Thursday, August 13, 2009

Greening With Envy

This morning on the ferry I read the following article from this month's Atlantic:

Greening With Envy - The Atlantic (July/August 2009)

To paraphrase: When given information comparing an individual's eco-friendliness/energy efficiency to his neighbors, the individual is likely to change his behavior to fall more in line with the normal.

And I thought, "I wonder how one could apply this to other aspects of the movement towards sustainable living?"

(ed note: I despise the use of the words "sustainable" and "green" as synonyms for environmentally friendly, but as they have become the convention, I'll acquiesce.)

Could you leave notes on the windshields of F-250 pickups comparing their use of oil to the neighborhood average? Could this practice curb the over watering practiced by several apartment complexes around my home?

Better yet, could you lie about what "normal" is, thus forcing a change in perception? That's basically just advertising, but it could be pretty effective. For example, a billboard that says, "50% of San Diegans ride a bike every week, do you?" or, "3 out of 5 drivers pass cyclists no closer than 3 feet." Who said that advertisements have to be accurate?


Thom said...

I believe they call it "propaganda" when it crosses that line!

But seriously, this (an attitude shift, that is, not misinformation) is what we *really* need in San Diego before we start trying to get structural changes to the bike infrastructure--it's about changing attitudes first, roadways second. I think SDCBC would disagree, however.

Thom said...

It's the difference between saying "San Diego is bicycle-friendly" and saying "San Diego sucks for bicycling." I think most of us are guilty of the latter, without giving enough energy to the former.

Beany said...

Well I think San Diego is wonderful for bicycling. IMHO, it is a gazillion times better (I've done the math) than biking in Philly. And there is no sucky weather!

Perception is reality in many cases and I'm trying to figure out how to use this to my advantage to promote bicycling here in San Diego. The more people on bikes the less chances that I get killed or maimed by an auto.

But there is also the notion of conspicuous consumption that many are notorious for. How to to account for that behavioral attitude? I think it takes a certain type of person to adopt any sort of treehugging lifestyle. For example, even with all the material on plastic water bottles (plastic = bad, water quality = not so good as tap water), many of my own intelligent friends do not want to make the shift toward carrying a stainless steel water bottle filled with tap water. On a psychological level, I suspect that people just want to be liked and a lot of habits are an attempt to fit in and not stand out as a weirdo. The car culture is so ingrained in the nation's consciousness, that it is the norm. Anything threatening that norm is seen as bad or elitist or something despite the fact that a vast majority of the world's population are car-free.

From my limited experience in San Diego, my enthusiasm and unapologetic attitude toward living without an auto seems to have garnered more admirers and possible followers than before when I attempted to guilt people into riding by saying things like, "the polar bears are dying! Ride a bike to save them!"

aj said...

I guess I'd be interested to see this theory in practice in other venues. A sign at the checkout stand that reads, "35% of customers provide re-useable bags" or something like that. Very interesting from a sociological point of view.

I completely agree that the best way to further the cyclists' cause is to ride a bicycle, and let others see you riding a bicycle. But that is mostly a subconscious message. I wonder if a more direct message would garner the sought response?