“ You don’t use those words,
though, do you? You see
them on packages”
Focus group participant,
How the public talks
Contents Words matter. They matter a great deal. Words bring ideas alive, make
new concepts familiar, and can change the way we see the world.
02 What we learned
Marketers, journalists and those working in the media are acutely aware of
04 How to use this guide: the importance of words. There is a whole industry dedicated to perfecting
Green Words copy. A PR company can spend days (or weeks, if the client is important
Amber Words enough) pondering a single line of text. In some cases, millions of pounds
Red Words are spent on market testing one word.
05 Second Chance Waste and Smart Appliances Yet those promoting sustainable development work with an inherited
ZERO WASTE terminology cobbled together from science, economics and decades of policy
LESS IS MORE making, pressure group campaigning and academic debate. Most people
SECOND CHANCE RUBBISH working in a sustainable development discipline know that their lexicon
SMART versus GREEDY is often invisible to the majority of the public, and at worst alienating and
WATTAGE WASTAGE and CUT THE BUZZ off-putting to many non specialists.
Understanding how the public responds to sustainability terminology isn’t
09 Spurting and Savvy Driving simply a test of basic understanding of the words. Experts are careful to
FLIGHT ADDICT and HABITUAL FLYER balance the ‘denotative’ meaning of words (the dictionary definition) with
SAVVY DRIVING the ‘connotative’ associations, feelings and images a word conjures for the
NON-ESSENTIAL FLYING people who hear or use it.
SPURTING This short study by Futerra is designed to test the connotative meanings
THE MPG CHALLENGE (mpg = miles per gallon) of both established and some newly coined sustainability terminology.
STRESS-FREE MOTORING We’ve picked up terms from government reports, NGO posters and business
ECO-SAFE DRIVING websites, and we’ve even made up a few original ones.
14 Sparks That Last The use of common words connects members of a community into a network
IN-HOUSE GENERATION with formidable collective powers. If sustainability is to become a persuasive
INDEPENDENT POWER vision, it needs a persuasive language.
FINITE ENERGY SOURCES
SPARKS THAT LAST We hope this report is a first step in developing that language.
18 One Planet What?
ONE PLANET LIVING
GREEN and CONSCIOUS LIFESTYLES
GLOBALLY ALERT and CITIZEN CONSUMERS
DEVELOPING / DEVELOPED WORLD
POOR COUNTRIES / RICH COUNTRIES
NORTH / SOUTH
MY SLICE OF THE PIE
23 Overview: the findings
01 Futerra Words that sell
What we learned
Futerra commissioned focus group testing of the terminology used Words empathise and personify
every day in the sustainable development community. Our team also
Too often, sustainability terms are used for their denotative/dictionary
coined some new sustainability words and phrases to see how they
meaning but ignore their connotative associations. Terms that played on
would be received by the public.
connotative meanings, for example by ‘personifying’ waste and implying
While the responses to the specific terms themselves are fascinating, it deserves a ‘second chance’ just as a person does, tested extremely well.
some clear conclusions emerged that can be applied across the whole Response to empathic and emotive words was enthusiastic.
Smart and savvy rather than efficient
Common sense matters People in our focus groups were quick to acknowledge various permutations
The most popular and effective terms we tested were familiar to people and of a win-win scenario. For example, ‘savvy driving’ can save money, save time,
sounded like ‘common sense’. Moral, obviously political or accusatory terms increase quality time with children and help the environment. This term allows
were strongly reacted against, but terms that ‘do exactly what it says on the people to associate themselves with the behaviour: smart people have savvy
tin’ were far more effective. products. The term is preloaded to be positive and emotionally uplifting rather
than terms such as ‘efficient’ that seemed good…but dull.
Humour doesn’t hurt
Who wants to be an ‘environmentalist’?
