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This Earth Day, the Focus is on the Consumer

The 40th Earth Day is April 22, so naturally there is a lot of buzz about it just now. Today’s Advertising Age cites the importance of getting consumers to change their behaviors – because the potential for a big positive environmental impact is far greater at the user’s end of the purchase cycle than at the manufacturing end.

So how do we encourage people to behave in a more environmentally conscious way, in their purchasing and disposal of products? Speak to their self-interest. I love the term, Accidental Environmentalist. The reality is that most of won’t be ardent tree-huggers anytime soon, so let’s use some psychology to shape behavior in ways that help. A few easy, small steps by vast numbers of us will have a significant impact. As we practice more environmentally responsible behavior, even if it’s just for our own self-interest, we come to see that kind of behavior as integral to our sense of selves “that’s just who I am”, and it paves the way for more of that virtuous behavior.

• People do what’s good for them. In March I cited David Almy’s trenchant observation about Shelton Group’s Eco Pulse 2010 study that products with higher purchase interest had environmentally responsible benefits focused on those that are “good for me” or “good for my budget”.

Research Implication: as you develop potential benefit statements for positioning your brand with consumers, see if you can test benefits that wrap an environmental feature in self interest (good for your personal environment).

• Make it easy. As Genna Mazur says in her 4/15/10 article, consumers want to be green, but they are also lazy (I’d say stressed and harried). Marketers can work with this; she cites an example of a bamboo company creating a line of products that can either be reused or disposed. Her point: has to be easy enough to be accessible. This opened a whole new product line for the bamboo company.

Research Implication: when you are developing a new product that may have an environmental spin, consider testing (at the concept stage) the tradeoff between being more/less environmentally responsible and being harder/easier to get, use, and discard. It has to be authentic though – consumers are jaded, leery about environmental claims.

• Make it ordinary – give them approachable role models. The entertainment industry has incorporated many “behavioral placements” (like product placements) to subtly encourage us to be more green. This works the same way product placements do: makes it seem like this is just the way people live. Works for Jimmy Choos and Vuitton….

Research Implication: the placement will be more powerful if it is linked to an emotionally engaging part of the storyline. Keep it positive, guilt is not an effective motivator.

• Make me feel good – BTW, see photo of Christmas tree – these were all over Paris in December, made from plastic soda bottles.

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