A few months ago, I noticed that the Seventh Generation toilet paper in my friend's bathroom had changed. The packaging was bright, modern, and -- dare I say it -- cheerful. Interesting, given that the actual product was brown, and pretty much as hippie as it gets (100% recycled paper, 80% post-consumer, unbleached, etc.). Hum, I wondered, what's up with this?
Now I know, after attending The Science of Inspiring Good Behavior panel at SXSW Eco, featuring Joey Bergstein of Seventh Generation, Catherine Davis of Vizeum Americas, Dave Schiff of Made Movement, and Morgan Clendaniel of Fast Company talking about ways to reach the 86 percent of "consumers who care," most of whom aren't moved by stories of gloom, doom, and impending climate catastrophe. What does motivate them? Empowerment, efficacy, and fun.
Want to sell more of your sustainable products? Time to drop the green finger wagging and start peddling a more joyous life. How? Read on.
As for who's willing to pay more for sustainable products, Davis identified two key groups:
That's why this Seventh Generation ad starts with the glass-top table getting sparkling clean with plant-based cleaners. But where it goes next is key. We don't see a dour narrator intoning about how using this cleaner helps save the fish (although that's probably true). Instead, we see a bunch of excited kids eating birthday cake right off the table. Imagine doing that with 409! Ick.
The messaging here is clear: Fewer harmful chemicals = a more joyous life. Who can argue with that?
Consumers are also looking to support companies that share their values, whether it's to make themselves look cooler on social media (think of all the people who "badge themselves" with shares or retweets promoting sustainable products) or to satisfy a more internal desire for health and wellness.
Here, Bernstein identified a trend they've seen from pre-recession, where the focus was abstractly on "the environment," to the recession years, where the focus was on saving money, to the emerging post-recession context, where the focus is shifting towards the health and wellness of the individual consumer. In this new highly-personal context, empowerment is in and guilt is out.
Also emerging as a potential persuader is the idea of modernity. As in, don't be that dinosaur who still uses unnecessarily polluting chemicals in your child's playroom. No one wants to be left behind, which can be a powerful impetus to explore sustainable products (as Schiff put it, "most people are interested in surviving," even if they're resistant to gloomy messaging about impending environmental catastrophe).
For example, Seventh Generation is trying to create a coalition of businesses and consumers to support the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, a federal bill that focuses on preventing chemicals from entering the market until proven safe. Better for the world? Probably so, but also better for companies who already create their products from non-toxic chemicals.
Ultimately, working together for systemic change is one more way for sustainable companies and potential consumers to deepen their relationship in an empowering, public way. Who can resist a campaign for a toxin-free generation? I think I'll go tweet about it right now!
Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School, and is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and other blogs. She's a former patent litigator, an ex-web developer, and a trained architect. She writes and Tweets at the intersection of law, technology, design, and business, drawing on her unique background and experience to bridge these worlds for her readers.