How to Make a Website that is Hot, Cool & Green!

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TheCowsMadeMeDoIt - Environmental Website

At long last it is here, and the waiting is over. Blog Action Day has been on the cards for a while now, and it has grown from strength to strength since it was first introduced to the world. This site has also grown from strength to strength through this event, because I chose to take on the daunting task of writing an entire series of articles on, what I felt were, the failings of the environmental movement, and more specifically, the communications that it engages in. Now I am finally at the end of my journey with this discussion, and I thought it was simply not right to critique without suggesting solutions to the issues I have brought up over the past eight articles. Considering this blog is meant to be a record of my activities in online enterprise, it was only fitting that I tackle what kind of online presence would solve some of the communication shortcomings that are facing the ecological movement.

These are general traits which could very easily be used in any medium, online or off, but the elements that would make for an effective ecological website are:

  1. Originality
  2. Irreverence
  3. Entertainment
  4. Recurrence

1] Originality

Originality - Environmental WebsiteFor a movement that is supposed to be inspired by nature and the life on Earth in its infinite variety, the content and approach found in material about the ecology is devoid of originality. The same set of dry facts or sensational ultimatums are presented in the same way by almost everyone who tackles the communication of these issues. The tone is a studied, intellectual, and factual, all of which would be perfectly valid ways of dealing with the issue if they were not the only ways they were always dealt with. The same lack of variety can be seen in the content as well. Everything is academic non-fiction with a smattering of casual tips and friendly advice thrown in for good measure. Why is every environmental site about the latest news? I’m not saying that is a bad thing, but it can’t be the only thing all of us have to talk about on this vast and complex topic.

The ecological message needs a diversification of genres. Just imagine if every thing the human race ever produced on the subject of love was in the form of a bodice-ripping romance novel — there would be no romantic comedies in the cinema, there wouldn’t be any literary fiction about people in love, Jane Austen would have never been born, no Japanese animation about young love, no Russian epics about tragic romances, no fairytales, no documentaries, no research papers about pheromones, no sitcoms, no news, nothing. In a situation like this, would any one of us like to pick up a pulp romantic novel to read about love? Absolutely not! We would be so bored, and put off by the monotony of the subject matter that we might very well avoid anything to do with love altogether. Now answer me this. Why is everything about the environment green and white with the picture of a tree/leaf?

2] Irreverence

Irreverence - Environmental WebsitePart of the “green and white” dilemma is the religious and utterly reverent side of the environmental movement. Like every organised religion, the ecological initiative seems to have picked up certain norms and standards of appearance and behaviour which we all follow blindly. Also, like the more traditional religions, any material about the ecology and the environment automatically assumes a very reverent tone of voice about the subject. This de facto veneration is not a healthy sign, especially when it masquerades as understanding. The word reverence comes from a Latin base that means “to fear”. Respect can be a positive emotion, but fear never is. Nothing good ever came out of fear. Fear leads to stagnation of thought and narrowness of vision, and those are exactly what we don’t need when we are all supposed to be coming up with solutions to planet-wide issues such as pollution and climate change.

The green movement could use a good dose of irreverence. We need to respect nature but not fear it, because it is precisely this blind fear that has resulted in many of our misadventures against the planet. When I talk of irreverence, I do not mean a false bravado, because that is simply fear in disguise. What I mean is a truly open and free-flowing thought process about the subject of the environment, unfettered by such crippling restraints as political correctness or deification. If there is to be a new originality in discourse about the ecology, we must lose our fear and habitual reverence. Once we do that, new thoughts will flow, and new people will understand. It was thoughtless behaviour that landed us where we are, and thoughtless reverence will not solve the problem or win over any cynical hearts.

3] Entertainment

Entertainment - Environmental WebsiteYou have to make them laugh. Or cry, or shout, or whatever — anything that will engage the mind of the reader and prevent them from sinking into a state of indifferent disinterest. That’s entertainment. Entertainment is possibly the most effective means of communication when it comes to changing people’s minds and leaving a lasting impression. This doesn’t mean all entertainment needs to be propaganda, but positive messages that need to be disseminated into the public consciousness need to have a certain level of entertainment-value mixed in for them to be accepted and remembered by the majority. How much do you remember from your history lesson in school? And how much do you remember of your favourite historical movie? That is the difference which worthy messages like those about the ecology need to be making use of.

