This is Part One of a two part series on “Communicating Solutions” by Director of Communications, Bryna Jones.
On Tuesday, my colleague Lauren wrote a Thanksgiving-related blog post on food waste. She provided some helpful tips on how to reduce holiday food waste, and suggested some recipes for using leftovers. She also linked to this article on the Maclean’s website – “What a waste” by Nancy MacDonald – which discusses why so much of the food that we (North Americans and Europeans) produce goes to waste.
I read the article with interest, but left feeling unfulfilled (pun intended). The author did a fine job of providing me with information about the problem, but provided no direction as to what some of the solutions might be. I felt concerned about the issue – I even posted the article to my Facebook wall – but I didn’t know what to do next. That evening, a friend read the article, and echoed this sentiment on my Facebook post. What were we to do?!
As a communicator working in the field of environmental analysis, public consultation and sustainability planning, I decided to do some additional thinking about this article:
- What information did it give?
- What were the implications to me as a consumer?
- If I were trying to tackle this issue, how would I communicate it in a more tangible way?
I began by making a chart to unravel the problem. (Bear with me – this is about as thorough as a note on a napkin.)
You can see that with so many forces at work, it’s difficult to identify the “what next?” in an article with space limitations (notice that the “Solutions” section is blank?). Even with free reign over a blog post, I’m not about to touch on the producers or distributors of food (I could have added additional actors, but these were the focus of the article). What I’d like to focus on is you and I – the consumer – and more specifically how we as communicators can reach out to the public to encourage behaviours that will lead to more sustainable choices.
There are two traditional, information-based methods of communicating behaviour change:
- Attitude-behaviour campaigns
- Economic self-interest campaigns
Both assume that behaviour change on an individual, community or societal level can be accomplished by providing people with more information about an issue.
The attitude-behaviour approach involves tactics like media advertising, brochures, flyers, and newsletters chock full of informative stats and stories. Sound familiar? This is basically what the article on food waste did for us – provided lots of great information, but without solutions. Granted, this method normally incorporates actions into its marketing efforts. A newsletter might include a list of actions to be taken to reduce food waste in the home (i.e. composting, shopping every day instead of once a week, recipes for using leftovers, etc.).
The economic self-interest approach assumes that individuals systematically evaluate choices, and then act in accordance with their economic self-interest. If changing their behaviour will save them money, then they’re on board, no questions asked. This may be a partial motivator. Sometimes sustainability means financial investment in the short term to save money over the long term. Government grants and competitively priced products may offset some of the cost inhibitors related to behaviour change. But let’s face it – people make irrational financial decisions every day, even when they know better. This approach overlooks the rich mixture of cultural practices, social interactions and human feelings that influence behaviour – and the way we spend our money.
So how do we get people to reduce their food waste?
Find out on Monday, when we post Part Two of “Communicating Solutions”.
Bryna Jones is the Director of Communications at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, and a member of the International Association of Business Communicators. Bryna’s project experience includes communications and marketing planning, advocacy campaign development, social media strategy, government relations, and project management. She also has considerable experience in copy writing and public speaking.