Using communications and branding to provoke pro-environmental behaviours

As the years go by, environmentalists continue to communicate the importance of acting now to save the planet.

Plastic pollution is ever-increasing and we have much to tackle as a society. The continuous reminders from social media to documentaries on Netflix, have had the Elephants thinking about the power of habit, and how to successfully alter society’s environmental behaviours.

Whilst many individuals intend to adopt sustainable behaviours, often their intentions don’t translate into actions. There is a severe intention-action gap that needs to be bridged. The team at Elephants wanted to understand the reason for this intention-action gap, which is especially prevalent in young adults. So, we interviewed ten young adults from across the UK. The results provided valuable insights and communication recommendations.

We found that the main barriers to behavioural action were ease & convenience, ability, cost and disconnect from the issue.

Ease & convenience: Consumers believed that shopping without having sustainability at the forefront of their minds, was easier and more convenient. 

Ability: Consumers felt that brands did not provide them with adequate sustainable choices to shop in a pro-environmental manner. For example, there are relatively few brands offering refill & reuse models. Moreover, consumers believed they lacked the facilities to dispose of waste sustainably, such as a range of recycling bins at home, and the information on how to recycle different pieces of packaging correctly.  

Cost: There was a general perception amongst consumers that acting sustainably was more expensive.

Disconnect from the issue: Consumers felt that since the climate crisis was not having a direct, immediate and tangible impact on them at the moment, they were not motivated to go out of their way to act sustainably.

So, what can brands do through their communications to tackle these barriers and encourage consumers to adopt more proactive sustainable behaviours?

  1. A simple step-by-step guide: Communications should present clear and simple explanations of how to easily take steps to become environmentally friendly. Brands should tell consumers exactly how to dispose of packaging and act as educators in this field. However, it is important that these communications are not patronising.
  2. Making it current: Messaging should attempt to bring environmental issues ‘closer-to-home’ and make them relevant to the consumer.
  3. Myth busting: Communications should demonstrate that acting sustainably does not need to be a financial strain. In fact, it can be the cheaper option!
  4. Unity / coming together: Environmental messaging should involve the element of ‘unity’ and ‘coming together’, and the idea that it is a trend to follow.
  5. Rewards: Incentives, however big or small, are a great way to encourage consumers to adapt their current habits.

Whilst consumers do care about the planet, they need that extra push to provoke better habits, and the power of communications has the potential to do this.

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