A few terms were seen to offer funny or tongue in cheek observations. These
were often repeated by the participants, and people seemed overjoyed to The hardest job was searching for positive, high-status sustainability terms
be using an environmental terminology that wasn’t ‘aggressive’ or ‘fanatical’. that the public could use to label themselves. No-one in our groups referred
The great British sense of irony and humour is an excellent starting point for to themselves an ‘environmentalist’, or even a ‘recycler’. The psychological
developing terminology. The outright enthusiasm for these terms promise a research into ‘symbolic self-completion’ teaches us how crucial it is to have
real desire for a green language that is socially acceptable and fun. a defining term to support ongoing action. This is currently missing from
sustainability terminology: we want to be a something… and no ‘something’
Guilt shuts us down
‘Psychological reactance’ is where people feel their freedoms are threatened Action speak louder than words
and they therefore begin to defend them aggressively. This strong and
sometimes outright angry response was generated by many of the terms True, but people need a terminology that they are familiar with to give context
we tested. This is deeply worrying for public acceptance of sustainability. to actions, and to encourage others to undertake positive behaviours and
Some of the pejorative terms (for unsustainable behaviour) we tested have avoid negative ones. The most positive outcome of this study was to identify
the opposite effect of that intended, leading people to value and defend the a range of positive terminology associated with sustainable travel. The words
behaviour associated with the unflattering term. Accusations of ‘being talked do work.
down to’, ‘manipulated’ or even of ‘propaganda’ are levelled at language that
is associated with guilt.
to themse rred
as a recyc es
‘We’ not ‘You’
Tapping into a sense of cooperation, community or shared interest appeared ler’
to resonate more with our focus groups than terms associated with individual
or personal behaviours. We searched for sustainability terms that implied
mass social action or generated ‘social proof’ to test, but found that most
terms encourage atomised individual behaviour. Research consistently
shows that we follow the behaviour we see around us rather than making
isolated decisions. A terminology of sustainability ‘participation’ rather than
‘atomisation’ is urgently needed.
02 Futerra Words that sell 03
How to use this guide Second Chance Waste and Smart Appliances
Although more detailed focus group tested would be useful, we hope Words associated with waste and efficiency were the easiest to test;
that the conclusions from this short study will be immediately useful people understood the context, and most had taken some action. We
for anyone trying to engage the public in attitude or behaviour change didn’t test the word ‘recycling’, which has already entered the common
for sustainable development. lexicon.
As you’ll see, we tested a range of words and phrases, from common ZERO WASTE
sustainable development terminology to new terms we thought might work.
The term ‘zero waste’ was well received, and seemed to resonate with several
We have categorised the terms we tested in four typologies based on people in the focus groups.
“If only we could work towards the notion of zero waste. The whole
business of fashion is ridiculous; no one wants things because they
are the wrong colour”
“We’ve got to work towards it; get the figure down”
AMBER WORDS Only one negative association was raised: that the term was pejorative.
words that might
GREEN WORDS work, but were not
words that were “The only zero I think of is ‘zero tolerance’, like in New York. It’s too
terms that people entirely successful
easily misunderstood authoritarian. It’s about being told what to do”
liked and understood
LESS IS MORE
‘Less is more’ was interpreted as a reference to packaging and waste (rather
than efficiency), an issue that raised temperatures.
We also have also noted words that are still to be tested properly, because
“Packaging drives me bananas – it’s such a waste”
we didn’t get enough evidence to add them to our traffic light rating.
“There’s too much waste. It’s ridiculous”
At the end of each section we have also listed words that were totally ignored
“It annoys me; it didn’t use to be like this”
by respondents. These are words they did not want to discuss, and for our
next research paper we’d love to discover why not. “You pay money for packaging, then throw it away”
There were many positive responses to ‘less is more’ and associated
sayings such as ‘one man’s waste is another man’s asset’ that we introduced
to the group.
“It makes me think of when I was little and my mum used a hessian bag”
“Someone else can use what you don’t want”
“I come at it in a philosophical sense. Less is more”
This term also initiated comments about the wider principle of
“Use this slogan to come up with an eco-friendly life: chuck out lots, “It annoys
prioritise, get rid of clutter and nick-nacks, put a whole new head on” it didn’t us ;
be like this to
04 Futerra Words that sell 05
Second Chance Waste and Smart Appliances
Packaging is therefore an extremely useful ‘entry point’ for discussions of Some recognised that ‘smart’ fridges and washing machines already exist. It
sustainability. Common wisdom has decided that to be angry and frustrated is worth noting that respondents were very comfortable with both ‘smart’ and
about packaging is a socially acceptable position. Terms such as ‘less is ‘savvy’ and yet no-one mentioned ‘efficient’, a word that our research suggests
more’ applied in this context aid familiarity (crucial for social acceptance) and is not in common parlance.
confidence in discussing the issue.
