I belong to a few environmental groups and so I receive a steady stream of flyers from these groups in the mail, more often than not highlighting the plight of whales, polar bears, and wolves. Even today as the world goes through wrenching change the flyers and eco-junk mail tends to focus on the plight of these mammals. This is either admirable tenacity or a sign of losing touch with what is going on right now for most people in the world.
First, let me say that I believe in the cause. I signed up for the groups, I studied biology in school, and was moved by The Inconvenient Truth to start working on “75 Green Businesses”. I believe that we imperil ourselves by ignoring our impact on the natural world. I drank the eco-Kool-Aid.
But here’s the thing – no matter how I feel about polar bears, I doubt they are the first thing most people think of in the morning or the last thing they think about when they go to sleep. For the vast majority of people, thinking of polar bears does not keep them awake at night. What does keep them awake is worrying about their jobs, their bills, their homes, and their families. “How will I pay the mortgage?” they lie awake wondering. What will they do to pay for college?
This isn’t to say that nobody cares about the natural world. There is a solid core group of people who care deeply about the bears, wolves, and the rest of the natural world, and with the world still facing pressing environmental issues that will still be around when the present economic smoke clears this is a very good thing. Most people care about the environment, as revealed by a steady stream of surveys. But this core group is a relatively small percentage of the people. Single digits. For most people the environment is not at the top of their list.
The danger for the environmental movement, and for green businesses, is that if they address only this core group they will miss the other 95%. And if they miss the 95%, they risk making themselves irrelevant. I’d like to see more flyers with the wolves saying “Save the humans”. Green businesses, marketers and non-profits that successfully connect what they are doing to the things that 95% of us are worried about should excel.
Make the cause relevant. Any takers?