Changing attitudes to habits: How do we move people from green attitudes to green habits?

by Sep 22, 2016

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the shift in American identity that we’re seeing pop off the pages of our Pulse studies.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of us who say buying/using eco-friendly products is an important part of our personal image. This shift in self-image coincides with another interesting shift, an actual shift in consumer behavior.

As a researcher, I have had the privilege of spending multiple days with consumers from all walks of life from all over the country doing ethnographic research. I am always fascinated by the discrepancy between what people say they do and what they actually do. That’s why it’s so exciting that we’re seeing evidence of not just a shift in attitude but also a shift in behavior.

Behavior is the key difference this year. There is no doubt consumers’ behaviors are in the process of shifting. In this year’s Eco Pulse™ (soon to be released), we not only see that consumers’ attitudes and beliefs are strongly green, we also see consumers acting on those attitudes and beliefs. Ninety percent of our survey respondents think the average person should be taking concrete steps to reduce his or her environmental impact. Even more interesting is that consumers are putting their money where their mouths are. We are seeing indications of actual behavior change – changes in purchasing behavior based on the environmental record of manufacturers.

Today, half of Americans say they’ve started or stopped buying particular brands because of the environmental reputation of the manufacturer. This is in stark contrast to even the 2013 numbers, which stood at only 12%. Further, 64% of those not only say their purchases are influenced by a company’s environmental reputation but can also back that up with real-world examples of real brands and products bought – or not bought – because of a manufacturer’s environmental reputation.

So why the shift in behavior? Availability is certainly part of the story. We are seeing the market respond to consumer demand with sustainably manufactured products and other green consumer goods spreading throughout mainstream channels. Three out of four mainstream grocery stores sell organic options, according to the USDA, and Walmart is actively promoting sustainability and supply chain transparency. But availability is likely only part of the story. The other part seems to be this shift in identity, and that shift leads to more frequent sustainable behaviors, which we hope are leading to long-term sustainable habits.

Webster’s calls a habit “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg decodes the habit loop. He describes the habit loop as starting with a cue (for example, fuzzy teeth) moving to routine (brushing when you wake up) to reward (that tingling minty feeling), and finally the most important piece: the “craving” for the reward (craving for that tingling) that happens before the cue comes again. As marketers, we should be paying attention to not just the continued groundswell in attitudes, but also this new shift in behavior. Creating sustainable habits complete with that crave-able reward is really the goal. What crave-able reward can you provide your end consumer or customer? What is the little emotional oomph, that little personal experience, which happens at the moment of interaction that could make someone crave your product or brand?

Creating consistent behaviors over time can lead to habits, and creating widespread sustainable habits could be the key to a truly sustainable future.

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About the Author

Susannah Enkema

Susannah leads the research department in developing projects, and then in dissecting the findings and boiling them down to the most important insights that pave the way for smart marketing strategies and creative approaches. She works closely with the creative and account departments to offer ideas, support and information that help all departments meet client goals.

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