Will Anderson: The Green House

You may talk the talk, but if you want to convert the masses, you need to get real
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The Independent Online

We are always being reassured that green issues are no longer a minority interest. Yet you only have to take a walk down the high street at this time of year to question how much change has actually taken place. There is, it seems, a great deal of persuasion still to do.

The most well-known account of the art of persuasion is Robert Cialdini's Influence, in which he sets out six golden rules for persuaders of all kinds. For my last word of 2006, here is a summary of his rules with a few suggestions for changing hearts and minds as the old year turns into the new.

First: commitment forces action. We find it surprisingly hard not to do things that we have previously said we will do. So the next time you find yourself talking with your friends about green lifestyles, get down from the abstract heights and press them to state one thing they will do to reduce their environmental impact next year. This will make it much more likely that they will actually do something. Hopefully they will ask the same of you.

Second: we tend to follow the examples that others set. However much we think of ourselves as autonomous individuals, our actions are profoundly influenced by our perceptions of how other people act in the same circumstances. So don't hide your light under a bushel. Whether it's ditching the holiday in Ibiza for a cottage in Cornwall, spurning Tesco for the farmers' market or insulating your loft and cutting your heating bills, your stories of personal action can make a real difference.

Third: authority still holds sway. As Al Gore demonstrated this year in his film An Inconvenient Truth, if you speak with authority you will be heard (especially if you are wearing a dark suit - Cialdini notes that clothes, titles and automobiles are three particularly strong signifiers of authority). This is critical in modern green debates, given the doubts that are still raised about everything from recycling to whether the glaciers are melting. If your friends demur because they "hear a different story every day", point them towards some independent authoritative voices such as www.ipcc. org.ch, www.tydall.ac.uk and www.geo.unizh.ch/wgms.

Fourth: scarcity always adds value. It's not easy to promote renewable resources such as solar energy with this rule because they are so manifestly abundant. They don't seem precious at all. Yet we live in a perverse world where the abundant energy that falls on our rooftops is perceived to be more expensive than the increasingly scarce fossil fuels pumped from beneath the oceans. But this is itself a persuasive argument for change: why buy into this topsy-turvy world when living with the grain of nature is entirely possible?

Fifth: liking makes all the difference. Cialdini insists that physical attractiveness is a much-underrated ingredient of persuasive power. So don't get into a row with your neighbours about your new green roof. Brush up, look smart and invite them to choose the colours of sempervivum with you.

Finally, the most powerful of all the rules of persuasion is reciprocity: if I do something for you, you feel obliged to return the favour. As this drives the whole Christmas consuming frenzy, I recommend this as one rule worth breaking. Whatever hi-tech gizmos your friends foist upon you this season, give every one of them a box of your own home-made ginger biscuits in return. If you're lucky and they stick to the rule despite your breach, you will be overwhelmed with tasty homemade produce next Christmas. Worth the risk, don't you think?



Don't have time to make those ginger biscuits for your friends this Christmas? Then try some Organic Chocolate Ginger Morsels: £14.50 from The Natural Collection (0870 3313333, www.naturalcollection.com)


Next year, help make your community carbon-neutral. For inspiration visit www.goingcarbonneutral.co.uk.