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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lessons From The World Of Advertising

"In terms of the sustainability challenges we are facing, some would argue that the advertising industry has played a big part in getting us into this mess, through it’s role in promoting materialism and ego-driven consumption. (Clive Hamilton is a particularly strong advocate of this position).

A vigorous debate on this issue was sparked by an article published by WWF in the UK.Common Cause took the position that we need to be influencing what people value, and promoting more long-term, socially responsible thinking, rather than using the same techniques as marketers to “sell” sustainability to people.

Regardless of whether you think it is the problem, or part of the solution, advertising wields a powerful influence on our behaviour. There are, therefore, some useful lessons which we can take from the advertising industry and apply to our efforts to promote sustainability as a way of life. Here are a few of those tactics.

Building Trust
Advertisers place a lot of emphasis on building a trusted brand. As discussed in the April 2010 edition of Wake-Up Call, trust is a combination of belief that the advertiser can deliver, that they have our best interests at heart, and that they adhere to a set of principles we consider ethical. You will see many advertisers trying to squeeze all those elements into a 30 second commercial.

Those trying to spread the message of climate change have a problem with trust, as a report by the American Psychological Association discusses. The report highlights evidence that many people mistrust the messages of scientists and governments, and that “behavior change requires that one trusts others not to take advantage and that the change is effective, valuable, and equitable (p 126)”. Sustainability advocates would therefore be wise to ensure that these principles of trust are demonstrated in any communication designed to influence the audience’s attitudes and behaviour.

Speaking To Our Values
One of the keys to promoting a product or behaviour is to demonstrate how it will satisfy the values of the audience. Is family your priority? This car will keep them safe. Convenience? This fast food place will ensure “dinner is sorted”.

The key to appealing to values in your communication is to identify what your audience really cares about. This can be done through some initial research if possible. If not, you may need to use common sense. If you can show how something will save or make money, you will get people’s attention. Otherwise, a sense of family is among the most common core values held by the majority of people. If you can demonstrate how your offering will make a family safer or better looked after now or in the future, people will listen. See this Victorian Worksafe advertisement for an example of the family value being used to get across the safety message.

Using Social Norms
The effect of social norms relates to our desire to do what others are doing. In an effort to appear normal or up with the play, we are surprisingly strongly influenced by what we perceive to be the way in which others are acting.

There is growing body of evidence supporting the strength of social norms, including this study which showed that householders were more influenced by a flyer which demonstrated others were saving energy, than by one which showed how they could save money, the environment or benefit society by reducing their energy consumption. Interesting, this and other studies found that people rarely recognise their behaviour was influenced by what others are doing, even though the research clearly shows that this was the key factor.

Promoting products and behaviours using social norms is a matter of embedding messages and images to imply that the audience has the opportunity to be part of a growing trend, or simply that they would be conforming and more normal, if they were to follow your advice. “Green is the new black” is a common catch-cry designed to invoke the power of social norms.

Creating Cognitive Dissonance
One of the central principles of change is that we need to feel some dissatisfaction with our current state in order to change. If everything is OK now, there is no need to change. So the job of advertisers, and other change agents, is to convince us that some need, or value, is not being met.

Such a communication involves a number of elements. Firstly, it needs to get our attention and get us to care, preferably by tapping into our values (see above). Then it needs to somehow show that thing we value is at risk, or can be achieved better. The state of feeling a gap between what you value, and what you are doing or experiencing, is know as “cognitive dissonance” and is a powerful motivator for change. Finally, the communication needs to show that your offering will reduce this risk, or more fully satisfy this need. This simple Youtube ad for a swine flu remedy demonstrates all these elements.

Using the principle of cognitive dissonance to influence people demands that all three of these elements need to be present. If you show something at risk that is not valued by the audience, they are less likely to be alarmed and compelled to act. If you tap into their values, but they feel those values are being satisfied already, they will not be seeking a solution. And finally, if you create the need, but don’t offer a realistic solution, you have missed an opportunity to engage people in change."


