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Motivation and Green Marketing: We’ve Got It Half Right

Carolyn McMaster | July 28, 2010

A friend recently alerted me to this great video presentation about motivation based on a presentation by Daniel Pink, whose new book is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. It got me thinking about how we make assumptions when we’re communicating about sustainability and marketing green initiatives.

Pink points out that research on what motivates people to excel at their work flies in the face of common assumptions when the work involves cognitive skill and critical thinking. Monetary rewards actually backfire; studies show that motivation comes from self-direction, mastery, and  making a contribution. I’d like to see more about motivation where sustainability initiatives are concerned. I hear anecdotes that “doing the right thing” isn’t enough to get people to act. Research I’ve seen about energy conservation behavior shows that’s true. But we don’t know enough about what does make people conduct their business in sustainable ways. It’s always assumed that the clincher always has something to do with money (you’ll save it or spend less) or effort (it’s easier) or competition (looking better than your neighbor).

It’s not that simple. In my work I’ve recently seen how sustainability goals unite employees and inspire them to go the extra mile. I also see customers making the green/sustainable choice because it’s the right thing to do. In both cases, these groups are active advocates. What can we learn about the other two factors, mastery and self-direction, that will help us market more effectively and change behavior—and bring about lasting results that will make a dent in climate change?

So I’m off to find a copy of Drive at the library. (And forgive me if this sounds like an ad for the book, which was published in December.) I’ll report back.

One last note: The video is incredibly creative—an artist draws cartoon illustrations on a whiteboard in time with Pink’s talk. It’s a production of RSA, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. RSA are brilliant (they’re British so I can say it like that), and so fun, progressive and insightful that you’d never guess the organization is 250 years old.


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