“I don’t have time.”, “I’m too busy.”, “It’s too expensive.” – These are just some of the most popular excuses we are all guilty of making not only in our everyday lives but also when being asked why we aren’t doing more for the environment. Supporting this, several studies revealed that whilst people show an increasing concern for environmental problems and state their willingness to buy eco-friendly products, the sales figures remain rather low. This leads to growing frustration among marketers and brand managers who often defend their efforts saying that consumers are simply not interested in eco-friendly products. With regards to this, many firms try to find explanations for the little effectiveness of their sustainability promotion strategies and the persisting “attitude-behaviour gap” in the purchase of green products. Here, the attitude-behaviour-gap refers to the discrepancy between consumers’ positive attitude towards environmentally friendly products and the lack of translating this into action.
The origin of this gap can be found when investigating the approach marketers take to make people purchase eco-friendly products. Many campaigns appeal to our values and our responsibility to save the planet. Whilst ethics can play a big role when we’re making major life decisions, they are unlikely to have the same degree of influence when we’re about to choose which shower gel to buy or what kind of vegetable to get for tonight’s dinner. In general, we tend to buy a product when we perceive it to offer us some kind of functional, emotional or social benefit. The problem with green products is therefore often that they tend to be more expensive than their non-green counterparts. Not surprisingly, taking into account the environmental impact of all elements of the production process of a product is costlier than not doing so. As a consequence, even though we may be very much aware of the fact that the £1 McDonald’s burger may not have the smallest carbon footprint, it may not necessarily prevent us from consuming it anyway. In that very moment, spending the smallest amount of money possible is simply just more important to us. This unwillingness to pay more for more sustainable products is reinforced by the difficulties many of us face in seeing the big impact we can have on the environment with actions as small as buying a burger.
If companies managed to increase the demand for their environmentally friendly products, they would also be able to offer each unit at a lower price. To close the value-action gap in green purchase behaviour, marketers therefore need to start thinking from the customer’s perspective. Instead of simply using words such as “sustainable”, “socially responsible” or “ethical”, they need to ask themselves: What’s in it for the customer when he decides to spend more money on an environmentally friendly product? Most of the answers to this question will need to see the premium price paid as an investment in the long-term wellbeing of individuals as well as society as a whole rather than a cost.