by Megan Yarnall I recently read an article that claimed our steps to going green, as a country and as a world, have not been as scalable as we imagine. A consumer can’t see the carbon footprint they leave, and this makes it challenging for them to realize how much of a difference they are actually making in cutting back and cleaning our atmosphere.

Since the affects of a consumer’s efforts are essentially invisible, it is a challenge to both engage consumers and keep them in engaged in the green movement to be more. People are less likely to be adamant for a cause, or willing to make as big a sacrifice for that they can’t see, touch, and feel the effects of directly. Tangibility makes a difference.

It follows logically that to engage consumers, the green movement needs make both the threats and rewards more tangible. Many companies, including TerraCycle partners Capri Sun, Bear Naked, and Clif Bar, rely on consumers to make environmentally friendly choices after they use a product. Instead of simply encouraging consumers to recycle – throw the packaging in a bin and then forget about it forever – they’ve started encouraging upcycling, with which consumers can see their reuse and recycling efforts firsthand.                  

When consumers can see exactly what’s been made with their recycled trash – whether it is a new glass bottle, napkins, a park bench, or a backpack – they become more attached to the issue since it directly relates to them and they can see the effects and results of their efforts. Companies can raise interest by using what is tangible, whereas it’s more difficult to raise awareness and inspire action when results are abstract or unseen. Like the old adage says, “out of sight, out of mind.” This couldn’t be more true, especially when it comes to consumers.

Greenhouse gasses, our destruction of the ozone layer or the disappearing honeybee are examples of environmental issues that for the most part are invisible to the average person. While TerraCycle and other upcycling companies can show consumers what they, the consumer, have brought to fruition, this is a greater obstacle for companies that work on greening the air, the ocean, reducing carbon impact or lessening the addiction to fossil fuels.

In order to make these efforts more impactful, enabling them to reach more consumers and inspire more commitment, outreach needs to start by making these challenges more tangible.  How can we start making problems such as fossil fuel reliance and global warming more real and more visible for the masses?

When TerraCycle started, it made the idea of “organic” more tangible by showing something that was common to everyone: worms anddirt. Grocery store products marked “organic” are more abstract because there still is little education around what organic actually means and no official rating system (save maybe for OMRI and USDA) for labeling products as organic. People still don’t have a good idea of where these items are coming from, or how they’ve been grown, processed or treated. A consumer could gain a greater understanding of “organic” by seeing TerraCycle’s worm poop fertilizer, and their understanding could go from there, moving to the grocery store “organic” label, and further down the line.

Following the same thread, any movement that concerns the health of the planet should start at just that point: the Earth. The Earth is a tangible object that every human can see, feel, and touch. By focusing on a cloud of smoke from a tractor trailer’s exhaust pipe, instead of on invisible gasses in the atmosphere, the environmental effects are brought into the average person’s visibility, making it easier to engage that person. It’s often not that consumers won’t care – they just need to be given a visible reason.

The main focus of the environmental movement is right here at our fingertips, and no socially responsible company should overlook that invaluable tool. In looking to engage consumers and followers in “going green,” visibility and tangibility are the tricks, and it’s easiest to start at the most obvious spot: the Earth itself.  The SPCA, the Red Cross and Feed the Children have used this concept very effectively for years. We all know the heart wrenching commercials featuring abandoned pets or impoverished children or ruined neighborhoods and we all how quickly it inspires us to donate or get involved. The green movement needs to take a similar approach, think locally in regards to the Earth, and not allow consumers to not “See or Hear” the evil our planet faces.