Why You Should Thank Your Environmental Villain

Although it’s certainly the path least taken, if you’re an environmental organization or green business, you should take a minute to thank the bad guy, the villain, the very thing you are fighting against.

Climate change, big box stores, meat-eaters, economic development, modern technology, western medicine, the education system…

Take your pick, name your villain, and give them a huge pat on the back.


Because the truth is, you’d be nothing without them.

How your villain defines your environmental organization

Let’s take a step back from dissecting the good works your environmental organization does for a minute, and learn a lesson about the classic good guy-bad guy relationship from the master himself.

Walt Disney.

Disney knew something about good guys that the rest of us still struggle with.

Disney inherently knew that without a truly great villain, the hero is just an ordinary dude.

And although very relate-able, ordinary dude’s are super boring.

The Slave in the Magic Mirror said it best in a 1956 Disneyland episode:

Take away the villain and what have you got? Everybody’s happy. No problems. Nothing to worry about. All in all, a pretty dull story.

Your hero, whoever that may be, has to be ordinary, so the rest of us boring schmucks can relate.

It’s not until you put that ordinary dude into an extraordinary position that they become extraordinary themselves.

And who puts the hero into extraordinary positions?

The villains.

To get back to environmental work…

This is where it’s time to do some digging on your villain.

It’s all well and good to point a big finger at the bad guy.

But defining that villain is where your organization will have the chance to really shine.

Because while we all strive for peace and singing on a (pristine and suitably protected) mountaintop holding hands… it’s the fight that puts the energy into your organization.

It’s the villain you’re fighting against that inspires good, average, ordinary people to take a stand.

In other words, if you do a good job defining your villain, you inject serious energy into your work.

Understand your villain

Disney taught us that villains are just as, or perhaps even more, dimensional than heroes.

To be suitably frightened of them, they have to have many different ways to thoroughly mess up our lives.

The villain in your environmental work has many different dimensions.

By extracting, highlighting, fighting against, and finding solutions to every one of those dimensions, that’s where your hero (ehem, your environmental organization), will really save the day.

How to fight your environmental villain

Work within the many aspects of your villain.

Physical, emotional, isolation, fear, joy, their origin, upbringing, or where they went bad, frustration, outrage, why the haven’t been vanquished yet, how they betray your hero’s work…

All these different dimensions allow you to spend a lot of your communications focusing on your villain and also allow you to (sometimes) just give a broad outline to your hero.

Villains and all their bad qualities can really get your juices flowing. Heroes can be boring.

Make no mistake. You are nothing without your villain.

If we all were perfectly happy and had no problems to combat against, your organization wouldn’t exist.

So thank your villain, and spend some time in their head.

If you do, your organization could be positioned as the hero who swoops in his cape and tights and vanquishes evil for another day.

But… JUST one other day.

After all, if the hero saved the world forever, he’d be out of a job.

I’m not saying you should go all gloom and doom. That is never my preferred style of environmental communications.

But if your villain isn’t seen as an actual, credible threat to your hero’s life that just might actually have the power to destroy the world, then your hero (or, well, your environmental organization), doesn’t really have a need to exist, now, does it?

Save the world today, and put back on those tights to fight again tomorrow.



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