New Metrics on Consumer Behavior Change

On September 26th, National Geographic’s Chief Science and Exploration Officer, Terry Garcia, and I were in Boston MA to publish the 2014 Greendex survey on the status of sustainable consumption across 18 countries, the fifth edition of this National Geographic / GlobeScan collaboration. If you are unfamiliar with it, the Greendex is a composite measure of sustainable (or not) consumer behavior consisting of 65 different types of choices and behaviors analyzed and tracked across four sub-indexes. Quite aptly, we chose Sustainable Brands’ and the MIT Sloan School’s New Metrics conference as the release venue. After all, the Greendex, in its essence, is an uber-metric in its own right—one of the most comprehensive we have ever created here at GlobeScan.

But the compatibility of Greendex and the New Metrics conference (which turned out to be a wonderful few days of provocative insights and conversations) was not the only reason we were there. Rather, we were motivated by two points of view. First, we believe that consumer behavior must fundamentally change if we are to achieve the sustainable and prosperous world that business and society will need to thrive in the future. Secondly, it is arguable that no one is currently more effective at enabling consumer behavior change than brands and marketing geniuses today. They are the world’s most effective change agents, like it or not. So, we wanted the sustainable brands community to be the first to access this year’s findings.
Overall, the survey results are not very pretty. You can access them in all their detail at the Greendex website, but for now, it is important to note that sustainable consumer behavior, over the course of six years, has not propagated at the pace and scale we had hoped. That’s not to say that we haven’t measured incremental improvements here and there. Take the food category, which is the subject of an in depth exploration in the 2014 Greendex study. Consumer uptake of locally produced and organic foods, for example, has increased in many markets as people feel alienated from what they see as an opaque global food system. But overall, we believe we need more change.
The purpose of the Greendex is to measure and track change. But why measure it if it is not substantially occurring? That is such a good question. One of the objectives the 2014 Greendex study is to better understand the dynamics and levers of consumer behavior change, including but not limited to, the role of information and awareness of environmental impacts and energy intensity. We used food as our topical laboratory, given its cultural importance and universal relevance. We unleashed our team of social scientists to apply and interpret advanced modelling techniques to help. They’ve generated some excellent, practical insights for those working on behavior change in the private, public and non-profit sectors. Here is a taste.
First, we created an index of behavior change potential based on consumers’ current food habits versus their potential food habits measured after exposing them to empirical information about the relative environmental impact and intensity of various foods. We then mapped these index scores across countries (see below) and found that the countries with the top-five change potential scores contain 1.8 billion people (most are in China, Brazil and Mexico). North Americans and Europeans, however, are more locked into their current food habits.

However, those with the greatest potential and motivation to improve their food consumption routines are slightly more likely to be female, primary shoppers with higher incomes – usually an appealing demographic for marketers.
In an analysis of what can most unlock change, we found that information alone is, of course, not enough. Instead, influence from peer networks, both received and sent, is the most powerful driver globally, followed by the belief that humans are part of, not somehow separate from, the global ecosystem. So, enlisting consumers’ networks and tribes and creating cognitive linkages between people and the planet are two ways that our change agents can help realize the potential for change that we know is out there.
And to help them, we’ve published the results of a new global market segmentation analysis that identifies and profiles groups of like-minded consumers based on their potential to change their behavior and other associated values and attitudes. The intention here is to help leadership organizations target the right types of individuals through the best channels with the most effective messages.
We’re proud to share these insights widely, and they can all be found at the various links above, along with our New Metrics presentation deck. We hope you find them useful, and we thank National Geographic for the vision and leadership that made this study possible.
Now, over to you change agents.