A couple of interesting resources on consumer engagement in green/sustainability

Here’s a couple of useful resources/articles on consumer engagement in sustainability, that holy grail.

The Myth of the Ethical Consumer – this is a Facebook page run by Prof Timothy Devinney, interesting stuff.

How to Turn Consumers Green – this is McKinsey piece by the well known writer and researcher on sociology and psychology, Dan Ariely.

Here’s a few excerpts from the Dan Ariely piece just above:

“…66 percent of global consumers say that they prefer to buy products and services from companies that give back to society, according to a recent Nielsen survey of 28,000 online respondents in 56 countries. Sounds great, right? With this positive view of green spending, we can easily imagine that we will soon see store shelves stocked with environmentally friendly products and a clean, sustainable, energy-efficient future. Unfortunately, there’s a catch. In spite of our remarkable ability to think of ourselves as eco-friendly consumers, our actions often fail to match the standards of our intentions…”

So what are some of the solutions, according to Dan?

In short he’s saying what sensible folk argue: Build smarter adaptation into automated systems, make it easy for people to behave more sustainably (simply to say!), and apply intense emotional and peer pressure to make some changes stick where you can (see last para on that)

Here’s a few teasers, for that is what they are:

  • What if consumers just need a little push to get them to behave in their own best interest? If our goal is to reduce unhealthy overeating in fast-food restaurants, for instance, we could simply invite diners to eat less. In a field study at a Chinese-style fast-food restaurant, my colleagues and I tested this very assumption. We asked customers whether they would like to substitute a half portion of their chosen side dish for the default 10-oz portion. Perhaps surprisingly, about a third of them happily agreed.
  • Address one-time decisions that have a large impact on energy consumption. To do this, interventions need to interrupt the decision chain at those crucial moments when consumers are installing heating systems in their houses or purchasing new kitchen appliances, actions that might seem minor but can have a significant long-term impact.When someone is buying or selling a new home, for example, the decision point is brief but can have a profound effect. The marginal cost of an energy-efficient refrigerator or a “smart” thermostat is negligible compared with that of buying a new house or renovating an existing house. At such pivotal points, solutions from behavioral economics can be applied to encourage greener spending in the moment, thus locking in environmentally friendly behavior over the long term.
  • Sensible product design can also reduce cognitive burdens and boost sustainability. We should sell thermostats that easily and automatically find the most efficient settings, program energy-saving defaults into all appliances before they leave the factory, and design environments so that they encourage greener behavior. In one study, researchers decreased the size of home trash cans and found that residents produced less trash. If we want to encourage people to do more recycling and less throwing away, we should shrink trash cans and supersize recycling bins.
  • The world of gamification provides additional opportunities to exert a positive influence on consumer behavior. We can encourage sustainable choices by creating competitive games based on point accumulation, and tapping into social motivations such as pride and shame. We can promote competition between individuals, neighborhoods, schools and towns, rewarding those who save the most energy. A company called Simple Energy is now experimenting with this concept by rewarding customers who save energy on peak days of energy use. Simple Energy held energy-saving contests just before particularly hot summer days and found that participants reduced their energy use below baseline consumption levels. Motivated by competition with their peers and a tiered prize system (by saving more energy, they become eligible for more attractive prizes), these consumers reduced their energy consumption when it had the greatest impact.
  •  Based on the relative success of antismoking and seatbelt campaigns—my favorite examples—we can also use kids to guilt their parents into better long-term behavior. While people may not be motivated to change their behavior for their own sakes, they may do so for their children. As hard as we try to influence other adults, in the end few things will be more effective than the nagging cries of the six-year-old in the back seat. 

    More, here.

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