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Net zero deserves a positive, marketing makeover

There has been immense progress in recent decades in developing and applying technologies that help us to live more environment-friendly lives. As we continue to make progress, it is vital that public opinion remains supportive. That is why environmentalists should look for a different narrative, and harness a positive, inspirational vision of a sustainable future, rather than turning to scare-tactics.

CEN Ambassador Henry Haslam

Polls show that there is a high level of support, in principle, for cost-free environmental policies. However, there is much less support when there are costs attached, which have to be met through higher prices and taxes. Nor is there much support for the behavioural change that is an essential part of the transition to a sustainable society. It is this concern the public has which is why we need a better story, a better way to look at environmental concerns.

Looking after the environment is not only a matter of science, economics and politics, it is – perhaps most importantly – a moral issue. It’s a question of doing the right thing – and of understanding the benefit to ourselves and those who will come after us, taking action to improve the world around us. A positive message like this is better aligned with Conservative thinking than the tactic based on frightening people, which, anyway, has proved unconvincing and ineffective.

Hannah Ritchie in her recent and much-acclaimed book, Not the End of the World, reinforces why doomsday messages do more harm than good. She recognises the severity of the present situation, but she then goes on to present data showing that a great deal has been achieved in recent years towards reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, reversing trends of environmental damage and learning to live within environmental constraints. She has an up-beat message: ‘We have the opportunity to be the first generation that leaves the planet in a better state than we found it.’ 

Caring for the environment is a worldwide, powerful force for good. The message to the public should be to be part of this, with lives that are more fulfilling, valuing nature and creating a better world for future generations to inherit.

To put this message across, we should learn from the advertising industry. Advertisers know how to work with human nature, so as to change people’s behaviour. Advertisers were brought in after the first world war to get people out of the wartime mindset of thrift and ‘waste not, want not’; to go out and spend, spend, spend. Herbert Hoover, later to be US president, addressed advertisers in 1925: ‘You have taken over the job of creating desire’. They were to create dissatisfaction, because satisfied people won’t go out and buy.

Advertisers have, since then, been outstandingly successful in promoting the consumer society, including products and activities that we now see to be damaging to the environment.

Those same skills could now be directed to inspiring us to adopt sustainable practices, with campaigns and slogans that show the attractiveness of lives lived in harmony with nature and embracing values that focus more on people.

Views expressed in this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of the Conservative Environment Network. If you are a CEN supporter, councillor, or parliamentarian and would like to write for the CEN blog, please email your idea to


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