How positive psychology can bring consumers along on the sustainability journey
EXCLUSIVE: Businesses that force their sustainability agenda upon consumers through prescriptive orders and instructions are in a "dangerous place", the founder of social enterprise Hubbub has warned.
Behavioural change pioneer Trewin Restorick claims that sustainability professionals must become more creative in their approach to consumer engagement. Through its work with major businesses, Restorick’s charity Hubbub supports the ‘nudge theory’ concept which proposes positive reinforcement rather than punishments to influence motives.
Hubbub’s most recent partnership with Lucozade is a prime example: in May, a ‘Trashconverter Van’ toured the Forest of Dean, accepting trash rather than cash in exchange for food, flowers and hot drink. The project helped to promote positive behaviours and encourage local residents to dispose of their litter properly.
Speaking with edie for the latest episode of its Sustainable Businesses Covered podcast, the former Global Action Plan (GAP) chief executive encouraged more businesses to find novel solutions to bring consumers along the sustainability journey.
“The companies that we work with have done as much as they can do internally,” Restorick said. “They’ve made the changes that they can control. But they’re all now asking how they can influence others, how they can influence their customer base, which is often the biggest impact they can have. That’s really difficult for customers, because you can’t turn into a nanny state. You can’t tell people how to live their lives. It’s a very fine line for a business in terms of how much influence you can have.
“And so they are trying to do it in a way that is creative, which is playful, which is not ‘though shalt’. What they are struggling with is how you can do that effectively and bring your consumers along with you along your sustainability journey. Companies can say amazing things, but if the customer doesn’t get it or understand, then that is a dangerous place for a business to be.”
Willingness to experiment
Consumer engagement can bring with it significant business benefits, according to Restorick, who pointed towards Hubbub’s involvement in Ikea’s Live LAGOM programme – a three-year project aimed at helping individuals reduce waste and energy consumption while living a healthier lifestyle. The results of that project saw Ikea sales of sustainable products rise by 13.4%.
The hallmark of Hubbub’s approach to sustainability is the charity’s willingness to experiment. Hubbub last year trialled a community fridge as a part of Sainsbury’s Waste Less, Save More campaign in Swadlincote, which provided a temporary home to unwanted food, be it surplus from retailers, eateries or households.
Fears of misuse and vandalism were quickly allayed, Restorick noted, and the fridge has since taken root in the community, forging relations between the local businesses, organisations and householders sharing food. Restorick said that the project highlighted the advantages of running a consumer-driven sustainability campaign.
“It can’t be a top-down approach,” he said. “The only way it can work is if people can see that this is a personal benefit for them because they have a better quality of life on less money. There is a community benefit of being in a community where you feel safer, trust your neighbours more and feel more confident. You have to be able to demonstrate to people that those things can happen.
“If you can put it there and show that it works, some of the preconceived views that people have will never come to pass. That’s the approach we always take at Hubbub. You can only find something out by doing it. Until you physically put something in a community and watch what happens, you will never really know what is going to occur.”
But Restorick recognised that the business community can’t shift consumer behaviour on its own. Legislative action from the Government is required, he said, to create an investment strategy that makes it possible for companies to invest in principles such as the circular economy.
“If the Government doesn’t play the game then it becomes a lot harder for industry to do that,” he said. “Also, the laggards can get away with doing nothing.”
Hubbub works alongside the Government both at a national and local level to implement national food waste and litter strategies. But Restorick is concerned that the current choppy waters of British politics means the Government isn’t “part of the picture” when it comes to resource efficiency.
“Local Government is massively under resourced and overstretched,” he said. “Local authorities are struggling to provide basic services at the moment so they haven’t got a lot of time or space to think about this.
“And with the national Government, the dealings we’ve had with them around the litter strategy and food waste strategy, they’re just miles behind in total honesty. I’ve been in control of the litter strategy for a year and a half now and it hasn’t progressed to any great extent. Defra is under resourced. It’s got Brexit to worry about.
“Consumers are getting increasingly disillusioned because the Government aren’t talking to people about the things that affect their everyday lives, such as energy price rises, food price rises. One of the best way to deal with both of those issues is to use energy as efficiently as possible, and to reduce things like food waste. The Government needs to be much more proactive in helping households do those things.”
Trewin Restorick on the Sustainable Business Covered podcast
Listen to the full, uninterrupted interview with Hubbub founder Trewin Restorick in the latest episode of edie’s podcast, which also includes a chat with the senior vice-president of sustainability at US manufacturer SC Johnson, who takes us on a virtual reality tour of the Amazon rainforest as part of the company’s latest CSR drive.
Subscribe to the edie podcast on iTunes here.