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Thursday, December 07, 2006

How times have changed

An article in The Guardian yesterday took me back a couple of summers ago... In August 2004 my colleague Kirsty and I conducted a project on public perceptions of climate change for Friends of the Earth. We were closer then to 9/11, the war in Iraq hadn' been going on for long, fear of terrorism was people's No. 1 concern. Climate Change was low, low, low down the list and 'what can we do about it anyway'. If pressed on exactly that point, the mood in the Sutton Coldfield living room got depressingly defensive in a 'what do you mean, I do recycle my newspapers' kind of way, paying higher taxes was obviously a no-no and I remember one respondent making the er, astonishing lateral suggestion that the government should focus on trying to collect tax from 'the gypsies and Romanies' to fill fiscal coffers. We did not even go near taking fewer flights. 2 years on and green marketing is a real talking point and is starting to emanate out from the chattering classes and Guardian/Observer pages into the 'real world'. And has hurt the profits of 4 x 4 manufacturers…Like Polly Toynbee I actually don't see this as a grassroots movement but as inspired from above - loathe him or loathe him, Tony Blair did put Climate Change on the agenda, Gordon Brown seems to be forcing people to reconsider their Chelsea tractor habits by hurting their purses and there's of course Green Dave… Still though - it seems to me that green and ethical marketing have a real place in all of this because they give people an opportunity to take action. Apart from being depressing, the groups we did two years ago had an atmosphere of powerlessness, people feeling the victims of forces nobody, including the government, really seemed to be able to know how to deal with. There is of course a real danger that ethical consumerism will be entirely superficial window-dressing and climate change has hardly become less of a problem but my feeling is that it will be much easier to affect (political) change if people feel that their actions can make some sort of difference. Buying green or 'ethical', even if it is for relatively selfish purposes, does allow for some sort of buy-in and hence (dreaded word) 'empowers' people, which should make it easier to raise awareness and inspire 'good behaviour'… I'm probably kidding myself but it's close to Christmas, it would be nice to think that marketing can occasionally, just a wee bit, be a force for good??