Your words matter — how big organizations accidentally hinder sustainable change

The headlines of your articles are not just for snazzy clickbait. If done wrong they might work against you – and against the environment. Here are the do’s and don’ts of writing headlines.

 

 

Yesterday while scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, I came across the following article from the World Economic Forum.

Headlines for sustainable content Asian plastic

 

90% of plastic polluting our oceans comes from just 10 rivers

This is a really interesting subject and I wanted to know more, however, what really got me was the words the WEF decided should go along with it:

’Eight of them are in Asia, two in Africa’

‘Urg’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s a bad choice of words for this piece’.

The World Economic Forum, an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation, is committed to improving the state of the world. This fact makes the above even more problematic.

Though in line with the article and truthful in it’s nature, that small sentence does way more harm than good. It’s working as a hindrance for sustainable development.

 

Why words matter

Let’s deconstruct the sentence.

By writing ’Eight of them are in Asia, two in Africa’, it’s easy to infer, that no other continent in the world is home to one of the rivers causing 90% of the pollution. This is still completely true and in line with the article but it has unfortunate side effects:

  1. You are basically saying to everyone outside these geographical areas, that this problem is confined to two specific regions, which make people outside these areas distance themselves from the problem, seeing as it’s “over there”. It becomes Somebody Else’s Problem*
  2. People who actively take steps to lower their plastic waste feel discouraged because they are let to believe that their actions have no impact at all. This will leave them less likely to want to change their habits or push for change in the future.

 

Additionally, you risk enhancing old believes that Asia and Africa do not care about the environment. This is, of course, a generalization, not to mention an outdated view of the two continents but unfortunately, the western part of the world still views Asia and Africa as lazy, indifferent or unknowledgeable to environmental issues.

 

What to do instead

Had they instead chosen a solution-orientated caption, they could have fed into the positive wave of change already taken place around the world – the focus on oceanic plastic pollution. If the World Economic Forum wanted to leave the reader more informed but also more likely to support anti-pollution initiatives in the future, they could have replaced the caption with something like this:

‘By knowing which 10 we can focus on targeted solutions, with higher success rates’ 

They could even just have copied points from the article itself, for instance:

‘The rivers all had two things in common; a generally high population living in the surrounding region – sometimes into the hundreds of millions – and a less than ideal waste management process’

 

Why it works

The first example is simply putting a positive outlook on a dire situation. Yes, the ocean is filled with plastic, but by pinpointing the 10 biggest sources, we can act.

Action is the keyword, because only presenting your audience with the (often negative) facts of global pollution issues and climate change, serves as an emotional paralyzer.

What the heart hears is: The world sucks and no one, especially you, can do anything about it. You might as well go back to facebook and kittens.

Instead, by choosing a more positive angle you are telling your audience, yes, this is a bad situation, but knowing the facts about it gives us the power to act.

In the second example, you’re getting even more specific in regards to what needs to be done, so we can turn the problem around.

It would send a signal that 90% of the world’s oceanic plastic pollution is caused by manageable problems that we already know the solutions to – waste management.

Having spent half a decade in waste management I guarantee you that less-than-ideal-waste management is not the same as impossible waste management.

 

But wasn’t it just click-bait?

Possibly. I mean, I clicked on the article. One could argue, that the caption is just right because it evokes resentfulness towards the places responsible for it. But then what? You would have to read the article to the end to get the positive news. And even this is still an issue because you just confirmed the preconceived notion that Asia doesn’t care, meaning that your audience is actually more likely to dismiss the positive news about the advances in Asia because it contradicts a strong held believe – that Asia pollutes, and don’t care. This is what’s known as the backfire effect. You can find a more colorful description of the backfire effect here.

Even if it is just a click-bait aimed at the WEF’s target audience, would you really want to risk pushing everyone who scrolls past the article even further away from taking action on the subject?

 

Small tweaks – Big outcome

I chose to write about this specific article from the World Economic Forum, for two reasons. Firstly because of their inherent role as a promoter of sustainable change, and secondly because their article was well written and had a great balance of facts and behavioral change elements.

The article clarifies how big of an effort China is making to intensify waste management, and mentions Delhi’s ban on disposable plastic. Furthermore, at the bottom of the article, you can find links to articles about how to combat plastic pollution – also known as a call to action.

I want to stress that I think weforum.org overall produces great content and I am a happy reader. Like this nice whale piece, below. It has a positive headline and caption, as well as a great photo – there’s even a sea pun!

 

But the devil is in the detail, and small tweaks like the above can push sustainable development much faster.

By empowering the audience with a positive outlook, you are allowing for much more support towards passing the necessary legislation, investing in alternative products or cleanup technologies, and willingness to change habits. Like giving your audience concrete advice on social media, complete with jokes and pictures.

This also means saving time and money for the companies and regulatory bodies working to solve the problem. But most importantly, you work towards removing more plastic out of our oceans.

 

 

*As coined by the great Douglas Adam, Somebody Else’ Problem refers to people’s ability to simply ignore things they don’t want to deal with.

