While engaged is a discussion today regarding consumer engagement strategies for home energy management solutions, a colleague raised the question, “How do you make environmental sustainability resonate with the average person?’ For that matter, does the average person really connect personal driving habits to air quality? As we turn on our tap water, do we ever question whether clean water will flow? As I pondered these questions, it occurred to me that the questions are not really about conservation or reducing pollutants. We have to probe further into human nature to ask the right questions.
Although the “green movement” has gained significant momentum, tom many, environmental issues still remain abstract. Humans respond to things that are immediate and personal. People that experience the death of a loved one to cancer will often become the most passionate champions of charities committed to cancer research. The fact is that sustainability and environmental stewardship have to be personalized in similar ways.
Environmental stewardship has to be linked to outcomes that align with human values. Electric utilities have found that saving money on a monthly bill can motivate consumers to conserve energy. A reduction of carbon emissions may be viewed as a good thing, but financial stewardship at home in a tough economy is viewed as absolutely necessary.
In urban communities, people are more likely to live near electric generation plants that emit pollutants into the air. Environmental justice advocates assert that pollutants from cars and factories also disproportionately impact underserved communities and communities of color. They cite the skyrocketing rates of asthma in such communities as proof. Thus, many people are beginning to see environmental stewardship as a matter of life and death – literally. We are now speaking of a public health issue and not merely an environmental issue.
The fact is that we have to communicate to people in ways that are personal and compelling. The success of recycling programs, home energy management programs, and water conservation initiatives depend upon strategic public relations campaigns. After all, the focus is not the environment – it is ultimately the manner in which people treat the environment.