How not to convince people to live sustainably

Here puppy, puppy

A friend recently sent me an article on Yahoo! covering a new book called "Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living".   While I have not read the book myself, based on the review I don't really want to.  The review (which came from the Associated Foreign Press) opens with, "Man's best friend could be one of the environment's worst enemies, according to a new study which says the carbon pawprint of a pet dog is more than double that of a gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle."  The review closes with a quote from the author:

But the best way of compensating for that paw or clawprint is to make sure your animal is dual purpose, the Vales urge. Get a hen, which offsets its impact by laying edible eggs, or a rabbit, prepared to make the ultimate environmental sacrifice by ending up on the dinner table.

"Rabbits are good, provided you eat them," said Robert Vale.

Great.  So now we have to convince everyone that to be sustainable they have to get rid of their best friend (well, at least the furry one)!  As someone who wishes to inspire others to live sustainably, I can't understand why those who share my same goal feel that the way to "inspire" is to preach to people that what they are currently doing is bad and they must change their un-sustainable ways... or else.

It's possible that this book might inspire people to think a bit more about the consequences of their actions and steps they can take to live more sustainably. However I suspect the endless statistics, tables and often preachy and neagtive tone may have the exact opposite effect for some people, and lead them to draw the conclusion that nothing can be done anyway, that all the things that make life pleasant are unsustainable,and they might as well just give up now.My other half has a PhD in mathematics, and after reading the introduction to this book, he abandoned it and declared that he was unconvinced that the authors had any realy understanding of statistics. Alas, I pressed on with the entire thing. I cannot judge the accuracy of the statistics or the authors' use of them, but I can say that as a layperson the preopnderance of figures and equations scattered liberally throughout the text does not just interrupt the flow but is actively off-putting.I nearly gave up before the end of the first chapter and was only able to read on by devising a strategy of skimming the numbers, looking only at the botttom line (when I could find it, which was in itself often difficult).

This book reminds me of a commentator on NPR who was discussing why it is so hard to get smokers to quit smoking with the line "But it will kill you!".  Of course smokers know it is going to kill them, but they rate the current value of the joy of the "cancer-stick" over any future enjoyment out of life.  Yes, that's a shame, but you can't keep preaching to them about death; you have to show them how to enjoy life through other means!

Living sustainably doesn't always mean sacrifice.  It means finding joy in saving energy, shopping at your local farmers market, getting better gas mileage, reducing your reliance on fossil-fuels, etc.  Along with helping the earth, doing these things makes me a happier person, saves me money, and usually both!

It's very hard to scare people into changing their status-quo if they aren't convinced it is in their immediate self-interest.  More happiness is in everyone's self-interest.

Those of us who dream of a more sustainable future have to stop telling people to quit doing what makes them happy in order to live sustainably. Instead, we need to help others see that living sustainably will make them happier!

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I think that the carbon footprint of people is much higher than that of dogs. But Jonathan Swift mangaged to publish his "modest proposal" a long time before I could cash in with a book of my own :-)
I couldn't agree more with at least what the reviewers say about this book. After a moment of optimism and hope that we had made some kinds of core changes in the ways we (Americans, all of us) were thinking about climate, sustainability, energy, efficiency, and the like, I was brought back to reality in 2009. People still mostly care about these things when they either result in less pain, or more money. Yes, this is a broad generalization, and there are some people looking beyond the ends of their noses. But not many. Not enough. Are people bad for thinking this way? No, of course not -- just uninformed to a large degree, skeptical or confused by a good deal of noise, and frankly beset with a lot of other more pressing matters, like finding a good job. There's really very, very little rational incentive to make many of the changes that you have made, I have made or others who see the world a little differently have made. Without some serious shifting of economic incentive, and without some far better and more compelling reason, people are making mostly rational decisions, at least in the short-term. So beating people over the head with this information is not a winning strategy. The truth is, we all need to keep "selling" -- helping people see how changes can affect their lives for the better, and how they can do smart things now to take some useful steps. There's a term in the housing world, "Deep Energy Retrofit" -- wow, this sounds daunting indeed. It may be properly descriptive, but it's not a winning sales campaign for what underlies the message. Energy Audit is another -- the term "audit" is probably associated in most peoples' minds with the IRS -- not a warm and fuzzy thing (credit to for that observation). Sustainability -- heck, it sounds like a fringe radical movement. And don't get me started about what a bad choice of term "Global Warming" was ("Climate Change" is a lot better). And on the product front, "The Energy Detective" is, well, it's pretty funny when you think about it. Maybe we all need to think more like real estate agents who use the word "charming" to mean "run down", and "bungalow" to mean "tiny" and "fixer-upper" to mean "gut-renovation required". See you at Shady Acres where I have a super-efficient, money-saving, high-tech home that's clean and green, healthy, comfortable, costs less, and good for mother earth, too :-) Tom
Tom, Great comment. You've been absent for awhile! I agree with you on the marketing front. What do you think are some options? I've gotten away from saying "Green" and prefer "efficient" or "sustainable". Half of America think that people who are "Green" are just a bunch of Hollywood Hippies. But I agree that we need to do a better sales job. How would you describe living sustainably (by using better marketing terms)? Eco-Smart, Energy Conservative, Resource efficient, etc....?

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