Environmental campaigners ignore identity at their peril
By ignoring the role that identity plays in individual responses to green messaging, environmental campaigners could strengthen aspects of identity that are antagonistic to pro-environmental concerns and behaviors. That cautionary message comes from an article by Tom Crompton and Tim Kasser in the July-August issue of Environment Magazine titled Human Identity: A Missing Link in Environmental Campaigning.
Among the potential pitfalls identified by the authors are:
- Focusing on financial self-interest or social status as reasons for engaging in pro-environmental behavior could strengthen the values of consumerism and materialism which are antithetical to a fully green lifestyle.
- Singling out SUVs for disapproval could send the signal to non-SUV owners that they don’t need to make any changes in their driving habits.
Those are but two problems that the authors say could be avoided if communicators take into account identity when formulating their messages. The conclusion states:
Ultimately, there may need to be an inversion of the raison d'être of many environmental groups. That is, rather than asking: “How can we marshal the widest range of interest groups to support the environmental cause?”, they might come to ask, “How can we best build on our natural support base, and our natural areas of political influence, to support campaigns that promote socially and environmentally helpful aspects of identity, and to change institutions and policies that promote problematic aspects of identity?”
As an interesting side note, this paper’s introduction claims that the empirical literature does not lend clear support to the argument that simple pro-environmental behavioral changes “spill over” into more difficult and significant changes. That’s a contradiction of the post that I wrote last week titled: Can small changes lead to big ones? Their citation for that claim was a paper by John Th⊘gersen and Tom Crompton titled “Simple and Painless? The Limitations of Spillover in Environmental Campaigning,” that was published in the Journal of Consumer Policy. I plan to read that soon and blog about it here. Have any thoughts on the topic? Leave your comment below or send me a message.