Carrots not sticks will get consumers to buy ‘green’, report says

Posted by Alastair Otter on June 17, 2007
Posted in Lifestyle

The key to dealing with the growing waste problem lies in changing people’s buying habits and attitudes to consumption, according to a report by Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). But, guilt messages are ineffective, the report says. “A focus on the benefits of a greener lifestyle has been shown to be a better way to encourage people to reduce their consumption.”

The publication, entitled Consumption: reducing, reusing and recycling, says that in Britain the benefits of recycling risk being undermined by the sheer quantity of waste being generated. If household waste output continues to rise by 3 percent a year, the cost to the British economy will be £3.2 billion and the amount of harmful methane emissions will double by 2020.

The key tool in the development and implementation of consumption reduction policies is “social marketing”, says Professor Ken Peattie, of Cardiff University, one of the report’s researchers. This involves using commercial marketing techniques to influence people’s behaviour for the benefit of society as a whole.

Social marketing focuses on the target audience’s point of view, taking account of any emotional or physical barriers that may prevent people from changing their behaviour, says Peattie.

Under the heading “Consumers need carrots not sticks to make green choices”, the report describes how researchers have found that consumers who would like to make green choices are often helpless to change their behaviour. “Many people care about the environment but they are stuck in unsustainable patterns of behaviour because they just don’t have access to reliable, affordable alternatives. It is wrong to assume that they have free choice in the matter,” Professor Tim Jackson, who conducted the research, is quoted as saying. Consumers therefore need practical incentives to buy ‘green’ goods and services.

“Many studies have found a kind of insatiability and irrationality in modern society. People buy more and more stuff – way beyond what they appear to need,” says Jackson in the report. “But consumer goods play important roles in defining who we are and giving a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives. Asking people to give all that up, without offering decent alternatives, is not really an option.”

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