[tweetmeme] You are wonderful. Your friends and family – I’m sure – would say you’re an individual. Unique, even. Except you’re not. You’re a routine: One that’s shaped by your definitions of normal practice. A normal practice that’s defined by those around you.

“Having neither the time nor skills to weigh up each piece of evidence we fall back on decision-making shortcuts formed by our education, politics and class. In particular we measure new information against our life experience and the views of the people around us.”
George Marshall in The Guardian (UK) ‘Jeremy Clarkson and Michael O’Leary won’t listen to green cliches and complaints about polar bears

Don’t mess with Texas

In order to change your behaviour, I need to challenge your definitions of normal practice by influencing those around you. Why would I want to change your behaviour? For the good of the community – like Texas and its highway litter campaign.

Texas’ researchers found the main source of highway litter came from males under 35 years old who drove pick-up trucks, and liked sports and country music. Fines didn’t work, so they recruited Texas’s sporting and country-music heroes, from Lance Armstrong and Chuck Norris to Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett to front a campaign. One advert had a famous pitcher hurl rubbish in a bin using his famed split-fingered technique, followed by the catchphrase, “Don’t mess with Texas”.

The ads avoided the negatives of guilt and shame in favour of the positives of pride and group identity. A ‘new normal’ was established. Within five years roadside litter was down by over 70%. The campaign had targeted a specific group with a message from “people-like-them” that they were willing to hear.

Clearly the toe-to-toe fight to change behaviour through fines didn’t work – whereas simply pretending like everyone else’s behaviour was different, did.

As the architect Buckminster Fuller said, you don’t change things by fighting the existing reality, you change things by building a new model that makes the existing one obsolete.


Why change?

Embedded in the routines of everyday life are the patterns of demand for energy, water, and other resources: Change these routines, and we change the patterns of demand. And if we change patterns of demand to reflect a more sustainable way of living, we change the planet: A ‘new normal’ that benefits us all.

There is evidence that we know what these patterns of ‘new normal’ look like:

“Consumers find it very hard to evaluate green credentials objectively, but they know what is ‘green’ and what is ‘not green’… At a level that is defined socially.”
R. Rettie, C. Barnham, Kinston University, Surrey, UK – Green Marketing conference, March 2009

Shamefully, current green versions of ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ seem to revolve around saving polar bears and living in tents: It’s neither desirable, nor about people you know and love. However, building a new model of normal practice to deliver a carbon-free world could easily represent new energy provision, energy independence, and the potential for new enterprise: Both desirable, and supportive of those you know and love.

This ‘new normal’ would stimulate the innovation needed to deliver against our need to reduce or replace our embedded carbon-rich energy and water needs: A new model of normal practice indeed.

What do you think?

(On second thoughts – according to the evidence presented – there’s very little point in appealing to you the individual.)

Illustation by Marc Johns

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