From green intentions to green actions

Director Nicole Verburg welcomes those present to the beautiful Utrecht headquarters of VodafoneZiggo, the location sponsor for tonight. Verburg starts and briefly outlines how VodafoneZiggo works on the People & Planet goals. From halving our own CO2 emissions by 2025 to behaviour-driven interventions that help people keep up with the digital transformation. An excellent match, therefore with the theme of the evening.

“No brand love with packaging hate”

Then it’s up to Marcel Verhaaf, Executive Creative Director at SGK Anthem. His statement: people can’t love your brand if they hate your packaging. Because it is not sustainable and therefore does not fit with what they consider important. Nevertheless, he notes that the transition to truly sustainable packaging is difficult. It is urgent only very recently, and in practice there are many bumps. Such as the question: what is sustainable packaging? He shows a cucumber in plastic wrap and asks the audience: is it sustainable? Opinions are divided and a lively discussion ensues. The packaging protects against damage and prevents food from being thrown away: sustainable! But… it’s plastic.

With this, Verhaaf illustrates the dilemmas he struggles with on a daily basis within sustainable packaging design. Such as the difference between what is actually sustainable and the consumer’s perception. For example, who cannot tell the difference between authentic recycled cardboard and a fake sustainable cardboard print on ordinary paper. Because of such complex considerations, companies sometimes give up. In addition to challenges, Verhaaf also presents solutions. With the Packadore collective, he helps clients with all aspects of sustainability. Therein lies the concept temptation central: temptation + sustainability. Because only when sustainable design is also attractive to the less conscious layers of the brain will behavior change on a large scale. Verhaaf shows some innovative designs that meet this requirement, such as a bright white (because unprinted) detergent packaging. Sustainable and the perfect design of the product proposal. Verhaaf concludes optimistically: established brands should not only take greater steps towards sustainability, they can.

How hard can it be?

The next speaker, Bert Pol, also sees challenges and opportunities. Get people involved in the energy transition. How hard can it be? is the tantalizing title of his presentation. Pol identifies a number of psychological factors that stand in the way of sustainable behavior change, from ingrained habits to lack of ability and lack of knowledge. He points to target groups that are structurally difficult to reach with means of communication. Around 3 million Dutch people fall into this category. For example, they are low literacy, digitally limited, mentally disabled. And, emphasizes researcher Pol, they do not participate in surveys, so stay out of the picture of market research with panels. Pol discusses concrete cases where the social network approach seems to work. Communication then takes place orally, from within one’s own circle or via so-called link pin such as the doctor with a bicultural background. He literally and figuratively speaks the language of the neighbors and knows the objections before they are mentioned. But, warns Pol, one size fits all certainly does not apply here. He acknowledges that adaptation in a social network approach is labor-intensive, but he asks the audience rhetorically: what alternative is there?

Pol concludes with a number of points of attention and recommendations. For example, he has discovered that the behavior of early adopters in sustainability often does not translate to the rest of society. The association with wealthy progressives provokes opposition. Pol also advises against group meetings to ‘bring people along’ in local sustainable projects. He points to it risky switch phenomenon where a group under the influence of the most vocally negative members actually becomes more negative from such a meeting. And finally, Pol warns against sky-high expectations push and other small behavioral interventions. If you want to achieve real impact, it is better to design intervention packages that approach behavior based on the complexity of the context. Beyond nudging So.

Orange is the new green

“Models that predict sustainable behavior based on intentions will be wrong 90% of the time.” With this strong statement, the scientist Lenka van Riemsdijk sharpens the evening’s theme. Because even though most consumers say that they find sustainability important, this is still somewhat visible in their (purchasing) behaviour. Why not? And how can it be better? Van Riemsdijk has concrete solutions for this. Solution 1: Make sustainability relevant. Van Riemsdijk light structural level theory: our thinking has different levels of abstraction. Whoever is having a conversation about sustainability and its importance for the planet and the future is thinking at a relatively high level of abstraction. And then the conclusion may very well be: I will choose sustainable meat from now on. If the same person is shopping at the supermarket, the brain works on a much more concrete level: do I have everything, how much does it cost? And then the choice again ‘just’ falls on the kilobanger. In Van Riemsdijk’s words: eco-advantage loses to ego-advantage. Her second solution: Make sustainability concrete. Show what the positive effect is, how much extra space animals have, or which organic farmer you support. More specific is better. And solution three: focus on behavior. Don’t just think about your product and its benefits.

But also the environment and the context in which it was purchased. For example, by using nudging in the store. Van Riemsdijk not only included research findings for his infectious speech, but also sustainable chicken farmer Johan Leenders. He uses the solutions described by Van Riemsdijk in his Oranjehoen brand. Under the motto: orange is the new green. Leenders feeds chickens with the carrots and beets that his farm has left over and would otherwise destroy, for example because they don’t look good for sale. The chickens love it and the meat turns orange because of this unconventional chicken feed. So the consumer not only tastes the difference, but also sees it. And a visual shortcut must be able to get hold of organic chicken meat. Relevant, concrete and behaviour-oriented!

Cautious end to an inspiring evening: Sustainable behavior change is not easy, but it is certainly possible. By focusing on temptiness, with a social network approach to target groups that are difficult to reach and by tackling the change in a concrete, relevant and behaviorally oriented way. The marketers leave full of sustainability food for thought home. Fortunately, the train leaves nearby.

You can read more about NIMA Community Brain and Behavior here

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