When I think about social marketing, I generally think about downstream social marketing. Maybe I am the only one, but it is important to consider more than just intercepting behaviours on the individual level when trying to create mass behaviour change. According to Jeff French, upstream social marketing is “Policy formation, and prioritization, budget allocation and influence on strategy. Focused on the causal agents and determinants of social problems.” The target for upstream social marketing is government and corporations, but today we will be looking at governments and the tools they have that can be leveraged for behaviour change initiatives.
There are many different financial tools that can be used by government to encourage behaviour. For energy conservation, there are a lot of incentives offered by the government that were discussed in Februarys Introduction post on this blog. There are rebates on energy efficient appliances such as energy star dishwashers, and home retrofits. In Ontario, we also have “Peaksaver” energy times to reduce stress on our electrical system. So you can save money by running appliances at night or on the weekend, when there is less energy being used.
Energy is one of those fantastic things where saving money and saving the environment can go hand in hand. If we are using less energy than we are spending less individually. Places like southern Ontario where population is expected to increase dramatically, certainly benefit from energy conservation financially, as they will need fewer electrical generating facilities.
Probably the most notorious financial incentives for government, or “dis-incentives” are taxes. In 2010 when Ontario switched to the Harmonized Sales Tax rather than a separate federal and provincial sales tax, a few extra things went in. Energy and gasoline got an extra 8% sales tax added, and I at least like to think that it was implemented as a deliberate deterrent (if you have proof please email me, or just comment below). Then of course there is British Columbia, who implemented a carbon tax in 2008. They also lowered sales tax slightly, so that the overall tax burden would be the same for consumers and the overall effect would be to discourage high carbon use.
When not using financial tools, governments can create change through policy. A great example from the health field would be water fluoridation, it is much easier to make everyone drink fluoride in their tap water than convince everyone to add an adequate amount to their own diets. In 2008, the Ontario government made it mandatory for cigarette displays to be covered, banking on the classic “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy. The government of Ontario has previously used upstream social marketing tools to improve our carbon footprint from energy use. The last coal fired power plant was shut down in April 2014, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to completely cut out coal as a power source. Like putting fluoride in water, this allowed Ontario residents to drastically reduce their home energy footprints, without having to change their behaviour at all.
So What’s Better, Financial Tools, Policy Changes or Downstream Social Marketing?
Back when I started my University experience in the Environment and Business program, I used to think that financial tools were the best and the only way to encourage people’s behaviours. Now however, I am not even sure if financial tools are even that helpful. For instance, a study done by UCLA, researchers found that when asked, individuals said that the most effect way for them to change their behaviour and use less energy in the home is to increase the price of energy. However, when monitoring actual energy use in the dorms, they found that environment and health messages actually had an effect of 8% energy savings, whereas monetary based messages had no significant changes over the control group. Still other studies say that financial incentives and rebates are more effective, but only when savings are larger and over a longer period of time.
People are Different and Campaigns Should be Different
I like to think of environmental issues as a puzzle. No one has the resources to solve the whole thing in one go, so we each need to focus on our part of the puzzle to change things. This means that while your campaign may be looking at helping individuals use less energy, other people are trying to get a greater access to clean energy, and still others are attempting to create a carbon tax to further discourage energy use.
For instance, in 2007 a Pesticide By-Law was introduced in the Region of Waterloo, but the percentage of households using pesticides did not significantly change after implementation of the By-law. Social marketing research done by the Region found that the number one reason for not engaging in natural lawn care was a lack of knowledge, which is why they launched a campaign to remove this barrier.
What is the best way to change behaviour? Of course it depends, but it is important to remember that any of these tools can be used. And according to Gerard Hastings in his textbook, Social Marketing: Why does the Devil have all the Best Tunes?, moving upstream can greatly increase efficiency of social marketing efforts, and both up-stream and down-stream social marketing efforts should be employed when trying to change behaviour.