Researchers ‘Crack the Code’ for Persuading Skeptical, Cynical Consumers to Go Green

I am currently reading John Marshall Roberts’ book “Igniting Inspiration : a persuasion manual for visionaries”.  It is one of many books that I am reading as I try to understand  what will bring people to understand the need for new sustainable behaviours.  I really like John’s focus on the positive inspirational message.  Have a look at the video clip and media release that I received recently after the Sustainable Brands conference in Monterey last week.  Find out why John Marshall Roberts thinks that “cynicism is just undigested pain”.

Inspiring Sustainability in Skeptics — John Marshall Roberts

From the Media Release:

“Just back from a great week at the Sustainable Brands conference in Monterey.  Wanted to quickly share the buzz of a new national study that we just did in partnership with the Shelton Group as part of their ongoing ‘EcoPulse’ research.  In short, we gave the Roberts Worldview Assessment to a national sample and discovered something wonderful, something I’ve been passionately arguing for years: 

Worldviews truly DO drive people’s day to day choices as relates to sustainability, and are the secret key to creating lasting behavior change in cynical or apathetic consumer groups.  

We will be publishing a collaborative white-paper on our findings in the coming months, but for now please check out a few of the key findings outlined in this press release.

Working with scientist and author John Marshall Roberts, Shelton Group researchers Lee Ann Head, vice president of research, and Karen Barnes, vice president of insight, have created a sophisticated new system to communicate with consumers to spark real, lasting behavior change.

“This truly is a major breakthrough for reaching consumers who are skeptical or cynical about green products,” said Suzanne Shelton, founder and CEO of Shelton Group. “It’s akin to discovering a secret decoder ring for persuading even the most diehard cynics to go green.”

The research combines the Shelton Sustainability Segmentation system with the Roberts Worldview Assessment framework, research based on the work of Dr. Clare W. Graves.

The research distinguishes three kinds of environmental skeptics and suggests a number of ways to reach them. Among the recommendations:

  • If possible, disarm the skeptics by showing you understand that they view the green movement as a scam.
  • Suggest that China is beating the U.S. in sustainability (or, conversely, that China doesn’t want U.S. consumers to be sustainable)
  • Focus on purity — the lack of toxins and pollution created by your green products.
  • Avoid discussing global warming at all costs.

The research started with Shelton’s Sustainability Segmentation system, found in Shelton Group’s latest proprietary study, Eco Pulse 2011. The Shelton researchers then collaborated with Roberts on his Roberts Worldview Assessment, which segments people into various thinking styles or “colors” based on their personal values and outlook.

The joint research revealed that:

  • 27% of Americans are “Copper” or Individualistic thinkers: They are defined by the drive for personal power, profit and status. They believe in survival of the fittest, that life is a game.
  • 20% are “Navy” or Absolutistic thinkers: They are characterized by an unwavering respect for authority figures, and a deeply held belief that there is only one right way.
  • 17% are “Jade” or Humanistic thinkers: They believe that personal connections and relationships create meaning and happiness. They value equality and community.
  • 18% are “Gold” or Systemic thinkers: They see the world as a complex and interrelated system that evolves. Their outlook is dominated by innovation and simplicity.

Head, Barnes and Roberts further analyzed the survey data and found:

  • Those least likely to be looking for greener products were Navy thinkers (only 61% of Navy respondents were searching for greener products) compared to Jade (75% were seeking greener products) and Gold (70%) thinkers.
  • Navy (43% of Navy respondents) and Copper (42% of Copper respondents) thinkers were less likely to say they would change their behaviors even if they learned they harmed the environment. Jade (56%), Gold (51%) were more likely to change their behaviors.
  • A company’s environmental record made very little or no impact to Navy respondents (33% of Navy respondents said a company’s environmental record impacted their purchase decisions) and Copper thinkers (27%), but played an important role in a purchase decision for Gold thinkers (57% of Gold respondents).

Said Barnes: “This breakthrough research has created the most insightful, actionable tool in the sustainability communications marketplace.”

With this research, Head added, “We can win the hearts and minds of even the most ardent skeptics or detractors. Most importantly, it means we can inspire true, lasting behavior change to create a more sustainable world.”

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About Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper is a committed sustainability practitioner and educator moving companies toward “green” profitability and sustainable competitive advantage by unlocking human creativity and technical innovation. Over the last two years she has had the privilege to work with companies like Dupont, Zerofootprint, WWF Canada, and Partners in Project Green on sustainability issues, best practices and renewable energy. Kathryn is a graduate of York University with a Master of Education specializing on Sustainability and the Environment. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph.
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