Engaging Consumers to Create a Circular Economy
The new year has arrived with a renewed hope for the environment as the private and public sectors direct their attention to the growing shift from “business as usual” to renewable energy technologies. Sustainability initiatives and climate change garnered mainstream attention following last year’s increase in natural disasters. It also positioned 2012 as the most extreme weather year on record for the lower 48 states, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
In the months following Sandy, the second costliest hurricane following Katrina with an estimated $62 billion in damage, many neighborhoods are still reeling in the after affects. Natural disasters have provided the needed catalyst for sustainability initiatives as great turmoil resulted in a newly discovered interest in the growing climate problem. The extreme weather events in 2012 summarize what scientists are predicting to be the “new normal” as the climate continues to warm. As city officials in New York and New Jersey focus on rebuilding, the Clean Tech Revolution is gaining relevance. An example of one opportunity that is focused on smart growth is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Cleaner Greener Communities Program. Launched in 2011, the program has established $100 million in competitive grants and plans to use innovative technologies to improve its economic, energy and environmental development while building sustainable communities.
With the advancements in clean technology, comes a need for greater social responsibility and increased stakeholder engagement. In the past months, we at Tradepal have engaged with various corporations, agencies and institutions to explore best practices to bridge the sustainability gap between consumers and businesses. The greatest disconnect we have noticed following the influx of social media and technological advancement, is how to accelerate consumer behavior change. According to psychologists Wendy Wood and David Neal, consumers often “act like creatures of habit, automatically repeating past behavior with little regard to current goals and valued outcomes.” When considering the adoption of new behaviors, it seems to come down to the intent and behavior of the individual.
In an effort to ignite behavior change, former President Bill Clinton appealed to advertising agencies last June at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France. He asked advertisers to leverage the power they have to transcend their messaging and assist in shaping the future of our planet. In the digital age, sustainability is no longer a tree hugger concept. Organizations including start-ups, large corporations and state and local governments are embracing renewable energy, green transportation, electric motors, recycling and reuse initiatives as a means to create efficiencies while reducing our environmental footprint.
As we embark on 2013, the following concepts offer suggestions for transitioning consumers toward positive behavior change:
- Engaging consumers in a circular economy instead of a linear economy where infrastructure and technology provide and reward incentives that replace the make-use-dispose mentality.
- Provide education, skills and real life business examples to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.
- Create an opportunity for brands to highlight consumers as part of the solution.
- Identify ways to reframe consumers view of ownership to change consumers behavior.
- Support and inspire change agents to put into action new initiatives.
- Engage employees to spill over their green choices from work to their homes and communities.
- Explore ways companies can leverage their potential to deepen customer loyalty by involving them in closing sustainability loops through reusing and repurposing.
- Promote local sustainability initiatives via reuse by fostering partnerships between citizens and businesses, governments and non-governmental organizations.
Video: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Author: Tamar Burton