Monday, 8 February 2010

How to engage consumers on sustainability

Joost Martens, CI Director General, continues blogging on issues raised in the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos. He says consumers need a change of consciousness.

To change consumer behaviour, and thus for consumers at large to act, we need to engage them. This is not just about pushing more information on the consumer; there are limits to that and some even argue that there is already too much information out there. This is about consciousness, about emotions. It can be done through campaigns of consciousness building, as there are whole generations of consumers that are aware and willing to act in the general interest.
There are examples from the past of major behavioural changes in society – the smoking bans, the mandatory use of seatbelts. We should be looking for the trigger towards behavioural change in regards to sustainable consumption.

Earlier CI surveys have showed that many consumers do want to act, but need guidance and orientation, from governments, as well as being offered sustainable options by industry.

This reflects the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration, a need that is there not only from the consumer perspective. Industry and governments need to work together with consumer organisations, because these are the organisations most trusted by the public.

Governments need to…
…establish standards, create a level playing field, and implement regulation to ensure that these standards ensure quality and sustainability of goods and services to be produced.
And industry must…
…assume its responsibility, through ensuring sustainable production, and stop externalising costs, such as carbon. They could enter new markets, with sustainability as the driver of innovation. And they should be avoiding the ‘green washing’ of their products or processes.
The above seems to imply that the consumer has to renew himself, or herself, with a new conscious behaviour using sustainable options provided by government and industry.
The title of one of the Forum’s sessions was Who is the new consumer? and was designed to focus on consumers in emerging economies. However, during the development of the session, it became clear that there are various parameters to characterise the new consumer, not only geography, looking at consumers from countries like India, China and Brazil, but also age, to take youth into account and make sustainability ‘cool’; gender, to cater for the growing purchasing power of women, as well as the need to close the gender gap; and the abovementioned need for ‘new consumer behaviour’ in the affluent world.
We should not be talking only about the consumers in the developed world. ‘Inequality is the enemy of sustainability’ it was said in Davos, and we should strive for fairer societies, where the consumer/citizen has access to products and services that are needed and that are available in markets.
The World Economic Forum 2010 in Davos ended with a sense of urgency, to act. I hope we see leadership from those that were present, leading by example, and focusing on the three elements of sustainability, social, environmental and economical.

CI will play its role in this urgency, through partnerships and by leading, by different ways and means. In the UN Commission of Sustainable Development, in the Marrakech process, towards the World Summit on Sustainable Development 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, and with our member organisations in the different countries.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree that we change consumer behaviors by engaging them --as in doing it with them, right. So i suppose, through various parties such as government and corporation they have some sort of activities which the consumer participate. Is that what you mean? this lead to another question on how to encourage participation? because sometimes, even asking them to join the activities is very difficult.please comment.