GreenTown Los Altos

Applying Community-Based Social Marketing to GreenTown Programs


Dec 2018


In late October, I attended a community-based social marketing (CBSM) training by Doug McKenzie-Mohr, an environmental psychologist who has been teaching CBSM to organizations for more than 20 years. My goal was to learn, from the preeminent expert on the topic, how to improve GreenTown’s efforts to mitigate climate change through the use of CBSM.

Doug MacKenzie-Mohr, Ph.D.

What stood out most was that information intensive campaigns, like those on TV, radio, the internet and newsprint, just don’t work. There is little connection between attitudes and knowledge and behavior change. People know what they should do, but more-often-than-not, don’t change their behavior based on that knowledge. McKenzie-Mohr used the example of the congressionally mandated Residential Conservation Program (RCS), which requires utilities to offer energy audits. Only six percent of the public participated in the RCS and, of those, only 50 percent acted on the recommendations resulting in only a 2 to 3 percent overall savings.

The solution, McKenzie-Mohr asserted, is to use CBSM to reach one’s constituents. He walked us through a step-by-step process to do this which began by identifying behaviors one wants to change, uncovering the barriers and benefits to those behaviors, developing strategies, doing pilot testing, and implementing and evaluating those strategies.

The CBSM Bible

Ultimately, what McKenzie-Mohr calls social-diffusion, appears to be the answer. Social diffusion is the process of identifying individuals in a community that have the social cache to lead their communities into social change. He shared about university extension agents encouraging Dust Bowl farmers to plant trees to create windbreaks. Agents began by identifying the most respected farmers in the community and had them plant windbreaks as pilot projects. Once their peers saw the success of these projects and they wanted in as well, and eventually, most farmers began practicing this method.

I look forward to experimenting with CBSM as GreenTown plans for 2019 and beyond. At its core, our work is really about how each of us can change our behaviors to reduce our carbon footprint and other negative environmental impacts. CBSM will be an important tool in that process.

For more information on CBSM as well as abstracts from a huge range of programs that have been designed or evaluated using CBSM, visit

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