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  • Writer's pictureJoeri Van den Bergh

5 tips for brands to promote sustainable consumer behavior

Today, April 22, marks Earth Day. The theme of this year is ‘Planet vs. Plastics’ and aims to raise global awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution, phase out single-use plastics, and demand to end fast fashion. In a recent Human8 study, 63% of Europeans stated they refuse plastic bags when shopping, 48% avoid single-use plastic items, and 40% said they are not buying water in plastic bottles. At least, that’s what they self-reported in the study…


Graph on conscious consumer habits

Although many consumers – especially Millennials – say they value brands that embrace purpose and sustainability, not all of them are putting their wallets where their hearts are. In a recent study reported in the Harvard Business Review, 65% said they want to buy sustainable brands, yet only 26% actually do. This 'say-do' gap at the customer’s side is one of the reasons why many ESG business models or innovations fail. In her book The Green Bundle, Magali Delmas already explained how businesses should remove behavioral barriers and offer a bundle of benefits to move beyond appealing to a niche market of ‘dark green eco-actives’. People are more willing to take action when there is also a benefit for them, not just for the planet.


Here are 5 things brands should keep in mind to increase the attractiveness of eco-claims and engage consumers in earth-saving behavior:

1. Position eco-friendly choices as better for the wallet (saving money)


With recent rising cost of living due to inflation, affordability of more sustainable options became the number one hurdle of many people with 61% of Europeans stating the price difference is the major reason why they opt out of eco-friendly alternatives.


Beiersdorf’s Nivea eco-deodorant bundles several consumer benefits of its eco-valve using only natural gas: the formula is 95% natural (which is better for your own health; the other 5% additives are there to stabilize and protect the product), it uses 100% natural gas coming and… the deo with eco-valve lasts twice as long as the standard deo. Or, in other words, you get twice the value for the same money.


P&G’s laundry detergent brand Tide’s #TurnToCold campaign with Ice-T and Steve Austin communicated the environmental benefits of washing at 30-degrees by stressing how this action could save you $100 a year on the energy bill while at the same time doing good for the planet.



2. Make eco-friendly options more widely available, convenient and easy accessible


Next to price, convenience-seeking is one of the main enemies of sustainable consumer behavior.


Beauty Kitchen (a personal care brand) promoted its circular refill model in the UK by placing over 1,000 refill stations - not just in retail stores, but also at high-traffic points of interest: university campuses, train stations, garden centers, beauty salons and major office complexes—to lower the required efforts on the customer’s side to refill their bottles. H&M collaborated with mobility company Lyft to offer free rides to the stores when returning bags of old clothing, while also providing a 15% discount on next purchases.

3. Reward recycling efforts in more innovative and creative ways


Changing consumer habits requires continuous triggers to remind people to engage in eco-friendly choices and rewarding customers for their actions. Instead of just offering small discounts to return old items, think of more emotional goodies or fun benefits.


In Norway, electronics retailer Elkjop teamed up with Microsoft to reward returners of e-waste with Minecoins (the virtual currency used in Minecraft) for their gaming children. Elkjop saw an increase of nearly 14% compared to previous monetary discount offers.


4. Educate consumers on what they can do to create a more sustainable living


Often, people don’t really know how to install more conscious consumption patterns, because they lack the knowledge or education. Instead of patronizing or sending too-boring planet-related messages that will get filtered out in seconds, try to bundle education with convenience.


In the Netherlands, home improvement retailer Praxis introduced an AI-based phone app suggesting energy-saving tips based on uploaded pictures of people’s rooms. The tool uses image recognition and AI algorithms to create a personalized checklist of possible renovations, tutorial videos on how to perform the renovation, and a step-by-step plan including a list of required tools and supplies for the changes, all directly available to buy from Praxis.


Praxis Plus app

5. Put collective efforts and social norms in the spotlight


Giving social proof that others are buying or behaving eco-friendly can work. Telling buffet diners that you can always return for a second time and it’s better not to take too much at once as the norm, decreases food waste by 20%. A good predictor of people installing solar panels is whether their close-by neighbors have done so.


Veganuary – the campaign to be vegan for the first month of the year – is sharing online how many people are participating in your region and translating that amount immediately into the positive effects on air quality and water savings, making it more tangible by visualizing the data in easy-to-understand infographic comparisons. The avoided CO2 emissions equal 450,000 flights from London to Brazil, and the saved water is shown in filled Olympic swimming pools.


Eager for more insights into sustainable consumer behavior? Download your free copy of our Conscious Consumption eBook to discover how brands and consumers can really walk the talk when it comes to sustainability!


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