Weathercocks and signposts: the environment movement at a crossroads

April 2008
WWF Report

Weathercocks and Signposts: The Environment Movement at a Crossroads is an iconoclastic critique of many mainstream approaches to promoting environmental change: approaches which predominated at the time of its publication and are often still clung to today.

It took aim at:

– The “information deficit model” of environmental change, characterised by the conviction that if only enough people knew the facts about the environmental crisis, then there would be mass demand for transformational political change. Weathercocks and Signposts marshalled the evidence from social science that communication of “the facts” will never be enough – because people are more complicated than that.
– The widespread reliance on strategies borrowed from commercial marketing campaigns. Whatever the insistence of erstwhile advertising executives who want to apply their commercial insights for some social benefit, “selling” environmental concern is never going to be analogous to selling soap.
– The naive hope, that if people were persuaded to embrace simple and painless behavioural changes (e.g. switching off lights when not needed) then these changes would “spillover” into ever more ambitious commitments to environmental change (e.g. embracing a plant-based diet or stopping flying). While this obviously makes for a politically attractive strategy, there’s little evidence that it will work.

Weathercocks and Signposts outlined an alternative approach (one which Common Cause Foundation has built upon over many years). This alternative approach is rooted in an understanding of people’s values, what shapes these, and how these come to motivate pro-environmental concern.

Read
this if...

  • You’re a campaigner or communicator working for an environmental NGO or charity.
  • You’re interested in why the strategies of environmental campaigners in the first decade of this century largely failed - and why they continue to fail today.
  • You’re more interested in strategies for systemic change than in tactics for promoting piecemeal uptake of pro-environmental behaviours.

Keys Takeaways

A focus on refining public policy, changing business practice, or developing new green technologies is important – but the changes that these approaches are able to create will always prove woefully inadequate until we also begin to understand what we collectively value, and why.

Other resources
you might like

Where now for the environment movement? weathercocks and signposts ten years on

Simple and Painless: the limitations of spillover in environmental campaigning

No cause is an island: How People are Influenced by Values Regardless of the Cause

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