In the wake of COVID-19, many aspects of our daily lives may be forever altered. Emerging from this period in which our normal activities have experienced such a dramatic change with a ‘fresh start’ attitude could allow us to refocus our efforts on healthy and sustainable living. But to do so, we will require a shift in our collective mentality that recognizes the opportunities present in this tumultuous time and applies the lessons learned to less tangible, more long-term threats.
In recent presentations to GlobeScan and its partners within a number of large companies and NGOs, Kate White, Professor of Marketing and Behavioural Science, UBC Sauder School of Business and Lorraine Whitmarsh, Professor at Cardiff University talked us through some of the difficulties surrounding consumer behaviour change, and also some of the lessons we have learned to make behaviour change more effective and the opportunities and pitfalls to positive change that have come from the current crisis.
We are pleased to share this summary of the conversation.
The topic of consumer engagement in sustainability is one which requires and deserves to be a focal point in consumer behaviour change. Without understanding the nuances of how consumers respond to campaigns for behaviour change, initiatives that aim to create widespread positive change will fall flat. Although most consumers report that they have positive attitudes towards sustainable behaviours, they do not always follow through with these intentions. Kate White outlined five factors from the SHIFT framework that are instrumental in fostering sustainable behaviours:
- Social influence – How can we use social norms and social pressure to promote positive behaviours?
- Habits – How can we break bad habits and form new ones?
- Individual self – What do consumers value? And how can we overcome what people see as barriers to sustainable behaviours?
- Feelings and cognition – What emotions and thoughts are (consciously or unconsciously) associated with the idea of sustainability? How much negativity is effective or necessary in behaviour change messaging for people to relate to an issue?
- Tangibility – How can we make the consumers feel that their actions are effectively contributing to the greater good?
The SHIFT framework investigates these challenges and develops novel theoretical propositions for practitioners to encourage sustainable consumer behaviour.
One important aspect of this framework is habitual behaviour. In any initiative that aims to change behaviour, we must make the new behaviour as easy, attractive, and possible for people if we want them to embrace it. However, even when attractive options for positive behaviours are available, habits often override people’s willingness to absorb new information and to act on it.
Lorraine Whitmarsh highlighted that in focusing on habit forming and habit breaking, ‘moments of change’ are opportunities to intervene and to alter habits. These intervention points can be any time when habitual behaviour is weaker during times of disruption such as moving to a new house, starting a new job, or having a child. During moments of change, interventions for behaviour change are more likely to be effective. By pinpointing these periods, we can aim to build habits that can last a lifetime.
The current COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of a disruptive event during which we can create new habits. Looking forward, we can try to leverage this pandemic as a moment of change and encourage people to keep some of their less environmentally destructive habits. For example, many people have been introduced to lower-carbon consumption practices that they otherwise were not in the habit of doing, such as online meetings or home cooking. If done correctly, we can foster these behaviours for long-term change.
To nurture the positive habits that have emerged from COVID-19, we will need measures put in place to lock in the emerging low carbon habits This will be contingent on broader social change. These initiatives will need to come from corporate actors as well as governments imposing regulatory measures.
Enabling consumers to live more healthy and sustainable lives is an opportunity for purpose-driven brands to build more trust, loyalty and market share and help to solve environmental and social challenges while doing so.
GlobeScan is partnering with IKEA, CVS Health, PepsiCo, Visa, Walmart, WWF, and others on the 2020 Healthy & Sustainable Living global research program to identify opportunities for healthy and sustainable living and to share key insights to facilitate consumer behaviour change.
We sincerely thank Kate and Lorraine for sharing their excellent work with the group.