Is The Animal Protection Movement At A Crossroads?
A recent publication from the World Wildlife Fund asks important questions about encouraging environmentally-friendly behavior among consumers. The report addresses the long-term efficacy of marketing-based, incremental advocacy approaches and argues in favor of more values-based messaging. The discussion is relevant to discussions among animal advocates regarding whether or not to use tangential motivators to encourage animal-friendly behavior.
The WWF report, called “Weathercocks and Signposts: The Environment Movement at a Crossroads,” provides a strong and well-rounded critique of current approaches to environmental advocacy. It also suggests a solution, namely an appeal to the community-oriented values, which arguably run counter to our consumer society’s values of individualism and materialism.
As our understanding of the scale of environmental challenges deepens, so we are also forced to contemplate the inadequacy of the current responses to these challenges. By and large, these responses retreat from engaging the values that underpin our decisions as citizens, voters and consumers: mainstream approaches to tackling environmental threats do not question the dominance of today’s individualistic and materialistic values.
The report’s author calls out what he considers to be the “failure of the marketing approach” to encourage sufficient behavior change for real environmental progress. He equates the “marketing approach” with encouraging incremental changes toward an end goal, which is an approach I’ve argued for many times. While I’m still of the opinion that most people need such incremental steps to keep moving toward increasingly animal-friendly choices, the WWF report provides some interesting food for thought. Its author even argues that such approaches may serve to undermine true environmental progress and widespread behavior change.
Marketing approaches to creating behavioural change may be the most effective way of motivating specific change, on a piecemeal basis. But the evidence presented in this report suggests that such approaches may actually serve to defer, or even undermine, prospects for the more far-reaching and systemic behavioural changes that are needed…
Current emphasis on ‘simple and painless steps’ may be a distraction from the approaches that will be needed to create more systemic change. Such emphasis also deflects precious campaign and communication resources from alternative approaches.
We’ll discuss some of the WWF report’s examples and observations in more detail in future blog posts. It’s interesting to note that, despite the author’s apparent disagreement with the incremental behavior change that Faunalytics often advocates, his conclusions are consistent with our research-driven suggestions for animal advocates. Namely, that simply informing people is not enough, and that what people intend to do and what they actually do can be quite different.
Proponents of the marketing approach recognise the importance of values in driving behavioural choices – even if they tend to argue that dominant values should be taken as ‘given’. This is a crucial point. Firstly, it underscores the recognition that we should not expect information campaigns to create behavioural change. Secondly, it has an important bearing on our understanding of the gap between what people say and what they do.
While the report relies heavily on critiquing current approaches to environmental advocacy, it also offers a range of potential solutions and issues to consider. The author recommends a shift from marketing strategies to political strategies to achieve real environmental progress… similar in many ways to the “system-wide change” advocated by Austrian animal advocate Martin Balluch. I’ll take a closer look at this alternative approach and other suggestions from the WWF report in the next few blog posts.