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April 9, 2010

Environmental Awareness – Encouragement Vs Education

Filed under: Mama * Earth * Kids — Tags: , , , , , , — charndra @ 6:31 am

Environmental Awareness – Encouragement Vs Education

By Eric C Eckl

“I can do small things every day that will make an impact on water pollution.”

It’s such a simple statement, and it’s true. So why is it so hard to send a message — over the airwaves, online, or in print — that actually evokes that reaction? Unfortunately, many environmental messages accidentally evoke an entirely different reaction, instead:

“It is hard to believe that the actions of one person can really contribute to lessening water pollution.”

I pulled those quotes from test audiences that reviewed a pair of environmental public service announcements. It’s my job to help environmental organizations pre-test their commercials and other marketing materials before they are released to the public. The two spots had a lot in common. Both of them urged everyday citizens to do their part in their daily lives to stop water pollution before it starts. But here’s the key difference — the producers of more successful advertisement crafted their message to encouraging. The producers of the less successful advertisement crafted their message to be educational.

Tennessee Water Works produced the “Heroes” advertisement, which prompted that confident “I can do small things every day” response. Who are the “heroes” this ad is about? People like you and me, who plant trees, recycle their motor oil (instead of dumping it in the drain), and care for their lawns responsibly. This advertisement holds up the example of ordinary people doing ordinary things and tells the viewer how great it is. In just 30 seconds, the advertisements repeatedly send the message that these people are heroes and their small actions add up to something important. According to the test panel, this message eventually sinks in.

The government of Honolulu produced the “Water for Life” commercial that prompted the second, doubt-filled reaction. This spot is educational. It shows images that reveal how trash and pollution find their way into storm drains and out into the ocean that Hawaiians love. Sure, it’s true. But it’s grim — bumming the viewers out with shots of murky, polluted water, garbage, and choking wildlife. According to the test audience feedback, viewers see reason to believe that solutions are within reach, or that they have a part to play in bringing it about.

Environmental experts are often dismayed at how little the average citizen understands about their work. It’s easy to find yourself falling into the “if only they knew” trap — “If only they knew they lived in a watershed,” “if only they knew the stormdrain went to the creek.” It is our natural tendency to produce commercials, web pages, brochures, and other materials that try to cram a whole of science into a tiny amount of attention. But the test panel reactions to these commercials underscore the shortcomings of these line of thinking. When it comes to raising environmental awareness, it turns out encouragement is even more important than education.

Eric Eckl is an expert on using marketing techniques to raise environmental awareness and encourage environmental action. He writes the water blog “Water Words That Work.”

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A Question for you about My Green Nappy and ‘Environmental Awareness – Encouragement vs Education’:


My primary goal with My Green Nappy is encouragement. Encouraging every family down under to have ONE green nappy for their baby to wear. But also, education. My Green Nappy Guide is designed to gently educate and encourage, to inspire and provide helpful resources and ideas so you can ‘cherry pick’ those actions that suit you at the moment, all while introducing you to the many nappy suppliers in Australia and New Zealand.

I found this article this morning and decided straight away to publish it here. Thinking about this article and the resources here, I have a question for you; I can use your responses to shape this site into one that is even more encouraging of environmental awareness as it relates to green nappies, mums and bubs and this important stage in our lives. my question is:

How is the balance? When you look around My Green Nappy, is there a good balance between encouragement and education?”

– Charndra


  1. Yes, I think the carrot over stick approach is better and smarter. As an individual it’s good to feel empowered. That’s why the My Green Nappy site is such a good one…

    Comment by Sarah — April 9, 2010 @ 10:23 am

  2. There’s plenty of education on the site, but I think it is presented in a “you can do it too” way rather than a trying to beat people with the stick way 🙂 Helping people to believe that they can make a difference is half the battle won…

    Comment by Sara — April 9, 2010 @ 11:55 am

  3. What an interesting article! I had never thought about the difference before, but I have just been educated. I now understand the approach taken by the My Green Nappy site. I would love to hear feedback from people accessing the site, (those who didn’t already use reusable/green nappies) as to what nappy choices they made.

    Comment by Lara from ExtremelyNappies — April 9, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

  4. Thanks! That is great to hear – it is always a concern when writing, hey.

    After reading a bit more at the site about ‘Water Words That Work’, I wrote, or rather finished and tweaked this article with some of the research Eric has suggested is more encouraging:
    3 Tips for Environmentally Friendly Living With a Baby in Nappies…

    Comment by Charndra — April 9, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

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