Originally published on the Buzz Bin, May 17, 2009.
Now that almost everyone across the political spectrum agrees that we are facing an ecological crisis, the main challenge of the green movement seems to be getting people to actually change behaviors. But this challenge is greater than it seems. It involves changing lifestyles that have become central to our culture for the past 100 years, ever since electricity has become part of our lives.
One of the best examples of marketing this lifestyle change is the Smart Home Green + WIRED exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (pictured above). This fun exhibit takes green and conservation needs and mixes it with the sexy, sizzle of the geekery known as WIRED! But more on this later. First, let’s take a look at the communications challenge that the green movement faces.
Three Big Hurdles
This inability to get past acknowledging the ecocrisis and actually acting upon it reminds me of an old adage. If a frog decides to jump off a log what happens? Nothing. He just “decided,” he didn’t do anything to actually physically leave the log.
So people talk green, but don’t act green. They keep taking 20 minute showers, leave the lights and computer on, and buy gas guzzlers while avoiding hybrid cars or mass transit. Companies greenwash their marketing message, and then serve bottles of water and print every email possible. As we can see, green is not necessarily pure green, it’s light green, medium green, and dark treehugger green (or any shade in between).
There’s a core of barriers stopping green from achieving immediate movement status with people. These issues are beyond the political differences that stand between the various range of liberal and conservative stakeholders in the ecomovement. For green to be quickly and successfully adapted, these hurdles need to be addressed by environmental groups, companies, and governing bodies alike:
1) Green products and services are technological innovations, too. That means the diffusion of green is suffering from the usual cycle of innovators and early adopters, as discussed by Everett Rogers in his timeless classic, “Diffusion of Innovations.” So while they make sense, they’re unproven, expensive and quite frankly, most people don’t feel comfortable (safe) buying these products yet.
2) The cost of green does not outweigh the cheapness and comfortable lifestyle of the current carbon footprint. And the good samaritan argument is not compelling enough to get people to move forward. Many feel the situation needs to get worse before people act. The most common lament I hear about this from green bloggers and environmentalists is, “by the time the crisis hits, it will be too late!”
3) There’s still a school marmish attitude towards green. I associate the word “conservation” with this attitude. In short, beyond the economics, beyond the fear of new technology, it’s just not cool or sexy to be green. It’s the right thing to do, but so is staying home on school nights. :)
These three factors equal a massive communications problem for everyone, businesses and consumers alike. And to me, this is not a public awareness campaign, more the need for green companies to make their wares attractive to end-users — as opposed to the right thing to do. We need Steve Jobs now, not Al Gore.
Green + WIRED = Sexy
Remember when nerds were really just nerds? You know, dorks?
Well those days are long over. The iPhone culture means being a geek girl or boy is sexy, and popularity contests for follower or friend counts dominate discussions of what makes for a good community member. Social media and tech geekery has become avant garde.
Nothing epitomizes this more than WIRED magazine, which has been at the forefront of the tech revolution for past two decades. Heck, WIRED even has a sexiest geeks contest every year.
One of the more interesting aspects of WIRED editorial coverage is its evolution beyond Internet related matters into the environmental space. Exhibits like the Green + WIRED teaming make environmental technology more than just the right thing to do, or an act of conservation. Accompanying efforts online, include blogs like EcoGeek and ecofriend are adding to the fire.
The geekification of green technology has begun in earnest, and in it lies great promise for societal adoption of environmentally progressive purchasing en masse. The discussion and seeding of green tech amongst innovators and early adopters in today’s geek community hastens the adoption curve. We’ve already seen the widespread adoption of social media and Internet access toys like netbooks and mobile Internet phones over the past few years.
It’s no secret that when there’s an air of panache associated with products, people are willing to pay a higher price for them. Hello iMac! Making green technology products more than the right thing to do, and adding an air of attractiveness to them is just smart.
In our current context, these activities open green tech to a new stakeholder beyond the do-gooder ecologist. And they add an element of sex appeal to green. While the climatologist is necessary, it’s time to move beyond brow beating environmental action into slow adoption. It’s time to market green + geek.