Want conservation in the workplace? Target the Sprouts

The Greens are already converted to conservation. It's the Sprouts, who want to change but don't quite know how, who can have the biggest impact. (iStockphoto)

By Mary Frances Hill for


As an expert in the art of persuasion, Nancy Lee has a way of pegging people. An author and  25-year social marketing veteran, Lee has mastered the art of figuring out where people stand on the issues of conserving energy and being sensitive to the environment.

That skill came in handy as she addressed a Power Smart Forum audience in the November 17 seminar titled  "Switched On to Energy: A Guide to Sparking Behavioural Change." Within minutes, she had the 60 or so business people at the seminar thinking about Greens, Browns and Sprouts.

The Greens are a group that needs little explanation. They're the diehards in the office, quick to pick up on what's needed, from sorting recyclables to conserving electricity and reducing waste. Everyone knows at least one Green: at worst, they can get a bit preachy, but their hearts are in the right place.

"The Greens say, 'Tell me what to do next," she said.

"Browns" are the the stubborn, the unconvinced. While the Greens are making every effort to help the environment in small ways, "the Browns are thinking, 'why don't these people just get a life?,'" Lee told the amused crowd.

But it's the group in between -  the Sprouts - that will have the most impact on the efforts of the social marketer in every office, Lee said. The Sprouts are those who believe in the values and reasoning behind the initiative, but need a little more encouragement.

Where a Green would go out of her way to find a recycling box to deposit her used bottles and cans, set up a kitchen compost and bike to work, the Sprouts admire all these actions, but go only halfway to emulate them. A Sprout may take the bus a few days a week, recycle only when it's convenient, and eat locally-grown produce only when it's on sale.

Their intentions are good, but they just need a nudge.

Naturally, Lee asked her audience: which group is the easiest target to help make change? The Sprouts, of course.

The attentive, entertained audience at Lee's seminar was perfectly appropriate, considering her pedigree. With 25 years of professional marketing experience, she's an adjunct faculty member at the University of Washington in Seattle, and the University of South Florida.

Lee is the founder and president of Social Marketing Services, a Seattle-based consulting service. She worked with With Philip Kotler, the man credited with first coining the phrase "social marketing", to author Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviors for Good, and Corporate Social Responsibility: Doing the Most Good for your Company and Your Cause.

The expert social marketer offered more handy tips and sage advice:

  • Make the audience love the messenger. Persuading employees or colleagues to do something for the better means relaying the message with a positive voice;
  • Ditch the punitive tones, and think of a creative, fun, way of communicating the messages that will help persuade people into better habits.
  • "Write marketing messages with character, make" Lee said. "Ask yourself, 'what does this (sign or post or memo) say about the person who made it? Think about our relationship with the messenger, and be the person people want to do things for."
  • Stick to simple graphics and symbols. "Make the messages clear, concrete and fun."
  • Create a new normal. That means targeting the sprouts in the workplace. Direct your efforts to make it easier for them to act, and they'll follow suit. Soon enough, with the Greens and Sprouts on board, the Browns will feel the pressure of being an "outside" group, and come to terms with changes.
  • Promote do-able behaviours. When non-profit group One Change launched a Project Porchlight campaign in Ontario and Alberta, they bet if  volunteers distributed one compact fluorescent  bulb to every homeowner and tenant in the province, the energy savings would be immense.  It worked. In Ottawa alone, more than 250,000 bulbs were distributed to households in Ottawa alone. Similarly, at BC Hydro, low-income households are eligible for an energy savings kit.

Mary Frances Hill is a Vancouver-based freelance writer, and somewhat of a Sprout.

Source: BC Hydro News