Sometimes when we try to get people to change, we fail. Crompton and Kasser (2010) suggest we need to take an identity-based approach to encouraging people towards pro-environmental behaviour. They looked at 3 aspects of human identity which affect environmental behaviour and how these might be drawn on to create more effective environmental campaigns.
- Values & life goals – we need to nurture “self-transcendent” and “intrinsic” values
- In-Groups and Out-Groups – we need to promote a sense of connection with the rest of nature, not just humans, including empathy and egalitarian values
- Coping with fear and threats – we need to encourage constructive ways of dealing with uncomfortable emotions, rather than denial or apathy, such as problem-solving, mindfulness and participation
The article suggests environmental campaigning has often reinforced negative, rather than encouraged pro-environmental, aspects of identity. The problems they cite are:
- campaigns often appeal to financial incentives or social status, thus reinforcing unhelpful values. This means other pro-environmental behaviour that doesn’t link to these values is likely to be ignored. In reading about ideas on reducing water usage, for example, I noticed that appealing to financial incentives comes up a lot. The authors suggest there needs to be a consistent approach to reinforcing values that support pro-environmental behaviour.
- ‘anti’ campaigns can end up keeping people in denial or avoidance because they are directly attacking someone’s identity. When we’re under attack, we tend to retrench. Also, they suggest that, for example, in the case of anti-4×4 campaigns, non-4×4 drivers may end up passing the blame and seeing themselves as absolved of responsibility. Its their problem, not ours.
- seeing things in terms of their economic value, e.g. biodiversity, maintains an emphasis on financial priorities. There’s a wonderful quote from Douglas McCauley “…akin to saying that civil rights advocates would have been more effective if they provided economic justifications for racial integration.” In other words, the intrinsic value of things is undermined by reinforcing the value that monetary worth is king. I find this one most interesting because we can see this in so many aspects of life. In the business world, everything seems to be valued economically, because apparently that’s the only language senior people understand. When we think about our personal lives, do we think of everything we do in relation to its monetary value? Perhaps some people do.
So, some of the things the authors suggest are:
- help people to understand what advertising is really doing and saying, so that they are less influenced by the values advertising reinforces (like, you must get this new widget now to stay cool)
- develop perspective-taking through learning opportunities that focus on experiencing nature and feeling in relationship with it
- find out which parts of someone’s identity might be threatened by what we’re trying to do, empathise and find ways to help them feel less threatened or able to value another identity
- work with other organisations outside the environmental field where these issues of identity are important, e.g. to campaign against advertising or policies that focus on material success
I think that:
a) if we keep reinforcing the dominant western values about material wealth, economic growth and status, we probably don’t have much hope of helping people to see that other things can be of greater value
b) if we fight people, they will fight back or retreat. What we want is to engage. Donnachadh McCarthy writes about Ghandi’s non-aggression approach and says we need to avoid becoming self-righteous. Instead, seek to lead by example.
Crompton, T. and Kasser, T. (2010), “Human Identity: A Missing Link in Environmental Campaigning”, Environment, July/Aug, Vol. 52, No.4
McCarthy, D. (2008), Easy Eco Auditing, Octopus Books