The Unwise Campaign Footprint And Its Impact on The Carbon Footprint

Here are some more studies showing how values can determine responses to climate change campaigns and ‘behaviour change’ programmes.

The previous blog reported international surveys which found many more people saying they experienced climate change “happening”, than the total who “believed-in” climate change. This result probably arises because in some countries, “environmentalism” and in particular “belief in climate change” has become a test of identity.  Now this identity-effect, which is a values effect, has been demonstrated in a test of the mundane but important question of how to get people to change their light bulbs.  This case also provides clear evidence of how campaigns which push their own values on those who disagree, may entrench opposition to change, rather than to cause it: the footprint of unwise campaigning.

Getting Americans to Change Light bulbs (Or Not)

In April a study by Pennsylvania University  published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that some American ‘Conservatives’ were put off from purchasing energy efficient light bulbs, if they were labelled as ‘environmentally friendly’.  National Geographic reported that:

‘210 potential buyers were armed with information on the benefits of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), which last 9,000 hours longer than incandescent bulbs, and cut energy costs by 75 percent. They were asked to choose between lower efficiency and higher efficiency options; efficient bulbs were offered, labelled with a “protect the environment” sticker in some cases, and at other times with a blank sticker.

Political divisions appeared in purchasing choices—but not until price became an issue. When all bulbs were priced the same, every participant save one chose the energy-efficient option regardless of political persuasion’.

One of the researchers commented “Our results demonstrated that a choice that wasn’t ideologically polarizing without a (“protect the environment”) label became polarizing when we included that environmental labelling … We saw a significant drop-off in conservative people choosing to buy a more expensive, energy-efficient option.”

“I think we’ve shown the negative consequences of environmental messaging,” the study lead author told National Geographic. “In particular, you can lose significant portions of people who would otherwise be interested in these products when you use that environmental labelling. So it indicates that different messages can reach different groups.”

Indeed, and this ought not to be news. It obviously means that overt attempts to persuade some people to adopt ‘save-the-planet’ attitudes as a reason to make choices, is a bad idea.

But how do you act on such findings ?   Can ‘Conservative’  be equated with Climate Sceptic ?   Our surveys, which have now covered thousands of people in six countries, show that it is values that are at work, and the values also give you an insight into how to craft and segment ‘messages’, and design campaigns. Evidence also suggests that while many (indeed often the majority) of ‘conservative’ people are not climate sceptics, those who are strongly climate sceptic do tend also to be ‘conservative’ but mainly on an identity-basis (there being more than one ‘form’ of conservatism, and more than one basis to ‘scepticism’)


Values Differences On ‘Strongly’ Agree or Disagree With Climate Change

The values effect and its consequences are clearest if you look at the results from those, when given a 1-5 scale of agree/disagree, choose the ‘strongly’ choices at either end.

The earlier blog reported the responses to the statement “Climate change – I don’t believe in it” in Brazil, Argentina, India, the USA and China.  Despite the big cultural differences between these countries, agreement or disagreement with the statement is consistently values-driven, showing the same pattern of greater ‘belief’ in climate change amongst Pioneers, plus the ‘Now People’ Prospectors (the Prospector Values Mode next to the Pioneer Transcenders), and greater tendency to ‘disbelief’ amongst the Settlers and the ‘Golden Dreamer’ Prospectors, whose values plot adjacent to the Settler ‘Brave New Worlds’.

This values difference lies along the ‘Power versus Universalism’ antagonism which has been discussed at this website before.  In each country, Transcenders over-index on ‘disagreeing’ with the statement – in the US for example, by 45% (an index of 145, meaning a skew of 45% from the national average of 100).  The NP Now People show similar results, in some cases stronger than the Transcenders.

(Red indicates significance at 99%, dark orange at 97.5%, light orange at 95%).

At the opposite end of the polarity, the Values Modes strongly over-indexing on ‘agree’ with the statement, are almost always only the GD Golden Dreamers and the BNW Brave New Worlds. In the US for example, BNWs over-index by a factor of about twice, on ‘strongly agree’ that they disbelieve in climate change.

In all cases, this sets the stage for a values-polarised debate or stand-off.  It only takes some unwise campaigning, or political mischief, to establish it as a hard-to-reverse reality.

Unmet Needs Meet Politics

The Brave New Worlds are driven by an unmet need to assert identity along with attributes like discipline and security.  They have an active aversion to being told what to do by people not-like-them, which is shared by the Golden Dreamers, who in addition are strongly driven by a desire for more material goods, as a way to quickly gain the esteem of others.  As such, any calls from outsiders, especially those advocating the interests of people not-like-them,  to ‘give things up’ or change their aspirations or lifestyles, are likely to be met with rejection, and if pressed, with hostility.