You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it:

Awake provides psychology-based tools and services which support organisations and communities to develop a culture of sustainability.  Visit for more info

Starving Baby Endangered Cockatoos

The price of logging and the Margaret River bushfires as starving cockatoos move to Perth city. 

To help, sign the petition here:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stop the Environment vs Economy Nonsense… or ‘risk becoming irrelevant’, Leading Investor Says

I totally agree. Stop oversimplifying things people - if it's an either or then you aren't looking hard enough for option c.

Top environment stories of 2011


News: Fiji has two more rat-free islands


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rant: Can we move on please?

So today I decided to entertain myself by dropping into a Christian bookshop (an expensive mistake). So I'm wandering around looking for something interesting (I used to love everything in a Christian bookshop, but after studying some theology at university I suppose my standards have changed. Does anyone else feel like they've just walked into a giant self-help bookstore in most Christian shops these days? I don't really need theology-lite thanks. Plus I can't even look at most of the non-book products in there because of some of the fights I know the majors have had in the past over the idea of switching to Fairtrade and ethical products... in a Christian store! But anyway.... I'm getting off topic), when I spy a section titled 'Science'. Now being me (I have an undergrad in Science and I love Eco-theology), that makes my heart start beating faster and I dash over to see what is on offer.

Hmmm, ok, well I can get 'Discrediting Darwin' or 'Creation vs Evolution' or 'Science vs Religion' or 'Why Darwin was wrong' or 'Christian Science' etc etc. you get the gist. There is not a single book in the whole section that does not talk about something to do with the Creationism vs Evolution debate or how evil Darwin is. Now, as important as the thinking around reconciling modern science with religious tradition is, and I think it is very important, this frustrates me immensely for a range of reasons:

Firstly, just because Darwin is famous for the initial ideas around the theories of natural selection and evolution   (and he was not even the very first to publish these, he just expressed it better in the Origin of Species) doesn't mean it is fair to turn him into some kind of Antichrist. Even if you completely disagree with Darwin's theories, demonizing him is unproductive, unfair and unchristian. Keep in mind that this is someone who had thought about joining the clergy. I doubt he was setting out to 'kill God' or 'destroy religion' (and he hasn't, has he?), and even if he was, he is still made in the image of God and deserves our respect.

Secondly, the moment you frame the debate as 'Science vs Religion' you have already restricted yourself to one of two predetermined answers to the discussion and have ignored any possibly of a fruitful dialogue between the two. You can blindly choose Science and toss faith out the window or you can blindly believe religion and toss out every scientific discovery ever made. And really, are you going to do that? No medicine, no iPhone, no wastewater treatment or water purification? Clearly accepting the findings of science (note I'm not saying 'believing' in science because it is not a question of belief. Belief relates to value systems like religion, not observational and experimental methodologies like science. Scientists may hold belief systems that lie behind the work they do, but these are separate from the science and may well be Christian. Perhaps a familiar metaphor is text vs interpretation. We all know a single verse of the Bible can be interpreted many ways. In the same way, scientific results are just data, how you interpret them can differ) doesn't have to threaten our faith, and putting our heads in the sand as Christians is not the answer. I could go on for a long time about the very interesting discussions going on about how faith can learn from science and vice-versa, but I have covered that in other places and I don't think it would be beneficial. I will just say that please, can we not make it 'Science vs Religion', but rather 'finding partnerships between Science and Religion'?

