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What kind of eco-cynic are you? Inspiring sustainability in skeptics – John Marshall Roberts

June 8th, 2011 · 2 Comments

green marketing skepticDo you think the whole ‘green’ thing is just a hyped up scam, probably started by the Chinese? Then you’re probably an absolutistic ‘Navy’ thinker type, trying to understand sustainability through your dichotomous right/wrong, good/evil worldview.
OK, let me back up.
As a sustainability marketer, I don’t have to agree with the skeptics, but it sure helps to understand them a little better. To this end, John Marshall Roberts introduced the room to the 8 Graves Colors of Thinking Types, a colour coded system of segmenting worldviews, from our barely self-aware hunter-gatherer ancestors (Tan) to the fully realized holistic thinkers of tomorrow (Indigo).

Each group views the world differently and will experience a different type of cynicism that defines their green skepticism. Have a look at these four points of view and see if you recognize yourself or anyone you know:

  • Navy (Absolutistic)  Life is a test. “Global warming is a scam. It’s ridiculous liberal propaganda. It’s arrogant to think that man could change the climate.”
  • Copper (Individualistic) Life is a game. “It’s not my job to take care of the weak, the lazy and the incompetent. They’ve got to suck it up and learn to take care of themselves”
  • Jade (Humanistic) One human family. “Earth is a fragile system which is collapsing due to corporate greed.”
  • Gold (Systemic) Life is a system. “Why am I always the only grownup in the room? This is exhausting. Maybe I should just say ‘to hell with it’ and get stinking rich before the world collapses”

So as a sustainability marketer, how can you better understand the worldview types you may encounter? In one empathy exercise, we were tasked to write a paragraph from a different coloured point of view from our own, as if they were stuck at a sustainability conference against their will. Then we were asked how we might encourage them to stay engaged. Here is my ‘Copper CEO Complaint’

“I can’t believe I am here wasting my time. The corporate jet can’t fuel up fast enough, this fast-talking new-age freak is really getting on my nerves. Can’t he see the bottom line is really the only judge of any business decision? I’d like to see him try pedaling this rainbow crap to the executive! Maybe I can find some way to write this off.”

To counter, Roberts advises framing the discussion with metaphors and language appropriate for the worldview. Copper thinkers fear being low status or losing control. They are also competitive ‘gamers’. So a response to the diatribe above might go something like this:

“Well, Chief, there are bottom line considerations here that may not be evident at first. You know our customers don’t always think like the executive, and we don’t want our competition getting a head start on this sustainability stuff before we do.”

Here are a few more notes on the four worldview types:

Navy Thinkers:

  • Associate the word green with hype, crap, scam, lie,nothing, political propaganda
  • Value protecting their families (eg, against toxins)
  • Hate China
  • Eat a lot of organic foods, yet care less about a company’s  environmental record. It’s about purity

Copper Thinkers:

  • Top enviro concerns: population growth, resource scarcity
  • “If we don’t do it, they’re gonna, and then where will we be?”
  • Like fast cars
  • Fair Trade (living wage) is most important in product sustainability

Jade Thinkers

  • Judge through networks, friends, 3rd parties
  • Likely to change if their kids tell them to
  • Fear being selfish, of losing social connection

Gold Thinkers

  • Look at processes, not brand names
  • Choose the environment over personal comfort
  • Gold sees everything as a possibility
  • Chameleon like qualities of gold thinkers make them hard to pin down

For more on Roberts Worldview, or their recent study co-authored with the Shelton Group, visit their websites.

Tags: Green Points of View · Research · Sustainable Brands 2011 Road Trip

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 John Marshall Roberts // Jun 15, 2011 at 8:09 am

    Awesome article! You are an excellent writer. Thanks for spreading the word.

    One request: would you please change the link ‘graves colors of thinking types’ to ‘8 graves levels of thinking’ and link to either my book on amazon, or to my blog (

    Right now you have linked to the ‘Spiral Dynamics’ page, which is much different. (Spiral Dynamics is an earlier attempt to apply Graves work for leadership, and is based upon different work. It is a proprietary approach owned by Dr. Don Beck. My approach to applying Gravesian thinking is called “worldview design” and it is specifically engineered for the marketing / communication world. I outline this approach thoroughly in my book – Igniting Inspiration: A Persuasion Manual for Visionaries)

    That’s all.

    Thanks again for a wonderfully written article.


  • 2 admin // Jun 15, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Thank you, John. Links are updated. I will definitely get your book as well. Very useful material! Let’s get an event together to spread the word in Vancouver!

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