Putting the SIZZLE into Going Green

GOING Green is a bit like making love – nearly everyone likes the idea of it. Some people do it on a daily basis, some every week, others less frequently, while some individuals just do not get around to doing it at all.

GOING Green is a bit like making love – nearly everyone likes the idea of it. Some people do it on a daily basis, some every week, others less frequently, while some individuals just do not get around to doing it at all.

Back in 2007, at the peak of our eco-awareness, climate change and the carbon footprint seemed new and interesting. There was unprecedented media coverage of green issues and the public, politicians and business leaders were all developing a passion for the planet.

Prince Charles’s recently undertook a green tour of Britain on a bio-fuelled royal train. Despite green living receiving royal approval, there are signs of “green fatigue” setting in as political, public and media interest in environmental issues begins to wane. The UK’s new coalition Government’s decision to get rid of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the independent watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission, clearly signalled the downgrading of environmental issues.

This is despite David Cameron’s promise to put the environment at the heart of government. Former chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, Jonathan Porritt, described the decision as “crass, unfounded, self-defeating and ideologically-motivated”.

The climategate and glaciergate fiasco has increased public scepticism over climate change science. A recent Ipsos Mori survey of UK public attitudes to climate change found that although the majority of respondents believe that climate change is happening, levels of concern have fallen since 2005, and less than one-third of the population currently consider it to be a purely man-made phenomenon. However, most people consider that it is their responsibility to take action and feel that they personally can make a difference.

The waxing and waning of public interest in environmental issues is nothing new. In 1967, Britain experienced its first major oil disaster when the oil tanker, Torrey Canyon, struck a rock, causing the oil pollution of 120 miles of the Cornish coastline.

Dramatic environmental disasters such as this, together with key publications on the ecological limits to economic growth, increased public concern.

By 1972, environmental issues were placed on the international political agenda when nations gathered together for the first UN Earth Summit in Stockholm. It resulted in governments establishing ministries of the environment and introducing environmental legislation.

Although the 1970s’ oil price rises dampened public interest in green issues, a decade later interest was renewed by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a rise in green consumerism, ethical investment and increased activity of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit ensured that world leaders embraced the idea of sustainable development and initiated action for a global convention on climate change.

When we are doing well, we are motivated to go green but during an economic downturn we tend to lose interest. It is therefore not surprising that in this new age of austerity we are starting to suffer from green fatigue.

In an economic recession consumers tighten their belts, sales figures fall and companies close down and stop producing polluting emissions. For example, in 2009, EU greenhouse gas emissions fell by seven per cent. A lower demand for energy has been linked to the economic recession as well as cheaper natural gas and increased renewable energy use.

Nowadays most people are familiar with the concept of the carbon footprint. Unfortunately, being aware of the environmental impact of our individual lifestyle choices does not necessarily mean we will change our behaviour. After all, we know that smoking can cause lung cancer, eating junk food can lead to heart disease and obesity and binge drinking is bad for the liver, but we still carry on regardless.

For too long, green campaigns have sold the threat of what would happen if we do not mend our ways. The danger of a “climate hell” has caused some people to switch off.

Back in the 1940s, US salesman, Elmer Wheeler, advised businesses on his “Don’t sell the sausage, sell the sizzle!” marketing approach. Wheeler’s big secret to successful selling was that you do not advertise the sausage itself as it is the desirable sounds and smells of the “sizzle” that make people hungry and want to buy it. There is increasing recognition that the “selling the sausage” approach to green issues is not delivering the fundamental changes required for us to stay within ecological limits.

A report by Futerra, a green communications consultancy, on “Selling the Sizzle: the new climate message” argues that in order to reinvigorate public and media interest, campaigns need to focus on a vision of a greener life that is positive and appealing to all.

Gary Haq discusses green issues with Ed Milliband
The recent election of Ed Milliband as the new leader of Labour Party, now the official opposition to the British government provides hope for many environmentalists.