On ‘energy-greedy’ appliances, some immediately assumed the term was
a label that would be shown “on high-energy appliances, like tumble driers
SECOND CHANCE RUBBISH and electric fires”.
The concept of ‘second chance rubbish’ was an attempt to add to the “A useful notice, not a propaganda exercise. It will save on our bills”
terminology of recycling and proved quite successful. Most powerful was
“‘Labelling on electrical appliances, to dissuade us to buy it”
the implicit anthropomorphism of rubbish that created empathy with waste.
“You give a person a second chance; it’s worked for a while so you give The personification of ‘energy greedy’ was easily understood and translated
it another chance” to domestic appliances such as TVs left on, or on standby, for long periods
“It gives rubbish a personality – a second chance”
“It would dissuade people from buying it – think twice about switching on”
It was also associated with “vintage fashion, second hand clothes” and
“It makes me think of the wheel on the electricity meter”
“refurbished scanners”. Something quite complex was going on here, related
to the merits of ‘new’ versus ‘used’ and the changing relationship emerging The last comment, which shows that the term creates a mental picture of
with both concepts. energy use, is very encouraging. Anything that builds an understanding of
This concept of personification deserves much more attention in terms of the energy use should be welcomed. Of course, the barriers to behaviour change
value placed on resources. Many attempts have been made to give resources still remain, and unfortunately no clever word will change that.
and waste tangible or financial value, but this research identifies a potential “We leave on three TVs when we are not watching them – it takes so
‘emotional value’. much energy”
SMART versus GREEDY
WATTAGE WASTAGE and CUT THE BUZZ
One of the most powerful dynamics was in the comparison between ‘smart’
appliances and ‘energy-greedy’ ones. Unexpectedly, respondents assumed Two new terms that received interesting but mixed responses were ‘wattage
these terms were intended as official labels that would be visible at the point wastage’ and ‘cut the buzz’.
of sale! ‘Wattage wastage’ was thought to relate both to home and business
The word ‘smart’ in particular was seen as an implicit compliment for those environments.
who chose clever appliances. “‘Things in the home and in offices as well. It’s madness; why not turn off?”
“Clever enough not to waste energy” “This is down to electricity, lights, bulbs”
“It’s clever; more expensive to buy, but cheaper in the long term”
“Leaving lights on, left on standby – I’m paranoid about waste”
“Run on something that’s better for the environment, like Smart cars.
They don’t waste energy” For most, ‘wattage’ refers specifically to light bulbs, although the alliteration
“Or washing machines that turn themselves off” r ubb – was regarded as light-hearted and therefore welcomed.
g ives nality nce.”
“`It erso cha
‘Cut the buzz’ was intended to inspire a feeling of electrical equipment filling
a room with an unpleasant low-level noise, helping people to remember to
a p cond switch off unnecessary lights and devices. For some this worked well.
a se “Turn it off; don’t leave phone chargers on overnight; no white noise”
For others, however, the term related to the media ‘buzz’ about the
environment. As a phrase, ‘cut the buzz’ deserves more testing, and may
be more effective when tested with visual or audio prompts.
06 Futerra Words that sell 07
Spurting and Savvy Driving
in, n ss rubb
the b t feedin ish
SLIM BINS Terms concerned with travel and transport were the most contentious
and likely to elicit psychological reactance and accusations of
Another of our attempts to personify a term was to associate waste efficiency propaganda. However, they were also the terms where social
with eating less or dieting. This worked for some. proof was weakest – people openly disagreed with each other and
“Put less rubbish in, not feeding the bin” demonstrated anxiety about ‘the right thing to do’.
“If you recycle most stuff then you won’t have a big fat bin”
However, there was significant confusion over the meaning of this phrase, FLIGHT ADDICT and HABITUAL FLYER
and some felt personally insulted by terminology around weight and eating.
Surprisingly, the accusatory term ‘flight addict’ was rather popular, and the
only term that was associated with personal holiday flying.
