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Put People At The Centre Of Environmental Issues

Put People At The Centre Of Environmental Issues, Says American Expert

Environmentalists wanting to evoke change need to tap into people’s self-centredness by making the issues relevant to them, says a visiting American communicator.

Steve Alexander, a Facilitator and Communication Strategist, is in New Zealand as a keynote speaker at the Ministry for the Environment’s Information to Motivation Conference being held in Wellington June 5 to 7. One of the aims of the conference is to explore ways to raise awareness about the environment and to find ways to motivate change.

Steve Alexander has been involved in a number of public campaigns that have been successful in changing behaviour. He also has a long involvement with working in communications including being a former regional director of the world’s largest public relations company Burson-Marsteller.

He says his advice to people wanting to motivate people to change their behaviour is to make sure the issues are relevant to them.

“You have to get to the heart and soul and minds of the people that you want to motivate in order for them to understand you. It can not be a high brow look at what people should do because it is the right thing to do.

“People need to understand how it affects them and what it means to them – what they will lose if they are not supportive and what they will gain if they get involved. We must always answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question when we ask people to do something and doing it requires change.”

He says it is human nature for people to be self-centred and to focus on issues that are of perceived relevance to them. Environmentalists are among those who, if they understand this, can help people do the right thing.

“It always has to be about people. Everyone has a certain belief about what their quality of life should be – so you have to get those things that matter from an environment public policy perspective to matter for their lifestyle.

“It is not about the species you are trying to protect, or the forest or the landscape, it is about the people that get to recreate, enjoy and benefit from these things. People may drive down the road and believe everything is hunky dorey in their life because they have a television and a radio and go to the theatre. But the reality is the land that you live in and around, and the air that you breathe and the water that you drink is critical to your life.”

Steve Alexander says the goal is to help people understand that the decisions they make today, along with their attitudes and behaviours, will have an impact on what they leave to their children and their children’s children.

“What is here today may be gone tomorrow as a result of our actions, or lack of them, now. Making that ‘connection’ to what matters to people in their homes, where they work and play, that’s what is important in any environmental and public policy communication.”

He says if people can see that something that matters to them is threatened it will give the issue a sense of urgency. If they understand it and know they can do something about it, people will act for the common good.


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