Friday, October 24, 2008

Election lawn signs bad for the Environment.

After participating in my second election (provincial Green & federal Green), I am quite disappointed in the fact that we are using signs that take energy to create, are made up of fossil fuels, need fossil fuels to be put up and require more energy to recycle. I personally feel that the Green Party of all Parties should make a public stance and not have signs in the first place. The Green Party needs to practice what it preaches.

I constantly get the argument that people have a herd mentality: that if they don’t see Green Party signs up in the city they will be less likely to vote Green. I however feel that people have grown up and evolved from this High School popularity contest mentality and feel that those who do vote Green do so not because they have seen Green Party signs up throughout the city but because they believe in the Green Party’s policies “some of which want us to cut back on fossil fuel use, you know the stuff the signs are made out of” or because they have actually done their research. I also understand some people vote for us out of protest and that is fine also, but if that is the case they would vote for us whether we have signs up or not.

How do we let people know we are running then? Easy: hand out information (yes I know it takes energy to do this also, but the Green Party in Sudbury uses 100% post consumer paper and there is more information that you can put on a pamphlet than on a sign). You drop a group off in a subdivision and they walk “not drive” to each door and either knock on the door and talk to people or they put the information into their mailbox. We can also talk to the media and let people know we are here and running and that do to the energy used to make, put up and recycle signs we are not using them this year. I am sure this statement alone will win us some votes.

Even though a lot of people called for signs there is still a group out there that understands the environmental cost of lawns signs and I think maybe the Green Party should have a vote on this issue. It seems that we are split on this issue; maybe not at the national level, but at least in this riding. Or we should look into an alternative “something” that can be used year after year. Yes we could technically use the signs from this year but if we have a different candidate we would have to have special stickers made up covering the old candidate’s name and find a sticker that matches the green on the signs to cover up their website address. Not to mention the Green Party of Canada may go and change our color scheme and modify our symbol again (as happened this year) making it hard to use our older signs from a past election.
Dana Clark
Organization Chair, Sudbury Federal Green Party Association
Secretary, Sudbury Green Party of Ontario Constituency Association.


Erich Jacoby-Hawkins said...

I realize that signs may seem like waste, but they are in fact a critical part of building support. There is no aspect of your campaign that can truly become carbon-free - should you skip any all-candidates meetings that you can't walk or bike to? Should you also not print any literature, because it requires energy and materials? Should you not have a website, because voters will view it on non-Bullfrog-powered computers? Clearly not, yet signs get singled out for criticism.

You can certainly be 'greener' with your signs than other parties. We re-use all of our metal and wooden stakes until they can't be used anymore, then the metal ones go to gardens or scrap and the wooden to woodstoves. We re-use signs as much as we can. And we don't put up as many as other parties - although admittedly not for lack of trying. There are now bio-degradable signs you can get (basically, a kind of glossy coated cardboard) which are fully recyclable, and plastic election signs can already be recycled in some districts. And it's important to keep a sense of perspective - all the signs we used in our election campaign, well over 1000, would fit in the blue boxes of half a single block of houses. So compared to the amount of plastic recycled in our city every single week, the signs - only used once every few years - are a tiny, tiny proportion.

I would never dismiss the "herd mentality". Signs don't just tell people that you are running - as you can (and should) also do with literature and media - they prove to people that someone else is voting for you. (No ad or literature can do this). Every house with a sign shows that you have a growing support base in that neighbourhood. Voters don't want to vote for a party that they think has no chance - they are worried of "wasting" their vote - so if they don't see signs, they assume we have little support and won't vote for us. On the other hand, when they do see more and more signs going up, they feel confident that in voting for us they are part of a growing movement, not a wasted protest vote. Signs can also start voter conversations. They ask the neighbour "why are you voting Green?" and the answer - from someone they know & trust - may even get you a new voter.

Finally, not having signs will disappoint some of your most enthusiastic supporters. We have many people who practically demand signs - and they want a bigger one than the neighbour who is supporting another party. By having signs they feel part of a bigger entity, doing their part in the democratic process. I would never want to disappoint that enthusiasm by saying "sorry, we don't do signs". We need to recognize and respect our supporters' need to send a clearly visible partisan signal.

The problem with making some kind of public statement to the effect that "to save the environment, we won't use signs" is that it won't reach most voters, and even those who read it may suspect you are just trying to save money, or don't have the supporters to host (or even put up) signs.

I can't even count the number of people who told me they knew our party was doing better because of our increased number of signs. They were very encouraged by this, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. To eschew signs would have the opposite effect - people would assume we had diminishing strength (or weren't even seriously running) and we would lose voter support.

I strongly suggest other ways of "greening" your campaign, including buying good offsets.

GreenSudbury said...

'Signs Signs Everywhere the signs'. Having a discussion on walking the walk either personally or as an organization is useful. Small steps are important to break our habits and make better choices from reusing signs to bikes to watching tv or being a vegan. Are your clothes made form sackcloth hemp? Do you have electricity in the campaign office? How about a nice wood stove!
Ultimately these are not the post election reflections that should be discussed when it comes to electoral politics. Whats more important is actually talking about the 'herd' mentality. About what advertising/publicity actually works - face-to-face/speeches/radio interviews/blogs/media campaigns? etc.
And building a volunteer base. And maintaining a visible public presence in the community for the next 3 years.
With so many new supporters this is an opportunity to be followed up on because all signs point to a decidedly anti-Green Federal Government in Ottawa.