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Crafting effective messages for environmental conservation


Most people that behave in environmentally conscious ways will claim that they do so because they are motivated by reasons of social responsibility toward conservation. They may even admit that there …

Most people that behave in environmentally conscious ways will claim that they do so because they are motivated by reasons of social responsibility toward conservation. They may even admit that there are economic advantages to doing so. However, they would be largely incorrect. The following literature review will examine the most likely cause for motivating the public to adopt pro-environmental behavior, and how these cognitive reactions can best be put to use the in development of conservation campaign messages.

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  • 1. Crafting Effective Messages in Environmental ConservationCrafting Effective Messages InEnvironmental ConservationA White Paper in Energy andEnvironmental Education andBehavior ChangeBy Caren MagillUCLA/Fielding GraduateUniversity_________________________________            Abstract Most people that behave inenvironmentally conscious ways willclaim that they do so because theyare motivated by reasons of socialresponsibility toward conservation.They may even admit that there areeconomic advantages to doing so.However, they would be largelyincorrect. The following literaturereview will examine the most likelycause for motivating the public toadopt pro-environmental behavior,and how these cognitive reactionscan best be put to use the indevelopment of conservationcampaign messages.Caren  Magill       1      
  • 2. Crafting Effective Messages in Environmental Conservation The following white paper will effectiveness of the normativediscuss the most effective way to messages against a number of othercraft pro-social environmental influential environmentalconservation messages for use in conservation messages. The firstpublic awareness campaigns using study was a survey based analysisthe psychological principles of social measuring “priori beliefs people heldnorms. This review is in no way an about why they conserve energyexhaustive review of the studies that and to examine the relative weighthave been conducted in this area, that participants would ascribe tobut highlights some of the more social norms as a factor in theirapplicable techniques that current decisions to conserve energy atresearch has uncovered. home” (Nolan et al. 2008, p.915). A random selection of 810 participantsThe Power of Normative Social in the state of California were askedInfluence via phone interviews, about their Social norms are the “self-reported efforts to conservebehaviors of a group of people. energy, perceived reasons forNormative social influence is the conservation, beliefs about broadgenerally accepted social behavior benefits of energy conservation,that an individual will adopt in order descriptive normative beliefsbe perceived as compliant by a regarding energy conservation [howgroup of people. Individuals have a much they thought other peopletendency to conform to social norms practiced conservation] andin order to be perceived as demographics” (Nolan et al. 2008,agreeable. The power of this p.915). Further examining the self-natural human tendency is reported conservation practices,extremely effective when crafting they asked participants if theirsocial marketing campaigns motivations were attributed tointended to influence public environmental concern, savingbehavior change. The importance money, social responsibility, orof incorporating normative social because other people were doing it.influence into campaign messaging They measured the motivatingis examined in a 2008 study responses for why the participantsconducted by Nolan, Schultz, actually conserved energy againstCialdini, Goldstein & Griskevicius. how much they believed energy The premise of the research conservation impacted eachwas to not only examine the variable (economic, environment,effectiveness of normative social social responsibility and how muchinfluence (using messages that imply their neighbors were conservingthat “other people are adopting this which was exclusively given a 3 pointbehavior”), but to illustrate the under scale of sometimes, frequently ordetection of this method as a major always).motivating factor by the general The responses, measured on apublic. In two separate studies, 4-point scale showed thatresearchers first uncovered the environmental concern was thegeneral opinion of normative social number one reason why participantsinfluence as an influencing factor, practiced energy conservation,and then measured the followed by societal benefits andCaren  Magill       2      
  • 3. Crafting Effective Messages in Environmental Conservationthen cost savings. The normative experimental intervention. Thesocial influence factor (because message samples included aother people do it) scored the descriptive norm, a self-interest (costlowest. According to the savings), an environmental message,researchers, the survey results were a socially responsible message andconvergently valid with existing data just an information only sample,suggesting, “people tend to which was control condition. Thegenerate causal theories that are door hangers also includedself-serving” (Nolan et al. 2008, suggestive action for conservingp.916). energy such turning off lights or using Using the perception of a fan instead of air conditioning.effectiveness data, a 3-step A door-to-door interventionhierarchical multiple regression by blind, trained interviewers thenprocess was used to examine the confirmed that the homeowner haseffectiveness of the normative social seen the hanger, recalled theinfluence statement against message and of those, they weredemographic information, responses asked how much the door hangerto the 4 reasons for conservation had motivated them to practice(environment, social, economic & conservation. The 509 qualifyingnormative) and finally the 3-item participants then had twonormative belief scale about their subsequent meter readings at oneneighbors. and then two months after the The results of the regression intervention to examine the longanalysis reported that “despite the and short-term effectiveness of theperception that other people’s