Monthly Archives: February 2012


Price: Relevant, Not Critical

Last week, I and 740 energy and building performance geeks went to my favorite conference, the Duluth Energy Design Conference.


Minnesota Green Communities has participated in the session planning committee for six years, and I’ve presented many times.  This year, I hosted almost two full days of sessions on a newly prominent theme:  selling “value.” (The rest of the two days was filled with me presenting a session on the same topic.)  Keep reading for the message I took away. read more »

Communication Facilitation

Doing Outreach – What Gets Noticed?

Doing outreach for the EnergyScoreCards Minnesota pilot project, our team spent a lot of time developing language and materials to share with the hundreds of owners we were inviting to participate.  Making follow-up phone calls to folks who received electronic outreach, a few comments have surprised me.

One, in particular, stays with me.  The company has a lot of older, master-metered buildings – perfect for getting maximum benefit from the pilot.  “The pictures on the website were of new complexes, so I didn’t think the program was for us.”

EnergyScoreCards Minnesota image

One of the illustrations on the EnergyScoreCards Minnesota site

I’m thankful I persisted in making follow-up calls – they did sign up.  And, it’s a good reminder to me to always step back again and again, to think carefully about the image that is presented, asking, “Can all the folks we hope to reach relate?”



Dislike FairTrade? What’s your alternative?

Critiques of certification systems (for example, LEED, USDA’s organic, and ENERGY STAR) are old news.

TransFair certification logo

Image from Wikipedia

I won’t argue the critique of the label (see the Wikipedia critiques).  Sure, there ARE problems.  However, what struck me was how clearly the Food First writers just didn’t get it.

The “look for the label” movement bet that people were simply “consumers” who could not stop for longer than a few seconds to think and truly care about what they were supporting with their purchases. They were wrong.

While I wish they were wrong, I don’t think they are.  I am one of the people I know who is most interested in learning the background of the products I buy and most committed to supporting the people who produce the things I use and eat every day.  I do my research, but am unable to research every restaurant I eat at, and every chocolate bar brand, or every component in my electronics.

I rely on shortcuts, and have to balance what’s available with what I need with money with what I know. When I’m treating my niece, she gets to pick the chocolate off the shelf I point to – and I’ll hope my local Co-op kept the worst offenders off the shelf.  When I’m replacing my laptop, of the three models that meet my needs I’ll choose the one with EPEAT certification.

To you who critique a specific certification, I request an alternative.

There need to be ways consumers can use their economic power to support the kind of world they want to support — such as one where producers are treated fairly, or one that supports the local economy, or one that reduces environmental harms during production.  I don’t see any perfect options, and seek realistic suggestions.  They should

  1. be possible to implement,
  2. place reasonable expectations on the consumer (i.e. not require an hour of homework to buy a cup of coffee), and
  3. be trustworthy.

What are your recommendations?


Talking “Environmentalism” – Real People React (badly)

The other day, an acquaintance asked me for advice on communicating about environmental issues.  I had a speedy, rather negative reaction.

“First, NEVER, ever use the word ‘environmental,’ or anything related to that word.  Talk about the ISSUE – clean water, clean air, toxic chemicals, whatever.”

The immediate response was skepticism, and “Why?”

I guess I’ve sat in one too many social psychology-oriented trainings, sessions I’ve written about before.  Heading back to page 13 of my favorite summary of these ideas, “The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior,” it turns out that while some people proudly identify as environmentalists, “the word evokes an extreme and negative image for many: ‘hippy, tree-hugger, smelly, vegetarian, protester’ (Amel, Scott, Manning & Stinson, 2007).”

Nutty Environmentalist

Credit Christie Manning's presentation

And, as Manning continues,

This is not an image that most people associate with themselves. Thus, when an issue is labeled as something that “environmentalists” are advocating for, people then doubt that the issue is relevant or important to their own lives, no matter what this issue is. Some may even have an immediate contrary reaction (called reactance): “if it’s something that environmentalists are advocating for, then it must be something extreme that I disagree with.”

Looking for alternatives?  Manning suggests “concerned citizens” or “Minnesotans.” I look for specific nouns that the audience can relate to.  Here’s my own tip:  I often ask myself whether my parents could name a friend or acquaintance who fits the description.

Got any tips to add?