Interview George Marshall “Money alone won’t trigger SME’s in becoming climate active”

An interview with George Marshall, author of the book ‘Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change’. A witty, insightful, and groundbreaking take on one of the most urgent questions of our time: Why, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, do we still ignore climate change?

George Marshall’s search for the answers brings him face to face with Nobel Prize-winning psychologists and the activists of the Texas Tea Party; the world’s leading climate scientists and the people who denounce them; liberal environmentalists and conservative evangelicals. As (and in the Netherlands) we especially focus on activating SME’s in becoming ‘Climate Active’. Therefore the following questions for Mr. George Marshall:

Which arguments could trigger SME’s in becoming ‘Climate Active’ ?

(Climate Active: Start actively reducing carbon emissions by, for example, save on energy use and generate renewable energy.)

“People are always motivated to follow the actions of the people around them- their peers- and unwilling to adopt actions of people who are not like them.  So the starting point should always be to build communications around the actions of similar SMEs- using similar businespeople as communicators (and avoid language and communications that is from the culture of environmental experts and campaigners) . In our work at Climate Outreach we always seek communicators who are not “obvious” or stereotypical “greens”- for example people who are maybe older, more conventional or conservative.

In terms of actual messages we need to speak to the core values of SMEs which, I suggest, are often around people’s pride in what they have built and achieved through their hard work and initiative. Therefore use messages around “climate active” to emphasise that these actions make people pride (ideally people speaking in their own words), move businesses forward and are the mark of a successful modern growing business. Money is rarely a motivator in itself: it is usually a measure of something else:  achievement, status, skill. So I recommend not leading on money savings but focus instead on what that money means (success, expansion, more profile). For energy savings talk about, and show, what money savings bought or achieved: for example “our energy savings were so high that we were able to employ two more staff/invest in this new piece of machinery.

Being “Climate Smart” should also be presented as far more than a market niche- it should be seen as a fundamental component of the values that mark a progressive and effective modern business which will be attractive to customers and new employees.

A final primary motivator is security and resilience , so show how being “climate active” is about running a lean and efficient business that is best prepared and positioned for the knocks of the future (which might include economic challenges and the direct business impacts of climate change such as disruption from extreme weather).

What benefits can SME’s expect when they become Climate Active?

I think I answered that above. The benefits should be phrased according the values of the SME- pride in building a a strong resilient bussiness that is responding well to the challenges and the opportunities of the 21st century.

Which role do you see for the end-consumer, can they use their power to stimulate SME’s in becoming Climate Active and which measure would be most successfull? 

Firstly it is better to think of the entire business chain. Yes, for consumer products there  may be a final consumer with a shopping basket, but the SMEs that deliver it are themselves the end consumer for all the goods and services that go into those products. So a Climate Active business recognises its power in the business chain and sets “climate active” standards for its suppliers and gives preference to other “climate active” suppliers. There is good business sense in this: as I said above,  a position on climate indicates a set of values that will make a strong long term partner.

The end consumer can use his or her power to prefer and therefore reward companies with Climate Active credentials- for example if there is a labelling scheme or visible mark. However we need to be careful that the public can easily become cynical about environmental labelling, so it is better to think of a climate as part of an overall policy which can be expressed across all the companies materials and publicity as part of its brand.  We need to be careful to avoid creating “Climate Active” solely as a niche branding for a green market- it is vital that this becomes the mark of a mainstream and modern business. Personally, I tend to avoid eco-products which are strongly branded for a “green market” because I am cynical or climate change becoming an expression of PR and marketing. I am sure I am not alone. A smart consumer should prefer products or services from companies that take pride in their quality and customer service within which an intelligent and progressive response to climate change is a natural part.”

With many thanks to Mr. Lars Moratis from Impact Academy who made this interview possible