Josh Hunt writes:

The Futures Company’s recently-launched  multimedia report, Greenprint, looks at the UK public’s engagement and behaviour in sustainability. The research, based on both quantitative and qualitative data, shows that while people report relatively high levels of engagement, this does not necessarily translate into changes in everyday behaviour.

Consumers, it appears, have a ‘costs and benefits’ view of sustainable behaviour, in which they assess trade-offs involved. Direct benefits to home and family have most influence, perhaps unsurprisingly, followed by benefits for neighbourhood and social networks. More general benefits, for example to the planet, have the least sway.

Consumers also find it difficult to conceptualise complex issues such as ’embedded carbon’. There’s little understanding of why eating less meat improves sustainability outcomes, for example. Finally, consumers generally underestimate the benefits of more sustainable behaviour. But when they do change one aspect of their behaviour they tend to find that it leads to other benefits elsewhere in their lives.

The quantitative analysis led to the development of our Greenprint segmentation. The segments are differentiated by the extent to which people feel able to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, or are constrained, and the extent to which they are motivated by the idea of an environmentally friendly lifestyle. There are six segments, shown below: two engaged groups (Pioneers and Adopters), two interested but uninvolved groups (Strugglers and Confused) and two unmotivated groups (Sceptics and Passives). It’s also worth noting that – to a significant degree – consumers find sustainability messages confusing, and not sufficiently relevant. But there is considerable scope to change behaviours with the right messages.

The right messages are those that tap into genuine consumer motivations for change, and those that work across segments, rather than assuming that people will be moved by a desire to live more sustainable lives.  Thus, encouraging people to pump up their tyres is more likely to be motivating if people are made aware of the potential cost savings as well as the environmental benefits (rather than reducing their carbon footprint).  Equally, people are suspicious of the motives of marketers and wary of greenwash, so communications which explain how sustainability can benefit multiple parties can cut through this.  Finally, we don’t want to be preached to:  messages which provoke thought and encourage re-evaluation are more likely to be seen as relevant rather than those which take a position and assert it, loudly.

The Futures Company’s Greenprint Insight Package (opens pdf) is a paid-for resource which explores UK consumer attitudes to sustainability. It comes on on a USB pen drive. It includes includes multimedia presentation and video resources to help you bring the opportunities and challenges of sustainability to life within your business.

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