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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 This is, of course, a generalization, not to mention an outdated view of the two continents but unfortunately, the western part of the world still views Asia and Africa as lazy, indifferent or unknowledgeable to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.

Biodegradable glitter – For the sparkly environmentalist in you

Just in time for Christmas and New Years, biodegradable glitter is here! And the webshop opens tomorrow, so check out EcoSparkels!

First of all, I am not getting paid to write this. I have been a glitter lover for almost as long as I’ve been an environmental blogger, so joining the two is a sparkly dream come true.

It was also a bit of a slap in my environmental face, as I had never paused to consider what glitter is actually made of.

What is glitter made of?

Well… Long story short, it’s basically shiny microplastic. Yep,  as in the microplastic that nations around the world are now forbidding, because it’s poisoning our food streams.

And I’ve used a lot of glitter. Boy, have I sparkled. I feel really bad about it now, and I hope to the big sparkly unicorn in the sky, that this biodegradable glitter isn’t just a scam. Because if it is, I can’t go back to my old shiny ways, knowing that my shine is really just tiny pieces of plastic, on a mission to pollute food streams, water resources, while poisoning earthworms.

EcoSparkles are hosting a release party in my home city this Saturday, and I’m gonna join the madness. But one does not simply trust biodegradable glitter. How is it biodegradable?

I’ve written EcoSparkles to find out what their glitters composed of. This is what the owners told me:

EcoSparkels are produced from biodegradable and compostable microfilm, made of cellulose from Eucalyptus. The trees are grown and harvested in line with FSC and PEFC standard, ensuring that the soil is not overexploited.

The shiny part of the glitter comes from a thin layer of aluminium, which is in itself not biodegradable, but because of the small amount it is, according to European regulations, degradable.

Both the bio-glitter and the holographic glitter, is tested free from toxins, parabens, and heavy metals. It’s cosmetically certified and can be used directly on your skin.

It’s broken down by natural bacteria, and we [the founders of EcoSparkels] used it for an outdoor festival, where they saw it almost dissolve in from of our eyes.

Because it’s tested free of toxins and heavy metals, it doesn’t cause harm to natural and oceanic life, if consumed.

We recommend using bio-glitter at outdoor events, for example. festivals and summer celebrations, to lower you ecological footprint considerably, compared with conventional glitter.

Crafts glitter is produced mostly of PVC or PET that is oil-based and therefore does not degrade naturally. In addition, we have found that a lot of conventional glitter is loaded with heavy metals are very harmful to the skin by direct contact. This is also very harmful if left in natural surroundings.

Our glitter, both biodegradable and the holographic, is produced in England by the local produce wood. This reduces the CO2 footprint, as the wood is not shipped from the other side of the globe.

Biodegradable Glitter EcoSparkels.

The two founders of EcoSparkels.

Eucalyptus trees are a very invasive species, thus making it easy to plant and maintain a healthy population. We see as a positive use of a plant, that has negative qualities.

However, our holographic glitter is made of PET plastic, making oil based. But it is still tested free and certified for cosmetic use.
Our supplier is working on develop a biodegradable holographic glitter, but it is harder to work with since it has a “rainbow” -surface and thus require thicker aluminum than bio-glitter.

We state clearly on our website that we only recommend the holographic glitter in urban environments and we make an effort to inform our costumers about our ecological footprint of the holographic glitter.

The above gave me a lot of thoughts about the pros and cons of such product, and I’ll have to get back to them in the follow-up post.

I got the reply late one night when I was actually on my way to bed. I lay in bed thinking about it.

Hmm. Cellulose. If that’s so, and it really does dissolve in front of you, you should be able to see it dissolve if you put it in a glass of water, at home –I thought to myself, instead of sleeping like a normal person.

Then I thought, well if it dissolves in tap water, it should dissolve in the shower.

OH MY GOD! Clean up will be a breeze! My head carried on for an addition 5 minutes until I finally got out of bed, and wrote this post.

So now the question stands: I this new glitter really biodegradable to a point where it makes a difference?

Myself being no stranger to glitter I decided to test it, you know, in the name of Science.

