What people say and what they actually do may be entirely different. Psychologists call this phenomenon attitude-behaviour gap, which is especially prevalent for pro-environmental actions. Many studies report increased concern about our planet, but actual engagement levels are rather low. A recent study proposes five paths how organizations can support consumers’ pro-environmental behaviours:
- Social influence: The presence, actions and expectations of others influence consumer behaviour. For example, providing consumers with a publicly visible cue (e.g. a pro-planet badge) increases their doing-good for the environment.
- Habit formation: Sustainable behaviour requires repeated actions to shape long-term habits. Supporting consumers in their transition from old to new habits requires incentives (e.g., rewards, discounts), feedback (e.g., water usage) or simplification (e.g., offering a sustainable option as default).
- Individual self: Consumers generally want to maintain a positive self-perception through their consumption, hobbies, or preferred brands. This positive view on the self can also relate to recycling. Companies can, for example, communicate self-benefits linked to sustainable consumption.
- Feelings and Cognitions: Information and emotions can trigger eco-friendly engagement. For example, easy to read labels help consumers to make more eco-friendly decisions. Communication campaigns triggering positive (pride, joy) or negative (guilt, fear) emotions influence sustainable consumer behaviour.
- Tangibility: For many consumers the outcomes of sustainable behaviour are too abstract or too far in the future. Brands and institutions should communicate more about local and speedy impacts and suggest a clear action plan to make a difference.
Sustainable behaviour can be hard: higher financial outlays, time-consuming information search, no immediate positive feedback. Brands can reduce some of these costs by nudging consumers to accept this “burden” for the future of our planet.
Source: White, K., Habib, R., & Hardisty, D. J. (2019). How to SHIFT Consumer Behaviors to be More Sustainable: A Literature Review and Guiding Framework. Journal of Marketing.