Can Environmentalists Engage Everyone and Remain Engaging?


Being too saintly get's us nowhere... Image credit: Eddy Van 3000, used under Creative Commons license.

I've argued before that for sustainability to be sustainable we need everyone on board. Yet, as someone who works as a professional communicator, I know it is next to impossible to craft a compelling, engaging and attention grabbing message that speaks to everyone—you just can't please all the people all the time. (And if you do, you are most likely being bland and boring.) From the 10:10 Campaign's controversial No Pressure film, in which school children were blown up for not cutting carbon, to activists photographing "organic" hens in shocking conditions, there's no doubt that a little controversy can go a long way toward grabbing headlines. But how do we strike a balance between being too saintly, and not really engaging anyone, and being too outrageous, and alienating half the population? As with many things, there is almost certainly no one answer to this question. I for one have found the apocalyptic disasterbation of groups like the Dark Mountain Project a total turn off. Yet I also get tired of mainstream green groups advocating "saving the world one light bulb at a time"—not only is this kind of incrementalism a total misrepresentation of the scale of the challenges we face, it also serves to confuse consumers about what steps are effective in cutting carbon.

Ultimately, the trick is not to even try to craft a message that will engage everyone. Instead, it's much more effective to craft a hundred messages, each addressing different aspects of sustainability for different people. From Creation Care through the economics of energy efficiency to the upsurge in hipster farmers, environmentalism is not short on different messages and visions for different audiences. So by all means, let's use shock tactics and controversy, let's be opinionated, and let's raise our voices. But let's do so with our end goal, and our desired audience, in mind. That's what strategy is all about. And heaven knows the green movement needs strategy.

The best thing we can do for the planet is to sell sustainability to everyone. The worst thing we can do is to try and sell it to everyone at the same time.

More on Communication and Strategy for the Green Movement
Environmentalists Need Strategy. Saul Alinsky and the Green Movement.
To Win, the Environmental Movement Needs to Understand Leverage, Not Just Footprints.
Sustainability is Not Black or White. 'More Sustainable' is Possible.
Does Morality Matter in Saving the Planet?

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