The UK’s (Secret) Plot to Encourage Consumers to Go Green

Psfk UK lawmakers have an understanding of the layered values which contribute to a consumers' motivation to go green and have begun advising their ministers to appeal to consumers' status and social norms.

Posted Aug. 27, 2009


Back in July we came across the results of a study on consumer
behavior as it related to “going green”. The research concluded that
people are more motivated to make eco-friendly purchases based on
perceptions about status – i.e. installing these solar panels are sure
to make my neighbors envious – than they are by other factors, like
cost-savings or more surprisingly perhaps, actually benefitting the
environment. On his blog, Richard Florida dubs this modern day version
of “keeping up with the Joneses” the “Prius Effect
after Toyota’s popular hybrid vehicle. And while there most certainly
is strange bit of psychology at play, it’s hard to argue with a bit of
altruistic martyrdom meets juvenile competition when it’s for a good

A fact that apparently hasn’t escaped the attention of lawmakers in
the UK, who are employing some of this backwards rationale in an effort
to get the green message out and more importantly change residents
behavior. Following a survey that showed that an astounding 50 percent
of respondents believe that science is still divided on whether or not
humans actually contribute to climate change and 25 percent feel that
their actions don’t make any difference, the government decided that it
needed to alter its tactics.

After determining that broadcasting from the top down was having
little to no impact on behavior, and in many cases, producing negative
results – people have accused the government of concocting the climate
crisis as way to justify tax increases – in an ironic twist, leaders
behind the scenes have been forced to get a little underhanded in their
approach. Which translates into a grassroots campaign that encourages
families to go green, and in the process, stick it to their neighbors.

As the BBC explains:

Rather than simply beseeching us to “save the planet”, ministers hope they can convince us in other ways.

“Use non-environmental motivations,” their advisors recommend.

“Recognise the role of social norms, identity, and status for moving towards greater adoption of pro-environmental behaviours.”

In other words, appeal to the things that matter to people right now – their wallet and their self-esteem.

Along with this arm of the program, the government is also focusing
attention of the money-saving aspects of the environmental movement,
going so far as to identify seven “consumer types” based on their
willingness to act responsibly. With that accomplished, they eventually
hope to dictate the proper market conditions to further push this
“forward thinking”. While it probably won’t resemble some Orwellian
eco-dystopia where only energy-saving products are sold, it’s still too
early to tell.

In either case, it’s hard to figure out how to feel about all of
this. After all, isn’t a “secret” government plot for the greater good,
still a “secret” government plot no matter how you spin it?

A short video on the topic can be viewed here.

BBC: Perfect Storm 2030: Public attitudes

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