Convincing People Why Recycling is Important: Focus on Emotions, Not Facts

How useful are facts in winning the argument about why recycling is important? Turns out when attempting to inspire action, recycling facts may put you at a disadvantage rather than giving you the winning edge.

University of Kansas professor Simran Sethi postulates that when it comes to pursuading people to take action for a cause, throwing facts at them can actually turn them off.  This goes against the grain for most of us, particularly those of us who had it drilled into our brains in college that we needed to support every argument with verifiable facts and sources. Turns out that people aren’t inspired by facts. They’re inspired by emotions.

The way to make information relevant is not to ask people to think about or worry about something new—especially not something that’s far away in time or space. The stories have to be close to us, emotionally or physically. Or, we have to displace what’s already in someone’s pool or worry.

In other words, people don’t need anything else to worry about. In order to convince someone with facts they must be so compelling that they forget all about some other worry on their plate. Like punching someone in the face so they forget that their foot hurts.

The problem with environmental facts is that they pertain to an end state that is too far removed from our current reality. The cumulative effects of failing to reduce our carbon footprint won’t become tangible to most people for another decade or so. And by that time, it will be too late. To stop global warming we need to act before the temperature rises enough to turn the Earth into a desert. To save the Polar bears we need to act before the last little bit of their habitat is destroyed. To inspire immediate action we need to appeal to an emotional trigger, not a logical one.

Ms. Sethi’s talk, Why and How Do We Engage, has some valuable lessons for those of us attempting to motivate people to recycle (or to motivate any environmental action for that matter). Winning the argument is about making a connection. We need to focus on people, not statistics, if we hope to be effective advocates.

So get a cup of fair trade coffee in your favorite reuseable mug and take a few minutes to view this video. The Earth will thank you for it

Got something to add? Feel free to chime in!