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12 Ways To Turn Green Intentions Into Green Actions

Eighty-two percent of consumers have good green intentions, but only 16% are dedicated to fulfilling these intentions, according to an Ogilvy study. This puts 66% in what is called the “Middle Green,” a group that is neither active environment crusaders nor anti-greens. These are the massive middle, the everyday mainstream consumers.

The big question is, “Why don’t mainstream consumers turn their green intentions into green actions and what can be done about it?” This is what Ogilvy & Mather tried to find out. “If we are to motivate a mass green movement, perhaps those of us most committed to the green movement need to stop trying to get the masses to see things our way and instead get better at seeing things their way.”

OgilveyEarth, the sustainability practice of the Manhattan based multinational marketing firm, conducted a research by surveying 1,800 Americans, trying to understand why there is a disconnect between consumer intentions and actions and how we can help bridge this gap.

The 129-page research report (PDF) contains many fascinating insights. While the research was conducted in America, I think the findings and recommendations are quite applicable to most Western societies.

I have summarized 12 key points that can help middle-of-the-road mainstream consumers turn their green intentions into green actions:

  1. Make green normal: Mainstream consumers are reluctant to go green because they don’t want to be seen as ideological crusaders. Going green attracts unwanted attention from their families, friends, colleagues, and neighbours as if they have adopted a new identity and that they no longer belong to the main group. Marketers should make consumers feel like everybody’s doing it. Show them numerous cases where other people just like them are also going green. Make middle-of-the-road mainstream consumers feel going green is normal behaviour, not oddball behaviour.
  2. Make it personal: Don’t focus on the benefits for the planet or future generations, but on the benefits for them personally, e.g. less toxin going into their body
  3. Make green choice the default: Green is not an optional extra. Don’t ask consumers choose to go green. Green should be the default choice. For example, make no plastic shopping bag the default, allow consumers to pay extra for one. They don’t need to choose to be green because green is the default, they need to choose to be non-green.
  4. Remove price premium: Where possible, remove the price premium for green products. The message should be green is normal, not just for the rich.
  5. Bribe shamelessly: Offer treats along the way of their behavioural change, e.g. prizes, kudos, rewards, gold stars, public recognition.
  6. Punish wisely: Small doses of guilt and shame can motivate behavioural changes, especially if they are also reminded of the green options available to them.
  7. Don’t stop innovating: Make better stuff. Consumers are reluctant to sacrifice performance for sustainability.
  8. Lose the crunch: Green marketing needs to be more mainstream hip than off-the-grid hippie. Market green as one of the secondary features instead of the leading feature: “Great performance, also friendly to the environment.” Many consumers assume products with a primary focus on being green to have subpar performance, cost more, and are geared towards hippies.
  9. Turn eco-friendly into ego-friendly: Green marketing often has a feminine image. Girly green needs a manly counterpart.
  10. Make it tangible: Toyota Prius displays real time fuel economy information on the dashboard.
  11. Make it easy to navigate: Design labels to be simple and clear. Consumers are often confused and suspicious to environmental claims.
  12. Tap into hedonism over altruism: Project an experience and image that is fun and exciting to be in a sustainable world rather than projecting it as an act of ‘charitable’ contribution.

Derek Wong is a Toronto based sustainability consultant. See contact info and more posts like this at Carbon49.com.

Derek Wong
Derek Wong is a Toronto based climate change and sustainability consultant. Contact him through his blog Carbon49.com.
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6 thoughts on “12 Ways To Turn Green Intentions Into Green Actions

  1. I really don’t think going green is a negative when it comes to friends and family. I think the negative is more in the costs of going green. All natural products, with biodegradable packaging tend to be higher priced than most people are used to.
    At least here in Ontario we know that grocery stores are charging for plastic bags, so that is a step in the right direction.

  2. Great article. ALthough there is occasional push-back on eco fees, it is generally accepted. Whether it’s 5 cents for a plastic bags or $40 for a large screen TV, visible eco-fees accomplishes two goals of sustainability: 1. cover recycling costs, or 2. less consumption (for those who don’t buy because of the fee).

  3. This is Great,after success obtained in the developing countries,it is very important to go for the under developing ones!since it is one world!

  4. How ’bout this for a thought: Provide REAL value for your product, and people will buy it REGARDLESS of its sustainability factors! EXAMPLE: I used to buy Windex; now I buy GREENWORKS not because I’m out to save the planet, but because even though it costs slightly more than Windex, it does a far better job (meaning I use less) and it is far more divergent as it cleans many types of surfaces without streaking. The fact that it is non-toxic is a bonus, its not the reason I buy it. The Western world is an economy based on consumerism, not eco-concernism. If you want me to care more than I already do about the environment, don’t beat me over the head and demand “change”… provide me a better, more economical option, and I will gladly march to the beat of your drum. Something many of you enviros seem to deliberately overlook is that many families live on tight budgets; they worry about their immediate needs more than the needs of “Bambi”. If all you are going to do is demand they spend more of their remaining budget on products that have a lower toxicity rate but cost 20, 30 or even 40 % more, you will NEVER get them (or me) to oblige your desires.

  5. It’s hard to take seriously an article that claims China is greener than the US simply because more people ride bikes and grow their own food. The US is second to none when you compare our level of industry with our quality of air, water, and managed forests and wildscapes. China’s air and water quality are dismal compared to the US. Finding ways to make green options for products the “no added cost default” is good business and has been instrumental in distancing US products from China’s lead paint, date-rape toys, formaldehyde resins, rusty copper, poisonous milk, and toxic sheet rock, just to name a few.

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