It’s clear going green is seen as good business.

Walk down the aisles of a supermarket, and you’ll soon see what I mean. Just try to find a food that doesn’t have an organic or natural variant. Or a bathroom product that’s not got a more sustainable counterpart. Terms like eco-friendly, organic, biodegradable and carbon-neutral are fast becoming part of the language of everyday commerce, right up there with low-fat or sugar-free. The average customer, marketers believe, thinks long and hard about how to help the planet.

But this conviction may be a bit optimistic, according to GreenCollar’s latest research.

Following in-depth interviews backed up by quantitative research with over 2000 Australians, GreenCollar research found only a quarter of consumers consider environmental impact to be an important factor in making their purchasing decisions. And 47 per cent don’t even think about it at all, without some form of active prompting.

Why is this? Is the average customer just not that well-intentioned? No. They’re just not well-informed. They lack understanding about how to make a difference and what that difference looks like in practice.

While consumers by and large care about global warming, they tend to see it as an issue beyond their control. They accept it’s a problem people ought to help solve, but notions of how each of us might go about this is limited.

Many also find it difficult to see how their own daily habits might be impacting carbon emissions. When a problem is literally the size of a planet, it becomes hard to believe that anything – good or bad – that an individual might do will ever really matter that much.

The better news

On a more positive note, GreenCollar’s research found 72 per cent of consumers would feel more compelled to act if they could see their environmental footprint. Education and visualisation is key, but it also has to be understandable.

Consumers also firmly believe governments and companies should take responsibility for the environment. The research showed companies are largely seen as the perpetrators of environmental damage, so it’s imperative they show the way.

Forward-thinking businesses are offsetting their emissions while they work on reduction strategies and many are now offering customers the chance to offset their purchase, usually through spending a few extra dollars. However, businesses must be wary of being seen to pass environmental cost on to the consumer. They have to maintain brand leadership when it comes to sustainability.

A good example is the Qantas ‘tick box’ offsetting scheme and its recently unveiled ‘green tier’ membership. Initially the scheme had relatively low uptake, but that changed when Qantas both rewarded Frequent Flyer Members with extra points when they chose to offset and committed to matching each consumer contribution. In doing so, Qantas was making a statement about taking its own responsibility seriously, showing environmental leadership to its customers and providing them with a tangible reward for offsetting.

If there’s one thing the rise of social media has shown us, it’s that we’re all self-esteem junkies. Beyond rewarding customers for good environmental choices, marketers must also think about making customers feel good about their action. It’s one thing to tick a box and know that you’ve offset a flight, but it’s something else entirely to agree to a monthly recurring offset that’s attached to a monthly bill or bank statement. This is where tangibility and feedback come in.

Achieving resonance

With all the discussion around environmental footprint and offsetting, tangibility is the first big stumbling block.

The fact is carbon emissions are just not that emotive. They are both intangible and invisible, which makes them hard to comprehend. Companies looking to help customers ‘see’ their footprint need to seek a more concrete point of reference than tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

People emotionally connect with meaningful outcomes. Tree planting schemes are popular because planting a tree for every purchase is tangible. The research also tells us that the more localised an outcome is, the more likely a consumer is to connect emotionally, whether that’s investment in regional communities, improving biodiversity, or tackling high profile issues like water quality at the Great Barrier Reef, which can be supported through Reef Credits.

Finally, consumers need feedback. Surprise and delight with updates on how their contribution has made a difference, give them opportunities to share their impact with others to boost their self-esteem, and make them understand that their individual action is part of something bigger. Because the only way we can tackle a problem as big as the environment is to work together.

About the Author: Susan Horn, Head of Marketing, GreenCollar
Susan has over 20 years of experience in global marketing communications across B2B and B2C in multiple sectors. Since July 2020, she has led strategy development to establish a new brand and marcomms strategy for GreenCollar. As Head of Marketing Susan is responsible for marketing, brand and communications strategy, and audience insights, working closely with clients to develop customer propositions based on nature-based solutions. Translating the complex language of the sector into meaningful narratives that resonate with landholders, corporates and consumers is core to Susan’s approach.

This article first appeared in CMO Australia