And finally, I find this obsession with a single debate disappointing because as someone with a deep interest in Eco-theology and Creation Care I am aware that it is stealing all the attention away from so many other interesting discussions about the environment, ecology, and what we can learn from science. One of the books I bought today agrees with me, saying:
"The Christian doctrine of creation has too often been highjacked by controversies of creationism, deistic tendencies and a concentration on Genesis 1 to the detriment of the richness of other biblical passages on creation. As a result the discussion of science and religion in the popular arena features Richard Dawkins attacking six-day creationism and the design argument for the existence of God, while many Christians see God the Creator simply as the one who lights the blue touch paper of the Big Bang. Deism, the tendency to see God interacting with the universe only at its very beginning and then going off to watch it from a distance, has been allowed to flourish by separating the doctrine of creation from its foundational scriptures....
Recapturing a Christian doctrine of creation from Scripture allows us to move beyond the controversies of creationism and encounter a fruitful dialogue with science. Perhaps more importantly it also leads to an emphasis that the most important insight into creation is the Creator God who is to [be] worshipped, enjoyed and trusted." David Wilkinson in Darwin, Creation and the Fall: Theological Challenges, Edited by R.J. Berry and T.A. Noble, Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press), Nottingham, 2009.

There are hundreds of books and thousands of words said on this deliberately divisive and falsely dichotomous topic already. Now can we please move on to the many more interesting aspects of creation, science and religion and their connections and positive interplay?

PS. On a more positive note, I found some really great serious Eco-theology books today, and some guides for living a greener life as a Christian and even an ecclesiology book with a section on the Church and Ecology. This is a great sign for the church greening movement worldwide and in Australia and makes me really happy. A few years ago I would have been lucky to find a single book on these topics in a Christian bookstore in Australia.

News - Great Barrier Grief: Gladstone fish kill spreads upriver


Monday, January 2, 2012

Some thoughts on getting (young) people into church

"In the Acts of the Apostles the disciples were bowled over by Jesus, and a lot of extraordinary things happened as a consequence. Yet the dim-witted (or mendacious) among us trawl those same accounts for techniques, asking what programs might foster more conversions, more missionary energy, more Church growth. But, by so doing, they miss the nub of it - which is faith, hope and love.
... I firmly believe that this is a moment for theological and spiritual imagination, for penitence and faith, and for simple, unadulterated joy in God and the gospel. If we have these, which means that we have a lively relationship with the God of Jesus Christ who gathers and illumines us by the Spirit of God, then we have everything we need. The rest will come."

Revd Dr Scott Cowdell in his book 'God's Next Big Thing: Discovering the Future Church', John Garratt Publishing, Mulgrave, 2004. pp. 2-3

This quote nicely expresses why, as a young person (I'm 24), I often get frustrated with church people telling me that if they just had more modern music (more guitars, switching from hymn books to Hillsong or ditching the oldies' favourite traditional hymns), or a bigger youth focused ministry (by which they mean a really enthusiastic youth leader and a bunch of activities) then their church wouldn't be dying and they would get more young people in. They tried all that with their "seeker friendly services" in the US and other places. To me they are missing the point. Young people aren't stupid. Yes, it's nice to have a present wrapped in fancy paper (things like nice modern music), but if what is inside isn't a very nice present then who cares how it is wrapped? Young people are still people. What we really want is a loving community to be a part of, and one that feels like it is going somewhere. That's one of the big advantages of social and environmental justice work in churches. If your church is dedicated to doing something valuable and contextual in your community then it gives young people something worth being involved in. What we don't want (or at least not for long), is to just show up, sing some songs and listen to someone prattle then go home. We want the preaching to be meaningful, and the songs and service to be linked to additional worship of God in our lives and in practical service, and we want the sense of community. We want to feel embraced and important. Yet there is a big caveat here. Don't make us important just because we are young. Get to know us and care about us for who we are. There is nothing that turns me off more than walking into a church and having people crowd around excitedly just because I'm young and then five minutes later start asking me if I'll lead a youth group or something (believe me, it happens). I want to be involved, but I'd like the chance to volunteer thanks. 

So if you want your church to get more people (including the young), don't look at how your service is presented (or not more than to ask if it is so out of date or unorganised it might be scaring people off), do the hard work of looking at your community and seeing if they are loving, caring people who live out their faith and commitment to Jesus every day, who aren't judgmental or hypocritical and who work together as your church community to do something truly worthwhile. Like Scott says, it's about Faith, Hope and Love. And if you have all that the rest will come. 

I probably don't speak for all young people, but that's the way I see it. 

Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+