Monday, January 28, 2008

Groups use 'social marketing' to aid environment

Portland Press Herald

If 20% of the population changes behavior, activists believe the
rest will follow

By ANNE GLEASON Staff Writer
January 28, 2008

By the end of this month, "no idling" signs will be up in park-
and-ride locations across the state. They're already a familiar
sight at spots in Freeport and at ferry terminals, and now even a
few businesses have signs in their parking lots.

Those who ignore the signs are not fined. They're meant to
encourage -- not punish -- behavior, said Joan Saxe, a member
of the executive committee of the Maine Sierra Club chapter,
which partnered with state agencies and the Maine Council of
Churches on the no-idling initiative.

"It's not about preaching. It's about getting community members
and neighbors to act on certain behaviors," she said. "Something
like (no-idling ordinances) are hard to enforce. We feel like peer
pressure -- neighbor-to-neighbor influence -- can make things

Communities across the globe are turning to community-based
social marketing to encourage environmentally conscious
behavior, an idea pioneered by environmental psychologist Doug
McKenzie-Mohr and based on the idea that sustainable behavior
can be marketed using tried-and-true techniques, including
peer pressure.

Traditional public-information campaigns alone, according to
McKenzie-Mohr's guide, have limited success in changing long-
term behavior.

Now environmental advocates in Maine communities, including
Kennebunk and Freeport, are looking at social marketing as one
way to get more residents on board with local green initiatives.
The Maine Council of Churches has a statewide social-marketing
campaign called "Be a Good Apple," which provides churches
with necessary materials to encourage their congregations to
pledge to eat local food.

Last year, Kennebunk's all-volunteer Sustainable Energy Alliance
got the town to sign on to the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection
Agreement, then tried to involve residents as well, with a
community climate challenge encouraging people to pledge to
lower their carbon emissions.

Because of lack of participation, it never got off the ground. Jen
Niese, a founding member of the group, believes the challenge
may have failed because of an abundance of climate challenges
at the time, but also said it could have been marketed better.

Now the group is brainstorming ways to increase recycling rates
in town, and Niese said she would like to draft an effort using
McKenzie-Mohr's guide. He advises communities to identify
barriers to certain behaviors and develop programs to overcome
them. "We need to get people to commit and get people to sign
on (to recycling efforts), instead of just handing them a bin,"
Niese said.

A handful of communities in southern York County are trying a
different approach to behavioral change, building a network of
supporters from the ground up. The Piscataqua Sustainability
Initiative, based in Portsmouth, N.H., started its "sustainability
circles" in seacoast New Hampshire and Maine in the fall of
2006. They're like book clubs, except the discussions are meant
specifically to change the way participants think about their
effect on the environment.

The idea is not to tell people to recycle, but to change their
values so that sustainability becomes an ingrained concept and
actions such as recycling or buying environmentally safe
products become second nature, said Bert Cohen, an adjunct
professor who started the sustainability circles in the seacoast

"You can get people to recycle cans, but that's working on an
individual level," he said. "If you change the value system that
somebody functions with, those values will go out into the
community and affect every decision they make."

Two years ago, Portsmouth began its environmental efforts the
way many communities do, making municipal buildings more
energy-efficient. As a member of the city sustainability
committee, Cohen believed more could be done to involve
residents and businesses. "We felt, the city (government) is a
very small portion of what is happening in terms of the whole
municipality," he said.

The circles quickly spread to Maine communities, including York,
Eliot and North Berwick. Cohen acknowledged that many current
participants are people who already were environmentally
conscious, but said with any product, the "early adapters" spread
information down to the marginally invested, who then talk to
the less invested, and so on.

The "tipping point" for when a new idea or product takes off is
believed to occur when about 20 percent of a population is on
board, he said. The goal right now, Cohen said, is to build that
constituency through the grass-roots meetings.

"When you reach 20 percent of the population with anything,
whether it's a hula hoop or a VW Bug, people see the benefits of
it and they move toward it," he said.

Diane Brandon of Eliot participated in her first sustainability
circle in December 2006. Later she became a facilitator. Her
latest group finished up this month, having met for eight weeks
in the homes of the participants during lunchtime. Brandon still
keeps in touch with the members by e-mail, sending
information about new products or community issues.

"You become part of a network that's out there," she said. "You
try to get engaged in whatever catches you."

Staff Writer Anne Gleason can be contacted at 282-8229 or at:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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