The highly scientific setup:

Decomposing in tap water: Take two glasses of regular tap water. Put eco-sparkles in one glass, and conventional glitter in the other, to determine if it does decompose to a visual degree.

On your body: Yes, you know this game. If you’ve ever been part of a glitter party, you know that stuff will never, ever rub off. If will take you four-six good damn showers before you’re remotely clean.

Will biodegradable glitter be different? We’ll see. I’ll document as best I can with pictures.

The clean up: And following the trail of thoughts: You know what your floors look like after a burlesque party or a New Year’s party? Glitter all over the floorboards! All over!

It’s the herpes of the craft world. It sticks like superglue and won’t come off. If you’ve ever wondered why, here’s an explanation.

This experiment actually requires me to bring home a bunch of glitter – and then bother to clean up the next day. Seeing as we have guests come over I guess I have a good reason to clean anyway. But um, let’s just see if I remember to take some I-got-home-pictures.

That’s is!

Stay tuned for the follow-up post next week, where you also get tips on how to combat microplastic.

May you sparkle like environmentally friendly diamonds.

LEGO is changing the plastic industry! Here’s why Everything is Awesome.

I’m back! After 4’ish years of not blogging, I’m ready with a new load of subjects, articles, and explanations about sustainability and environmental behaviour. It seems fitting that I should write one of the first posts about something I’ve loved and cherished since childhood: LEGO.

LEGO recently announced its investment of 1 billion DKK (150mio $US) dedicated to research, development and implementation of new, sustainable, raw materials to manufacture LEGO® elements as well as packaging materials.

This is great news for the toy and general plastic industry! And for me!

Here’s a short explanation of why everything is awesome:

  • We consume an enormous amount of plastic – and it’s polluting our environment and our food supply. Our oceans alone have an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating around in them. We even have “Islands” made entirely out of floating plastic. The plastic pollution in the oceans is very likely to end up in our food chain. Producing alternative plastic products that, when discarded, are biological degradable, is a must in regards to combatting further plastic pollution.
  • Current plastics are recyclable, but are always downcycled. Even if you returned all your old bricks to a LEGO factory, they would have to be color sorted in order to not end up as a greyish goo. I love Space LEGO, but I don’t want only grey bricks.
  • LEGO bricks are produced in a quantity of between 20 and 45 billion bricks pr. Year. In the overall scheme of plastic toys hitting the marked each year, isn’t’ a lot. However, the LEGO brand is a worldwide known and trusted brand, and currently more powerful than Ferrari. They are copied.
    Going on the marked with a plastic-like material that is made from plants, gives them first-mover status and will increased the demand for more toys made from biodegradable material. This will of course spill into other industries pushing the marked away from non-renewable based plastic

See, I told you it would be short.

This first-mover decision from LEGO will have other companies turning green of envy. Not only is LEGO creating better and smarter trash (and I’ll come back to why that matters in a later post), LEGO is creating a full circle product.

As a consumer with a box of bricks in your hand, you know you are buying;

1) A product that, when discarded is more environmentally friendly than that of the competitors,
2) A product that will last for generations, without the need for maintenance or upgrades, and
3) Will always deliver a fun and creative expressions.

 

Oh, but I’m an adult, I don’t care about sustainable toys

Well you should. Besides from the obvious environmental, economic and health benefits of NOT pollution our food supply, LEGO offers a great many advantages for adults as well. In my workday a coworker and I set a timer for 15 minutes, break out a small box of LEGO and start building. Why? Because it’s simply impossible to feel stressed while building LEGOs. And don’t take my word for it. The Serious Play initiative has got the world of finance talking.

To sum up, I’ve been a happy customer of the company ever since I stepped on my first brick, and I’ll likely continue to do so, until my old arthritis plagued fingers can no longer separate the 4×2 from the 8×2.

As this old add delightfully sums up: What it is, is beautiful.

Its beautifull

LEGO add from 1981

Endnote;

If you want to know more about plastic pollution in the oceans, or want to help reduce it, go to Plasticchange.org.