Turning green consumerism into mass consumerism

It wont have escaped anyone’s notice that climate change is big news. We now have unprecedented levels of awareness and concern on the climate issue.

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that climate change is big news. We now have unprecedented levels of awareness and concern on the climate issue – even President Bush is reacting now and recent research by The Climate Group shows an overwhelming 81% of people feel very strongly about climate change or at the very least recognise that it is important.

However, as yet, this has not translated into significant individual action. Our research also shows people feel powerless in the face of such a big problem. They don’t fully understand the issue and hold the belief the solutions are inconvenient and expensive. Above all, consumers don’t want to feel that they are acting alone. They need help (not more lecturing) to overcome these barriers. The way forward was pointed by a 2006 research report – “I will if you will” – which indicated that people were willing to change but only if they were met half way by government and business, who they perceive as more able to effect change than themselves.

This is why a ground-breaking new partnership was launched in the UK in April, aimed at enabling individual consumers to be more climate friendly. We’re in this Together is a coalition of big brand names committed to making it easier for customers to take up low-carbon solutions. Together they aim to help every UK household to reduce their emissions by one tonne, a total of around 24 million tonnes over the next three years, more than the combined household emissions of Scotland and Wales.

B&Q, Barclaycard, British Gas, Marks & Spencer, 02, More Than, Sky and Tesco have all united for the campaign and are providing effective ways for people to reduce their impact. For instance, Tesco’s commitment to selling 10 million energy-efficient light bulbs this year (a five-fold increase on the previous year); B&Q is offering half-price loft insulation; and M&S has launched a campaign to persuade customers to wash at 30∞C whenever possible, including changing the labels on the majority of their clothing range.

The campaign website (www.together.com) will aggregate the achievements of all the partners into one CO2 figure that will demonstrate in real time the power of collective consumer action. Visitors will be encouraged to undertake certain key actions and shown how they can add up towards their one tonne target.

The business case for action is clear cut. Many companies are already reducing emissions in their operations and supply chains because they are finding opportunities to reduce costs at the same time as achieving ambitious sustainability goals. However for most brands their own emissions are a fraction of the indirect emissions of their consumers. The Climate Group’s research shows strong evidence of latent demand for products, services and brands that would allow people to reflect their climate change concern in their spending. It is against this backdrop that companies are also now starting to ask what are the equivalent opportunities that will create new revenues at the same time as achieving environmental objectives?

There is a growing belief, demonstrated by the We’re in this Together partner companies, that helping consumers to overcome barriers to individual action can unlock a significant market opportunity. Furthermore, by acting in collaboration there is less risk of individual corporate initiatives being seen as “one-offs” and greeted with cynicism about greenwash. In fact, the campaign also benefits from help and backing from a diverse and growing range of non-commercial organisations – the BBC, the Church of England, the NCC and the Energy Savings Trust, for instance.

Based on this message of partnership, the ‘We’re in this Together’ campaign is set to expand globally and reach a mass audience combining the customer bases of all our current and future partners – running into tens of millions of people already.

Only by acting together can we hope to tackle climate change.

Steve Howard, chief executive, Climate Group

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