“Some people are just so set in their ways – going to the Costa del Sol
STILL TO TEST every year”
Other terms Futerra would like to test include: “They don’t look at other options”
1. ‘Landfill bins’ versus ‘Recycling bins’ This is one of the very few terms in the research that was liked for its
2. Cut, collect and combine
“It’s a joke, a bit cheeky, a bit of a dig”
3. Bin-free environment
Similarly, the phrase ‘habitual flyer’ created a mental image of a socially
4. Built-in waste
unacceptable person, and was one of the few terms that also elicited
5. Leak-free energy spontaneous discussion of alternatives to flying.
“It’s someone who flies a lot. Flies to Scotland when they could take the train”
IGNORED WORDS “It’s mainly habit. They fly to Manchester when they could make
a conference call”
• Resource efficiency
We have judged these terms to be useful and readily applicable, although
• Energy efficiency with the warning that all travel terminology isn’t without risk.
“You can’t stop people living their life”
at oth don’t loo
er op k
08 Futerra Words that sell 09
Spurting and Savvy Driving “ Ho
ever is in
NON-ESSENTIAL FLYING BINGE FLYING
This term prompted heated debate between respondents, partly focused Although obviously a more aggressive attack upon flying, this phrase was less
on the definition of ‘essential’. ambiguous and was clearly understood to refer to excessive flying.
“They always get at us. What is essential? We are all different. Most flights are “How unattractive that is in every way”
essential; if it’s quick it’s quick” “Greedy and grabbing, but not thought through properly
“If it’s essential to you and you want to fly, then go and do it. You work every “It’s the same category as a binge drinker”
day of your life, so you want to take your family on holiday”
“I don’t think this is going to go anywhere. I cannot see people saying, ‘I’ll only The term was clearly associated with wealthy or privileged people.
take one holiday, not two’”
“Excessive behaviour and drinking champagne on the plane”
“How many people in the world take non-essential flights? I bet it’s a tenth
of one percent” However, the term is still classified as amber in our traffic light rating because,
for some, it was at odds with their perceptions of flying.
Concerns were raised about who decided what was essential and what
wasn’t. Interestingly, flights weren’t generally referred to as ‘pleasant’ or “Fashionable – like it’s fashionable to have a tan”
‘desirable’ but rather as a necessary and unavoidable means of getting to
a holiday destination. We believe that this term might be used successfully for excessive business
flying, especially when associated with ‘fat cat’ terminology.
Views on business flying were less polarised, with a majority feeling confident
to condemn the rich and privileged.
“Non-essential flying is when businesses fly people all round the world, and SPURTING
the royals in their private jets”
This is a term currently used by some pressure groups to define non-essential
Although ‘non-essential flying’ is currently used (especially by government) flying. The term totally polarised the two socio-economic groups we tested.
to avoid the perception of an attack on holiday flights, its ambiguity actually Many of those with a middle class outlook could barely bring themselves to
has the opposite effect. Respondents worried that ‘non-essential’ equals say it out loud, whereas working class respondents considered it witty and apt.
‘non-business’, and the ambiguity therefore leaves open the interpretation
“People would say, ‘what is that?’ It’s spurting out fuel, rushing from one place
of a direct attack on family holidays!
to another, using too much fuel… spurting it away”
Despite the positive response from some, the discomfort created by the term
in others is cause for using the term with care
get at us. ys
is essenti What
10 Futerra Words that sell 11
Spurting and Savvy Driving
SAVVY DRIVING STRESS-FREE MOTORING
Of all the terms researched, this had perhaps the greatest appeal with Some respondents strongly identified with the desire for stress-free driving.
people across the focus groups. Depending on your outlook, ‘savvy’
could imply either ‘intelligent decisions’ or ‘good common sense’. “Starting and leaving work early to avoid the traffic”
“Sharing a journey”
While it could have an environmental or resource connotation, “Sav
bein is abou
‘savvy driving’ is more likely to capture the understanding that we “Stress-free driving is about guilt-free driving, like car-sharing. A lot of this
eco green stuff is about guilt”
can all change aspects of our driving behaviour to reduce costs g sm t
and unnecessary waste. art” However, for some the concept was totally alien.
“Drive clever and drive the right sort of car”
“I love driving and don’t see why people get stressed”
“Savvy is about being smart”
More research is needed for this term to determine the demographic that
Some observed their own illogical and lazy behaviour, such as sitting is likely to respond most positively.
in the school run when it would be quicker to walk. This also has
positive aspects, such as “chat time for me and my daughter”.