Both GDs and BNWs also have a low sense of self-efficacy: in other words, they feel that on balance the world changes them, rather than them being able to change the world.  Now People (NPs) and especially Transcenders (TXs) on the other hand, have a much lighter attitude to life because they feel confident that they can overcome problems.  This colours their approach to challenges like climate change, making them much less likely to deny it, and much more likely to advocate change, be it personal, social or political.

While these values differences are powerful and consistent across cultures, ‘politics’ is much less transferable, at least in so far as you can understand it with polling questions.  In general Settlers skew to conservatism, because they are change averse, and this was found in both the US and Brazil, where we asked questions about politics.  Very few Brazilians describe themselves as ‘strongly right wing’ (6.4%) but of those, the only over-indexing Values Modes were GDs at 193 and BNWs at 160.  In the US, polling gets entangled in the definitions of the political system but Settlers over-index at 126 on being Republican, while Pioneers under index at 88.  These are skews, not absolutes: it is wrong to think all Pioneers are Democrats and vice versa, or all Republicans are Settlers and vice versa.  Fully 25.6% of Americans however described themselves as ‘Independents’ and 5.4% opted for ‘other’, which could mean a wide range of things and there, Settlers also over-indexed at 141.

It does seem likely though, that the ‘conservative ideology’ index reported in the “light bulb” experiment is picking up the underlying effect of values differences.


The Lock-in Effect of Political Position-Taking

These will matter most where polarisation about the issue has taken place on party political lines, because that means it is institutionalised. In these circumstances politics further exacerbates and entrenches values polarisation.

The underlying values reflexes mean that people likely to make themselves available as spokespersons for disbelieving-in-climate change will be disproportionately drawn from Golden Dreamers and Brave New Worlds.  Even when they are not themselves GDs or BNWs, any politician wishing to “play to the values” of their base, or to use climate change as a “dog whistle” test to create a “wedge issue”, will play on those values: self-interest, short-termism for material gain, rejection of universalism and overtly ‘ethical’ politics, a degree of xenophobia, group-identity, demonization of opponents as ‘other’ (eg in the US, and increasingly in the UK by some right wing politicians ‘environmentalists’).

Some of those ‘other’ or ‘independents’ in the US will have included supporters of the Tea Party.  Although the US Tea Party has now shrunk, in the UK a party with a similar values base is on the rise: UKIP (the UK Independent Party).   Values surveyor Pat Dade at CDSM  has recently plotted the expansion of the UKIP heartland from 2010 – 2012 and discussed the likely additional votes it got at the 2013 local council elections in the UK.  (Based on his detailed knowledge of the values of the UK population, Dade thinks it unlikely that UKIP (a climate denying party) can poll over 20% at a General Election).

The core UKIP vote is Settler, and it poses most threat to the Conservative Party, Britain’s equivalent of the US Republicans.   This is probably one reason why Conservative Party election strategist and Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has become increasingly hostile to renewable energy and overtly sceptical about climate change.   He is probably hoping to play to Conservative voters who might vote UKIP at the 2015 General Election, not least by attacking his Liberal Democrat Government Coalition Partners who are firm advocates of action on climate change and whose values base is mainly Pioneer.

When climate change becomes polarised as a political issue, it easily has negative results for those trying to get change.  Political institutionalisation will further entrench differences because of the commitment effect: those politicians who have gone on the record as being “climate disbelievers” will find it very hard to change what they are already doing, simply because they have spoken out.  This is probably one reason why a recent 2013 study by George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia found the Republican Party is more sceptical about climate change than its voters, who have progressively moved away from ‘disbelief’.  A Yale-George Mason study showed the same thing in 2012.   In the US, there is increasing evidence that shifting public perceptions may leave even some Republicans vulnerable because of their denialist climate change positions.

Don’t You Nudge Me !

Although the light bulb experiment was reported as news, back in 2010 another American study showed much the same thing.  Programmes begun in 2007, utilising the well known heuristics of social proof and commitment had helped cut domestic energy use when people were told they used more energy than their neighbours.

But as New Scientist reported ‘the feedback only seems to work with liberals. Conservatives tend to ignore it. Some even respond by using more energy’.  A University of California survey of over 80,000 households found that the half given energy feedback cut electricity use by around 2 per cent.  However self-identified Republicans cut energy use by 0.4 per cent on average. ‘And those Republicans who showed no practical interest in environmental causes – people who did not donate to environmental groups and did not choose to pay extra for renewable energy – even increased electricity use by 0.75 per cent’.