Environmental preservation or preventing necrophile rapist ducks – know your audience

Yes, that’s an actual headline. The following post will involve necrophile rapist ducks. When you’ve read this post, you’ll know what you can do to make your target audience act more environmentally friendly, and how to use it in your work/daily life. And yes, there is a connection to rapist ducks. 

 

Did you ever feed ducks as a child? I did, with my grandparents mostly. It was a fine balance between getting close enough to get the duck to eat out of my hands while keeping a distance that ensured they would not eat me.

duck-feeding-monajensen

Duck feeding is, however, a horrible thing to do. It’s bad for the ducks, and bad for the environment. The only thing it’s good for is human emotions. It feels nice to feed the ducks. It’s cozy.

When you feed ducks they poop more, exposing the pond, or other water environments, to more nitrogen. The added nitrogen leads to algae bloom, which leads to hypoxia. Hypoxia is a fancy word for no-oxygen. When the water environment losses oxygen, the living organisms in it suffocate. Fish, shrimps, and other oxygen-dependent creatures. This means…

Feed the ducks, kill the fish.

election-613132_1920You would think that this information alone was enough to stop people from feeding ducks. Spoiler alert -it’s not.

We are emotional beings, and the above is a factual explanation. Facts often bend to emotions. Think about the last national election in your country, and I’m sure you can find an example or two, of politician swaying votes on emotion, instead of facts.

In the case of duck feeding, the feeding itself gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling. It creates memories. It amplifies your own memories. And the ducks are happy, right, I mean just look at them. I’m sure one little loaf of bread won’t make a difference. All those environmental hippies are exaggerating.

We now have a Mexican standoff between, family values (warm fuzzy duck feeding), and environmental conservation. What now? Enter the necrophiliac rapist duck.

Male ducks are known to gang-rape female ducks. There is plenty of youtube material – I’m not going to link to it. When ducks are fed a diet of white bread, they become fat. So fat indeed, when they mate (or rape if you will) the male ducks can end up drowning the female. This means…

Feed the ducks, create necrophile rapist ducks!

In a bonus info about ducks, they don’t stop just because the female is now a “floater”. Ducks have been known to have necrophilia (and homosexual) tendencies. Here’s a scientific article about it  – you’re welcome.

Why am I telling you this awful news? Long story short, it was a subject at my workplace, and I decided to make an infographic about it: TADA!!!

(Article will continue after picture)

Feel free to download, or share.  Now to the actual point.

Know your audience

For decades environmental planners and activists have preached environmental preservation. But unfortunately, they were mostly preaching to the choir. I was an accomplice as well.

Save the pandas, the trees, the water, the whales… Think of the children and be a more responsible person.

Environmentalists have either argued the rational point:

If we keep pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, we’re going to suffer the consequences

…or the misplaced emotional point;

Do it for the children. Give them a world with polar bears.

Going back to the duck-feeding example, the above is a case of the first method of communication. A rational statement followed by a small emotional ‘Something bad will happen’. But that ‘something bad, doesn’t seem convincing enough to bend our habits.

It’s very easy to dismiss the information because it conflicts too much with ones one values: the family values. Remember, duck feeding is still a happy family activity that gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling.

While the necrophilia information is still true, it targets those family values. You do not want your child or grandchild to witness a necrophilic gang rape. So you pay attention. This information feeds into your worldview and values.

 

Stop preaching to the choir!

Really, put effort into mapping out who your target group is. And if your target group is everybody you’ve already lost. It is very tempting for environmental planners to plan campaigns that work for everyone, this goes double if you are in a governmental department.

Your job is to fix everybody, and you often are not funded adequately. This is also a contributor to the status quo campaigns we’ve been seeing since the 80’s. You know them all too well:

Turn of the light, turn of the tab, recycle, walk more… The list goes on, and not just in the environmental areas (eat fruit, stop smoking, exercise 30 min each day).

The target group is everyone, and therefore the message is so placid, it applies to everybody and nobody at the same time – and it doesn’t work.

If you’re selling Nike shoes, you’re not advertising to all people with feet.

Big marketing doesn’t work in broad campaigns like that. Take Nike shoes. There’s a financial span, demographics, age –and the coolness factor. You find your target audience and go directly for them. Why should the principles be any different for campaigns regarding health or the environment?

Rotate your audience.

Here’s one solution, rotate your audience. Find your early adopters. Chances are, they already support you, so you don’t need to actively campaign for them. This is your choir, you don’t need to preach to them. But give them credit for their enthusiasm. This ensures that they keep fighting the good fight, and keep talking with their friends and relatives about your cause.

A campaign targeted towards early adaptors is basically giving them a high-five, saying you are awesome! This ensures their commitment to you and enhances their role as ambassadors.

After you’ve done that, then you can start looking at other target groups, like families, children, millennials, seniors, and different social groups.

Oh and lastly don’t just tell them what they should not do – give them directions towards a better behavior so you don’t leave them hanging with good intentions, but no knowledge of what to do.

What to do instead – you can still feed cute animals

Instead of feeding the ducks, you can try to identify the different species, and center you family activity around that. If you like the idea of feeding animals in need, feed butterflies or other pollinators like bees, as they contrary to ducks, desperately need it.

