Work at it. 10,000 hours, maybe more.
Practice, with intention and discipline.
Find masters in the domain and learn from them.
This week’s presentation by Renee Lertzman at the Garrison Institute’s Pacific Northwest Climate, Mind and Behavior Hub addressed the challenges in changing consumer behavior related to sustainability and introduced a handful of unusual experts worth studying.
The Garrison Institute’s CMB was founded on the premise that there is a substantial opportunity to reduce environmental impact through the built environment, but enduring solutions will require advances in both design and human behavior.
a) high performance buildings are still the exception
b) even in the best buildings, intended levels of sustainability can not be realized unless people consistently use those buildings the way they were designed to be used... which requires some changes in day to day behavior.
To this end, there have been significant efforts to collect data, reward efficiency and penalize waste - to sway by moral imperative, fear or focus on superior financial performance. But success has been limited.
So who are the masters of behavior change? Or at least log the most hours of experience? Lertzman’s presentation drew from two domains not normally represented in the building community: psychotherapy and consumer branding.
After an initial jolt of surprise and potentially skepticism, this makes sense. At their core, both disciplines tap into the deepest and strongest currents of human emotion, focusing explicitly on the ones that drive behavior over time. Fear. Anxiety. Intimacy. Desire. Love. Both disciplines elicit change by focusing on how the customer feels.
Lertzman highlighted an obvious but often off-limits observation - that talking about sustainability makes people feel both good and bad. Good because most people want to take care of the environment, bad because the discussion requires acknowledgement that terrible things might happen - to the planet, to our children, to us - if we don’t do something about it. Her work suggests that, in order to engage audiences in a meaningful way, the building industry will need to acknowledge and address this mixture of feelings head on.
Good + Bad = Better
Referencing the work of Rosemary Randall, a prominent psychotherapist and founder of the Cambridge Carbon Footprint, Lertzman noted that rather than either fixating on, or avoiding the negative aspects of environmental concerns, the building industry could do well to acknowledge them as a starting point, and move on: “unless we address the negative emotions too, they will overtake the movement.”
Borrowing from psychological theory made famous by AA – admitting there is a problem is the first step towards solving it. Primarily because doing so is real and authentic. The benefits of authentic communication have long been touted among brand managers from software to consumer goods. Brands perceived as authentic excel: earning greater loyalty over time, higher likelihood of consumer-to-consumer recommendations, and often higher price points.
% of Consumers Willing to Recommend a Brand,
Relative to Their Perception of the Brand's Authenticity
The result: EcoSense by Epeat, a global registry and green rating system to help consumers choose technology wisely. With the tagline “Love your technology. Love your Planet.”, the campaign aims to reach customers on-level, acknowledging and accepting their ambivalence, the difficulty of making good choices, while encouraging their desire to do the right thing. Feedback is still coming in, but initial responses have been highly positive.
Focus on Feelings – a more direct route to behavior change
On a humbling note - Lertzman gently pointed out that environmentally-motivated messages or calls for behavior change can often come across as arrogant, overly simplified and off-putting. No one present at her talk disagreed.
Cues from other industries suggest that making feelings central can shift the focus away from externally-driven mandates towards aspiration attainment - enabling consumers’ efforts to live their lives in the best way possible, as defined by them. Pause for a moment to let that one sink in. This is basic listening, customer relations 101. The norm for best-in-class consumer branding, but a rare perspective from the sustainability side of real estate.
Lertzman pointed to global advertizing giant Saatchi & Saatchi, which has embodied this philosophy with its Lovemarks campaign. In the firm’s parlance, it strives to identify and create Lovemarks, brands “beyond brands”: defined as any product, service or entity that elicits delight and “loyalty beyond reason”. Nominees include: Moleskin, Dukati, Apple. New York City, Pixar, Sharpie, Rolex. StarWars, Muji and the Victorinox Swiss Army Knife.
Re: LoveMarks: “You don’t just like them. You love them. Unconditionally. You really care about them and they’re major priorities in your life. They make you feel that way because they’re mysterious, sensual and intimate. Something mere brands simply are not. When you’re shopping, you search out your Lovemarks, accepting no substitutes.
“You’d be surprised, perhaps, when we say that Lovemarks are owned by the people who love them. Not by the manufacturers who have a legal claim only on the name.
“You might think the current tough times are not good times for Lovemarks. Perhaps you’d expect people to be hunting for bargains, cut prices and cheap options. But no. Instead, people are searching for value. They’re seeking integrity and substance over the faddish and the price–slashed. Which means they’re looking for Lovemarks, because Lovemarks are certainties. They represent true value."
It may take something of a leap to extend this mentality to the building industry - to construction, leasing, building operations and habits like turning off lights when leaving the office. But if fierce loyalty, pride, and love can be won for notebooks, homegoods, pens and motorcycles, it may be possible to impact behavior through the way people feel about their buildings and cities. What would you do for love?
Below: a rough summary of Lertzman's core suggestions - strikingly simple and immediately actionable. For detail, contact and additional publications, see her site here.
1. Assume Apathy: that people don’t care about environmental or sustainability issues
2. Tell people to change
3. Push, require, mandate, regulate
4. Focus on Attitude, Behavior
5. Arrogance, Hubris, Talking "down"
6. Ignore models for behavior change from other industries - create new experts exclusive to real estate and the built environment
1. Assume aspiration: people care (according to a study by Yale, most of them actually do...)
2. Ask what keeps people from changing
3. Listen to what they want
4. Focus on Feelings: acknowledge ambivalence, accept that it is possible to feel both good and bad about important issues
5. Humility, Talking on-level as peers
6. Consider engaging experts in behavior change: psychotherapists, consumer branding, communication, and applied research from adjacent fields