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12 Ways to Close the ‘Green Gap’

david dornfeldThe interest and focus on sustainability is now more evident than ever before. Advertisements in increasing numbers trumpet some aspect of a product or a service as “sustainable.” Usually it is not, but that doesn’t stop the attractiveness of using it to sell. Business has also noticed and there is increasing attention to “business plans for sustainability” and evidence that customers, if not investors, reward some businesses for trying to be sustainable. But, as mentioned last time, it is not clear if we are making any real progress.

Some attribute this to the presence of a “green gap.” The opening statement in a report from 2011 by Ogilvy and Mather sums up the “green gap” as follows:

“While we have been relatively good at getting people to believe in the importance of more sustainable behaviors, practices, and purchases, we have been unable to convert this belief fully into action.” (p. 13)

For reference, the “green gap” is defined in the report as the gap between consumers’ green intentions and green actions. One might argue that this applies to business, and manufacturing, as well.

This is the other end of the equation with respect to increasing value while reducing impact (as it defines what consumers are willing to count as “value” in the domain of sustainable products) and it provides animation for implementing the circular economy. If there is no motivation or perceived reward and the value is not recognized, then circular concepts, unless masked in conventional marketing or product functionality/value, will not be successful.

There was frustration expressed at the meeting held as part of the process to generate this report that, while many people in leadership positions – the so-called “thought leaders” – keep hammering away on the issues and need for action, the mainstream consumer is not really responding. Or, if responding, not responding rapidly or massively enough.

The chart below illustrates this point. In a survey of behavior in the US and China (PRC) respondents were asked indicate the importance of certain activities in terms of their definition of living a green or sustainable lifestyle (called “importance”). They then were then asked with respect to these activities whether or not they usually do the activity (called “behavior”). The gap between the two responses shows the divide between belief and action … the “green gap.” The activities asked about were:

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