5 ways to whet consumers' appetites for sustainability
<p>Consumer behavior has been improving only in dribs and drabs. Here's how to start a bigger change.</p>
Sustainable consumer behavior has improved only incrementally, and remains stagnant or has become less sustainable in areas such as transportation, housing and consumer goods, according to the 2014 Greendex survey.
Let's examine some ways that consumers can change their behavior to increase their sustainable consumption.
The fifth edition of this Greendex survey detects increasing concern about the environment, together with increasing awareness of human activity as the cause for climate change coupled with growing concern about how a changing climate will worsen people's way of life in their lifetime. It is clear that consumers are largely unable to translate their personal values and worries into meaningful action beyond incremental improvements.
On a slightly brighter note, however, the survey shows that consumers' food habits have become more sustainable in 11 of 18 countries tracked as consumers have started to embrace the local and organic food movements.
So, how is all of this relevant for business?
To better understand how we as individuals, including global corporate organizations, can accelerate the adoption of more sustainable habits among consumers, we took an in-depth look (PDF) at the dynamics of consumer behavior change in the area of food.
These insights may well be applicable beyond the realm of food and should be of interest to all who want to see a concerted drive to increase sustainable consumer behavior overall.
Here are five ways that can help to unlock sustainable consumer behavior.
1. Focus on emerging markets
A new index of behavior change potential based on current food habits versus willingness and capacity to change shows that consumers in emerging markets such as Mexico, Brazil and China have the most potential for change, while those in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan are the most set in their current habits (see accompanying graphic). The countries with the top-five change potential scores contain 1.8 billion people.
2. Target the right consumers
Based on advanced statistical modelling, we identified five distinct groups of consumers that differ in terms of their intent and capacity to change their current food habits. The analysis (PDF) reveals the "Moveable Masses" segment to be the largest one across the 18 countries surveyed, and also the most easily influenced type of consumer with a lot of room to improve. Individuals in this group are also highly affected by obstacles to change — removing these obstacles and leveraging the key motivators for this group potentially can unlock large-scale change towards more sustainable habits.
3. Focus on peer-to-peer communications
Our analysis indicates that the strongest driver of change for most consumer segments, including the "Moveable Masses" segment, is encouragement by friends to consume more sustainably, and also the act of encouraging others to do the same. Results suggest that peer-to-peer encouragement is statistically the most effective motivator for consumers to change their habits and that grassroots peer-to-peer activism has the potential to unlock behavior change around food.
But the study also found that only small proportions of consumers are strongly encouraged by their friends to eat more sustainably. Social media is, of course, a formidable tool that enables peer-to-peer influence to flourish, and any corporate strategy that attempts to influence consumer habits should prioritize its social media approach.
4. Be transparent
Our research on attitudes around food reveal that consumers care deeply about the food that they eat and about how it is produced, with most saying food is an essential part of their culture. At the same time, however, most feel alienated from the food system and do not feel empowered to influence what food is available to them when shopping or the way that food is produced.
Results show that when informed about the environmental impact of different types of food, consumers tend to shift their intentions toward more sustainable food choices. Businesses need to inform, engage and empower consumers to help them translate their values into more sustainable consumer habits.
5. Link sustainability with personal health
Results suggest that consumers are more receptive to information about making more sustainable food choices when this information is linked to their own health and provided by sources with medical or scientific credibility. Other GlobeScan research also indicates that scientists are far more trusted by the public than other institutional authorities, including government or business.
Top image of rogan josh by stocksolutions via Shutterstock.