Can Consumers Incite Change? My Thoughts on a Key Question

Can consumers actually motivate the companies they do business with to change their behaviour to support sustainable goals and outcomes?   This is one of the fundamental questions for CSR practitioners and a topic we weren’t afraid to tackle at the recent BT Better Future Forum.

At the event we had the opportunity to gather an incredible group of people together to dive into this topic – including Dame Ellen MacArthur, Lord Michael Hastings, and Climate Group CEO, Mark Kenber – which produced lively debate and inspired me to write up my thoughts for Business Green.

Below, is an excerpt from the article to whet your appetite:

I heard Marc Gunther (renowned writer and speaker on business and sustainability) made a telling observation at the recent annual Fortune Brainstorm Green; the one key person missing in the sustainability debate was the consumer. In a room full of individuals from CEOs, technical experts, and environmentalists, the average consumer was notably missing.

But how do companies engage with the consumer? It’s likely that combinations of routes are the answer.

One option – and probably the most popular- is to use the brand to engage the consumer. This approach to marketing makes sustainability desirable and helps change consumer behaviour. P&G, for example, is launching their “Everyday Savers” sustainability campaign fronted by TV presenter, Kirstie Allsopp. The aim of the campaign is to show consumers that they can save money and reduce their environmental impact every day by doing things like turning the temperature down on the washing machine and only boiling as much water in the kettle as they need.

This is great – making sustainability the focus of brand communication and offering accessible and practical advice – but arguably, overlooks the individual behaviours that are rooted in social and institutional contexts. Many of us have already been locked into unsustainable behaviours regardless of having best intentions. Take the example of turning the temperature down on the washing machine. Many will have been brought up to learn that a “hot wash” is the best way to kill germs. Will the branding approach – the pictures of polar bears and melting ice caps on the side of a detergent box – really change the habit of a lifetime? Will customers really believe that they alone could be making a difference? According to a recent survey conducted in the UK by YouGov, only 47 per cent of UK adults believe that individual efforts to limit their own impact on climate change are worthwhile and even then, there is a big gap between believing something will make a difference and actually taking action.

To read the entire piece you’ll need to click over to the Business Green site, here.  You will need to register on the site, but I hope you’ll find it’s worth the couple of minutes.

But before you head over there and see what I think, why not weigh in with your thoughts in the comments?  Can consumers be relied upon to drive green behaviour?


  1. Comments 3

  2. jennifer rice 2:40 pm on August 12, 2013

    Hi Kevin, great topic! I started writing a long comment that somehow turned into a full blog post! You can find my comment here: http://www.fruitfulstrategy.com/blog/2013/08/brands-versus-engagement-on-changing-consumer-behavior/


  3. Lombard Risk 8:41 am on August 30, 2013

    A very good observation - companies often do not engage with their customers at this level , it would be a refreshing change if they did. I like what p & G are doing helping both is a good idea. as you noted , actually how many people take action - that would be interesting to find that out .


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