‘Bart, Everything is Selling’


Here’s a line from Richard Yates’ novel “Revolutionary Road”: “Nothing happens in this world, nothing comes into this world, until somebody makes a sale.”

Does that include conservation? Do we need to sell conservation? And if so, what is the product we are actually trying to sell?

This may not be about selling for cash. But it seems clear enough that we urgently need to get better at selling the idea of conservation. And considering the state of the world’s natural resources and biodiversity, there is a pretty big audience we need to sell it to.

So we need to be better salespeople. The problem is: It’s not entirely clear what that conservation product is that we are trying to sell.

The conservation slogans are pretty ambiguous on this. “Living Harmoniously with Nature.” “Saving the Last Great Places on Earth.” “For a Living Planet.” “Protecting Nature, Preserving Life.”

We may be able to explain what it takes to get towards the final product — protection, sustainable management, community engagement and all the other tools of conservation. But what is the actual product? What does that saved, living, harmonious Earth look like?

It is a bit like trying to sell a car by talking about its great rear-view mirror, flawless left door and number of cylinders. These are important…but in the end, the potential buyer wants to see the actual car and go for a test ride.

If you can’t actually get people to see the car, it is really hard to get them to understand how the individual parts of that car all contribute to making the thing drive.

We need to think hard about what our optimal conservation outcome (in let’s say 50 years) would look like. Once people are convinced that this outcome is much better than our present situation, they will buy in to it.

(Image: Side-view mirror. Credit: Erik K Veland through a Creative Commons 2.0 license.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. Need more advertising about conservation. You can’t sell without people knowing about it.

  2. I wonder how much better that advertising of conservation needs to be now that markets are hitting historic lows. People see their saving evaporate, making it is probably even harder to sell “the conservation product”. Tough time, but then again, this whole global downturn might give nature a bit of breathing space (see an earlier blog by me: http://blog.nature.org/2008/12/taking-advantage-of-the-economic-downturn/)

  3. Part of this is showing tangible results from our work that helps people — not landscapes or animals — but real, flesh and blood people.

    Can we demonstrate that people’s lives are better now — not in some distant future — because of the work we do? That’s a message that I think could complete the sale.

  4. Indeed see a previous blog I wrote (http://blog.nature.org/2009/02/the-real-identity-of-a-conservation-worker/), where I say that “in places like Indonesia, nature conservation has little to do with nature, but a lot to do with people. Studying the behavior of an orangutan will do much less for orangutan conservation than studying and changing the behavior of a timber concessionaire who runs a forestry concession in which the orangutan lives, or the behavior of a government official who initially gave out the concession.”
    The conservation message should indeed be about people, but that’s where we (as conservation organizations) still regularly fall short; there is a lot lip service out there.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Erik — it was a perfect image with which to illustrate the post. We’ll certainly think of you again for future posts!

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