid a hellish future. This isn’t appealing. Instead, we need to create a vision of a low carbon heaven. Tell people about your vision: clean air, bicycles, farmers markets, Tesla sports cars, green technology.

    Be efficient. Be smart.

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