The Business of Integrating Head and Heart

Question: Should businesses be responsible for promoting \r\nhealthy lifestyles?

Joel Makower: I think it’s the \r\nresponsibility of business to make products in a green way and make \r\nproducts that are perceived to be responsible both in terms of the \r\nproducts themselves and how the companies behind them operate.  \r\nCompanies can only go so far in terms of getting people to eat well, or \r\nexercise, or not abuse their bodies in any number of different ways and \r\nnot abuse the planet, as well.  But there’s a lot that companies can \r\ndo.  Companies have a tremendous communications cloud.  And a lot of \r\ncompanies I talk to say, "Well, customers aren’t demanding that.  We’re \r\nnot hearing that from the consumer."  Well, consumers buy lots of things\r\n they didn’t demand.  It’s things that we make available tot hem that we\r\n convince them that they want.  And so there’s an opportunity here to \r\nhelp promote a lifestyle that’s more environmentally responsible.  \r\nProbably healthier for families and communities as well. But they have \r\nto, as I said, be better products, or perceived to have some value \r\nbeyond that. 

People want to change without changing.  When it \r\ncomes to change, people love the noun, hate the verb.  Right?  So, it’s \r\nvery hard for people to really, you know, want to make dramatic changes \r\nin their life unless they see some specific improvement for themselves. \r\n

So the unfortunate part, but it is the reality, is that when it\r\n comes to "saving the planet" it’s really about, what’s in it for me?  \r\nMe first, and then the planet, so I’m not going to make the big change \r\nin my life.  I’m not going to switch brands, I’m not going to go out of \r\nmy way; pretty much I’m not going to pay any more for the privilege of \r\ndoing the right thing.  I have to get something out of that.  And maybe \r\nit’s just pride, it maybe that people just do that, maybe it’s a badge \r\nof honor, maybe it’s just self-satisfaction.  But in more cases than \r\nnot, it has to be some financial or performance or other kind of \r\nbenefit. 

So I think to the extent that companies can help us \r\nunderstand what those benefits are and can, in fact, design products and\r\n services that aren’t just greener, but better, there will be \r\nopportunities here. 

One of the other realities is that \r\ncompanies aren’t very good at storytelling around this stuff.  Companies\r\n are really good at storytelling in general, but when it comes to the \r\nenvironment, storytelling takes on a particularly important part of \r\nthis. When you think about what we’re talking about here.  On one hand \r\nwe’re talking about incredible complex, geeky, scientific, technical \r\nissues about which even the experts don’t always agree.  And on the \r\nother hand, we’re talking about our bodies and our families and our kids\r\n and our community and our future and our planet.  So, it’s head and \r\nheart.  Right?  And if you ever spent any time talking to anyone about \r\nthis, you know, that if you go one millimeter too far in either \r\ndirection you lose your audience.  You’re either too over-you-head, I \r\ndon’t know what you’re talking about.  This is too complex for me. Or \r\nyou’re too sort of California woo-woo around this and you lose your \r\naudience in either case. 

And so storytelling is how we \r\nintegrate head and heart.  It’s how we take complex things and make them\r\n accessible, and companies haven’t done a very good job of doing that.  \r\nYou know, there’s this line that’s just, you know... if I just say \r\nKermit, you’ll know exactly what the line is.  "It’s not easy being \r\ngreen," is the song lyric that Kermit sang.  You know how long ago that \r\nwas?  Forty-one years ago, in 1969.  It’s older than Earth Day.  And \r\nthat still represent the state of the art of green marketing. 

I\r\n get press releases every day, come-ons, pitches, advertising slicks, \r\nall kinds of things from copywriters, advertising agencies, PR firms, \r\nand the like.  And I know that the person... they contain that Kermit \r\nline and some version of it, "It isn’t that easy"—and I know the \r\ncopywriter that wrote that thinks the she or he is the most clever \r\nperson for having come up with that.  And the fact is, it’s tired, it’s \r\nhackneyed, and it’s not even true.  It’s not that easy being green.  It \r\nactually takes some work.  So we need to find better ways to communicate\r\n and tell those stories.

Question:
What’s a \r\nbetter way to tell these stories?

Joel Makower: You \r\nknow, in the 1990's, during the dot-com boom of the late '90s, there was\r\n this, this axiom that "content is king."  That those companies that had\r\n content would be the ones that ruled the universe in the new connected \r\ndigital internet world.  And a lot of those companies, most of them went\r\n away.  And it turns out that it wasn’t content that was king, it was \r\ncontext.  Context is king.  And if you look at the companies that \r\nsurvived, the eBays and Googles and Yahoos, and others, those are the \r\nones that... Craig’s List, and those are the firms that made sense in \r\nall that massive information out there that give it some kind of \r\ncontext.  Some ability to organize and find things and have things \r\nelevate to... things that are the most important of all and relative to \r\nyour interests or relative to your friends.  And so context is what's \r\nmissing here in terms of company storytelling.  They want to know that \r\nsomething is good or better for the environment.  They want to know the \r\ncontext.  Because if you say this is green and don’t know if you should \r\nbuy it, well how green, or is it really green, or how is it... is it the\r\n only issue that product as.  Is the company trying to say you're green \r\nas a result of that? 

So I think people want to know that you \r\nunderstand as a company, what your environmental issues are.  They want \r\nto know that you know your problems, that you’ve done your homework.  \r\nAnd then they want to know that you’re on the case; that you’re doing \r\nsomething about that, that you’ve got some plan and some kind of \r\ncommitment. And that you have some... and that you’re talking about this\r\n openly and authentically and not just waving your arms and quoting \r\nKermit and saying, hey aren't we green.  But actually putting it into \r\ncontext and giving it some, some sense of this is what we’re doing right\r\n now, but this is part of a journey that we’re on.  This is a part of a \r\nlong-term proposition.  We’re not claiming that by doing this that we’re\r\n a green company. 

I think that people who... the companies that\r\n can demonstrate that they understand their problems from an \r\nenvironmental perspective, have a plan in place to do something about \r\nit—even if it’s long-term and imperfect and never gets them to be \r\nperfectly good, which no company really ever will be—and are talking \r\nabout that openly and authentically will be in... will have laid a \r\nfoundation for being able to make specific environmental claims and put \r\nout environmental products and talk about environmental issues in a \r\ncredible way and even to innovate and fail and still land on their feet \r\nand not be charged as green washers, or as phonies, or just ignored.  \r\nAnd I think that companies don’t lay that foundation, they don’t create \r\nthat context that the need in order to make that specific environmental \r\nclaims. 

Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica \r\nLiebman

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