“If you could see the queue of traffic outside my daughter’s school…”
To put it bluntly, this term wasn’t discussed – simply laughed at.
Excitingly for sustainable development, ‘savvy driving’ associations weren’t
just with unnecessary journeys.
“The way a person drives: turning off the engine, driving slowly, using your
eco-brain, car pooling, don’t waste petrol”
STILL TO TEST
It was even suggested that it could have street appeal. Other terms Futerra would like to test include:
“Some see savvy driving as cooler than eco-driving”
THE MPG CHALLENGE (MPG = MILES PER GALLON)
The principle of the challenge was recognised and was linked to “Chelsea
tractors; if they drive a mile it’s cost a pound in petrol”.
There were no ignored words in this topic.
Others recognised that it has a wider focus, encouraging people “to be more
aware of how your car performs in terms of petrol”.
However, this term doesn’t get a green rating because only some people
(mainly men) in the groups knew what MPG stands for.
12 Futerra Words that sell 13
Sparks That Last
We assumed that words associated with energy would be readily FINITE ENERGY SOURCES
understood. However, many terms that have become familiar (and, in
some cases, almost clichéd) to sustainability professionals are still This term seemed both easily understood and non-contentious.
new and unfamiliar to the general public. This provides a real window “Coal and wood that is naturally depleting, not being replaced”
of opportunity to reconsider our terminology and choose options that
are potentially more successful. It also raised issues of access and equity, “because the world is
IN-HOUSE GENERATION SPARKS THAT LAST
This term was seen in the context of domestic energy, and carried positive This phrase was liked by those for whom the use of ‘sparks’ was inextricably
associations. linked to electricians (or ‘sparkies’).
“Generating power within your home, solar power, self-sufficient, self-reliant, For many this was described as ‘catchy’, implying “electric to last;
solar power and double glazing, treble glazing” guaranteed power”.
“ It does “There are self-sufficient houses in some areas of the country” However, despite its positive association, the term was found to be rather
it says o hat ambiguous, and should only be used within a clear context.
n Respondents gave unexpectedly clear feedback about why this was
the tin” a positive term.
“It’s punchy and positive. It’s not offensive, it’s not aggressive and it’s not
political” This was generally thought to mean “creating power using air, wind
“It does what it says on the tin” and water”.
One focus group member also saw it as a play on ‘girl power’.
This ‘neutrality’ was seen as a real benefit of the term, especially when
compared with others. ‘Doing exactly what it says on the tin’ is widely Interestingly, the use of ‘green’ opened up a wider discussion about the
regarded as a very good thing. word itself.
“It needs to be protected”
INDEPENDENT POWER “It’s on the way to being devalued”
This was also seen as a positive phrase.
In fact, it’s this association that convinced us to rate ‘green power’ as amber
“The energy companies obviously don’t want it” rather than green. Not everyone feels as strongly about ‘natural’ issues as
“If your home heats itself you’re not dependent on big companies” they might about energy. We need to avoid assuming that the public holds
consistent environmental views.
Being independent of big companies was seen as slightly rebellious and
positive as ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’. However, some concern was
raised about the possibility of this independence..
“We don’t build our homes in that way; we’ve missed the opportunity”
14 Futerra Words that sell 15
Sparks That Last
POSTCODE POWER STILL TO TEST
This was an attempt to explain decentralised energy systems. gg ests ng Other terms Futerra would like to test include:
Some understood that the term alludes to local power sources. “It su re helpi
you’ me way ” 1. Everybody is an energy company
“It means local”
in so 2. Resilient renewables
“It suggests that you’re helping in some way”
3. Grid-free energy
However for others there is a negative link with the more established concept
of the ‘postcode lottery’. 4. DIY energy
“You can get treatment in some parts of the country but not in others”
Therefore, while this phrase has some traction, it must be used consistently IGNORED WORDS
for people to be clear about its meaning.
MICROGENERATION Decentralised energy
Not only was ‘microgeneration’ not understood, it was selected as a disliked
word. The most common interpretation was that ‘micro’ referred to tiny energy
sources, such as might be found in a mobile phone.
“It’s a microchip, isn’t it?”
“Things getting smaller and smaller”
With better words available, a tough decision needs to be made about
continuing to use terms like these which the public doesn’t grasp.
