What is the “Gateway Cause” to Your Cause?

What is the “Gateway Cause” to Your Cause?
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What is the “Gateway Cause” to Your Cause?

This is the last article in a series of 6 on how to increase your eco-influence by 60x.


A gateway drug is a drug that “opens the door to the use of other, harder drugs.”  If you smoke cigarettes, you are more likely to try marijuana.  If you smoke marijuana, you are more likely to try cocaine/heroine (or fast food and Comedy Central).

What can you learn from this — besides avoiding a coke habit or a Cheetos overdose?

For starters, human behavior is fairly consistent — not just when it comes to drugs.  We learn behaviors (positive and negative) in steps, graduating from simple to more complex — from easy to hard — from little consequence to increased consequence.

We tend to shut off lights before switching bulbs.  We tend to recycle before composting.  We tend to support conservation before preservation.  We tend to try things that save money before we try things that cost more money.

You can specifically use this in two ways:

  • To identify the people most likely to support your cause today (great for marketing purposes)
  • To identify the suggestions can you make to someone unlikely to support your cause today, so that they will most likely support your cause in the near future (essential for eco-influence)

For children, significant research has been done documenting the positive benefits of spending time in nature.  I met Richard Louv when he spoke in Iowa July of 2008 about his findings published in Last Child in the Woods, which I highly recommend.  A related University of Kentucky study found only 2 common denominators in adult environmentalists:

  1. As children, they spent many hours outdoors in a keenly-remembered wild or semi-wild place, and
  2. They had at least one adult role model that taught them a love and respect for nature.

While I hope this impacts us all on the level of parenthood, and the experiences we seek to provide for our children… this blog is about helping you translate research into the realm of adulthood — how to influence your peers.

You can’t go back in time and change peoples’ childhood.  But you can:

  1. Share stories about keenly-remembered wild places to spark their own memories, and
  2. Be an adult role model who loves and respects nature.

That is not all, but it is a great start.  Encouraging their heart and filling their emotional tank in areas of life they care deeply about — why wouldn’t you want to do that for others?

Here is my pitch to you.  It is a simple logical conclusion that I have come to understand over the past decade and a half as an environmentalist.

You will get all you ever wanted in life if you help others get what they want.

~ Zig Ziglar

Forget about gateway drugs.  What is the “gateway cause” to you cause?  Said another way, what is the area of life that you can help someone succeed in, and do so in such a way that they will be most likely to support your own cause?

If you’ve read the previous 5 articles posted here, then you are starting to understand why I’ve been helping you:

  1. Identify someone’s stage of eco-influence
  2. Establish strategies appropriate for that particular stage
  3. Laser-focused on their eco-personality type
  4. Find their level of commitment, and
  5. Learn what values underlie that commitment

Their stage of eco-influence related to your cause is a tool to prevent turning them off before you even start.  It’s a prerequisite.  Just like you need algebra, trigonometry, and patience before you take calculus.  Your strategy — your approach — needs to fit where they are and how they feel today about your cause.  Or it’s a no-go.

You could then take a wild guess at what their “gateway cause” would be, and blindly take your chances.  But I prefer to let them tell me exactly what it is.  Why not learn simple tools and models to have conversations with them that tease out exactly what they care about?  And most importantly, why?

In 2008, Joyce LaValle was the Regional Vice President for Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Hawaii at Inteface — a global carpet company.  Her boss at the time was the CEO, Ray Anderson.  She didn’t try to convince Ray to believe what she believed.  She didn’t use the common environmentalist strategy, that I like to call “beg or belittle.”

She did quietly leave a copy of The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken on Ray’s desk one day.  Why?

Because she knew a few things:

  • Ray was an avid reader — he would resonate with a book
  • Ray was a businessman and industrial engineer — Hawken’s book proposes sustainability as THE business strategy
  • Ray had recently had a client asking about Interface’s environmental record — it could win him a new client
  • Ray had recently been asked to give a kick-off speech about Interface’s environmental vision — he had no material

Here is a snippit of the speech he gave after he read Hawken’s book.  You decide if Joyce took the right approach.

Interface has led the corporate sustainability movement out of the dark ages since 1994, and exploded what people thought were possible with their unwavering commitment to what they call Mission Zero.

So here’s the deal.  If you identify someone’s Stage of Eco-Influence in relationship to your cause… then, you can pick an approach that meets them where they are.  The key piece of that strategy must be to connect with them and emphasize your commonalities.  You cannot influence someone otherwise.

What is the best way to do this?

Find a “gateway cause.”  Another way to say this, is find an issue for which they are already in Stage 3: Commitment and help them move up a Level.

This concept has everything you need built-in.  You use their Eco-Personality Type and Level of Commitment to learn exactly what “gateway cause” to support them in — which builds trust, friendship, and an unconscious desire to support you in return.  In order to avoid turning them off from that desire, you simply translate your cause into the language they can understand — their values — using what you’ve learned from conversations with them.

It really is that simple.  And it works.


ecofluencePRO goes into tons of details that I was unable to list in just 6 articles.  But I wanted to give you the building blocks — the 3 major models and why they work — so that you could begin to see results today.  I hope you liked these past 6 articles.  Let me know what other topics you’d like me to cover on this blog.



Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

Check out Adam's new book on Amazon, Audible and Kindle: Sustainable Business in Iowa.

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