I presented at the HBA Global Conference today (focused on the cosmetics and beauty industry), and shared the stage with the Global Sustainability Leader from P&G’s Beauty & Grooming division. As she talked about all the ways in which P&G is improving its products and operations to be more sustainable and putting more oomph behind their corporate social responsibility efforts, she also pointed out a reality that all consumer products companies must face: improving the environmental impact of most such products is dependent on consumers changing their behavior.
Soap, cleaning products and toothpaste all require water to perform — the volume of which is controlled by the consumer. Laundry detergents, small electrics (coffee makers, electric razors) and all our entertainment vehicles (TVs, cell phones, Tivos and iPads) require electricity to run — and it’s up to the consumer to unplug them so they stop sucking energy. And single-use products, like paper towels and plastic cups, require a consumer choosing the recycling bin over the garbage can to reduce their impact.
The challenge? Consumers don’t see their part in this. Three-quarters of the American population says they’re not using more energy than they were five years ago. And 69% say they feel personally responsible to reduce their water consumption…yet only 26% have actually taken action. So try talking to them about how their actions are actually making the products they use less eco-friendly. We know they blame their utility company for their rising energy bills (rather than blaming their own consumption)…so it stands to reason they’ll blame CPG companies for not doing enough when those companies try nudging consumers to do more.
We must wake consumers up — and I don’t mean wake them up to environmental issues or try to make them believe in global warming. I mean wake them up to their own consumption…and then give them simple, practical steps they can take to consume less. It’s a radical shift in a culture that relies on consumerism to fuel our economy. But I believe a distinction can, in fact, be made between consumption of energy and water and consumption of the products that make our lives a little more comfortable and convenient. (And that’s important because most Americans have no desire to give up their comfort and convenience, and would consistently choose both over the environment.)
See below for one example of how we’ve shed light on an issue consumers know little about — the energy they’re using by keeping stuff plugged in. The idea is to be light, simple and give clear action steps. It can be done.