If you’ve ever heard me speak, you know I emphasize the fact that messaging about “what’s in it for me” is far more effective than messaging about “what’s in it for we,” despite the amount of money being spent on Al Gore’s “We” campaign. Bottom line: we’re all selfish enough that if we’re going to spend money to be green we need to know what the immediate benefit is to us.
This week’s New York Times Magazine has a fascinating article on this subject that offers another slant on this topic that, admittedly, we haven’t explored in our research. The article is entitled “Why isn’t the brain green?” by Jon Gertner and covers research being conducted by the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED). The set-up is that “CRED’s researchers consider global warming a singular opportunity to study how we react to long-term trade-offs, in the form of sacrifices we might make now in exchange for uncertain climate benefits far off in the future.”
Much like our research this group shown that folks have a hard time waiting for a delayed benefit — they want an immediate, personal pay-off now. Also as we’ve seen in our research, this group finds people need an urgent stimulus to take action (the price of gas hits $4.00, Priuses sell like hotcakes…it falls down to $1.50, SUV’s are in again.) But the new piece they added is about group decision making, and this is what I’m intrigued by and hope to test in our research in the future.
The CRED researchers conducted a series of studies where they asked a group of people to reach a consensus about how to apply $5 billion worth of federal funds to wind energy technologies. Sometimes, the group participants were given the problem ahead of time to think about individually and sometimes the participants were given the problem for the first time as a group. Bottom line: people became more willing to wait for the benefit when decisions were made as a group that clearly affect the group, than they were as individuals trying to assess the benefit to themselves.
So, if decisions about sustainability and energy efficiency can be teed up to groups first — homeowner’s associations, office groups, school classrooms — we would likely see more willingness to make decisions that pose a long-term benefit to the group, even though the individuals in the group might have to make a sacrifice (invest money, for instance) today. So in the case of, say, solar panel installation on nice homes in nice neighborhoods across America, the place to start would be with the homeowner’s associations first (to get past the objections they might raise about the aesthetics of the systems) then go to the individuals to sell systems through. Or in the case of implementing an office-wide recycling program, better to pull all the workers in the office together and have them debate the merits of the program and agree together how it will work, rather than just installing blue bins throughout the office and hoping folks take the initiative individually.
So, despite what I’ve often said from the podium, there is power in “we.”