Speaking the Word on Energy Efficiency

Stuck on a green marketing strategy because you've been reading all these conflicting studies about how people want to be green, but then do not act on it?

Keep reading these studies, and you might only achieve paralysis by analysis.

The bottom line is, you have to speak the language of your audience.

Let me offer an enlightening story. It took place on a tiny island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, called Tangier, which is only accessible by ferry. The island is mostly marsh and populated by 650 people, many of them very conservative evangelicals whose social sphere is centered on their faith and the church. The island's economy is based almost exclusively on fishing for blue crab, a task that has become more and more difficult as pollution in the bay puts pressure on the crabs and the species is overfished. The Tangier Watermen, as they are called, were not just overfishing the crabs, they routinously disposed of their trash in the bay.

Enter the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which dispatched environmentalists to the island to convince the fishermen not to pollute the bay and overfish it. The message was, essentially: "You're being bad. Save the Bay." Think the people of Tangier responded? Not when these long-haired, pot-smoking environmentalists were threatening them with economic hardship by telling them to reduce their catches. Nothing happened but tensions between the Watermen and the environmentalists, much like the argument taking place today over global warming.

Then a graduate student came to Tangier to study the conflict. Susan Drake Emmerich worked with the fisherman and got to know them, and quickly discovered that the fisherman were truly devout in their religious beliefs and that nothing happens on Tangier without going through its churches. So that's where Emmerich went to discuss the environmental problems happening in the Bay.

And how did she convince these very conservative people to change their wasteful ways? She put in their own terms. She noticed that most boats have a picture of Jesus in them, to help guide and pilot the craft. So she asked the fisherman to live to the Lord's call to be good stewards of the earth. That message stuck-and not the one being touted by the environmentalists. (And it did not hurt that the night before, a storm dumped a lot of Tangier's garbage back onto its shores, as if it were a sign.)

Now there's a Watermen's Stewardship Covenant, in addition to Women's Stewardship Covenant. (Emmerich also found that the women of the island, who are very active civically, were the keys to change.

The moral of the story: Be sure to speak the language of your audience. And remember that there is no one "green" audience. ''