According to the 2014 Greendex Study, 61 percent of consumers say they are ‘very concerned’ about environmental problems. Unfortunately, this concern isn’t translating into concrete actions and behaviors, according to the study that spans six years, 18 countries and 18,000 respondents. One of the million dollar questions raised at the New Metrics 2014 conference last week in Boston is how to bridge the gap between environmental concerns and action. Numerous speakers touched on this topic and some of the themes that emerged were:
1. Make progress effortless for consumers
Jenny Rushmore, director for responsible travel at TripAdvisor, spoke about implementing a green rating system for GreenLeaders. Hotels that meet certain criteria qualify for a gold, silver or bronze rating, and consumers are asked to rate hotels based on their green impressions. Predictably, green initiatives that are most interactive are more noticed by consumers. For example, recycling bins in guest bedrooms got more feedback than a hotel restaurant composting behind the scenes.
One of the reasons Rushmore believes that new green measurement tools have been so successful in getting attention for consumers and hoteliers alike is that it is integrated into the website and not a side initiative on a separate website. If this tool was on a separate website, Rushmore believes it would get much less attention, thus being less effective in influencing sustainable action.
2. Create necessary flows of information between consumers and businesses
Although there may be data indicating that many consumers are willing to pay a premium for greener products and services, hoteliers weren’t largely convinced of the importance of communicating sustainability initiatives to consumers before the GreenLeaders program launched, Rushmore said. Uninformed consumers will not make empowered purchasing decisions around sustainability.
As an unbiased third-party organization, TripAdvisor was able to introduce a mechanism for this — demonstrating the many consumers care about sustainability and allowing them to know which hotels excel. Greater information is now available on the site, provided by both hoteliers and consumers.
“What we can do is set up market mechanisms that encourages hotels to change,” explains Rushmore. “By naming and not shaming, we highlight certain hotels. Hoteliers care about their ratings. As a result, we’ve have hotel chains change their policies around the world.”
3. Put the onus on companies to provide value
The 2010 Greendex Study discovered the lack of trust by consumers for companies’ environmental claims and lack of leadership by companies and governments. Although consumers are ultimately free to make their own decisions, companies need to effectively and accurately provide information.
“The risk for the company is that [consumers] will choose brands that they know do good, and they will not choose brands that they know do harm,” says Amy Fenton, global leader in public development and sustainability for Nielsen. “Brands that are doing this right, are building this into their brand strategies.”
Fenton also explained that research has shown that brands with clear messages around sustainability have a 5 percent increase in sales compared to global brands that aren’t communicating about green achievements. Given the sales volumes of major global brands, 5 percent results in a significant difference in sales volume.
Image credit: Sustainable Brands
Sarah Lozanova is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Green Building & Design, Triple Pundit, Urban Farm, and Solar Today. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Mid-coast Maine with her husband and two children.