Ecological Tool Maps the Green to Ungreen

A person's world view affects attitudes on conservation and other big picture issues.There was an intriguing email flying around Portland last week about an insightful and curious research-and-marketing tool developed a few years back. Described was a complex set of analytics designed to understand and reach diverse audiences on issues such as the environment, sustainability or national security, to name a few topics.

The “micro-targeting tool” was detailed in a 2008 report entitled “The Ecological Roadmap: A Guide to American Social Values and Environmental Engagement.” The advocacy group Earthjustice and the Canadian research firm American Environics produced the report as part of a conservation awareness pilot project for the Pacific Northwest.

The study puts people into 10 categories based on social values. The key here is how social values affect our worldview, possibly leading communicators to effective outreach strategies.

It’s not immediately clear what the pilot project has yielded. There’s not much in the way of news reports or updates on the Internet. It appears American Environics most recent postings on its website are from 2009.

Nonetheless, the concepts outlined in the report are worth a look and a PDF of the report can be downloaded here.

Understanding broader world views

“We felt that it was imperative to understand how the environment fits into people’s broader worldviews, so we created the Ecological Roadmap, a national segmentation study of the American public that organizes people according to how they rank more than 130 social values,” report authors say in the introduction.

“These social values shape the public’s understanding of and engagement in environmental issues. The Roadmap has allowed us to develop new communications and ad vocacy approaches with the potential to shape those values,” the report continues.

Preceding the report, a comprehensive survey and focus groups were conducted in 2007. The survey included questions about personality, social psychology, and media use to test issues including environment, foreign policy, health, kids, race, sexuality, religion, tax, fiscal and government.

Public sorted into 10 categories

Slicing and dicing, 10 segments were identified and — described in the report — as:

  1. Greenest Americans, 9 percent. Everything is connected, and our daily actions have an impact on the environment.
  2. Idealists, 3 percent. Green lifestyles are part of a new way of being.
  3. Caretakers, 24 percent. Healthy families need a healthy environment.
  4. Traditionalists, 20 percent. Religion and morality dictate actions in a world where humans are superior to nature.
  5. Driven Independents, 7 percent. Protecting the earth is fine as long as it doesn’t get in the way of success.
  6. Murky Middles, 17 percent. Indifferent to most everything, including the environment.
  7. Fatalists, 5 percent. Getting material and status needs met on a daily basis trumps worries about the planet.
  8. Materialists, 7 percent. Little can be done to protect the environment, so why not get a piece of the pie.
  9. Cruel Worlders, 6 percent. Resentment and isolation leave no room for environmental concerns, and
  10. UnGreens, 3, percent. Environmental degradation and pollution are inevitable parts of America’s prosperity.

Boiling the results to a simple analysis, the good news was that the greenest-leaning segments of the population are getting greener — at least in terms of lifestyle choices. The bad news is the American population overall is headed in the opposite direction.

The approach pioneered here may need more time to take root, but it’s definitely work tracking.

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