Wesley Schultz one of the researchers behind the original project told New Scientist ‘some Republicans have a negative view of the environmental movement and so might want to distance themselves from a green-themed campaign. Using more electricity could be an act of defiance, whether conscious or subconscious’.  The feedback needed to be tailored to specific groups. “No one is immune to social pressure,” said Schultz. “Even among those that increased electricity use there is a nudge that would work.”

80,000 is a big study. It shows what happens when you go ‘door to door’ and poke people with a single values-differentiated proposition: you get a values-differentiated result.  Any campaign designer therefore needs to think about how to first research what will work for different values groups, and then either segment the offers and asks by using channels that are known to particularly reach those groups, or, to at least provide three different reasons or options that match the main Maslow values groups of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers.

Saving money vs saving the planet

As befits the UK, a much smaller but very detailed household energy saving project is underway funded by the ESRC.  One of the authors, Graham Smith, has been tracking the behaviours and motivations of 180 households subject to a lot of energy-saving advice, and reports that his team have noticed:

“some interesting differences though between at least two different motivations behind these energy-saving practices. For some it is concern about climate change that is key; for others a financial imperative. And ‘saving the planet’ or ‘saving money’ appears to have a differential impact on their wider lifestyles. Those motivated by climate change appear to be willing to make more significant changes in other consumption practices (the food they eat; the way they get around; etc.). Those for whom cost is the main consideration are primarily interested in whether a change saves them money. This appears to chime with work coming out of social psychology that suggests we need to focus on people’s values if we want to see large-scale change in lifestyles.”

These differences are classic descriptions of the difference between Settlers/ Prospectors and Pioneers, or more precisely, between Settlers and Golden Dreamers (the money-savers with little interest in wider lifestyle innovation) and the Now People and Pioneers.  I wrote to Graham suggesting they might also investigate people’s values but he reasonably pointed out that they already ask their householders so many questions, that more might be counter-productive.  Still, it’s an interesting study.

The one thing I might disagree with him about is the possible implication that we need to try and change people’s values.  The lesson of decades of values research is that overt attempts to do so are counter-productive, producing the ‘acts of defiance’ reported in California and the identity rejection caused by the green labelling of the light bulb experiment. Instead Wesley Schultz is right, it may just need a ‘nudge’ but we must start with the behaviours we want to achieve, and work with people’s values to bring those about, not against them.

‘Irrational Treaty Makers’


Finally, it’s not only domestic behaviour change campaigns that merit a psychological makeover.  Joy Hyvarinen of FIELD (Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development) takes the lessons of a study by Professor Jean Galbraith published in the Virginia Journal of International Law, and applies it to the top level of climate change efforts, the IPCC and the UNFCCC.   Consistent with people being more like animals than adding machines, Galbraith finds that what works for individuals also works when individuals make up institutions.  The same heuristics arising from the dominant ‘emotional’, ‘irrational’ unconscious way of making individual decisions identified by Daniel Kahneman, apply to the way governments make decisions in the design and implementation of treaties.

Last year edition 79 of the Campaign Strategy Newsletter called for a ‘psychological makeover’ of climate communications, applying the fruits of Kahneman’s work, values research and more, to change  “the architecture and choreography and the visuals and stories they create …not just the words”.  Now Hyvarinen focuses on the negotiation of the new 2015 climate agreement, noting “ Even taking other possible factors into account the research suggests strongly that the substance of the option matters less than the framing or “packaging”.”

I wrote: ‘Such social communications are of vital public interest and the knowledge that could make them work is out there: it exists. Sadly it is still mostly the opposition who are using it. Maybe understanding how people really think and make decisions should be a test of competence for politicians, public communicators and leaders of NGOs to hold office.’

Hopefully now that so many professors are showing what grubby market researchers have known for years, we may see some change in the way climate communications are done.  The one thing we do not need is an ethical jihad to try and indoctrinate Settlers and Prospectors with the attitudes and beliefs of Pioneers before getting any action.


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1 Response to The Unwise Campaign Footprint And Its Impact on The Carbon Footprint

  1. So resonates with an experience I had with a conservative US midwesterner, at a panel on electric cars. He said that as an owner of an electric car for political reasons (energy independence BOO YA) he cringed every time he saw an ad touting their “kindness to the Earth” angle. He saw it as *undermining* his sales pitch to his conservative farmer neighbours that this was an act of radical patriotic nose-thumbing to Obama, Osama, and the forces of foreign oil.

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