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Green movement. Part 2: Lecture on future of the green movement and a marketing strategy to maintain its momentum

PETER HUNT: It's not just hazardous chemicals that are on the way out. Some people argue that green consciousness has peaked and that the recession and the environmental backlash will see the environment fade slowly from the political agenda. But according to international lawyer, Dr Keith Suter, it doesn't have to be like that. He argued on the show last week that while concerns like conservation or peace come in waves, the momentum can be maintained. So this week, Keith talks about the future for conservation in the age of backlash.

KEITH SUTER: In my previous talk, I argue that mass movements have a life cycle of about seven years. If we take 1988 as the beginning of the current environment movement, then we can expect its decline by 1995. Can we learn from the lessons of the past? Given our past record, I would have to say that we have difficulty in doing so; for example, each movement seems to run into problems over direct action. There is a tendency with younger members of a movement to become impatient with the conciliatory approach of the older members of the movement, and press for far more ambitious ways of challenging established views.

On a trip I made to the US in 1982, I was struck by the way in which the United States' peace movement was divided over the issue of direct action in much the same way as the civil rights movement had been in the 1950s and the anti-Vietnam movement had been in the 1960s. The various members of each movement agreed on the objectives, but disagreed on the tactics. Another concern I have is that as a movement begins to develop, it becomes too weighed-down with a bureaucracy. Committee politicians become concerned about the need for frameworks, future planning, appropriate lines of authority and making sure that everything flows, virtually like a government department. This means that the vital spark which generated the interest in the first place becomes submerged beneath red tape; in other words, a movement can contribute to its own downfall. Instead of opposing the practices of government, it begins to copy them. Small movements can become big bureaucracies.

One way of trying to avoid this fate, is to be permanently on guard against it. Perhaps this means, therefore, that the groups which compose any movement, should be more concerned about activities rather than establishing organisations, for in due course an organisation begins to consume energy simply maintaining itself as an organisation. Should the movement consist of a small number of large organisations, or a large number of small ones? My preference is naturally for the second. There will be complaints about duplication of effort and an apparent lack of co-ordination. These constitute the price which has to paid for maintaining spontaneity and creativity.

We need to find ways of selling the environment; indeed, now that there are specialist groups within the environment movement, we need to encourage sales persons to form a group which could then advise the rest of the movement on the basis of that group's own special expertise - selling the environment. We need to improve our marketing techniques. The following suggestions are only of a preliminary nature, but they may set some people thinking as to how the environment can be marketed in a more professional way. First, a salesperson never sells an article as such, they sell an idea - the idea of how it can be used to fulfil the customer's wishes. A salesperson does not sell food, but tasty meals, easily prepared; not clothes, but an attractive appearance; not furniture, but comfort; not wallpaper, but a pleasant room. Therefore, the environment itself should not be sold, but the advantages of protecting the environment.

Second: people are more easily influenced through their emotions than through their intellect. We need, therefore, to guard against overwhelming people with doom and gloom predictions about rising water levels or increasing salination of the soil or depletion of the ozone layer. People will eventually become fatalistically resigned to the prospect of dying in an environmental disaster. We need to address the basic emotion, namely, that of hope. Even if we cannot be optimistic about the environment, we can at least be persistent. We can try to generate ideas and focus on ways in which the environmental crisis can be used to create a better world.

Third: avoid high pressure selling. Do not force the environment on people. A sale which does not benefit the customer, harms the salesperson. Maintain credibility and be believable. Do not go overboard in claiming the dire consequences if our ideas are not accepted and implemented immediately.

Fourth: no matter how great are the dangers in environmental destruction, there will be many people who will tell you that they are not interested in whatever you have to offer. But do not accuse them of stupid irresponsibility and warning them that their apathy is endangering the world. Even if you leave them unsold, you should leave them with a positive image of what you are trying to achieve. Do not offend them. In due course, many of them will become involved in the environment movement; after all, many people who are now involved in the environment movement were previously uninterested in it. Everyone is a potential customer for the environment. A person who is not yet in the environment movement, is simply a person who is not yet in the environment movement, and not an irresponsible fool.

Winning an argument with a customer usually means losing a sale. Be flexible, particularly in meeting criticism and objections. Nobody likes to be told that they are wrong, and that there is only one answer. Create an interaction by saying `I'm prepared to accept that, if you would tell me how you would solve the problem'. Instead of making repeated assertions, ask the customer for their opinions. Winning an argument is no great art; avoiding one demands far greater skill. A customer who has no objections, is usually a customer who has no buying interest. Train yourself to handle objections, then stimulate the customer's own thinking by asking them questions. Having stimulated them, do not brush them off with half an answer. Make sure you answer each one before proceeding to the next one. Even if a person has previously refused to be involved in the environment movement, do not be shy of raising the matter again, after a suitable interval. But never ask that person whether they have changed their mind. No-one wants to admit to being indecisive or having been wrong. Begin afresh from a new angle, such as a recent mass media report. If that person then later joins the environment movement, do not congratulate them for having come to their senses at long last. Welcome them as a long lost friend. Treat an abusive customer with friendliness. It takes two to make a quarrel. If an abusive customer cannot get an antagonist, they cannot quarrel. Besides, an opponent who has been won over makes the best advocate for their new cause. Make your adversary part of the solution.

Protecting the environment is fun. Be confident of being able to protect the environment, and in creating a new world, free from the current high levels of pollution and exploitation. The environment movement is in the business of turning fears into hopes, and hopes into reality. Enthusiasm is infectious.

These are only some ideas to suggest new ways of conducting our affairs. We should always be watchful for new ideas and to learn from the past. The environment movement will never die until it has ceased to hope.

PETER HUNT: Dr Keith Suter with some ideas on the way forward for the green movement.