Cher. Beyonce. Mariah Carey. Christina Aguilera. All of these lovely ladies share one thing in common. Care to hazard a guess what that might be? Big hair… fair enough. Glamazon presence… certainly. Crazy vocal prowess? Um, yeah. Perceptions make the world go ’round, don’t they? It’s highly unlikely that anyone would peg the aforementioned diva squad as being card-carrying members of the treehugger brigade, but none of us really knows for sure what Cher and her cohorts do behind closed doors, do we? Frankly, we probably know next to nothing about the real people behind all of the glitz, makeup and costumes, yet we still embrace superficial tidbits gleaned from People and Entertainment Tonight to formulate sweeping judgments about their personalities and societal contributions. In a roundabout way, this practice also applies to our cultural attitude toward going green. It’s amazing how two little words are capable of ruffling so many feathers. When we’re reminded by the media or even a granola-lovin’ friend that living a more sustainable lifestyle is necessary for the longevity of our planet, in many cases, we react with varying shades of fear:
“Why should I have to make any sacrifices to my lifestyle? I like things just the way that they are.” “I can’t afford to go green — all that organic stuff costs way too much!” “Life’s too short for me to waste even a few precious minutes fiddling with recyclables or composting a bunch of smelly garbage. Seriously, I don’t need more responsibilities on my plate!”Lack of information and plain old resistance are two key factors that have prevented the eco-movement from really taking hold, but beyond that, going green has been perceived by the masses as being a total and utter chore. It’s no surprise that, in light of this attitude, many of us have been dragging our heels. Inspiring people to make positive behavioral adjustments that can potentially lay the groundwork for real-world changes is no easy task, especially when our culture already possesses a deeply engrained notion of acceptable lifestyle standards. That’s where Volkswagen’s Fun Theory offers an intriguing lesson in the power of positive (and fun) reinforcement. The marketing campaign demonstrated that making small, somewhat quirky tweaks to everyday humdrum activities (such as properly disposing garbage or recycling materials) can actually inspire people to jump on board the social responsibility train. Capitalizing on the element of surprise, a Volkswagen team rigged a garbage can with a freefalling sound effect so that successful “deposits” were rewarded with an entertaining consequence — the impression that garbage was slowly but surely careening into a cavernous pit. Perhaps a little goofy, but entertaining nonetheless. Similarly, those who deposited recyclable materials into the proper openings in a collection bin “arcade” were treated to blinking lights, video game-inspired musical accompaniment and points, but noticeably lacked actual cash, with the auditory and visual hullaballoo being the prize rather than something tangible. Ultimately, each experiment proved to be quite popular, suggesting that even activities that are normally perceived as chores can take on a new shade of appreciation when they’re wrapped up in some semblance of fun. Those with impressionable young children, take note: By demonstrating that being a responsible eco-citizen is just as enjoyable as it is ethically sound, perception can be positively shaped at a very young age. Some are hopeless romantics, while others (like myself), are hopeless greenies. I really do believe that regardless of the number of years that you’ve walked the planet, perception can change for the better and you don’t even need to have young children in the house to make today part of a greener tomorrow. Injecting anything with a little fun — gardening and composting, included — can remind even the staunchest eco-naysayer that it’s really not so bad after all. Hey, there are even some greener lifestyle habits that require absolutely no pomp and circumstance — they’re just innately A-OK as is. So, after you stake your tomatoes with recycled pantyhose strips and use the pages of an old telephone book as a natural weed barrier in your garden, would you please take a moment to spread the word about how cool and naturally enjoyable an eco-lifestyle really is? Aw, you’re the best!