Pushing us towards changing our ways can range anywhere from ‘keeping up with the greens’ vision of neighbourly competition, to positive reinforcement and appreciation, to making a fun game out of behaving better. The effects of change can mean anything from massive savings on energy bills to ‘rebounding’, and possibly making matters worse.
Now, a thought-provoking editorial by wired.co.uk suggests that it might be worth avoiding trying to appeal consciously to peoples’ altruism, and guide them instead towards making ‘good’ choices without knowing about it.
The piece cites the example of a dishwasher powder manufacturer that wants to reduce packaging, suggesting that branding the resulting product as ‘eco-friendly’ may well backfire, as people associate the positive action with a sense of compromise, even if there is no compromise at all. The solution, according to writer Rory Sutherland, is to make small tablets with a colourful, well-designed ‘powerball’:
I am using less product and less packaging, but I am completely unconscious of any reduction in efficacy as a consequence of the reduced volume. In fact, I think they are better than powder… You just allow people to do good while remaining blissfully unaware of the good they are doing — through an appeal to their instinctive self-interest.”
More controversially perhaps, Sutherland goes on to question the motives for altruism, noting a trend for ‘conspicuous non-consumption’; or to be seen as not trying too hard, thereby increasing status in the eyes of others. There are many more points in the piece (many of which are likely to enrage as much as excite), but the conclusions reached still offer up some faith in other human motivations which can reach positive ends:
Perhaps the best way to save the world is by stealth. Or by appealing to other innate instincts — for fairness, or reciprocity or via appeals to loyalty to a defined group, through social norms or reputational shame.”
Unconscious motivations are all well and good, but for those looking to save cash as well as cut carbon wherever possible in their buying habits, there is still a place for giving some very conscious guidance. For instance, accurate labelling can help people make informed and scientific choices.
A 2009 study by consumer group, Consumer Choices, found more than a third of consumers report that they ‘always’ or ‘often’ look out for green product information – and this figure is likely to be on the rise. Indeed, in our recent survey on advertising green products, nearly 60 per cent said visible stats and evidence would make them more likely to buy. Whatever their reasons for thinking in a more sustainable way, it’s still worth offering the customer what they want when they reach the store.