The opportunity to present the Breaking The Band campaign to over 120 delegates at the 2014 Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) Conference was exciting if a little daunting. The conference, hosted by Auckland Zoo, brought people together to share ideas and, to quote the ZAA Australasia President Karen Fifield, take stock of the conservation outcomes and sustainability initiatives occurring in the region and worldwide.

Certainly the conference confirmed that a lot of effort is focused on developing behaviour change initiatives. Often what is not realized by people in the conservation space is that they are asking “How can we get people to think and behave like us?”, which is not a helpful approach.

The Spiral Dynamics model, we use to describe values and behaviour evolution, got a lot of interest. I won’t describe the model here, but if you would like more information please go to:


The main interest came in comparing and contrasting the conservation space and the users of illegal/endangered wildlife products. This needs to be done on a case by case basis; here we are looking at the primary users of genuine rhino horn in Viet Nam – wealthy businessmen.

Now let’s look in more detail at the GREEN values level. GREEN levels emerged in larger numbers in society in the 1960s with the environmental and civil rights movements. Conservation, (based on GREEN) assumes that:


People care about nature, sustainability, the environment etc. There is a belief that people feel empathy with mammals in particular. This leads to a belief that people will change their behaviour if they are made aware or educated about what is happening to animals being threatened by poaching etc.

In actual fact the primary users of rhino horn in Viet Nam have a very different belief. After decades of communist BLUE Viet Nam is now  emerging in to capitalist ORANGE.


The values and behaviours are driven by: Ambition, Status, Image, Recognition, Uniqueness, Wealth. This is born out in a recent factsheet published by TRAFFIC.  They give the example of Mr L: A 48 year old property developer.

We need to accept that presenting this user with images of cute, iconic or poached rhinos has zero impact, if there is neither affinity for the animal nor empathy. Their currency is the status conveyed by rhino horn, the question of whether the rhino is a magnificent creature that needs to be protected does not feature as part of their thinking.

Given that we are probably talking about less than 5,000 people in Viet Nam driving the demand for genuine rhino horn, if we are prepared to speak to them in their currency, such as through the adverts we designed, we could actually achieve the desired behaviour change quite quickly.

These ideas gained some traction with individuals from the conference since contacting me for copies of the talk and documentation I have written about the Spiral Dynamics model and how it applies to conservation. In the past Spiral Dynamics has been used to support the Truth & Reconciliation Process. We have used it to support business to understand why their stakeholders are not just expecting them to make money but also want them to do good and also help leaders understand why the command-control leadership style (BLUE) is not enough for a workforce that has evolved to ORANGE and GREEN.