The issue with most current and past material about the ecology is that it strays towards the academic. That automatically exempts most of the population from the audience, because if they were all in the mood for so much thoughtful discourse they would already be, well, thoughtful. And then we wouldn’t be having this entire discussion. There have obviously been plenty of attempts at including “environmental messages” into popular entertainment. After all, considering the high social acceptance of all things green at the moment, it was a natural result. But these attempts have been shallow, simply retrofitting environmentalism into existing structures. Yesterday our intrepid hero was fighting “commies” and today he’s fighting polluters. That’s not really helping the ecological cause any, because it’s just an after thought. Not only does that sort of material provide zero information or education to the viewer, but it actually excuses them of all responsibility and blames the “bad guys” for all our problems.

Wake Up! We’re the bad guy! Not some smarmy suit-wearing corporate type in a lofty office, but each and every last one of us. Now bring this little fact to the notice of the general public and make it entertaining. That would be a real environmental message.

4] Recurrence

Recurrence - Environmental WebsiteIt is a well studied and researched fact that people need to see an advertisement or an offer from a company an average of 7-20 times before they decide to buy into whatever is being sold. It also takes about 20 days of doing something continuously before it becomes a habit. This sort of periodic repetition is a must if human minds are to be enlightened and human habits are to be changed. There is plenty of repetition in environmental messages, but when the messages themselves are often not reaching their audience or engaging them completely, the repetition is moot. There is plenty of repetition and periodicity in the average newsy environmental site, but the problem with news is that it is usually all over the place and never presents an consolidated idea of things to the reader. One day neon lighting could be good because of lower energy usage than incandescent bulbs; The next it could be bad because of heavy metals used in the tubing. Both these pieces of “new research” would appear side by side on a newsletter or blog and they would both be treated with journalistic equality, without any framework of what the reader should be doing about it. This sort of repetition is great for staying informed but not very good for convincing, because it leaves the average person confused.

There are some environmental messages and communications which succeed in bringing into the mix a strong dose of originality, irreverence, and entertainment. Unfortunately, there are often one-off things. They are memorable, just like some amusing commercials on TV are memorable, but did you actually buy what was being advertised? For that to happen, or for people to buy into eco-friendliness there needs to be a consistent and continuing periodic repetition of messages and material, which still qualify to be called original, irreverent, and entertaining. If we manage to bring all these elements into synergy in more of the mediums and messages that we put out about the environment, you can be sure that more people will sit up and notice, and more people will not notice as they gradually have a change of heart about their polluting and damaging daily behaviours. That is the sort of change that is required for real progress and that is the sort of effect that these elements can produce in the public consciousness if used well.

Action

It is called Blog Action Day, and I have no delusions about a lot of talk being anything close to action. That is precisely the reason I felt it was essential to take on this mammoth series of articles rather than posting a perfunctory short bullet-pointed post on the 15th of October. That doesn’t really say action to me, and as much as I am very pleased with the amount of effort that went into this series of articles and the illustrations, I don’t think I have done enough yet or followed all the advice I give above. There needs to be more.

So today, Blog Action Day, 2007, I announce the imminent launch of a new website on the environment: The Cows Made Me Do It.

I have not yet begun to build this site, but now that this article series is completed, that is what I move on to next. I do have a pretty clear idea of what I want to make of it — that should be quite obvious considering I registered a strange domain name like TheCowsMadeMeDoIt.com. There is a plan, and I will execute it over the coming weeks, keeping in mind all I have talked about over the last month on the subject, and also the elements I mention above in this article.

Originality, irreverence, entertainment, and recurrence will be the cornerstones that I build this site on, and I invite you to join me on the journey. I will continue to post updates on this blog about my progress with the site, so I strongly recommend that you subscribe to my full RSS feed to get the latest news and teasers. I have also set up a basic page on TheCowsMadeMeDoIt.com which includes a free newsletter signup form. If you liked this series of articles and would like to see a slightly new take on the environment grow with your help, please sign-up there with your email address. The newsletter will play a continuing part in the future site, and will currently give you exclusive sneak peaks into the content as I create and design it. You can be rest assured that there will be no spamming, and the list will not be used by anyone else but me.

The Environmental Movement and Why It’s Not Working thus ends on this very positive and “action”-oriented note. I thank everyone for their support and their interest in this series. Please continue to read and browse whatever parts you missed. I would love to read your comments and feedback on the various articles and I encourage you to share this with your friends by bookmarking or emailing it using the Share This link below. The more the merrier.

Thank you all. I hope you enjoyed this series, and I hope you sign up to the TheCowsMadeMeDoIt.com newsletter and subscribe to the RSS feed here for updates.

Take care and be green.

Samir

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