When a (CO2) Solution is Ahead of the Problem

By ANDREW C. REVKIN

Responding to my post about efforts to use Hollywood to boost public engagement on global warming, Redmond Clark, an entrepreneur and business owner from Barrington, Ill., expressed with clarity and force some themes I’ve pursued here far less fluently, so I give him the floor this morning in a “Your Dot” contribution. (The goal is to foster constructive discourse by occasionally bringing to the fore particularly well stated non-anonymous comments.)

Drawing on experience building a customer base for various products over many years, Clark sees efforts to curb emissions of greenhouse gases as a solution that — because of the long-term and cumulative nature of warming risks — is offered well ahead of public recognition of the problem (truly disruptive changes to conditions and resources humans depend on).

What do you do in such cases? Here’s the core of his comment, with a link to the rest:

When we sell a solution to a particular environmental problem, we make it our business to develop a carefully crafted message that is designed to speak to the actual needs of customer. If we operated differently – telling people what their problems are instead of listening first comes to mind – we would be on an express train to bankruptcy. You cannot bring an idea to a customer or a market before customers are ready to consume what you propose to sell.

There is an old (and demonstrably false) expression that says: “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” If you spend a moment looking at the percentage of patented technologies that actually make the leap to a substantial market, the number is astonishingly small: usually measured in tenths of a percent. There is a science to bringing an idea, technology or service to a market and gaining widespread acceptance. Most of that science has been ignored or contradicted in the effort to “sell” the public on the risks of climate change.

In my experience, developing a solution before the customer fully understands his needs happens with some regularity. When it does, there are options, but they do not include turning up the volume and repeating the same message, and they do not involve distorting the truth in order to gain attention. Climate change is a pretty challenging order to sell, but what many proponents fail to realize is that even if you sell the public today, you are going to have to keep them sold for another half century or so. Propaganda and fear-based sales won’t work long-term. The communication, learning and teaching process will necessarily extend across generations, so the “sale” requires a longer-term relationship with trust as a foundation.

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