messages.behavior was least influential on their The 4-point scale results of thedecision to conserve, beliefs of how intervention were predicatively valid,often their neighbors tried to with the descriptive norm beingconserve showed a strong rated as the least motivational (atcorrelation with respondents’ own the same rate as the controlreported conservation efforts” condition) and the environmental(Nolan et al. 2008, p.917). This would message being rated as mostindicate that there is a significant influential. Interestingly, the results ofrelationship between how much the 5 level independent variablepeople practice conservation, showed that the descriptive normbased on how much they perceive participants used significantly lessothers doing so as well. energy in the short term (M=12.97) The second study was an than in the combined otherexperimental design where conditions (M=14.17). The long-termresearchers used normative results were similar.information to influence energy The significance of theseconservation behavior using a findings cannot be understatedsample of 981 homes in San Marcos, when designing social marketingCalifornia. Door hangers with 5 campaigns. That a “messageexperimental messages were merely containing information aboutrandomly assigned one week after the conservation behavior of thetheir energy meters were recorded, majority of one’s neighbors – spurredand rerecorded the day of the people to conserve more energyCaren  Magill       3      
  • 4. Crafting Effective Messages in Environmental Conservationthan did the control message or any shapes individuals’ interpretations of,of the three other messages” (Nolan and responses to, the situationet al. 2008, p.920) despite the (Bearden and Etzel, 1982), especiallyperceived weak influence of the in novel, ambiguous, or uncertainmessage is very powerful. A situations” (Goldstien, Cialdini &potential confounding variable that Griskevicius, 2008, p.2).should not be overlooked, is that The value of this knowledge cannotpeople may already practice their be overstated in crafting socialexisting conservation methods due marketing messages. Through clearto environmental, social or articulation of pro-social descriptiveeconomic concerns. As the norms, audiences that are uncertainresearchers suggest, a preaching to about appropriate behavior, processthe choir effect may have occurred an immediate cognitive reaction towith regard to the motivation of the socially predicable option.existing practices, and therefore The first study measured thetheir importance should not be conformance to a towel reuseoverlooked in message design. program in a well-known hotel chain. The independent variableNormative Messages, Proximity and had two levels, one was a sign withSituation an industry standard message about The power of popular the importance of reusing towels tobehavior is only one of several save the environment, and the otherimpactful techniques that can be sign readapplied to prosocial message “JOIN YOUR FELLOW GUESTSconstruction in order to maximize IN HELPING TO SAVE THEaudience resonance and ENVIRONMENT. Almost 75% ofcompliance. The idea of normative guests who are asked togroup behavior is especially participate in our newpowerful when it addresses a group resource savings program doassociation in close proximity or help by using their towelsimmediate situational more than once. You cancircumstances. join your fellow guests in this A two part study conducted program to help save thein 2008 by Goldstien, Cialdini & environment by reusing yourGriskevicius examined the towels during your stay”effectiveness of conservation (Goldstien, Cialdini &practices in a hotel using descriptive Griskevicius, 2008, p.3).norms (what people typically do in a Both signs asked guests to hang thesituation), highlighting the used towel up in a specific place ifeffectiveness of this model with they cared to reuse them, or leavevarying group identity messages (i.e. them on the floor if they wantedpeople who stayed in the same them replaced. On the back ofroom vs. same hotel, citizen or both signs, some data about thegender identifications). Building on individual impact of reusing towelswhat has already been discussed, had on water and oil conservationthis study confirms the growing body was listed. The experiment lastedof data that suggests “behavior of over an 80-day period, and guestsothers in the social environment who stayed more than one night inCaren  Magill       4      
  • 5. Crafting Effective Messages in Environmental Conservationthe 190-room hotel were measured conservation message in a provincialfor their responses to the randomly context (people who stayed in theselected rooms that received either same room) with a more globalthe normative or industry standard context (people who stayed in theconservation sign. Room attendants same hotel). These messages werewere trained to record the towel compared with conditions of sociallyreuse behavior of the guests on a relevant identity groups such asdaily basis. fellow citizens or gender The results of the study classification. The industry standardrevealed that the descriptive norm message was also used as thecondition produced significantly control condition, for a total of 5 signhigher reuse rates (44.1%) than the conditions. A separate pretestindustry standard environmental asked a random sample of 53 surveyprotection condition (35.1%). This participants which of the 5result shows a conservative conditions they felt would be mostestimation of conformity as it influential in motivating them tomeasured only the first night of a participate in the towel reuseguest’s eligible stay (assuming they program due to social identity. Inmay have reused more than one other words, would they be more ornight), as well, towels that were hung less motivated if they were asked toon door knobs were eliminated as participate as a fellow man orbehavioral evidence to avoid women, citizen, hotel guest, hotelconfounding variables of confused guest in the room they were stayingbehavioral translation. Only in, or just because it was an pro-participants that intentionally hung environmental thing to do. Astheir towels in the appropriately expected, the participants showedrequested place were counted as no significant difference in-groupvalid dependant variables. This identity motivation, but theexplains the