Environmental Activism in the Age of Technology

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“Why face to face interaction is not dead yet…”

Marc Yarmoff, HEET Intern (May 2015)

As an intern for HEETs small business outreach program, I had the occasion to interact with an extremely diverse sample of the population and find out their attitude particularly towards saving energy. With a partner I would go to a number of small businesses in both Quincy and Salem and promote a National Grid program to reduce energy bills.

The program itself is not the purpose of this article, but it consisted mainly of a free energy audit (designed to determine areas where the business could save the most energy and money) and financial help for certain type of upgrades done as result of the audit (primarily lighting and refrigeration improvement). What we were offering was entirely in the small businesses’ best interest, hence As members of a generation who have embraced technology as the solution to all possible problems in life my partners and I frequently wondered whether there was no easier way to promote this program than walking door to door and meeting with businesses in person. However after hypothesizing about the potential of google street view, we came to the conclusion that there was really no substitute for face to face interaction. By physically entering the businesses we were trying to help, and talking to the interested parties in person, we were able to both get a better read on the attitude of the business towards the program we were promoting and get a better opportunity to convince them of its value. The first reactions we received on our first day were combinations of mistrust and disinterest. Business owners saw us walking in the door with our uncanny smiles and our clipboards and assumed the worst: we were trying to sell them something they didn’t want, or waste their time with a cause they.

As I mentioned above, the program we were advertising was in the business’s best interest. And many of the people we talked to were interested once we were able to tell them what it was we were there for. As we learned, simply leaving the clipboard behind helped significantly with changing people’s initial impressions, and thus our entire interactions with them. Once we were able to pass the hurdle of the first impression, we began to identify trends throughout our interactions. Apparently, operating a small business is a time intensive occupation. While talking to the business owners in person was a better way for us to promote and explain why we were there, it did seem to cause more of an inconvenience. We were warned about this at the onset of our internship. One of our supervisors told us that she once had to help employees unload a truck before anyone was willing to talk to her (at which point she had no difficulty convincing them that the program truly would help them save money).

Throughout my internship I observed situations where the people we interacted with dismissed us simply because we came at the wrong time. Often they dismissed the program as too good to be true and sent us packing. In times like these it was important to be there in person. While most people who turned us away kept their first impression as their only impression, occasionally we were able to convince someone to change their mind. These people changed their mind not because of our words, but because they could see in our faces or demeanor that we believed what we were saying. Many companies today offer programs to reduce electricity bills for businesses or somehow make their premises more environmentally friendly. However they are for profit, and often end up costing businesses more money than they save (at very least they do in the short term). It was important to be able to convince people that we truly had their best interest at heart.

I found that in general the people we talked to supported environmental friendliness. They also were all interested in saving money. Our program was intended to make both possible. However in order to convince people to sign on, it was paramount to make it convenient for them and show them that we, at least, believed in what we were doing. I believe this takeaway is applicable to environmental activism as a whole.

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