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Sustainable Shoppers: Do They Exist?

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Despite decades of international agreements, government policies, state laws, and positive research, decades of scientific monitoring indicate that the world is no closer to environmental sustainability and in many respects the situation is getting worse. Hence, the question stands around sustainable shoppers; do they exist?

In 1980 the World Conservation Strategy introduced the term ‘sustainable development’ – meaning ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

The reasons to why the environmental situation on Earth has not improved is multi-faceted. However the three main areas that can actively improve the state of the world are; economic, political and societal implementations of policy.

The economic failures stem from the basic problem that environmentally damaging activities are financially rewarded. Eg: A forest is usually worth more money after it’s cut down. The economy benefits from unsustainable practices.

Political failures happen when Governments can’t or won’t implement effective policies, and hold the perpetrators accountable.

Societal misconceptions around the effects of sustainable development lead to inaction over action from consumers.

The Sustainable Shopper Gap:

Most consumers report positive attitudes toward eco-friendly products and services, but they often seem unwilling to follow through with their wallets. Sustainable consumption will realign the market demand and influence the flow of materials, however where are these shoppers?

In one recent survey 65% said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, yet only about 26% actually do so.

Narrowing this “intention-action gap” is important not just for meeting corporate sustainability goals but also for the planet.

Ways to attract sustainable shoppers could include;

1. Using Social Influence

Studies have shown that humans have a strong desire to fit in and will conform to the behaviour of those around them. Harnessing the power of social influence is one of the most effective ways to elicit pro-environmental behaviours in consumption as well.

2. Leverage the Domino Effect

People like to be consistent, so if they adopt one sustainable behaviour, they are often keen to make other positive changes in the future.

3. Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation. By tapping into this behaviour by communicating to consumers what effect their purchase or choice will have on the environment, will give them confidence that their actions will have a genuine impact.

Support for the idea of changing our behaviour to help the environment is both high and growing. For example, the latest wave of our Great Green Sustainability Study (conducted in April 2020) found that 80% of consumers agree that they WANT to do more to help the environment. Similarly, 75% (up from 71% in October 2019) agree that they COULD do more.

The Government, brands and manufacturers should work together to put measures in place that will help increase consumers’ opportunity (for example, by making it more convenient to act sustainably), capability (by providing them with the right knowledge, and by making sustainable products more available and affordable) and motivation (by using incentives or feedback that encourages desired behaviours).

Once these barriers have been reduced and motivation has risen, the amount of sustainable shoppers and demand for sustainable products should increase, as the intention-action gap closes.

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