Brands failing to engage as consumers give up on green

Consumer engagement on green issues is failing despite efforts by brand leaders to bridge the gap between intentional mindset and behavioural change.

Research unveiled yesterday by communications agency OgilvyEarth at the Sustainable Brands conference in London revealed that 75% of British consumers are not on-board with the sustainability agenda, and that enthusiasm for adopting greener lifestyles has stalled.

The Mainstream Green UK study found that there has been little progress in making green behaviour more mainstream, indicating that marketing and communications messages around sustainability are not working and even may be damaging consumer perceptions.

Pessimism in the national media could also be partly to blame, with constant disputing of climate science and references to ‘eco-fatigue’. This, the study notes, may serve to reinforce commonly-held views that the problem is too big to solve, resulting in mass opt-out.

According to OgilvyEarth director Kathleen Enright, the findings strongly suggest that consumer engagement on green issues has hit a plateau in the UK.

“It is essential for big businesses to engage with consumers on sustainability issues in an effective way. We need to work together – brands, media and government – collectively to help get people moving again,” she said.

The issue was widely debated among sustainability managers at the conference. Many felt consumers were still thinking in a linear fashion, and that some green products suffered from an inferiority complex.

“The interesting thing is perception – you see a fat-free yoghurt and think ‘I bet that tastes bad’,” said B&Q’s director of corporate social responsibility Matt Sexton.

“We do need systematic change in moving towards a circular model … it does involve a big change in inset and we do have a big role to play in educating [consumers] on this,” he added.

Zipcar UK general manager Mark Walker agreed with this, adding: “Our marketing focus is on saving customers money – rather than sustainability – because this reflects consumer priorities.”

Maxine Perella

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