Weekly Round Up: ecosystems at our service

In the round up this week: ecosystems at our service, bag the nag if you want shoppers to be green, and keeping up with the Joneses lawn.

If you’re a science communicator or educator at an informal science center (such as a zoo, aquarium, or museum) trying to encourage conservation action – this is the round up for you! Every week we break down the most interesting recent news and best resources to help you frame the issues as effectively as possible.

Ecosystems: at your service!

A new study by Stanford researchers published in Nature shows just how important healthy coastal ecosystems - oysters, reefs, swamps, dunes, etc - are to healthy coastal communities. The study mapped existing such systems in the US and found that without them "twice as much coastline and 1.4 million more people will be highly exposed to climate risks."

Try using the concept of free ecosystem services (in plain language) to communicate with audiences and visitors about the value of conservation. "Nature" isn't just important to protect because of abstract, distal reasons (it's beautiful! biodiversity!); it has an immediate effect on the health and economies of coastal communities. Putting it in terms of recent events is even more impactful: healthy coastal ecosystems help protect people from extreme weather like Hurricane Sandy, they do it for for free!


Oh, behave

If you read last week's round up, you know that motivated reasoning can make it hard to get through to people about their beliefs and habits. Here are a few interesting studies that get at why people behave the way they do, and insights for how communicators may be able to nudge them in an eco-friendly direction.

Study: Remind people to make green decisions, don't make them feel guilty
French and Italian researchers experimented with two community-based social marketing techniques: public declarations and prompts. They asked shoppers entering a supermarket to sign a poster that said “Stop using plastic bags. If I can do it, so can you.” Then - half were forced to admit they sometimes used plastic bags, and the other half were left alone. Researchers then observed how the two groups behaved at the checkout line: people who only signed the poster were more likely to buy a reusable bag (rather than take a free plastic bag) than the people who were forced to admit they sometimes used plastic.

The takeaway? Asking someone to make a public pledge or publicly identify themselves as "green" will motivate them to act accordingly - it's uncomfortable to feel like your actions don't match up with your identity. However, if you guilt and nag them about it they might be more likely to rationalize and justify their bad behavior, making them care less about acting green in the future.

Study: Homeowners Use Lawn Chemicals Mostly Because Neighbors Do It
Ohio Sate University recently investigated why people use chemicals on their lawns - 62% of respondents to their survey said their lawns are important to their "sense of social status and acceptance in their neighborhoods." A quote from one of the researchers:

"Based on the study, the main factor influencing a homeowner's decision to use lawn chemicals is whether neighbors or other people in the neighborhood use them," Blaine said. "Homeowners crave acceptance from their neighbors and generally want their lawns to fit in with their surrounding community, so they adopt their neighbors' practices. It's not that they feel pressured to treat their lawns. Rather, they genuinely want to fit in."

You don't have to be actively pressured to be motivated to keep up with the Joneses. The study concluded those hoping to encourage responsible environmental lawn care would be more successful targeting their campaigns at neighborhoods rather than individuals. This study is a great example of why it's important to know your audience's motivations when planning a campaign to change behavior.

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