Mr Milliband was the former Secretary of State for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change and is a passionate advocate of action on climate change.

He recently reiterated his belief that “climate change is the greatest global threat facing our generation “, adding that “it should be at the very heart of our plan for a successful economy, at the centre of our foreign policy and integral to our mission to change Britain”.

Many environmentalists are hoping that Mr Milliband will now put climate change back on the political agenda after he has criticised the Coalition Government’s claim to be the ‘greenest ever’ as an empty gesture.

So far, environmentalists have failed to effectively communicate a compelling vision of a greener future. It is therefore time to stop selling the notion of a climate hell and start selling a “green heaven”. Let’s put the sizzle back in to going green and demonstrate that a transition to a low carbon society ultimately means a better quality of life for everyone.

© Gary Haq 2010

Photo credits: Shutterstock

Our Climate, Our Choice

THE UK Low Carbon Transition Plan outlines a route map to a low carbon future. The Plan is the most systematic response to climate change and sets the standard in the run up to crucial climate talks in Copenhagen in December. Public support is crucial if the plan is to arrive at its ultimate destination.

blyth-offshore-wind-turbineTHE UK Low Carbon Transition Plan outlines a route map to a low carbon future. The Plan is the most systematic response to climate change and sets the standard in the run up to crucial climate talks in Copenhagen in December. Public support is crucial if the plan is to arrive at its ultimate destination.

The recently published UK climate change predictions show how Britain will be affected by climate change over the next century. The projections are broken down into 600 local areas, each just 25km across. The predictions suggest that by 2080s average temperatures will probably rise across the UK by 3-5C by the 2080s unless emissions are reduced significantly. South-east England will warm more than northern Scotland. Rainfall could reduce by 50% in summer and increase 30% in winter. Summer droughts and winter flooding will become more frequent. Untitled-1_575692a

The Government’s comprehensive low carbon transition plan sets out how the UK will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. A 21% reduction has already been delivered – this equivalent to cutting emissions entirely from four cities the size of London. The transformation to a cleaner, greener and more prosperous place Britain will mean by 2020 there will be:

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• More than 1.2 million people will be in green jobs

• 7 million homes will have benefited from whole house makeovers, and more than 1.5 million households will be supported to produce their own clean energy

• 40% of electricity will be from low carbon sources, from renewables, nuclear and clean coal

• The amount of gas that we import will be cut by half

• The average new car will emit 40% less carbon than now.

The transition plan will cut emissions from homes by 29% on 2008 levels by:

• Investing £3.2bn to help households become more energy efficient.

• Rolling out smart meters in every home by the end of 2020.

• Piloting “pay as you save” ways to help people make their whole house greener – the savings made on energy bills will be used to repay the up-front costs.

• Introducing clean energy cash-back schemes so that people and businesses will be paid if they use low-carbon sources to generate heat or electricity.

• Opening a competition for 15 towns, cities and villages to be at the forefront of pioneering green innovation.

The plan together with all existing and new climate change policies means that by 2020 household energy bill will increase by an average, of 8% – or £92 – to today’s household bills. The public are already sceptical of further increases in bills especially in the current economic recession. The challenge of climate change requires convincing the public to make sacrifices and changes to their way of life for the sake of future generations.

imagesMany opinion formers are already using their positions to influence public opinion. HRH Prince Charles delivering this year’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture, said there are now only “96 months left” to save the planet. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood recently appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross on the BBC encouraging people to create their own clothing and wear them until they fall off their bodies, rather than mindless conspicuous consumption which has left everyone looking alike.images-1 She talked about need for everyone to take action to tackle climate change.

Public attitudes to climate changes are already starting to change. This year’s British social attitudes survey showed that the public are ready to accept a steep rise in air fares to reduce the environmental damage caused by flying. However, there is still a considerable portion of the population who need to be convinced that the changes we make to our lifestyles now will be worthwhile in in the long term. Our future climate will be dependent on the choices we are willing to make today.

© Gary Haq 2009