The Branding of Peace and Respect (with a thank you, Mind Over Markets)

In her her post on solar energy messaging on the Green Marketing Blog, Carolyn Parrs of Mind Over Markets points out that the message of the solar industry needs to come down to earth: we’ve got the technologies, this stuff isn’t rocket science, and we know—in the long run—it will best serve ourselves and future generations. Let’s get ‘er done and reap the rewards!

(Of course, as one blog commenter points out, ROI still must play a large role in the conversation. I’ll leave that to those of you with the spreadsheets.)

But the observation that really intrigued me in her post is this: “The loudest voices we hear are the ones against whatever is put in front of them.” Our media—and, more broadly, our culture—has devolved into one in which the loudest, roughest bully gets his way, right or wrong. Might makes the right to be “the decider.”

That’s not exactly a revelation. And, one could rightly argue that the election of Barack Obama and comparatively progressive majorities in the Senate and the House stand as historic victories for peaceful, positive, grassroots democracy in the U.S. We have seen intriguing new work on our most challenging issues as a result. Whether or not one agrees with the unfolding policies, at least things are moving that haven’t budged in decades. Inaction breeds criticism without having to risk new ideas. Cooperative action affords the opportunity to determine what works and what doesn’t.

And therein lies the crux of our sustainability communications debacle. When major radio personalities state that activists working to salvage our environment should “go off and die,” when congressmen shout “you lie!” to the president during a formal address, when parents tell children that the president is lying about trying to get more funding to public schools, we have utterly lost the qualities of peacefulness and respect—and, therefore, constructive, cooperative action—in our culture.

Where is the respect? Where is the common decency? Where is the peaceful approach to solving our differences and finding common ground?

In the U.S., the brand of peace and respect is weakness. Peace is for sissies. Being respectful is wimpy. We have raised our children—especially our men—for generations on that brand. Showing compassion, acknowledging the dignity in another—particularly one who may appear to be from a lower socio-economic class—makes one a no-account do-gooder. And, that is exactly what is wrong with the branding of renewable energy, natural products, energy efficiency, socially responsible investing, green building, and every other sustainability space.

Sustainability messaging doesn’t need to get mean, nasty, and shout down the other guy. That’s just not our style. But it needs to get tough. We need to say, “We won. We won because the majority of people think we’re right. Majority rules. The loud mouth on the radio is wrong.We are right, so let’s get it done.”

Sustainability messaging needs to stop laying over like wet grass. It needs to say, “Buy a $30,000 SUV, in 10 years you have a used up SUV. Buy a $30,000 solar pv system, and in 10 years you have free energy AND you get to be a smug SOB because everyone else will be scrambling to pay their outrageous energy bills. ”

Sustainability messaging needs to put it’s foot down. “Sure, your contractor resisting every green thing you want to do—it’s what he knows. Tell him if he doesn’t get on board, he’s fired. We’ll give you a list of experienced contractors who get it. We’ve got your back.”

Ultimately, sustainability—in the broadest view, after the profits are counted—is about humanity. It’s about solving the problems that prevent us from having a more just, peaceful world. It’s about respecting the rights of all beings to coexist and access the resources they need. It’s about compassion; it’s about dignity.

We need to give these characteristics a new brand. Compassion, respect, and peace need to equated with toughness, pragmatism, and even profit. This can be done; I have a real life example. My father is a retired Marine Corp colonel and Vietnam vet and one of the kindest, most gentle, respectful, happiest, peace-loving people I know. His rifle and pistol marksmanship records stood for years at the Quantico Command & Staff College.  He believes passionately in socially responsible investing and is a cheerleader for Michael Pollan and Thomas Friedman. Obviously, physical, mental, and social toughness can coexist in the same person—and the same business or culture—as peacefulness and respectfulness. The world abounds with examples. Yet, as my father would point out, we have at least three well-known academic institutions to train citizens to go to war, but the average citizen cannot name an institution that instructs us in implementing peace and respect.

So, as Ms. Parrs challenged the solar industry to bring its messaging down to earth, I challenge everyone in the sustainability spaces to rebrand peace and respect in the U.S. Let’s make it hip, not only to be green, but to be respectful and peaceful. Get people curious about learning these qualities. Let’s show the bullies that through those qualities, we are getting the job of saving humanity done.

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