Consumer views on the environment, sustainability and 'green' brands are highly complex, according to new research conducted by The Futures Company and unveiled at a briefing held in London this morning.
Looked at superficially, the study's findings could seem disheartening for green activists, with many people not ready to make major lifestyle changes in the name of the environment. But, digging deeper, The Futures Company discovered that people are very willing to adopt green behaviours which offer tangible benefits to their lives, such as cutting household waste or saving money. Put simply, people are fine with recycling more and buying goods with less packaging - but they are not yet ready to give up their overseas holidays.
If scientists' predictions are correct, humanity faces a dire future if we do not collectively adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. According to the Stern Report, if no action to cut emissions is taken, there is a 50% chance global temperatures rising by five degrees this century. And even two degrees of warming would lead to the extinction of up to 40% of species.
Picture source: blogs.chron.com
People have reacted to these bleak predictions in very different ways.
The Futures Company's own segmentation of UK consumers, discussed at the briefing, divides the public into six different attitudinal groups. Each segment differs on how motivated their members are on adopting an environmentally-friendly lifestyle and how able they feel to adopt such a lifestyle. On one side, motivated, confident Adopters and Pioneers make up 24% and 9% of the population respectively. But the largest single segment, including 32% of people, is the Sceptics, who feel able to adopt green behaviours but simply choose not to do so.
People have also become more savvy about "greenwashing"; over half (55%) say that they ignore a company's environmental claims unless they see actual evidence for them being true. But climate change remains a huge issue for many, with more than two in five agreeing that it is the single biggest problem facing the world.
In other words, people recognise the importance of environmental issues in the abstract. They are also adopting everyday green behaviours such as recycling in greater numbers than before. But, at the same time, many are sceptical about companies' communications on the subject.
Of course, these complex - and perhaps contradictory - emotions make life difficult for advertisers looking to sell green products.
The Futures Company's advice for brands is clear: ads should focus on consumer benefits, explain these benefits clearly, appeal to the consumer's common sense and avoid preaching and doom and gloom.
A recent example of an FMCG company doing exactly this is Kenco, a UK coffee brand which has introduced Eco Refill packs as an alternative to its traditional glass jars.
Picture source: Kenco.co.uk
The idea is that customers keep an old jar and refill it each time with coffee bought from the pack. They feel that they are benefiting the environment while at the same time cutting down on waste and reducing the amount of packaging they have to deal with.So attaching tangible lifestyle benefits to using green products - benefits which are not necessarily associated with saving the planet - is a technique successfully employed by many ads.
A full Warc report on the briefing, including extra statistics, charts and further details of The Futures Company's segmentation exercise, will be available to subscribers soon.