Going green: It’s all about the message

Posted on Wednesday, October 14, 2015

By Brandon Gillet

Nowadays we see lots of messages about the environment and sustainability.  But how does the general public react to them? To find out,  Professor Luc Pelletier, an environmental psychologist, and his team are looking at environmental messaging.

What exactly is environmental messaging? According to Pelletier, it can be a lot of things, but his research focuses on why it doesn’t work and how messages can be tailored and framed to be effective.

“For example, politicians talk about stimulating the economy by consuming more so, there is a dilemma there in which messages we should listen to,” says Pelletier. People are conflicted between consumption and sustainability, and so, despite their level of awareness, they don’t do much about the latter.

Pelletier’s research views the issue in two parts: tailoring and framing of messages.

An example of tailoring is making the message relevant and able to change with the times. Think of recycling and how long it’s been around; it’s almost second nature. However, “If there is no curb service, people don’t know what to do,” say Pelletier.

Framing is perhaps the most important aspect of messaging. It is associated with both intrinsic and extrinsic goals. According to Pelletier, intrinsic goals refer to motivating factors like wellness and personal health, while extrinsic goals refer to instilling fear of consequences like global warming or rising costs.

Pelletier notes that “about 80% of messaging shows consequences and causes while only about 10% are solutions.” Yet, he says, “Consequences only bring about discomfort.”

 Pelletier hopes to establish the effectiveness of intrinsic, motivating goals versus extrinsic goals. “These extrinsic goals provide incentive, not motivation,” he notes. “If you remove the incentive, they stop.” 

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