Hero or Villian

Recently I attended a seminar on behavioral change and pollution prevention. It was taught be Steven Groner, a respected authority in the field, and sponsored by the Bay Area Pollution Prevention Group (our Scientific Advisor, Autumn Cleave, is Chair of this organization). This seminar was extremely beneficial in helping me craft my messaging. The biggest takeaway I had is that not all people and age groups respond to the same motivation; therefore, it is necessary to “know your audience.” For instance, some groups respond well to an authority figure, but this is not necessary true with teenagers (shocking, I know).
There is a belief that knowledge is power, and if you make people aware of the problem, they will match their behavior to correct the problem. However, this is not true. This is called the Knowledge Deficit Quiz:
1. Does knowledge correlate with behavior? TRUE
2. Do educational efforts cause an increase in knowledge? TRUE
3. Does increasing knowledge result in behavior change.  FALSE
Steven identified two musts to get people to change their habits and stop polluting: the first is to remove barriers, and the second is to motivate them to want to change. He identified six approaches to successfully motivate people to want change:

  1. Authority—You change your behavior because an authority figure tells you to.
  2. Scarcity—You change your behavior because if you don’t, you will miss out.
  3. Likeability—You change your behavior to match that of someone you admire.
  4. Reciprocity—If you change your behavior, you will receive something in return.
  5. Social Proof and Norms—You change your behavior because it is the right thing to do and others are doing it also.
  6. Commitment and Consistency—You change your behavior because its patriotic or you made a pledge to do so.
Not everyone responds to the same motivator, but most people want to do the right thing and “be the hero.” However, you need to be careful with this type of message, because if you identify a specific polluting behavior that someone does and indicate it is extremely harmful, they could get angry because they feel vilified. This results in the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. Instead of doing what you want the person to do, the individual could say, “Screw it, I am going to do what I want – forget you!”
Identifying specific behavior is paramount to combating marine plastic – the main culprit of plastic in the ocean is single-use plastic. So, it’s simple, people need to stop using single-use plastic. But getting them to do this is not simple. Plastic is so pervasive worldwide and we live in a disposable society. We are busy, we want immediate gratification, and we want convenience. We want things faster, easier, and cheaper. This is our biggest barrier; how do we eliminate this? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer.
Stopping using single-use plastic takes some effort; sometimes it takes a lot of effort. By now, most people have become accustomed to bringing their own water bottle and reusable grocery bags, but what about the other culprits? How do we get people to stop using takeaway plastic cups, takeout containers, coffee cups, straws, utensils, and stirrers? This is much more problematic. How do we get people to make the investment in reusable items and take the time to bring them wherever they go? We need to remove the barriers and make this easy. That is one of our missions at Sea Hugger, we hope to be a one-stop-shop for people to find alternatives to single-use plastic, either from our Store or from other businesses that we promote on our Likes page. We also encourage people to speak up and tell restaurants they frequent to switch to compostable and reusable items. This is what it is going to take; we cannot rely on the government or even the business owners to create change, it has to come from the consumer.
Sea Hugger seeks to create a community of like-minded people who embrace the BYO movement, and we encourage them to share this with others. It might seem a little intimidating at first, but I’ve become quite good at telling restaurant owners that I don’t want plastic anymore and why. Most of them have been receptive, and if enough customers speak up, they will be willing to change. Research has shown that consumers look favorably on restaurants and businesses that are eco-conscious. Let the business owners know this! Your voice is a powerful tool, use it, and if that doesn’t work, use your wallet. Don’t go to these establishments anymore and let them know why. But if you want to continue to frequent these places, then BYO. It will catch on. Your reusable coffee cup can be your new accessory and it says something about you. It says that you care and you’re not lazy. It says that you are the hero!


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