Information doesn’t equal action

Information doesn’t equal action

If you’ve read our blog or heard any of us speak at a conference you know that we consistently make the point that mainstream consumers rarely go green to save the planet.  They do it for a whole host of other reasons — typically deeper, emotional ones, like a desire to gain peace of mind or personal satisfaction.

And, often, in the face of that philosophy, colleagues in the green marketing world have told us, “No, the problem is education.  If people really knew the impacts of their actions, they would change their behaviors.”

So, among other things, we set out to test that theory in our soon-to-be-released Green Living Pulse study.  Unlike our other studies, Energy Pulse, Eco Pulse and Utility Pulse, which survey all Americans, Green Living Pulse just surveyed the 77% of Americans who are already green product purchasers/green behavior adopters.  Now, this is a broad range of people — from those who live a deep green lifestyle and wear it like a badge of honor to those who’ve bought a couple of CFL’s and don’t actually label themselves as green — but the fact is that they’re on the bus in some form or fashion.

Interestingly, we found that among these people — people currently buying green — knowledge of the science behind why one “should” go green wasn’t all that high.  Less than half could accurately define what CO2 does to the environment and less than half could correctly identify the environmental impacts of coal-fired electricity generation (and in both cases the participants were given a list of possibilities to choose from).

So, among these people who are in one way or another adopting green behaviors and products into their lifestyle, less than half actually understand the scientific reasons  for taking those actions.  They’re clearly doing it for other reasons.

Also interesting:  though it’s nearly impossible to categorize green consumers along demographic lines (it’s much more of an attitudinal/psychographic thing), we consistently saw that although many 18-24 year-olds are knowledgeable about the issues, many of them are not expressing concern or changing their habits. For example, they are more likely than other age group to correctly identify the impacts of coal-fired power plants, but they don’t see energy conservation as important in terms of their personal behavior. They were the most likely to correctly identify the impact of carbon dioxide as “traps heat in the atmosphere” yet were significantly less likely to be concerned about the amount of C02 in the atmosphere. Finally, they were among the top two age groups who correctly identified the amount of fresh water available to humans (25-34s were the other group), yet ranked the importance of personal water conservation significantly lower than the overall population.

25-34 year-olds were similar.  While they categorize their lifestyles as the greenest of all age groups, in reality they are the second lowest age group in terms of green activities. In other words, their attitudes are greener than their behaviors.  This is demonstrated across multiple questions. They are the most likely group to list the environment as their top concern, and they are the most interested group in green and energy efficient homes. They also answered several of the science questions correctly (BPA and fresh water accessibility). Yet, their actions and motivations aren’t in line with their stated beliefs.

So, the moral of the story here is:  don’t confuse information with motivation.  An “educational campaign” is likely not what’s needed to move consumers to buy a green product or adopt green behaviors.  A “motivational campaign” is what’s needed.  And in order to create that you must understand the deeper drivers of your specific target audience and create messaging to appeal to those drivers.  And, remember, often those deeper drivers have nothing to do with an altruistic desire to save Mother Earth.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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