This is one of the terms that raise people’s hackles.
“It makes me angry”
The respondent who wanted to discuss this word chose it because he didn’t
like it. It’s clearly pejorative and in danger of creating a negative reaction.
16 Futerra Words that sell 17
One Planet What?
The final group of words tested was associated with footprints GLOBALLY ALERT and CITIZEN CONSUMERS
and global equity. These were the most difficult to get people to
understand, but the least contentious of all the terms tested. We assumed that ‘globally alert’ would be regarded as a distant or even
negative term. However, this phrase seems to convey a sense that we can
make a difference together.
ONE PLANET LIVING “Do what you can, making a difference as individuals”
This was liked, although interestingly no one mentioned having come across “This is about not being insular – thinking globally, acting locally”
“You cannot change the world single handed. It’s about being globally aware –
It was seen to capture a sense of global community and shared values. the world’s population can attack the issues”
“Not going off on our own tangents; everyone pulling together, in the right The term was associated with another, ‘citizen consumers’, which also enjoyed
direction to stop destroying things; nurturing what we have got; everyone a positive response.
doing something” “We are all responsible for what we do. Responsible for ourselves and our
“The governments need to make an impact to get this one off the ground” households”
“We need to stop destroying things and nurture what we have left” “It means taking responsibility for yourself”
“Everyone is doing something now” These two terms don’t seem to suffer from the problem that ‘it refers to
someone else’, and even encourage personal responsibility. While not
The most encouraging part of this response is that it is associated with peace necessarily familiar or elegant terms, they tap into a growing feeling of the
and accord as well as environmental sustainability. However, it was generally need for individual action.
felt to denote government responsibility rather than personal behaviour.
GREEN and CONSCIOUS LIFESTYLES
This term was generally liked and has clear imagery.
“Everyo ‘Green lifestyle’ was liked as a straightforward and meaningful statement:
doing so is “What you leave behind”
mething “Get to the source of the problem; but not obsessive or religious about the
now” environment” “It’s not about blame, it’s about responsibility”
“It says it clearly”
A conscious lifestyle reflects a need to think more about the fact that “we live
in a material world. Things I like to do, places I like to go. I identify with that”. However, few had ever heard the term, while one observed that “carbon – you
get that everywhere, don’t you?”
While both were seen as ‘fluffy’ terms, people still felt positively about them.
An associated term that was also liked was the idea of a ‘positive footprint’.
So much of the green footprint terminology deals with mitigating negative
SQUARE DEAL impacts that it ignores the desire of many people to make a good impression.
The phrase ‘square deal actions’ was associated with positive ethical and “We all leave a trail behind us. We’d like the world to be a nice place when
environmental principles. they grow up”
“If we didn’t care we wouldn’t have Fairtrade” “If we could all make our footprints a bit more positive, we could really do
“We are becoming
“It’s a Fairtrade thing, isn’t it? A square deal is a fair deal”
“We are becoming aware that the Earth is finite”
aware that the This association of footprint with positive impacts as well as negative ones is
Again, this term plays on common sense and common language Earth is finite” a useful development in the sustainable development terminology.
– and benefits in testing as a result.
18 Futerra Words that sell 19
One Planet What?
CLIMATE-FRIENDLY LIFE DEVELOPING / DEVELOPED WORLD
This term has the potential to communicate a broad spectrum picture of These were surprisingly contentious terms. It was suggested that the phrase
environmentally-conscious living, and it triggers emotional responses. ‘developed world’ is arrogant and hides problems in our own society
“I think this is a bit of a daydream, but I think how lovely it would be for the “‘This is sarcastic. Developed in what way? We still have a lot of truancy,
children to grow up in such a climate-friendly world. Green fields, fresh air and poverty …”
“There’s lots of stuff that happens in Third World countries that happens in
However, that response is also a warning signal about the ‘achievability’ of the developed countries – it’s just hidden”
One person also observed that “we don’t control the climate!” POOR COUNTRIES / RICH COUNTRIES
Associated with ‘developing / developed world’ were the concepts of ‘poor
BLINKERED LIFESTYLE countries / rich countries’, which also raised deep concerns.
Respondents identified with this term and the dilemmas they face. “‘We are dependent on having poor countries”
“I do worry, but it doesn’t stop me getting on a plane” “We have lots of strategies to make sure they stay as poor as long as
“People can talk about it but don’t do anything”
“Are we prepared to give up what we’ve got?”