That’s all for now – please don’t encourage necrophilia duck rape.

 

-Keep beeing awesome (Badam-tsch!)

rapist-duck

 

Action climate change _ SomethingGreen.org

What to do when facing the apocalyptic doom – Acting on Climate Change

In the previous blog post, I wrote about, why people still have a hard time grasping the reality of climate change. This post covers what you can do to take action, once you’ve accepted that climate change is a real thing.

 

First of all, consult your local Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, and Don’t panic. Panicking never helped anybody.

If your house is one big mess after a new years party, what do you do? You take an aspirin, breath, and you say to yourself: ‘Ok, it’s bad, but I can do it, I just need to decide where to start.’ And once you’ve decided, you start.

Action climate change - SomethingGreen.org

At some point doing this, you might feel like giving up. ‘Oh my, this is worse than I expected! And look, someone spilled wine on the walls, how did that happen??

 

You feel like giving up again, like the problem is only getting bigger the more you work at it. But it’s not really getting bigger, is it?

 

The problem is the same, you just gain more knowledge about it.

 

And even though you may now also need to gain knowledge about how to get wine of walls, you are handling the problem. You are acting; you are chipping away at the situation even though the problem seems excruciatingly large.

 

Actionables! –What can you do, right now?

So what can you do?

Facebook algorithms don’t reach far. You only see what your peers see, and the only people who are blessed with your updates, are people like you. This means that sharing things on Facebook, has a very limited reach, meaning a limited effect.

 

Power_in_number_monajensen

 

 

Instead, sign petitions, and join talks and demonstrations. Go to globalclimatemarch.org to find a climate march near you.

 

 

The most effective thing you can do is get political. If it means signing partitions, then do that. If it’s sending emails to your local politicians do that.

Oh, and Danes, the e-mail address for the Danish parliament is stm@stm.dk, should you feel like sending them an email or 10.000.

 

Attend social mixers about the subject. It’s a great way to meet new and interesting people.

I recommend you start by finding the people, who are already chipping away at the problem, and then team up with them. Hell, you can even make a game out of it. There’s power in numbers, and just like cleaning up after a new years party is easier if you 5 people instead of 1, taking on an environmental cause (or social cause for that matter), is easier if you’re a group.

These are simple things you can do to act on climate change, and environmental issues.

 

As I send you off into the world of environmental doom, remember this:

  • Don’t panic
  • Aim your firepower in the most effective direction by joining forces with others and/or getting political
  • You’ve got this

Please tell me in the comments, what you do to chip away at an environmental problem. I want to learn more about the many different creative ways people take action.

Dont_panic_monajensen

‘Why you leave me hanging, Mona?’ Why you must wait for new posts

I’ve been asked by quite a few people now, to blog more. Apparently my supply isn’t matching the demand. So I wanted to write a meta blog post about why it takes about a week before a have a post ready.

There are different factors to it. Firstly, I have a day job that I also love and it requires me to dedicate 37-45 hours a week to it. So blogging is happening in my spare time. This is how my day works right now:

Morning commute_MonaJensen

I get up in the morning, shower, meditate, eat, get dressed. Then I run around in circles for 5-15 min – I’m really not a morning person – and then I leave. I have an hour commute each way, which gives me 20-30 minutes of focused time in the train, where I can sit and do whatever I want.

 

And what I do, each day, in the 20-30 minutes is write. I absolutely love starting each day doing something I love, and I feel blessed to have this opportunity.

“Pfft, then you have loads of time to write, you lazy person, you.”

Hmmm, well yes, and no. I spend a very big chunk of the prep time, if not most of it, fact checking. It’s very important to me, that I don’t spread bad data, and false believes.

Some days I find myself frustrated yelling out: AAAAARGGG!!! F**k the facts! I know what my point is!’ But luckily I never publish a post in that condition. Also, this gets really awkward in the train, and I’m pretty sure the other passengers think I have mental issues.

“But you can’t always have the right numbers, dude”

No, you’re right. Unfortunately, I am human. We make mistakes.

This is also why, I was very grateful to be called out on outdated numbers in my LEGO post. I got the numbers wrong, and someone found the post interesting enough to read up on the facts else were, and then took the time to write me, and address it. Thank you Mark.

My goal is the keep the amount of outdated/wrong facts down to a minimum. And hence, it is with a humble and thankful heart, that I receive criticism, and notions when I get the data wrong.

This one’s for you, Stewart

I’ve always been very inspired by Jon Stewart’s approach to this. Be humble, apologize, and thank the person who addressed it. So Stewart, this post is for you.Blogging in my spare time_MonaJensen

I hope this explains why you have to wait for ages for a new post.

Fun side note; this post took me about 1/2 hour to write, because there are no facts in it.

*Ps, I just got an idea! Drumroll please: I know a bunch of very talented photographers. If any of y’all think; ‘Well jezz Mona, just use my pictures’ I say, YES PLEACE!

I’ve seen you’re work, it’s amazeballs. Just PM/mail me, and give me a link to a folder of pictures that I can use. Just tell me if you want to be credited or not.