Dead plants – the stuff of inspiration?
The researcher Guéguen has recently shown that the presence of dead plants strengthens people's beliefs in global warming. Guéguen advised, "people who want to heighten public awareness on the topic [of global warming] could profitably use photographs or videos of dead plants, or plants without foliage, thus increasing the effectiveness of public awareness campaigns." Guéguen makes an interesting leap that strengthening people’s belief in global warming will influence their behaviour to be more pro-environmental. For example, it was suggested that in public toilets the presence of plants without foliage could encourage less water consumption when washing one's hands.
This is a timely debate right now. The BBC reported on the 5th April that Hosepipe bans affecting about 20 million customers have been introduced by seven water authorities in parts of southern and eastern England including Brighton, where I live and work. The white paper ‘Water for Life’ published by Defra earlier this year told us about the general public’s lack of understanding about the need to save water, especially on rainy days.
It seems there is something in the visual clues that alter our beliefs, but how do these beliefs alter our behaviour? At Ampleo we work with large organisations to help them embed sustainable behaviour into the daily habits and decision making of their workforce. Do we believe that putting dead plants around an office building would make people turn off their PCs before they clock off for the night? Well no, we don’t. We do think it would make their day a bit miserable though!
So is this type of research useful? Well my initial reaction is that it’s not. It is too depressing. Many communications gurus such as Futerra advocate positive communications to create a buzz and a ‘want to do’ approach rather than a ‘have to do’ approach. And I agree with them.
I also feel that it is too simplistic as an approach to change behaviour over time. There is plenty of research out there that is more useful in informing behaviour change in the workplace, for example work engagement theory helps us think about the resources required for individuals in the workplace such as training, role diversity and authority in decision making to help engage employees in their work. This type of research helps us think about ways in which we can really embed sustainability by engaging employees on a ‘business as usual’ level. If putting a picture of a dead plant has the (unlikely) instant effect of someone using slightly less water than usual, I think this would be the best it gets. The longer term effect would be the installation of ‘doom and gloom’; a collective individual resignation of power over our ability to prevent climate change.
25th May 2012