“We can’t keep blaming ourselves, choosing to go through life without taking
note of all the issues” “We cannot have the whole world wasting at the level we do. Poor countries
have a right not to be poor. As soon as they exercise that right, we have
It also evoked anger at the concept of double standards. serious problems”
“It’s up to the government – why has Prescott got two cars and they tell you The whole global equity issue was very emotionally worrisome for participants.
not to get in your car?”
“Very concerning, serious problems around the corner for my children”
Although understandable and liked, the term is rated amber because of the
apathy and fatalism it generated. These terms therefore have an amber rating: use them with care. Although
those of us involved in sustainable development may use them blithely, they
are value-laden for the public.
“I d o worry, top
it doesn’ g on
20 Futerra Words that sell 21
One Planet What? Overview: the findings
NORTH / SOUTH
Red terms within the same area were ‘North / South’. When understood in an
international context the terms were disliked. In addition, some respondents
thought the terms referred to the north and south of the UK. GREEN WORDS AMBER WORDS RED WORDS
words that were
terms that people words that might
“I don’t like it; the North-South divide” easily misunderstood
liked and understood work, but were not
MY SLICE OF THE PIE
WASTE AND Zero waste Wattage wastage Slim bins
Although intended to imply a move towards equity, the concept of ‘my slice of
EFFICIENCY Less is more Cut the buzz
the pie’ suggested individualism and people looking after their own interests.
Second chance rubbish
“I’m alright Jack; pull up the ladder” Smart appliances
This also spontaneously (and unexpectedly) seemed to initiate anti-American appliances
“One American uses as much energy as thirty Indians” TRAVEL AND Flight addict Non-essential flying Eco-safe driving
TRANSPORT Habitual flyer Binge flying
“Americans eat as much as they can, but they don’t know where Canada is. Savvy driving Spurting
They are insular” The MPG challenge
“They’ve got a big slice of the pie”
This term should therefore be avoided unless carefully placed in context.
Rather than generating a feeling that everyone deserves a fair slice, it leads to ENERGY In-house generation Sparks that last Microgeneration
feeling of being ‘hard done by’ in an UK audience. Independent power Green power Conflict energy
Finite energy sources Postcode power
STILL TO TEST FOOTPRINTS One Planet Living Climate-friendly life North / South
Other terms Futerra would like to test include: AND GLOBAL Green lifestyle Blinkered lifestyle My slice of the pie
EQUITY Conscious lifestyle Developing /
1. Eco-savvy life Square deal developed world
Globally alert Poor countries / rich
2. Living lightly Citizen consumers countries
3. Green legacy
22 Futerra Words that sell 23
These research findings centre on qualitative research planned and
commissioned by Futerra, and undertaken by OnEarth.
The qualitative research consisted of two focus groups held in London during
Spring 2007. The aim was to test a series of established and new terms
describing sustainable lifestyles with members of the public, to understand
which ones work, which ones don’t work – and why.
Participants were drawn from a mixture of life stages: parents, young adults
and older people. One focus group was composed of people from the socio-
economic group ABC1, and the other from C2DE. 1
GROUP 1 GROUP 2
GENDER MALE/FEMALE (4/4) MALE/FEMALE (4/4)
AGE 25-44/45-64/65+(3/3/2) 25-44/45-64/65+(3/3/2
SOCIO-ECONOMIC ABC1 (8) C2DE (8)
We excluded people describing themselves as ‘environmental activists’ to
ensure that no-one in the room could present themselves as an ‘expert’ to the
The direction of this research is fascinating, but it’s only one study. Focus
groups in different parts of the country, drawn from urban and rural
populations and including a greater variety of demographics, would greatly
increase the insights available.
Futerra intends to build upon and supplement this research over the coming
1 The socio-economic grades A, B, C1, C2, D and E are often grouped into ABC1 and C2DE.
These are taken to equate to ‘middle class’ and ‘working class’ respectively.
24 Futerra Words that sell
Thanks to the authors of the following books:
The Power of Words: Advertising tricks of the trade
Richard F Taflinger
The Language Instinct: How the mind creates language
Special thanks to OnEarth
Futerra Sustainability Communications
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