Wonderful and weird: this year’s green communications shortlist

This is a guest post by Ben Tuxworth, director of communications at Forum for the Future.

What’s going on in the average Brit’s head when it comes to the environment? A couple of press releases I received last week – on the same day – got me wondering whether anyone really knows.

One, from LG Electronics, told me their new survey showed people would rather turn up their thermostat than do anything else, including exercising, putting on a jumper or cuddling a loved one, to keep warm in their homes.  Another from DECC told me that a revolution in home energy efficiency was round the corner, as those same punters respond to the same problem by insulating their homes. Can they both be right?

The Green Awards
When I heard that Farming Futures, our communications project aimed at helping farmers see the opportunities in tackling climate change, had been shortlisted for the Green Awards, I thought I would check out the rest of the shortlist to see what the opposition had to offer.

Idle curiosity turned into a fascinating journey into the mind of the average consumer, via the proxy of marketing insight.  In other words, what the people trying to persuade us to change our behaviour think is going to motivate us.

From Vikings to silk scarves
Of the 24 projects on the shortlist, the majority are UK based.  What do they tell us about motivations for being green? The first lesson seems to be that it’s the co-benefits that sell; saving money, making life easier, and more specific things like surge protection (thank you Savasocket) or reducing food waste (kitchen canny) are where the action is, and environmental stuff like saving the planet is somewhat back in the mix.

At shortlisted Lush cosmetics, co-benefits lead the pitch in the form of a silk scarf you can buy to wrap your soap in, rather than a bag. It’s all rather gorgeous, and though the environmental benefits are probably small, it’s part of a strand of communications which stresses the eco-chic dimension of greener consumption, presumably for an audience keen to express themselves. It feels a bit pre-recessionary to me, but an interesting framing nonetheless.  The cool identity of the green consumer is taken a stage further by another entrant, Cyclus paper, whose ‘no co2mpromise’ campaign likens the compromise-free life of the ethical paper purchaser to that of the…er…Viking.   Saving the planet never felt so manly.

Beyond the co-benefits, community is the thing. DECC’s video to promote its low carbon community challenge is a whimsical piece, beautifully filmed, with a full 1.5 minutes of unidentified experts looking confused and reflective, then speaking of their passion for working in local communities of flawed but marvellous people to tackle climate change.

The Convention on Biodiversity persuades by showing how action in International Year of Biodiversity is something you can share with hundreds of groups around the world.  Network communications extend the potential for community across boundaries, and despite Malcolm Gladwell’s scepticism about clicktivism, this potential is something many organisations are expecting to harness.

And if you want to boost a sense of community, there seems to be nothing like getting folks to grow things. Shortlisters the Royal Horticultural Society want their members to go green  by growing their own fresh co-benefits; Morrisons have a whole new front end on their retail site with ‘Let’s grow’, and the Aster Group have even produced a CSR report impregnated with seeds so you can plant it.  Nurturing is obviously worth nurturing.

Loss of urgency
Co-benefits, community, growing stuff… all feels a long way from the gloom and doom that was the environmentalist’s comfort zone for so long.  The Green Awards suggest that working with the positive is the way to go, and will play out in the communications of those organisations trying to change our behaviour for some time to come.  I like this way of framing our message, but I do worry about the loss of urgency that it tends to bring.

Will these values take us to sustainability fast enough? Time will tell, but since they will also be the values we’ll need if we fail, it seems worth trying to build them now come what may.

And fingers crossed, Farming Futures, which (I think) does the lot as well as the urgency piece, will be amongst the winners when they are announced next month.

One comment

  • Ben,
    as one of the green marketers “trying to persuade us to change our behaviour”, it was fascinating to see the tactics reflected back. Thank you.

    While moving on from the apocalyptic (and the hair-shirt) messages of the past has got to be a good thing, I think we still have a long way to go. Co-benefits will only take us so far, whether they be health, quality, taste or financial savings. They will not drive the level of behaviour change that is needed.

    Community approaches – to me – feel much more promising; if more difficult to get off the ground. I did some work for DECC last year promoting community-based approaches to environmental behaviour change (you can see the films here: http://www.facebook.com/ACTONCO2?v=app_2392950137) and was struck by how engaged the participants were. I share some of Gladwell’s scepticism about purely online communities, but where there is a shared physical space, they can be very powerful. I’d like to see more brands and organisations working in this space; it’s a big opportunity.

    Good luck with Farming Futures!

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