variance in environmental motivation was moreexperimental responses from the persuasive than all other groupsindustry standard recorded behavior together (M=5.12). Interestingly, thethat was listed on the original sign least persuasive motivational group(that 75% of guests reused their identity was the shared guest roomtowels). affiliation (M=1.96). The second experiment in the The experimental results werestudy examined the degree to which predicatively valid in that all foursocial group identification would normative messages proved morefurther influence normative behavior. effective (44.5%) than the industry“According to Festeringer’s (1954) standard environmental messagesocial comparison theory, people (37.2%). Furthermore, the normativeoften evaluate themselves by same room group identity conditioncomparing themselves to others – faired better results (49.3%) over theespecially to others with whom they three other normative conditionsshare similar personal (same hotel, gender and citizen)characteristics” (Goldstien, Cialdini & combined (42.8%). This data pointsGriskevicius, 2008, p.4). With this in to the behavioral tendency to notmind, researchers compared the only follow what others typically do,effectiveness of the normative but that the proximity of thisCaren  Magill       5      
  • 6. Crafting Effective Messages in Environmental Conservationbehavioral norm is of even greater Reno & Kallgren, research examinedrelevance when creating influential the behaviors of visitors to Arizona’smessages. The other interesting Petrified Forest National Park, whichrevelation that this data suggested is suffers from petrified wood theft onthat comparatively, the pretest an ongoing basis. The researchersresults of what people assumed hypothesized that “in a situationwould be motivational based on characterized by unfortunate levelssocial identity groups in no way of conduct, a message that focusesmatched the trend of what actually recipients on the injunctive norm willmotivated people to participate in be superior to messages that focusthe experiment. Thus, we are forced recipients on the descriptive norm”to question the validity of data that is (Cialdini et al., 2003, p. 107). Thegenerated through focus group field study strategically placedresearch. pieces of petrified wood along a main visitor pathway and over theEffective Usage of Descriptive and course of 5-weeks, they observedInjunctive Norms the behavior theft patterns of visitors So far we have examined the based on a 2 level independentpower of using normative behavior variable – signage that eitherin creating effective prosocial dissuaded visitors using a descriptivecampaign messages, but there is norm or an injunctive norm. Thealso a caution that is equally descriptive norm sign suggested thatimportant to note when creating many people do steal petrifiedmessages that deter unwanted wood, and it’s destroying the naturalbehavior. Given that people are environment, accompanied with apersuaded by normative behavior, request to not to take wood from theit’s important to ensure that when forest and a picture of three peopleaddressing undesirable behaviors, taking wood (illustrating the popularthey are not inadvertently behavior). The injunctive norm signreinforced. asked visitors not to steal wood from Studies conducted by the forest, and showed a picture ofCialdini, Reno & Kallgren (2003) have a single person stealing wood with ademonstrated that prosocial circle and a line through the image.messages that “focus individuals on This emphasized the lone behavior ofthe all-too-frequent occurrence of one individual, and the line throughan offense against the environment the image reinforced thehave the potential to increase the disapproval of the action.occurrence of that offence” The results of the study(Cialdini, 2003, p. 105). The key to revealed a significant increase ofeffectively using descriptive norms (a wood theft when viewers weretypical behavior) in message presented with the descriptive normconstruction is to appropriately align signage, then with the injunctiveit with an injunctive norm (a socially norm sign by a variance of 7.92% vs.preferred behavior) to ensure that 1.67% respectively. These figuresthe appropriate behavior change is have significant importance whenbeing cognitively processed. compared with the theft to visitor In one of the many studies ratio, which is just below 3%. (Caildiniconducted in this area by Cialdini, et al. 2003).Caren  Magill       6      
  • 7. Crafting Effective Messages in Environmental Conservation ReferencesConclusion Based on the evidence Cialdini R., Reno, R., Kallgen, C.,examined in this research review, it’s (1990) A Focus Theory of Normativeclear that there are several key Conduct:elements one must consider when Recycling the Concept ofdesigning effective public service Norms to Reduce Littering in Publicmessages regarding appropriate Places. Journalenvironmental conservation of Personality and Socialbehavior. Clearly, even though Pscyhology. 1990, Vol 58, No. 6, 1015individuals believe their actions are - 1026motivated by socially consciousideals, the scientific data proves Cialdini, R., (2003) Craftingotherwise. The general public is Normative Messages to Protect thehighly influenced by common Environment.behavior, regardless of its impact, Current Directions inmore often than is consciously Psychological Science. 2003 12: 105acknowledged. With this in mind, DOI:PSA creation should address 10.1111/1467-8721.01242message creation with an emphasison underscoring prosocial popular Goldstein, N., Cialdini, R.,behavior and positioning detrimental Griskevicius, V., (2008) A Room with abehavior in an isolated manner with Viewpoint: Using Social Norms toa clear definition of what socially Motivate Environmentalacceptable behavior should be. Conservation in Hotels. Journal ofFurthermore, wherever possible, Consumer Research, Inc. Volmessages should convey relevance 35, 0093-5301/2008/3502-0002 DOI:to an audience situation or location 10.1086/586910with as much personal socialrecognition as possible in order to Nolan, J., Schultz, W., Cialdini, R.,maximize success in conforming Goldstein, N., Griskevicius, V. (2008)behavior. Normative Social Influence is Underdetected. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin; 2008 34: 913 DOI:10.1177/014616720831669 1Caren  Magill       7