Values-based messaging tackles the green gulf

Abraham Maslow's 'Hierarchy of Needs' was one of the first models that helped me make sense of life and our individual journeys through it. That was in 1975. Little did I know that an even better understanding, from Dr Clare W Graves, had been published just the year before. In its new 'Cracking the Green Code' report, Ecoalign applied Dr Graves' research to what it calls 'the green gap' – the gulf that exists between stated beliefs and environmental actions. Fortunately, the theory is more useful than that, because it can be applied in any situation where mental resistance is high and desired behaviour is low.
All manner of people and institutions are banging the green drum in the hope that they'll induce mass behavioural change. But it's not working very well. "Al Gore", the Ecoalign report says, "did a terrific job of demonstrating the horrible hell that humans will create…" but goes on to say, "Unfortunately, he spent far less time creating an inspired, credible, vision for our collective future."
Somehow the green issue has to be turned around so that, according to the report, "it occurs to target audiences as an exciting opportunity to further their own pre-existing life goals and aspirations'. And this is where Dr Graves comes in. He spent 40 years researching, then mapping, the human psyche in a way that still makes sense even as our behaviours evolve. He identified eight levels of thinking that operate in the world today. At the moment, in North America, four of these levels predominate. They are: Absolutistic, Individualistic, Humanistic and Systemic. A fifth, Holistic, is currently emerging. By understanding each of these, you understand the majority of the developed world. The others are included in the Ecoalign report.
Here's an overview of the four mentioned:

Absolutistic (20% of US)
Life theme: Sacrifice self now to receive future reward
Core values: Discipline, authority and purpose
Goal: Find peace and meaning in this world by denying impulses and upholding moral laws
Perception-shaping metaphor: Life is a test
Key messaging tactic: Call to duty

Individualistic (30% of US)
Life theme: Express self for what self desires, but in a calculated fashion so as to avoid bringing down the wrath of important others
Core values: Accomplishment, power, profit
Goal: Achieve success and influence in this life by strategically manipulating desired outcomes
Perception-shaping metaphor: Life is a game. The world is a machine.
Key messaging tactic: Call to action

Humanistic (30% of US)
Life theme: Sacrifice self now in order to gain acceptance now
Core values: Equality, honesty, relatedness
Goal: To find happiness in this life, in this moment, by relating deeply to other humans
Perception-shaping metaphor: Humans are a family
Key messaging tactic: Call to imagine. Call to compassion.

Systemic (10-15% of US)
Life theme: Express self for what self desires and others need, but never at the expense of others, and in a manner that all life can continue to exist
Core values: Integrity, competence, sustainability
Goal: To restore vitality and balance to a world torn asunder
Perception-shaping metaphor: Life is a system
Key messaging tactic: Call to innovate. Call to service.

From the above, you can no doubt start to slot people you know, or know of, into the different categories. It's little wonder, then, that blanket exhortations don't get us very far. Whatever we're trying to push, whether it's green IT, social computing or electric cars, we need to be able to segment our audience effectively and appeal to the appropriate inner drivers.
The report goes on to explain how it tested the theories by mapping expected values of a group of individuals against actual values by showing them some utility industry video vignettes. While this is unlikely to be central to readers of this blog, it does serve to set the research into a real world context.
But a lot of the report is about the 'what' you need to do, rather than the 'how'. But then this is probably what Ecoalign and the report's author, John Marshall Roberts, are on this earth for: to help with that bit. This in no way diminishes the insights it gives to the ways in which the people around us might be thinking and to how we might adjust our approaches to better match their internal realities.

If you're interested, this blog post by Christopher C. Cowan and Natasha Todorovic throws more light on the works of Graves and Maslow

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