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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Remove price premium: Where possible, remove the price premium for green products. The message should be green is normal, not just for the rich.
- Bribe shamelessly: Offer treats along the way of their behavioural change, e.g. prizes, kudos, rewards, gold stars, public recognition.
- 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.
- Don’t stop innovating: Make better stuff. Consumers are reluctant to sacrifice performance for sustainability.
- 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.
- Turn eco-friendly into ego-friendly: Green marketing often has a feminine image. Girly green needs a manly counterpart.
- Make it tangible: Toyota Prius displays real time fuel economy information on the dashboard.
- Make it easy to navigate: Design labels to be simple and clear. Consumers are often confused and suspicious to environmental claims.
- 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.